Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Siege of Fort Erie – 1814 – 2014

August 7, 2014

Fort Erie gateTwo hundred years ago, in July 1814, American troops attacked Fort Erie (in what was then British Upper Canada). The British surrendered with only a few shots fired (the fort’s commander was later court-martialled for giving up too easily). The British withdrew from the fort, but made plans to get the fort back. In early August, they set up camp outside the fort, just out of reach of the fort’s guns.

After dark, on August 15, 1814, about 2,400 British soldiers, Canadian militia and First Nations allies attacked. Under the cover of darkness and the heavy gun smoke that hung over the surrounding field, the British stormed the walls of the fort and captured the northeast bastion. Within the fort, the Americans turned a cannon around and fired at the British on top the bastion. The British turned one of the captured cannons and fired back. As this close-range cannon battle raged, a spark found its way to the powder magazine under the bastion. The explosion killed 400 men (mostly British and Canadians) and turned the tide of the battle in favour of the Americans.

The British retreated from the fort (with almost the entire column that had attacked the bastion, wiped out), but continued their siege for days. By the time the siege ended on September 17, 3,500 men were killed, wounded, or missing. It was the most devastating and prolonged battle of the war.

Today, Old Fort Erie is a museum, which I visited last fall to research the setting of my new novel Siege (for readers approx. ages 10-14), which will be out October 1. This coming weekend (August 9-10, 2014) hundreds of re-enactors from both Canada and the U.S. will be gathering at the fort to commemorate the 200-year anniversary of the siege. It promises to be the largest War of 1812 re-enactment in Canada. Unfortunately, I won’t be at the re-enactment, but I’ll be imagining the characters of my novel on top the fort’s walls in the middle of the musket and cannon smoke.

Siege_postcard_08-05-14

Blog Hop stop

June 2, 2014

hopscotchI’ve been “tagged” by author friend Laura Langston to join in a game of blog hop. The rules of the game: answer four questions about your writing and writing process, and tag three more people. Laura writes picture books, young adult novels and adult novels. To see her post on the blog hop, click here.

Here I go with the questions:

1)    What am I working on?

I’ve just finished the final edits for a new novel called Siege (for ages 10-14), which will be out this fall with Orca Books. It’s about a teenage boy who reluctantly attends a War of 1812 re-enactment summer camp and discovers some modern-day criminal activity around the Niagara River and Old Fort Erie.  As part of my research for the story, I watched the re-enactment of the Battle of Queenston Heights on its 200-year anniversary and also visited Old Fort Erie. I have a picture book story about the War of 1812 in the works as well.

I’m also working on two short non-fiction stories about dogs which will appear in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What?, scheduled for release in August.

Re-enactor staff at Fort Erie answered my many questions while I poked around the fort

Re-enactor staff at Fort Erie answered my many questions while I poked around the fort

2)    How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My newest book, Siege, mixes history in with the present day, which is a bit unusual. I don’t think I’ve come across any other stories about people re-enacting historical events. It was fun to write, partly because the main character doesn’t want to be where he is, and I enjoyed writing about his reactions to things like his musket misfiring, the old fort’s ghost stories, and trying to navigate the Niagara River in an old-fashioned row boat.

FloodWarning_coverI’ve also written more straight-forward contemporary fiction and historical fiction. Flood Warning, for example, is a chapter book (for ages 6-8) that takes place during the Fraser River flood of 1948. There aren’t a lot of chapter books that tell historical stories (especially BC and Canadian history), which makes my story (and the others I’d like to write) somewhat unique.

3)    Why do I write what I do?

I write for kids because it’s  something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a kid (about the time my dad made the hopscotch in our backyard, which appears at the top of this post). I fell in love with books such as The Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis and the Emily of New Moon series by Lucy Maud Montgomery when I was in grade six and have continued to love books for children (both reading them and writing them). I also sometimes write poetry and nonfiction for adults, but writing for kids is my main compulsion.

As for what I write about: I like to explore the world around me and notice things that maybe nobody else is paying attention to. I’m always fascinated by history, nature, and unique bits and pieces that I stumble across. When something surprises or intrigues me, I immediately start imagining it as part of a story (I always keep a notebook handy).  I write about things that interest me and hope someone else will be interested, too.

4)    How does my writing process work?

Usually when I’m working on a new story, I do quite a bit of research first (which I always enjoy, especially when it involves visiting interesting new places or trying out some new activity). Sometimes I find it difficult to actually sit down and begin the writing, though, and I might procrastinate by doing more research, or even by doing some different types of writing (like nonfiction articles or blog posts). But, once I dig into a story,  it starts to flow, and I get caught up in the world of the story.

I do most of my writing from my home office. If I need a break, or get stuck on some aspect of the story, I go for a walk, and usually the problem or the next scene works itself out in my mind as I walk. Rather than doing several drafts of a story, I edit as I go, which means sometimes I can rework the same  chapter or scene for days before moving on, and by the time I get to the end of the first draft of the story, it’s fairly polished. But, of course, there’s always more editing to be done.

P1150827

sunset from my office window

For the next stop on the blog hop, I’ve tagged Cindy Henrichs and Daniela Elza (I tried to tag a third person, but everyone else got away), and they’ll be blogging on June 16.

Cynthia Heinrichs is the author of two books: Mermaids, a picture book about the diving women of South Korea, and Under the Mound, a novel for young adults set in 12th-century Scotland. Cynthia is also a regular contributor to British Columbia Magazine. She lives in Vancouver, BC, where she writes and tutors college students in academic writing. To learn more about Cynthia, please visit her website here (and check out her blog on June 16).

Daniela Elza had been published nationally and internationally in over 80 publications. Her poetry books are milk tooth bane bone (Leaf Press, 2013), the weight of dew (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2012) and the book of It (2011).  Daniela earned her doctorate in Philosophy of Education from Simon Fraser University and was the 2014 Writer-In-Residence at the University of the Fraser Valley. Check out her website here (her blog hop post will be up June 16).

Note: If the next blog hop posts aren’t up by June 16, please check again in a few days.

Thanks for playing!

 

Sharing poetry & music (with a historical twist?)

May 21, 2013

If haiku expresses a “now moment,” can haiku be written about the past? I’m immersing myself in early Vancouver history today to see if some haiku emerge, and I’ll be sharing the resulting “historical haiku” Thursday evening at Chapters bookstore in downtown Vancouver as part of a larger celebration of poetry and music with the Vancouver Haiku Group. Everyone is welcome! (May 23, 7-9:30 pm, Robson St. Chapters store)

Chapters Reading

Needs some work, but here’s an example of what I’m working on:

Main&7th_1899(2)

(Main & 7th Ave about 1899 – I don’t remember where I got the photo from, so I hope I can be forgiven for not giving credit. It is probably from the Vancouver Archives, and I believe most of their old photos are in the public domain.)

Added after the event (in this photo James Mullin’s Asian flute accompanies Kozue Uzawa’s tanka reading):

James&Kosue

The event was led by Angela J. Naccarato, founder and facilitator of the Vancouver Haiku Group, who read some of her own haiku and free verse.  Other poets included Marianne Dupre, Rosemary Carter, Brenda Larsen, Vicki McCullough, Liam Blackstock, Ashok Bhargava, Alegria Imperial, Donna Farley, Kozue Uzawa, James Mullin, and myself, taking the audience on a journey that evoked colours, sounds, and emotions from childhood memories in India to a monsoon in China to swimming with turtles in Barbados to Vancouver’s past to cherry blossoms in Vancouver’s present.

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(Here, Liam Blackstock entertains the audience with charismatic readings/performance of his free verse poetry)

Inspired by fall leaves and history

November 23, 2012

I thought I’d share a glimpse into the wonderful writing retreat I experienced last month at Spark Box Studio near Picton Ontario (with funding gratefully received from the Canada Council!). A whole week without distractions, focusing on the craft of writing historical picture books! I was particularly interested in exploring the question, “How do I take a huge topic such as the War of 1812 and hone in on a small story suitable for children?”

To help me get on the right footing for my retreat, I stopped in Toronto beforehand to meet with children’s book author Monica Kulling, for a thoughtful and inspiring discussion about writing historical stories for children. Her latest book, Lumpito and the Painter from Spain, about a little dog who touched the life of Pablo Picasso, was hot off the press, and provided a great example (I love the dog, illustrated by Dean Griffiths).

Next, I took a side trip to soak up some War of 1812 history and watch the reenactment of the Battle of Queenston Heights near Niagara Falls. The boom of cannons, smell of smoke, calls of the soldiers, costumes of the military and civilian reenactors, and the cool, damp fall day helped to cast a spell that opened a window into the past.

At Spark Box Studio, I started each day with a solitary walk between farmers’ fields. The empty fields, subdued colours, and the whispers and rustles of leaves and grasses that followed me as I walked, made it easy to imagine a young girl two hundred years in the past, standing on the edge of a field, hearing the distant boom of cannon and cracks of musket fire. I felt like I was walking with one foot in the present and one in the past as I wrote these haiku:

.

autumn wind

on the lonely path

many voices

.

 

whispering grasses

the words always

out of reach

.

While it was great to have so much time to myself to think and write,  talking with the creative hosts and other guests at Spark Box Studio was also enriching. And, despite that last haiku, the words weren’t out of reach. I finished the first draft of a picture book story and concluded the retreat feeling buoyed in spirit, recharged and reinspired to continue writing…

Fraser River flood flashback (and book giveaway)

May 21, 2012
On this day in 1948*, the town of Agassiz’s Victoria Day dance was interrupted by news that the Fraser River was about to flood. Men, young and old, quietly left the dance to build up the sandbag dyke along the river and begin what would inevitably be a lost battle to keep the water back and protect their homes, farms and businesses. A few days later, children waded through waist deep water on the school grounds, men rowed boats down the main street of town, and hundreds of dairy cows choked the road west of town as farmers herded them to higher ground, murky water licking at their heals.

Tom, the main character of my new chapter book, Flood Warning, wishes he could join his father and the other men fighting the flood. He’s sure his favorite radio hero, the Lone Ranger, would do no less. At the very least, the Lone Ranger on his firy horse, Silver, would escort the evacuation train safely out of town. But Tom has to go to school, and when school is dismissed early, he has to stay home and help his mom around the house. Until the flood comes to him, and Tom must become a real-life hero and help save his family’s dairy cows. (Info on book giveaway at bottom of post.)

The story, while fiction, is based on what really happened during the 1948 flood. Agassiz was the first town to be evacuated (read Flood Warning for the unusual role played by the town cemetery), but communities all along the Fraser Valley were affected. In total, 30,000 civilians (local farmers, townspeople, and volunteers from other areas) sprang into action to fight the flood, rescue stranded people and animals, and bring in supplies. Sixteen thousand people (including 3,800 children) were forced to flee, and hundreds of animals were also removed to safety (750 cows were evacuated in Agassiz alone). Roads (including the Trans Canada Highway) and railways were swamped, people who remained in the flooded areas were cut off from the rest of the world, and even the city of Vancouver was isolated from the rest of the country except by plane.

When the water finally began to recede two weeks later, it left devastation in its wake. Orchards and field crops were destroyed, debris was everywhere, floor boards of houses, cupboards, stairs, etc. were warped and rotting, carpets were ruined, walls stained, water-soaked furniture falling apart, and dark stagnant water and mud remained stuck in low areas. Yet, throughout the ordeal, there was a sense of camaraderie and mutual support, and people’s spirits remained high.

For more information on the Fraser River flood, Nature’s Fury, a first-hand account by newspaper correspondents and photographers who witnessed the flood, is available to download from the city of Chilliwack’s website.

Check out Flood Warning for a child’s eye view.

Book giveaway!

I’m giving away a signed copy of Flood Warning along with a bookmark, special button, and a DVD that includes episodes of the 1950s Lone Ranger TV show. Add a comment here, or “Like” my Facebook page to be entered in the draw. (Draw deadline: June 15, 2012.)

Of course, you can also ask for the book at your local bookstore, or order it through Amazon.comAmazon.ca and other online sources.

Flood Warning is part of the Orca Echoes series for grades 1-3 and is illustrated by Leanne Franson (Leanne also illustrated my previous chapter book, Mystery of the Missing Luck, and I love her work).

* Note: Today is Victoria Day here in Canada, and it was on Victoria Day in 1948 that the flood warning began, however, in 1948 Victoria Day fell on May 24th.

Spring arrives in Vancouver’s Chinatown

April 11, 2011

I have been spending a lot of time on the computer lately, preparing for the launch of my new book (more info in a future post). But I was lured away by the spring sunshine Friday afternoon and decided to visit Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

As I neared Chinatown (walking from Stadium Skytrain station) I was met by these two Canada Geese who also seemed out for a spring walk (it’s the time of year when paired geese and their nests turn up in some strange locations around town).

Vancouver’s Chinatown is the second largest in North America (after San Francisco’s). It’s been in existence since the late 1800s, surging in growth after the Canadian railroad was completed in 1885 and many out-of-work Chinese railway workers found employment in Vancouver.

I love the colors and historic buildings in this part of the city and couldn’t resist posting some photos.


(Gate to Chinatown, looking east on Pender St. near Carrall St.)


(Shops along Pender St. –near entrance to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden)


(Tiny pink building is “Kitty’s Beauty Studio”)


(I’m not sure what purpose the niches in this old brick wall served originally, but they seem to have no current one other than to act as cozy pigoen perches)


(Like the two geese, and perhaps the pigeon pair, these crows seem to be a couple with nesting on their mind)


(Chinatown banners)

Ooops, I hadn’t mean to post so many photos of Chinatown, but actually meant to focus on Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden. So, if you’re still with me, garden photos are next.

The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden is modeled after private classical gardens of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It is the first full-scale classical Chinese garden constructed outside of China, and was built through the cooperation of Canada, China, and the Chinese and non-Chinese communities in Vancouver. It is named in memory of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, the “Father” of modern China, who played a role in leading the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 and was the first president of the Republic of China.

(You can glimpse the moon-shaped gate to the public park section of the garden beyond the stone lion)

When I stepped into the garden, I left behind the hussle and bustle of the surrounding city (and the shouts from a nearby soccer game), and entered a tranquil oasis.

The design and materials of the garden reflect the Daoist philosophy of yin and yang. Light is balanced by dark, rugged and hard are balanced by soft and flowing, small is blanced by large. It also has the four main elements of a classical Chinese garden: buildings, rocks, plants, water.


Even the pebbled courtyard ground has symbolism. The stones are rough to balance the smooth of the water, and the pattern of one section represents “masculine,” while the pattern of the opposite section represents “feminine.”


Bamboo represents quiet resilience, bending but never breaking.


Turtles symbolize long-life, while the koi fish represent strength and perseverance (due to their ability to swim a long way against the current).


The drip tiles at the edge of the roof represent bats, which are symbols of good luck (the Chinese word for “bat”, bianfu, sounds like the Chinese word for “Good luck”). Bat images can be found throughout the garden.


The water is intentionally cloudy to intensify the reflections (Magnolia tree reflected in above photo).


The garden is open all year, with something different to see with each season. There is a fee to enter the inner courtyard and associated buildings, but the public park section (seen in the above photo) is free. More info is available on the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden website.

Time-Travelling character makes a blog-hop stop

October 14, 2010

Greetings Jacquie P
So good of you to have me
Here, inside your blog

My name is Darby Christopher, and I write pretty lame haiku. But Jacquie Pearce, the author of Wildink, invited me here for the day, so I wanted to at least try to fit in!

The truth is that this month I’m cruising around the internet in a blog-odyessy, celebrating the launch of my new book. It’s called FACING FIRE and Jacquie has kindly made this space available so I can tell you about it.

FACING FIRE picks up the story of what happened to me after the magical summer that you may have read about in A WALK THROUGH A WINDOW. Both of these novels tell the stories of how many different people came to live in Canada. The cool bit for me is that I got to see these stories unfold in real time. Because I may not be very good at Haiku, but I have discovered that I do seem to have a talent for ….time travel.

So if that interests you at all, and you want to learn more about either of my stories, you can always have a peek at kc dyer’s website.

Or better still, maybe you’d like to win a copy? If you leave a comment on this post, Jacquie will put your name into a draw to win a signed copy of the new book – FACING FIRE. And if you actually link to this post somewhere else [like in another blog, or facebook post or even a tweet] we’ll put your name in for the draw for BOTH of my books.

So what do you say?

By the way, if you’re into looking for prizes, [especially if you like making videos], check out my blog HERE at Darby Speaks. I have an AMAZING contest going with some totally fantastic prizes. And if you like twitter, you can follow all the latest on the contest and the blog tour and launches @DarbyWalking.

See you there.

Time for us to part
But there is no sadness, for
I’ll be Facing Fire

Thanks for having me, Jacquie!

~Darby

In Emily Carr’s footsteps

March 26, 2007

Carr novelsI would like to say a special hello to everyone who has been reading my novels about the childhood of artist Emily Carr (Discovering Emily and Emily’s Dream) — especially Mrs. Fung’s class at Lord Nelson Elementary School!

During Spring Break last week I spent a day in Victoria, the city where Emily Carr was born and spent most of her life (1871-1945). Walking around her old neighbourhood, I tried to imagine what it looked like when she was a girl playing in the cow yard beside her house, cutting through her family’s back field to Beacon Hill Park, walking along the road to the James Bay Bridge…. and later, being a landlady at the House of All Sorts (a house built on a piece of her family’s property), raising her bob tail sheep dogs, walking along the streets with her monkey, Woo…..

Carr house

Above: Carr house in the 1860s and me in front of the house last week.

House of All Sorts

Above: The House of All Sorts (at left), which is around the corner from Carr House (Carr House is now a museum you can visit, but the House of All Sorts is a privately owned house with apartments, and there is still a mural that Emily Carr painted on the attic ceiling). The house on the right is where I lived during my last year at University in Victoria (a room-mate and I rented the top floor, just a block away from Carr House, and no, Emily Carr was not still alive when I lived in her neighbourhood).

Empress HotelThis street in front of the Empress Hotel (photo at left) used to be the James Bay Bridge, which Emily would walk across with her father. The hotel is sitting on what used to be the water of James Bay (the bay was filled in with earth, but sea water still sneaks into the hotel basement at high tide).

Parliament Buildings

Above: The parliament buildings (behind the whale), which are across from the Empress Hotel and overlooking Victoria’s inner harbour (Emily Carr’s old neighbourhood is right behind them).

Below: Me dressed in 19th century costume, reading in the Emily Carr section of the Vancouver Art Gallery a couple years ago (my daughter, sitting on the floor at left, is dressed like Emily Carr would have dressed when she was a girl).

reading at VAG