Work that brain!

September 9th, 2016Posted by Nancy

To keep my writing muscles working while I’m suspended in “I’ve written everything that I know happens and now must actually develop a world and a plot” mode, I’m doing writing exercises. I’ve just started on the ones featured in Ursula K. LeGuin’s wonderful book Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew.  (What, you don’t have the book? Go buy it right away.)  I’ve done it twice before, once in the mid 2000s and once in 2009.  I used the exercises to work on Cold Hillside wherever possible and some of the sections of Teresine working on her mosaics and remembering the past come directly from what I wrote then.   Of course, I also wrote a section about a woman getting bitten by a dog in Ramsden Park, which was far less useful in the long run, though good practice.

The process reaffirmed that I just cannot seem to master Authorial narration/omniscience for more than a paragraph or two but that I’m quite fond of eliminating punctuation (don’t worry, the next novel will not be an homage to Jose Saramago).  I did quite like pretending to be Jane Austen, though.

What do I hope to get from this exercise? Exercise, for one thing.  A decent sentence or two that might find its way into the new novel.  Some unexpected ways into the characters and plot.  And at least being able to claim that I did not fritter away ALL my time over the next month or two. To keep myself honest, I’ve recruited another writer or two to join in the process so we can share our experiments and maintain the pretense of discipline.

Here, for your amusement, is the Jane Austen sentence I wrote for the first go-round. The actual instruction was to write up to 350 words as one sentence.

            “Though she willed herself not to consider Maru’s chiding words, she found them echoing in her mind whenever she let her attention wander – which it did with appalling regularity despite her concerted attempts to otherwise engage it – and soon there emerged a succession of alternatives at which she worried without reaching resolution; that she ask him to leave and accept no responsibility for whatever grief he might endure over the loss of a regard she had never – or so she insisted to herself – invited; that she bed him and have done with it, trusting that wanting was more potent than having so that the inevitable disillusionment would soon set in and, with only the expected unpleasantness in such situations, bring the whole business to an end; or that she simply do what Maru accused her of, and run as far and as fast as she could.”

 I’m still quite fond of this.  Now I just need someplace to use it.

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Collaging my way to inspiration

August 8th, 2016Posted by Nancy


In keeping with the visual inspiration theme, here is a collage I created at the recent “Hello Dali” surrealism collage night at Spadina Museum.  I used some scrapbook paper, Egon Schiele postcards from a set I bought while working on A Terrible Beauty, images provided at the event, and phrases from the incredibly cool card I received from my sister. (Sadly, I’ve yet to find a way to use the option for “new war elephant” – but I will. If you acquire a new war elephant, please let me know and I’ll send you a handmade congratulatory card.)

The images represent the main characters from the work-in-progress: Erzabet, Leontine and Vedette.

The night included a tour of the house, which I had also toured as part of my Terrible Beauty work (researching that book was really hard, I must say), plus some delicious lemonade and raspberry fool.  If you’re in Toronto, you should definitely visit this museum, which is both grand and comfortably homey.

Thanks to Spadina Museum for putting on such an interesting event and to my friend Gillian for going with me.

On another note, I am excessively proud of myself because I’ve managed to upgrade my WordPress for the first time ever on my own. Small things make me happy…

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Images to inspire

July 14th, 2016Posted by Nancy

Day 12.31

I find visual inspirations very helpful when working on a book (see my earlier posts about the “mood boards” for the novels).  I’m just starting on what might be the new novel, but I already have a couple of touchstones.

This girl with the wary eyes is part of the painting The Coronation of the Virgin by Filippo Lippi.  This was one of the highlights of the Uffizi gallery for me and, as I often do, I singled out a small part of the overall work to photograph.  I didn’t know at the the time that this would become my image for a new character.

What can I tell you about her?  Her name is Leontine, she is the daughter of a noble house in something that is currently modelled after Provence, and she is very good at math.  She likes bees.  She will become the King’s Magician, Protector of the Realm – at least for a while.

There are two other key characters in this both so far, but I have not yet found their paintings.

And if you ever have the chance to see the original in the Uffizi, take it. It’s a thing of beauty, with touches of humanity and humour.

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Upcoming Event – July 23/24

July 11th, 2016Posted by Nancy


I’ll be in Kingston at the Limestone Genre Expo the weekend of July 23, 2016.  This is the second year of this event and there’s a great line-up of writers and some fascinating panels.  It’s a small, friendly convention in a beautiful town.

I’ll be taking part in three panels (Where is Fantasy taking the modern reader? The Feminist Journey in Fantasy, and Magic Systems) and reading from Cold Hillside (and maybe something else).

Hope to see you there.

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And everything changes…

June 20th, 2016Posted by Nancy

Cottage and Sanibel 2014 109

I’ve been working full-time since I was twenty-two (that’s 35 years, for anyone who’s counting).  I started doing data entry at a sleazy mail order company whose principals eventually were arrested in the U.S. for mail fraud, moved to the magazine business in the circulation department, worked in magazine consulting,  and then ended up in finance and business management, despite the fact that I have a degree in English Literature and no patience for balance sheets.

I spent the last 26 years at one company, as it went through three owners.  And on last Tuesday, I was “restructured” out.

Regardless of any other feelings I have on the matter (and they range from “wait, didn’t you appreciate me?” to “not my circus, not my monkeys anymore!”), I will in theory have much more time for writing, blog posts, book promotion and many other things, at least for a little while.  I may have no more ideas – but I will have time.

I will try to use it productively and not spend the rest of the my life on the internet.

(Image above is from Thomas Edison’s winter estate in Florida.  I don’t think I’ll be quite that productive, though).


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Ad Astra 2016 Update

April 28th, 2016Posted by Nancy

I’ll be doing a panel at 10:00 on the ongoing imaginative power of Camelot and then I’ll be around until mid-afternoon.  Say “hi” if you see me looking lost…

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Ad Astra 2016

April 18th, 2016Posted by Nancy

I’ll be at Ad Astra at the end of the month, but only on the Sunday (May 1st).  I’ll post my schedule when it’s available.


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Wouldst thou live deliciously? Let me research that.

April 18th, 2016Posted by Nancy


The key question from The Witch, the movie most of my friends were seeing in February and March. I go along with the unanimous praise. Even the parts I didn’t think quite worked (I understood what they were getting at but the execution didn’t quite hit the mark) were thought-provoking. One of my coworkers and I came up with at least four defensible interpretations of the film, which always makes me happy.

I found it especially intriguing as I had just finished reading The Witches by Stacey Schiff and was looking at using witch trials and grim Scottish Presbyterianism in the story I’m researching right now.

I’m quite fond of research. It makes a lovely substitute for actually writing so it can be particularly dangerous for people like me. Still, because world-building isn’t my strong suit, I need to do a lot of reading and looking to create a society and ground myself in it.

Things currently on the list for the current work in progress :

– a stack of books about witchcraft, trials and Dr. Dee that I borrowed from a friend

The King’s Mistresses, a book about the strong-willed nieces of Cardinal Mazarin

– rewatching Dangerous Liaisons and Ridicule

– Richard Feynman’s book What do you care what other people think?

I warmed up for today’s writing by looking at pictures of Provencal gardens, which at least is a pleasant way to start the day.

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Are you not entertained? Yes, we are.

January 29th, 2016Posted by Nancy

Spurred by reading Mary Beard’s book about Rome, SPQR, and by memories of our tour of the Colosseum, we decided to rewatch Gladiator the other night.  Not withstanding my affection for men in period armor (with wolfskins),  the film still works.  Oh, parts of the plot don’t make any sense, Rome was apparently to be seen only through a blue haze and the geography and time frame is a bit … elastic.  It looks gorgeous, the music is perfect, the costumes are lovely and the acting is uniformly excellent.

Watching it again, I appreciated the little moments of acting grace. Crowe was perfectly cast as Maximus. He had a gift not only for the big moments but the small ones as well: the dismay in his eyes as the emperor asks him to become guardian of Rome, the way he turns his head away a little when faced with having to dissemble because, as Lucilla notes, he was never any good at it.  By the second part of the film, he rarely does it anymore, because he has nothing left to lose.  I admit that the duel scene in Cold Hillside owes two key moments to the match between Maximus and Tigris.  One is the moment of mercy and the other is Daen’s entrance to the arena.

“He walked into the courtyard, helmet under his arm, armoured in serviceable leather. There was grace there, but it was economical and solid, the confidence of a workman come to do a task without drama. He unhooked the sword across his back and let it fall to his hip then donned his helm, a curved shape of dull metal with no trace of ornamentation.
“It was theatre of its own sort, I realized. Every gesture, from stance to walk to armour, was calculated to define itself in opposition to the fey, to turn their grace and glamour into nothing but a showy reflection of his straightforward competence.”


But the revelation of rewatching the film is Connie Nielsen as Lucilla. Crowe and Phoenix got most of the attention, but Nielsen creates a devastating portrayal of a woman who is arguably the bravest person in the story. When we first see her, she seems as shallow and corrupt as her brother.  Our first clue that she might be something else is her father’s observation “What a pity you were not born a man. What a Caesar you would have made.”  The praise suggests intelligence, resolve, and courage.  Coming from Marcus Aurelius, they could also suggest honor and compassion, but his own ambivalence to power hints at other things: cruelty, corruption, deceptiveness.

Gradually we realize that Lucilla’s perfect, regal composure is a mask she has perfected over years of survival in the imperial palace. With the death of her father, she needs all her skill to survive the attentions of her dangerous brother and to protect her son.  She risks everything to try to change the situation and the scene in which Commodus reveals that he knows of her schemes is chilling.

It was fascinating to watch her mask fall away and that beautiful composure become despair, clear in every shift of Nielsen’s expression.  The contrast between her pale, brittle face at the beginning of the film and her naked, drawn one, red-eyed from weeping, at the end is stunning.  Before the final resolution, Lucilla faces the hardest fate of anyone in the film. Maximus faces death for his rebellion but he has been waiting to die for half the film. She faces a lifetime of obedience to her needy, all-powerful brother, in which any perceived disloyalty on her part will mean the death of her son.  Maximus just has die – Lucilla has to endure.  I know which character I’d rather be.

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My odd little side project for January

January 23rd, 2016Posted by Nancy




I’ve been buying clothes from Annie Thompson for years (probably close to twenty) and in that time I’ve gotten rid of no more than about ten items.   I wore one pair of pants out and have sized myself out of a few other items – though of course I’ve hung on to most of them in the hopes that someday…..

For January, I decided to do an “outfit of the day” project on Instagram featuring the various outfits I have and have put together over the years.  One of the best things about Annie’s clothes is that they express a singular aesthetic vision.  The vision grows and changes but the basic DNA of it stays the same.  This means that a jacket you buy in 2000 will go very nicely with a top you buy in 2010 and a pair of pants you buy 2015.  Everything is made here in Toronto so the clothes will last for years.

My good friends at The House of Pomegranates came over and took some photos so they’re a step up from my own awkward selfies.

Just search #30daysofAnnieThompson on Instagram and you’ll find me.


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