rural publishing

just arrived

The small literary novella imprint that Anik See and I run, Fish Gotta Swim Editions, is a continuing source of delight. Our fourth title, pictured above, arrived from the printer last evening. I’d been expecting the shipment all week, either by finding a card in my mailbox saying there were boxes to pick up at the post office or by hearing a courier van come up the driveway. When deliveries are via the latter, there’s usually a phone call first, someone parked in the lower driveway, wondering how to find me. Our neighbours use our lower drive to access their properties on Sakinaw Lake and when they’re not there, they have a locked gate at the point that our property becomes theirs. Because of complicated zoning, we share a street number, although technically ours is the actual number and their addresses have an A, B, or C suffix. Couriers never understand this subtlety and so once they arrive at the post with our number on it, they call. And we tell them how to find us. Last evening I heard a vehicle spinning its wheels on the turn in our actual driveway, the area with coarse gravel — we know to accelerate at just the right time to make the turn. I watched from the window as the headlights at the turn disappeared back down the driveway and then I heard the vehicle try again, faster this time. It was our neighbour. They’d come up to their house from another house they own elsewhere, just for a night or two, and the gate was open for an hour while they did some errands. When they returned, they found two heavy boxes by their front door. One of them was bringing the boxes to me, to whom they were clearly addressed, with my telephone number right on the label. This is rural publishing. In the past couriers have left parcels for us at the hardware store in Madeira Park, at the gas station 15 minutes away, and a couple of times they left packages for us at Harbour Publishing. Go figure. Luckily the Harbour Publishing owners are our friends and they called us with some amusement to let us know where we could find our delivery.

Anyway, the fourth title, the beautiful Susanna Hall, Her Book, by Jennifer Falkner, arrived unexpectedly via the neighbour last night. It was a funny moment, except it almost wasn’t. If the neighbours hadn’t used the door where the boxes were left — and they have a big house, with several entrances — and returned to their other home, then who knows when we might have put 2 and 2 together to possibly make 4: the 4th title. I received the printer proof about a month ago and Anik and I had a Zoom meeting, her in Dordrecht and me in the kitchen here, to go over the fine details of the production to make sure that everything was as it should be. Some tiny adjustments had to be made and they were and now the books are ready to go out into the world, some to the patient author, and some to people who ordered after receiving our newsletter in early April. You can subscribe to it if you’re interested. Go to our website — — and just fill out the form at the ordering/contact page. Read about Susanna Hall, Her Book at the Books page and by all means order one. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

It’s a lovely spring evening here after a day of clouds and rain. A hummingbird keeps hovering at my window. A pileated woodpecker is hammering down towards the lake. I’m going to take a copy of this wonderful novella up to my bed to read. I’ve read it several times, as an initial submission to our press, as a document sent back and forth to Jen for edits and small changes, as a designed book block, and then as a printer proof. But tonight it will be the book itself, with its elegant French flaps and the beautiful cover (designed by Anik, using an illustration from Elizabeth Blackwell’s Curious Herbal, an 18th century gathering of botanical cuts of plants used in the practice of physick) and Jen’s excellent writing. I know I will enjoy it immensely and I think others will too.

redux: “all the lives we ever lived”

Note: two years ago I finished The Weight of the Heart, published in late spring of this year. How wise Virginia Woolf was in her advice: “So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”


And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be are full of trees
and changing leaves.” — Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

Yesterday I surprised myself and finished the novella I’ve been working on. I knew I was somewhere near the conclusion but as I didn’t know what would ultimately happen, I didn’t see the end coming until I was actually there. (When I say I “finished”, what I mean is that I completed a first draft. The next step is to print it out because I can never do a substantial edit before I see what the work looks like as a physical text. Some people can scroll through pages on a screen and understand where they are in the work as a whole and how each chapter (or section, in my case) relates to the others. But I can’t. I like to sit with an actual draft and a pen and scribble on paper as I read.) I’ve noted before that this is probably a novella that will not be published. It’s a strange sort of meta thing. The narrator is writing a thesis on the work of Sheila Watson and Ethel Wilson and she frequently refers to their writing. She is notating a map with places and moments in their fiction and the reader imagines a map with actual passages from various books. A scholar writing a thesis wouldn’t have to worry (I don’t think) about securing permission to use the quoted material because it’s considered fair use for critical purposes. But as this is a work of fiction, the situation is a bit more complicated. And potentially prohibitively expensive. That’s what I mean by “meta”. Or maybe I don’t. This novella is a strange sort of hybrid. And I loved every minute of its creation.

Last week I met with the Special Collections librarian and archivist at the University of Victoria about papers (mine, and John’s) and they showed me one of the Margaret Peterson works held by the Legacy Gallery at UVic. It’s a huge tempera on panel and when I saw it, I thought two things. One is that Margaret Peterson belongs in this novella and so now she’s there. (There’s that meta idea again: in my own life, I met her and her husband Howard O’Hagan once. The narrator of the novella is, in a way, the person I would have been if I’d pursued a degree in Canadian Literature instead of becoming a writer.) The other is that the painting would make a perfect cover image.

At this point in my life, I am grateful to be able to sit at my desk and construct a work in which worlds are superimposed on one another, the real and the imagined. Grateful to spend time in the grace and beauty of language and rivers, bluebunch wheatgrass and Ponderosa pines. Where coyotes appear out of folds in the hills and history glosses the landscape like a weathered homestead where someone still makes a daily fire and tends to the animals.

So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.” — Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own


“…the harmonic scales of a fenceline…”

jocko creek horses
“The foal was still damp from her mother’s tongue. I put my hand out and her soft nostrils rested briefly on my palm. Then she returned to sucking. Her eyes, when she paused to look at me, were deep pools. They had only known daylight for a few hours and I thought of her still curled up in her mother’s body while I’d slept the night before; she was curled up with her brother who didn’t even taste his mother’s milk. I thought of them asleep in their watery darkness while I swam in the river, wanting to let go of life to join my own lost brother. Touching the filly’s spine as her tail flickered, I was surprised to find myself wiping away tears.

Last night we arrived home from a few days in Ottawa, celebrating Christmas with our family there. I made stone soup with one little boy, read “The Wheels on the Bus” many times to the other. We ate large meals, we walked (slowly, because of Grandad’s hips) to the park, and we slept in a room completely filled with books. (The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…) This morning I reviewed copy-edits of my novella The Weight of the Heart, due out in spring from Palimpsest Press. When I began to write this novella, the two small boys didn’t yet exist. Yet as I looked at the text this morning, I imagined them into the landscape their dad loved so well. One day we will go there with them and show them everything we love about the dry country in the interior of B.C.

at pavilion
“So we were taking that same route, but backwards; we were driving up Pavilion Mountain rather than down and we were heading north to Kelly Lake, then east to Clinton. But my body felt the road’s contours, the rich feathery growth of the pines, the tickle of those soft grasses. I could relate these things to a map but I didn’t use the map to see how to get from one place to another. I used it as a literary text of its own.”

Reading again of the main character Izzy as she searches for the places at the heart of The Double Hook, Swamp Angel, and Hetty Dorval, and as she tries to understand the final days of her brother’s life before he drowned in the Thompson River, I felt myself to be there, in autumn, among the sumac and dried rabbitbrush, the air pungent with sage, weathered wood and lyrical pines at every turn in the road. Writing a book is one thing. Editing it is another. This stage of fine-tuning the language is a gift on the last days of the old year.

above the fraser
“I wanted them to know that I’d found the contours of their language in hills, above rivers, in the shadowy reeds of a lake, the harmonic scales of a fenceline; I wanted them to know they have written books so beautiful that they’ve entered my body, have shaped the way I see the land.

Winter Wren arrived!

It’s official! Fish Gotta Swim Editions is truly in business! Our first title — my literary novella, Winter Wren — just arrived, by our postal worker’s own car, grinding its way up our long gravel driveway. Anik See designed the book and it’s beautiful. And a bargain — $18 (plus postage, at cost).

winter wren among packing peanuts.jpg

If you’re in Canada, the US, or Central and South America, you can order from me:

And for the UK, Europe, and the rest of the world, you can order from Anik See, who is in Amsterdam:

Some bookstores will carry the book and there will be a launch here on the Sechelt peninsula, date to be announced.

My own printer-in-residence (and Friend of the Press), John Pass, printed a lovely keepsake on our 1890s Chandler and Price press. These will be tucked into orders until the keepsakes run out so get ’em while you can!


the fish are swimming!


Readers of this blog will know that my friend Anik See and I are both passionate about the literary novella. We love to read them and we write them. Although I’ve been very lucky with publishers in the past — both the Barbarian Press and Goose Lane Editions issued beautiful editions of my novella Inishbream and more recently Mother Tongue Publishing released my Patrin — I’m also aware that current publishing models aren’t exactly embracing the novella any longer. A few stalwarts persist. But when Anik visited here on her way back to her home in Amsterdam after a three-month residency at the Berton House in Dawson City a year or two ago, we were both lamenting that we had novellas that we couldn’t find publishers for. At one point in the conversation, we began to laugh and one of us said to the other, “Well, you know what this means.” And we did know. It meant we had to create a place for novellas so that this wonderful, well, is it a genre? A hybrid? A special variant? Anyway, a place for it to flourish. Anik has a lot of experience as a book designer — have a look at her Saudade, which she both wrote and designed…(She is also an amazing journalist: listen to her recent documentary, “The Illusion of Money”,  for the CBC’s Ideas: )

We’ve been working back and forth on the first title of our Fish Gotta Swim Editions, which just happens to be my novella Winter Wren. Anik edited it, then my husband John (a poet and long-time college English instructor) copy-edited it (with a few disagreements of the “Can This Marriage Be Saved” variety, mostly to do with how to present dialogue on the page: as a writer, I want to believe that a text can accomodate dialogue as part of a narrative without setting it off with quotation marks; John is less convinced…), and now Anik has designed the book block which will be sent to the printer in Victoria when we have all the details right. The pdf arrived this morning so I could see and approve and make suggestions. And reader, I have to say it’s absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait for it to be a book in hand. Soon!

We are sorting out details to make it easy to buy this book. Copies will be available for shipping from both Amsterdam and here (the west coast of B.C.). And I think I’ll make a webpage for our Fish Gotta Swim in the next while too. Watch for more information on this. (For now, Anik has a page for it on her website,

We don’t intend for Fish Gotta Swim to be a vanity press. We’re starting with one of our own books simply because Winter Wren is ready. We hope to make a small but relevant contribution to our literary culture over the next few years by finding and publishing novellas.