Growing inspiration

IMG_5816Yesterday the weather was gorgeous, a classic spring day such as you read about in books, but rarely experience here in Nova Scotia, where spring can really hang you up the most. The sun was shining, the air was balmy, the birds were singing their hearts out. When my workshoppers arrived, I could tell they were a little school-stunned and logy. “We’re going to try something different,” I told them. “We’re going to go out into the garden and use all our five senses to observe the afternoon. Pay close attention, because afterward, we’ll come back in to write about what we’ve noticed!”

Out we all went into the sunshine. Already, they were perking up. They wondered what there would be to taste in the garden. Mint, I said, or tulips. Tulips?!? They’d never heard of such a thing. I pulled petals off my red tulips and handed them around, and watched the idea of eating flowers blow their minds. One kid liked the petals so much she ate an entire tulip. A small price to pay for the inspiration the garden time brought. The kids were totally engaged in paying attention, thinking up metaphors and similes to use in their descriptive paragraphs, bringing narrative to bear, explaining what they’d observed in minute detail.


One wrote about the red tulips as garden sentries. Another compared the white tulips to the lightning on a Percy Jackson novel cover. A third noticed the leaves of rose geranium are soft and fuzzy and delicate, like a peach. The fourth got up close and personal with a fiddlehead fern. Myself, I described two haskap bushes in detail. It was a great afternoon in the garden, and in the workshop.


If there’s a young writer in your house, encourage them to pay close attention to a corner of the garden (or window box, if that’s all the space you have, and if you’ve no garden at all, a corner of a park will do!), using all their senses to observe a few minutes in the garden’s life. Then, they can return to their notebook and write a paragraph of two using the most descriptive language they can muster. A great exercise for practicing metaphors, similes, and descriptive writing in general, which is key for building theme and bringing stories to life.


Writes of summer!


I never went to summer camp, but it loomed large in my childhood imagination, probably because so many of the books I loved involved camp in some way. It seemed my fictional friends were always having some kind of summer camp fun: tipping a canoe, going on hikes and getting bitten by bugs, being ostracized by everyone else in their cabin… wait, why did I want to go to camp so bad?

In my house, summer camp was edged out by helping my dad in the humongous vegetable garden that took over our whole backyard. In suburban Mississauga, we were growing rows of corn, green beans, zucchini, tomatoes, lettuces, onions, carrots, herbs—a veritable farmers’ market, all in our backyard. So, instead of picking a new best friend at camp, I picked endless rows of green beans, and endless buckets of stone out of the soil. Later, the garden itself was edged out by an in-ground swimming pool, an incredibly luxury in our family of six. That swimming pool stood in for summer camp and vacations to exotic places—we didn’t do any of that. Instead, we had glorious family swims, pool parties with our friends (the ones who weren’t away at camp), lazy afternoons reading with our feet in the shallow end. It was pretty great.

But still, there’s something about camp that just appeals to my inner nerd (and also to my outer nerd). And so, I’m delighted to be launching my first-ever camp: Tiny Empire Writing Workshop Summer Camp! Our inaugural session is this summer, from July 23 to July 27, nine am to noon. Kids have the option to bring their lunch and stay till 1pm (some parents find that easier for pick up than noon), reading a book, listening to a podcast with the group, or chatting about their projects. During class time each day, we’ll dig deeply into character, plot, setting, theme, and descriptive writing, using writing exercises, discussion, and examples from kid lit. A motivated kid could use this week to complete a novel, probably. At the very least, kids will get lots of experience with exploring elements of story, more facility with giving and receiving feedback, and a great week of hanging out with their peers, using their imaginations. We’ll go outside each day, too, to observe the world around us and talk about how to weave real-life details into our stories. It’s gonna be great. And no one will fall out of a canoe and have to walk back to camp in their wet clothes.

The details:

  • What: Tiny Empire Writing Workshop Summer Camp!
  • When: Monday July 23 to Friday July 27, instruction from 9am to noon, till 1pm if kids want to hang out and eat their lunch
  • Where: My place, in central Halifax
  • Who is it for: Eager young writers between the ages of 8 and 13
  • How much: $200 per child for the week

Get in touch to enrol your young writer today!



Once upon a time

Since I learned to grasp a pencil, I knew writing was the thing for me. I didn’t have a chance to meet an actual writer till I was in high school, and there was no opportunity for me to take extracurricular classes to practise my writing. Other kids did piano, or dance, or played baseball, with coaches and teachers to help guide them. I made stories by myself, with the feedback and encouragement of my excellent parents.

A recent conversation with a friend who homeschools her daughters made me think about starting a writing workshop for kids. After the first session, I was hooked. I was so dazzled by the kids and their passion for writing. Watching them think through plot and character problems, listening to the language they reach for to freshly describe mundane objects and events, learning from the kindness and curiosity they bring to giving feedback to their peers—it’s all been incredibly rewarding.

Tiny Empire Writing Workshop is exactly what I would have loved when I was a young writer. An hour a week to meet with other writers, learn a little more about plot, character, setting, structure, how to use language, how to share work and respond to the work of others, and lots of fuel to keep writing. Heck, it’s what I love as a not-very-young-anymore writer.