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Friday, December 6, 2013

Taking Tea with Alice Valdal

One of the wonderful things about being a writer are the friendships I have formed with other writers in all corners of the earth. 

When Alison met Alice - Butchart Gardens 2008
Probably the most precious and enduring of these friendships came about in an unlikely way. Sometime in 2007 or early 2008 (I can't even remember now!), I signed up to do Margie Lawson's Beating Self Defeating Behaviours course. As part of the course, I had to pair up with another writer on the course with the intention of being each other's consciences. I went through the list and randomly chose the name of another historical writer, Alice Valdal of Vancouver, Canada. As Alice and I began to exchange emails we realised we had so much more in common then just being prone to self defeating behaviours. We are both Capricorns, both active in our churches, cat lovers,  both 'pantsers' and we have a similar taste in our writing (and reading) and every Monday we still write to each other to report in on what we are doing (or not!) with our writing...and life in general. EVERY Monday since 2008. I can't imagine my writing life without Alice.

The tie was probably strengthened by a visit to Canada, my husband and I made in June 2008 (to visit #1 son who was working in Banff). We caught the ferry to Vancouver Island where Alice met us and we spent a wonderful day with her. She took us to her beloved Butchart Gardens, her home (with the most beautiful view) and we lunched at a magnificent Empress Hotel in Victoria (an Indian tiffin lunch shared with Jo Beverley!).

So I am absolutely thrilled to have Alice as my tea guest this week and to shout from the mountain tops her venture into indy publishing with her collection of delightful short Christmas stories (THE MAN WHO LOVED CHRISTMAS - free on Smashwords). With no further ado, I am throwing open my door and my arms to Alice...

Alice,  despite living so far apart, we have been privileged to share an actual cup of tea at your lovely home on Vancouver Island?  Do you have a preference?

Earl Grey, is my cuppa.  (AS: Sigh... we don't have THAT in common...)

I’ve sipped it from a bone china cup at the world-renowned The Empress Hotel in Victoria. I’ve had it poured from a silver teapot at  the Butchart Gardens, accompanied by dainty sandwiches and scones with clotted cream.  But the best cup of tea is one shared with a friend.  We can sit in the kitchen, on the porch, by the sea or atop a mountain, it’s the friend that counts.  So thank for pouring, Alison. ( pleasure!)

You and I met doing  Margie Lawson’s course on Overcoming Self Defeating Behaviours – what would you say is your worst self defeating behavior when it comes to writing? Have you managed to overcome it (because I know I haven’t!)?  

Ha ha!  What I’ve learned since we took that course, is that I cannot fit into someone else’s pattern.  Even my self-defeating behaviours are outside Margie’s list.  I’ve given this question some thought and I believe my most counter-productive activity is trying to write when I’ve nothing to say. The words are stilted, the language stiff, the grammar convoluted -- the whole writing session is destined for the garbage can.   

I’m still working on a solution but I recently came across  Rachel Aaron’s blog where she laid out three essentials for writing a good scene.  The first was knowledge.  I.e.  what do you want to tell the reader in this scene? 

Know what you want to say before writing seems pretty obvious, but I’ve learned that I can get so tangled up in the words or the pacing or the GMC or a dozen other “rules” that I forget what I want to say (AS: so much good writing is killed by 'rules'...!).  If I take the time to know what I want to tell the reader, I find the writing comes faster and better.  

What did you do in your life before writing?  

How far back to do you want to go?  As a teenager, I was a dairy princess. <g>  In my working life I’ve been a school teacher, liaison officer, and esthetician.  (AS:... an "esthetician"? AV:  maybe you call it "cosmetician"  I did skin-care, facials, manicures, pedicures, waxing, . . . also sold some cosmetics, but the emphasis is on healthy skin, not make-up).

Where did your love of history come from

It’s right there in the word Hi….story.  Some think history is a dry study of dates and names, but if we look behind those items, we’ll find real people with fascinating stories.  We’ll find landscapes and cultures and clans and heroes.  We find story.

Tell us about Christmas on Vancouver Island?

There’s no snow!  

My growing up years were in snow country and I can’t picture Christmas 
without softly falling snowflakes, banks of the white stuff lining the roads and making fluffy hats on the fence posts.  Where I live now, we get rain most of December.  Roads are dark, gardens are waterlogged and your Santa hat is sodden.  (AS:  sounds like a Melbourne winter - without Christmas!)

To make up for all this dark and dreary, we go in for lots and lots of lights.  There is a sail past outside my window every Christmas with dozens and dozens of boats decked out in coloured lights.  Truckers parade through the streets with their rigs festooned in lights.   Butchart Gardens plants thousands of lights among its shrubs and trees and homeowners light up the streets with masses of tiny lights.  I still miss the snow, but it is nice not having to shovel the walk on Christmas morning.

You have just released a collection of short stories with a Christmas theme. How did these little stories come about?

Over the last several years, I’ve posted a story in my newsletter as a Christmas gift to readers.  The stories aren’t my usual style, more mystical, more whimsical, more tender. I once heard a preacher talk about “thin places,” where the barrier between the ordinary and the holy is fragile.  I like to think these stories describe thin places. 

Friends read them and urged me to collect them into a book, hence “The Man Who Loved Christmas and other short stories.”  It has been a great introduction to the world of self-publishing.

About Alice...
 I grew up in a family of boys, so my best girl friends lived between the covers of a book -- Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames and Anne Shirley.  I used to wish I lived on Prince Edward Island so I could be more like Anne! Later I went away to university, earned a degree in history and English, got married, moved to the West Coast of Canada and made a number of career changes, but the “Anne” books still rest on my book shelf.

I started writing more as a test to see if I could than for any serious expectation of publication, so when my first novel “Love and Lilacs” was published I was thrilled, and somewhat bemused.

My writing has taken a new twist in the past few years.  My children’s choir at church, wanted to stage a musical and needed material that would match their talents, as well as those of the adults we co-opted into the group.  I spent weeks searching for a suitable script without success.  In the end, I decided to use my time writing the play rather than looking for one, so now I've added playwright to my other hats. (AS:...and every year she swears will be her last time...)

I live with my husband and two cats on beautiful Vancouver Island. When not spinning tales in front of the computer, I enjoy gardening, needlework, music and the ocean view from my kitchen window. 

The Man Who Loved Christmas”, the title of the first story in this collection of mystical tales, is an almost fairy-tale about family and life and Christmas and love that never dies. Protagonists in the other stories range from a teenage girl to an old woman.  All share a theme of family and love and unseen possibilities in the Christmas season.

This collection contains six stories of hope and charm, a Christmas gift to readers

THE MAN WHO LOVED CHRISTMAS is FREE on Smashwords- click HERE and for reasons best known to Amazon... .97c on Amazon