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Today marks the Eve of St. Agnes, when a maiden may, after performing a defined bedtime ritual, dream of her future lover.

It was 200 years ago, in 1819,  that John Keats wrote his poem about the bitter chill night of January 20. It’s a tale of a lover risking all to gaze upon his beloved, with a happy ending when Madeline and Porphyro flee away into the night.

St. Agnes’ Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was!
       The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
       The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
       And silent was the flock in woolly fold….
a British Red Cross Christmas Card

Sheep in their woolly fold

It’s to be a cold cold night here in Toronto, but the snow has stopped, and the sky is clear, so perhaps we’ll see the full moon and lunar eclipse, perfect for Saint Agnes’ Eve (in the poem, a storm blows up later in the night).

My own copy was printed by my brother Pat on his home printing press in 1974.

The Eve of Saint Agnes, from The Daly Press

Saint Agnes’ Eve– ah bitter chill it was!

 

So take down your copy of Keats from the shelf, or find the poem here, or find the audio here. Then curl up by the fire and enjoy.

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Well, new to me.

If you look back here at my post from (oh gosh!) 2009, you’ll see the story of my mother’s nativity scene, which she began assembling in 1945.

In that post, I said “I think we could now call the whole scene complete.”

I was wrong. On my second trip to Florence in 2015, I toured a few museums, led by some excellent art guides. That’s when I learned about the symbolism in the medieval Nativity paints. I won’t go into them all, but what sticks in my mind was learning the three wise men, White, Brown and Black, represent, respectively, the people of Europe, Asia and Africa.

Well done, Mom.

Africa, Europe and Asia. All there. With camel.

And the Donkey (aka Ass), at Jesus’s feet, represents the Gentiles. The Ox, at his head, stands for the Jews.

Wait….Ox?

For the first time ever, I feel there’s someone missing.

So, when I get home, I start searching online. A lot of unsuitable (and frankly crass) oxen offer themselves. But once I start including words like “vintage” and “Italian” I narrow it down to more suitable candidates. But oh, so pricey. How much do I want it?

I decide to keep an eye open at rummage sales and the like for a while.

Nothing, of course. So this December I search online again and find a couple of candidates. Including this one, from a dealer appropriately called Memories Found.

The original price sticker on the bottom says 29¢

With shipping and exchange, it’s about $25. I stew over this at my Monday afternoon Quilting group. They all say, Buy it!

So I go home and do so. And it arrived Friday, December 21st. Just in time!  I’m thrilled with it. There is just enough room at the stable.

So the Ox, representing the Jews, sits at Jesus’s head in my mother’s Nativity Scene.

Now we can call it complete.

Oh, I guess I didn’t mention Santa Claus flying in on a Canada Goose. This was a gift many years ago from my dear friend Leslie, who died in1998. This figure represents all the peoples of Canada, right up to the North Pole.

(Click on any pic to enlarge it)

Why yes, it has been a while. Because I haven’t got a new story coming out until sometime early next year.

So, let’s talk about Christmas.  Miniature Christmas.

About a million Miniature years ago, I put together a nice little Christmas room in one inch scale.

Around, oh 1990?

Over the years, I’ve been adding to it, and redecorating the tree, and putting down more presents.

In 2012 I decided to use it for a Christmas card, and so put old family pics on the wall.

When Robin Betterley offered a Weihnachtspyramid kit (I’d wondered for years how to make one) I swear I was the first in line ordering it.

I found some Dollarama lights to put on the tree.

I was given some lovely Spode (well, Spode-ish) dishes. You know the ones, with the Christmas tree.

My brother and sister-in-law in Germany sent me a nice little Bûche de Noël (which I think of as mainly from Québec, and which I make for real every year) so that went in.

I found a vintage plush chair and ottoman when another miniaturist was clearing out some old stuff…. Don’t they look comfy?

My Christmas Room as it is today: Christmas Morning from sometime in my 1950s childhood

And now, it’s perfect. Well, until I find more lovely things to add.

Click on any pic to enlarge it.

(I started this post weeks ago, and somehow got busy, and only just remembered to post it now)

 

Here we are…. my latest short story involving secrets, lies, betrayals and train travel.

Murder on the Northern Lights Express

Northern Lights Express arrives at Cumberland Bridge, Ontario

In 1961, Alice Berlin boards the Northern Lights Express in Toronto, heading north on a reunion trip with her old friends from university. The only member of the group missing is Walter, who died in an accident two years ago.

As the train speeds northwards through the autumn countryside, Alice begins to work on her hidden agenda, finding out who knows the truth behind Flames Along the St. Lawrence, the brilliant historical work that’s taking the academic world by storm.

Murder on the Northern Lights Express” is featured in Mystery Most Geographical, the latest anthology from the wonderful people at Malice Domestic, the annual traditional mystery conference held each April in Maryland.

Mystery Most Geographical is available at the Malice Domestic Conference (April 27-29, 2018) or all your favourite online bookstores.

There’s a new man in my life: Arthur Ellis.  He’s moved into my house and lives on my desk.

Last night, I received the 2017 Arthur Ellis Award for my short story, “A Death at the Parsonage“, from the Crime Writers of Canada.

I was in good company when I was shortlisted last month, along with fellow writers in The Whole She-Bang 3 anthology, Cathy Ace and Elizabeth Hosang.

And I’m in good company again with the other winners (below).  All the details about their winning books can be found at the CWC website.

It was an exciting night, meeting with other crime writers, and having Norman and my tablemates send good vibes my way.

Many, many thanks to the Crime Writers of Canada and their endless work in making the awards happen, and to their hard-reading judges.

I have to share here some of the commentary from the judges:

…Susan Daly combines all the familiar elements of Pride and Prejudice in a murder… following the conclusion of Jane Austen’s literary Classic.  Daly’s witty dialogue and sensitive attention to detail pull the reader back in the world of Elizabeth Darcy (née Bennet) and her hapless friend Charlotte, who now finds herself under suspcion after the violent and mysterious death of her husband. Daly’s characters all seem to have stepped gracefully out of the original novel as she seamlessly weaves old with new. …Most compelling is the author’s ability to make us believe in the world she has created.  Here is a well crafted story and a thoroughly entertaining reminder of what darkness human beings are capable of when they [dare to] read novels.

The winners: Donna Morrissey (not present), S.J. Jennings, Marie-Ève Bourassa, Elle Wild, Christina Jennings, Gordon Korman (not present), Jeremy Grimaldi, Rick Blechta and me.

And many more thanks to Toronto Sisters in Crime for pulling together the three Whole She-Bang anthologies.

Sisters in Crime: Janet Costello, me, Helen Nelson. With Arthur

Thanks also to Jane Austen for creating my characters.

Where to buy The Whole She-Bang 3

Me and the Hangman

A Death at the Parsonage – exciting news.

I’m having a great time with my short stories this year. And now, can you believe it, “A Death at the Parsonage“, has been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for best short story.

The story, included in The Whole She-Bang 3 Anthology, is based on characters from Pride and Prejudice characters (as if no one has done that before) because I feel that Charlotte deserves better in life than to be stuck with Mr. Collins forever, though she explains her low expectations to Elizabeth:

I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connection, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state. (P&P, Chapter 22)

The Collinses in Happier Times

It was inevitable, perhaps, that someday someone would get fed up with the “conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man” (as Elizabeth so roundly describes him) and take a swing at him.

When the finger of guilt points to Mrs. Collins, it’s fortunate that her dearest friend is on hand to set matters straight.

 

The Whole She-Bang 3 is the collaborative work of members of Toronto Sisters in Crime, co-ordinated by Helen Nelson, edited by Janet Costello and brought to life by a tireless team of volunteers. The anthology features works by 20 Canadian crime writers, and is (can you tell by the title?) the third in the Whole She-Bang Series. All are available from your favourite on-line booktores.

The Arthur Ellis Awards for Excellence in Crime Writing are held every year by the Crime Writers of Canada. The shortlists were announced April 20, and include, as always, a glorious array of talented Canadian crime writers in a variety of categories.

The award gets its name from the Nom de Noose of Canada’s Official Hangmen, who were never known by their real names. The charming wooden statuette (to quote the CWC website) represents a “condemned man on a gibbet whose arms and legs flail when you pull a string – considered by some to be in execrable taste.”

Capital punishment was abolished in Canada in 1976; the last official hanging took place in 1962.

Link to Club Info

You’ve probably heard of Olive Higgins Prouty. Or at least of Stella Dallas and Now, Voyager, two movies that unabashedly qualify as four-hankie weepers. (I mean that in a good way. I enjoy four-hankie weepers.)

Prouty, born in 1882, flourished as a writer in the first half of the twentieth century. In 1931 she wrote The White Fawn, the first of her five-book series about the Vales of Boston. The series chiefly centres on Lisa Vale, who married into the rich and powerful family, and her children.  The third book, about Charlotte Vale and her toxic relationship with her mother, the overpowering matriarch of the family, is best-known as a 1942 movie starring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains.

Far less known are the other four books, of which the final story (and Prouty’s final novel) is Fabia, 1951.

Fabia, in her early thirties at the start of the book, is the oldest of Lisa’s children. She’s already had her tormented story told in the first two books: how she fell in love with an Irish-American doctor from the wrong side of the tracks, and how the family (i.e., the hidebound Grandmother Vale and Fabia’s father Rupert) forced them apart.

Fabia, Spanish edition 1955

Now, in early December 1941, she hasn’t seen or contacted Doctor Dan Regan for 12 years. She no longer loves him. Because for the past seven years (yes, seven years)  she’s been in love with Oliver Baird, another doctor, though this time from the right side of the tracks. Too bad he’s 25 years her senior, and is married with two daughters.

At the start of the novel, she is sitting her her rather nice brownstone apartment in New York, obsessing over whether or not Dr. B will call her at 2:00, as he said he might, if he could. Unfortunately, she obsesses a lot throughout this book. Over her fantasy life as Dr. Baird’s secret lover. Over their fantasy son, also named Oliver. Over taking a walk in the evenings so she can see the lights in his apartment. If the light is on in the library, she knows he’s sleeping on the cot there, instead of in the twin-bedded bedroom with his wife Irma. It’s their own arranged signal. They have lots of these, since they work at the same hospital. She’s head of the nursing staff there.

My copy – Houghton Mifflin, 1951

After Oliver has come and gone (yes, he did eventually call) Fabia visits her mother, Lisa Vale, now Mrs. “Barry” Firth, (because they did things that way then) who is in town for a few days,  and they have a deep heart-to-heart, involving a full disclosure flashback of how Fabia’s romance began and how it’s gone on and where things stand today (pretty much as they stood seven years ago).

For seven years, this has been a perfectly chaste affair. Because of this half life Fabia is floating in, she has given up her social life, her family life and good job offers.

However, now Lisa knows and Lisa’s friend Renée Beauchamp knows. And so does Doctor Jaquith. (Both these people turned up in Now, Voyager. Dr J was that all-wise psychiatrist who helped Charlotte find her way, and Renée is the friend who gave Charlotte her cruise ticket and loaned her her name and her clothes, so she could make a splash on board ship.)

Sorry, I digress. After seven years of nothing changing, Fabia’s life gets stirred up, and everyone meets Oliver and his wife Irma. It gets complicated.

Irma, of course, is Awful. But Oliver is Noble and Faithful (in his way). Oliver’s marriage is nearly a repeat of Jerry’s from Now, Voyager. Essentially, he married her because he felt sorry for her, and if her left her now, she would suffer unbearably. And his adolescent daughters Couldn’t Take It. And then…. Oh dear, I would be spoiling things if I told you more, but it involves a Blessed Event.

Really, I just wanted to knock all their heads together.

Then, it being December 1941 and all, the US enters WWII, and Fabia takes her nursing skills into the Armed Forces. Where she meets an old friend. Hint: he’s a doctor.

To quote the jacket flap: Fabia’s final decision is unpredictable up to the last few pages.

I wish I could say this is a wonderful final act of the saga of the Vales of Boston. But as you might guess, I’m fairly lukewarm about this story.  I haven’t read the first two in the series (and don’t feel any great need to).

I own a Dell Mapback copy of Now, Voyager, which I quite like, along with a hardcover, jacketed first edition of Home Port, the fourth book in the series.

I enjoyed Home Port, a lot, and will undoubtedly read that one again. Published in 1947, it doesn’t qualify for the 1951 Club. You can read a review of it here at Another Look Books, and it’s quite affordable at AbeBooks.

My copy of Fabia is apparently a first edition with a nearly intact dust jacket, which I found at the same book barn clearance sale as Home Port.

Availability:  Well, I wouldn’t recommend it myself unless, as I did, you can pick it up for the price of a coffee. A number of copies can be found on AbeBooks, at asking prices ranging from 4.39 to 500.00 USD. Warning: nearly all of them are in French or Spanish.

To find out more about The Vales of Boston and All Things Prouty, check out this intriguing website.

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