Writing Relief

July 5, 2020

On 18th May this year, I wrote the first notes about a book I wanted to write. Today, on 5th July, I finished a good draft, 110,000 words. I had forgotten how very satisfying it can be to have completed a long story from beginning to end.

Lots of work, yet, to improve the manuscript, but I am satisfied I have the bones of a decent book.

Perhaps now I’ll have time to put more interesting stuff on this blog?

Borderline Invisibility

January 27, 2019

We are probably all aware that books by some authors — Clancy, King, Rowling, Martin, Patterson, etc. — sell in the millions of copies.  However, there are authors, and publishers, who aim for a very different market.  Hyperallergic.com has a delightful piece this week about writers and presses that limit their editions to a few hundred copies, and some even reduce their output to single figures.

The main section of the article deals with poet and artist Margaret Galey who published a book of 38 poems, all using only the letters from a sign “Hello, Please Remove Shoes”. The book had a run of just five copies.

The article’s author also contacted Happy Monks Press who limit their editions to 25 copies, of which 10 are for the author.  Others really are one-offs:

“For Alternative Press, which was run by Ken and Ann Mikolowski for more 30 years (1972–2004), Robert Creeley handwrote a poem on each of the 500 letterpress postcards he was given and made no copies. This means his “Collected Poems” will always be incomplete. Creeley’s postcards were put in mailers, along with bumper stickers, bookmarks, and other goodies, and sent to subscribers. The content of every envelope was unique.

Having consciously self-published my own books in very limited editions (though one of mine did break the 1,000 copy barrier), I’m glad to see that writing just for the sake of writing (“borderline invisible”) can still be fashionable.

A Writer’s Lot is Not Paved with Riches

January 7, 2019

The latest survey on incomes by the Author’s Guild makes sorry reading.  The median income for all authors in 2017 was $6,080 a fall of 42% since 2009.   Median income for all authors claiming it as their full-time work was just $20,300.

Income from book sales seems to have tumbled the most, and most especially for writers of literary fiction.

The Author’s Guild report is detailed and fascinating and worth reading by anyone concerned with the future of literature, reading, libraries, bookstores, and all the ancillaries that go along with the art of writing and reading.

SuperValu: The Bookseller

May 16, 2018

When I published “The Drive some years ago, a number of local bookstores helped me sell the volume, and I thank them for all their assistance.  However, the largest single seller of the book — and they sold several hundreds — was SuperValu at First & Commercial.  They put up a display stand near a cashier, sold the book at full price, and people bought it as an impulse buy (I’m guessing) while they waited their turn in line.  I don’t believe they had sold books of any kind before and it was a positive experience for both the store and me.

Today when I was in the store, they were eager and proud to tell me they now had a whole display of locally written and locally published books.


As a Board member at People’s Coop Bookstore, I guess I should be nervous about yet another competitor. However,  I really appreciate the efforts the owner and managers of the supermarket are doing to further the careers of our local authors, and I applaud and thank them!



Free Speech Is Not For Wimps Or Cowards

February 10, 2018

I believe in totally free speech. Everyone has, or should have, the right to say anything they want on any topic without sanction. That includes comments on this site, no matter how bizarre or off-base they may be.

However, I also believe that right comes with an equal dose of responsibility — that one own one’s own words.

It is not OK to hide your statements behind fake names. It is not OK to pretend to be someone else when making statements. It is not OK to give phony email addresses. Only cowards and deliberate provocateurs do that.

Too often lately, commenters here have hidden their identities, clearly unwilling to be responsible for their own actions. That stops today.  I have been persuaded that some people really need or prefer to use a pseudonym for their own safety (or whatever) and while I disagree with that, I will allow it.  But there is no reason whatsoever to give a false email address, and I will check every new address that tries to leave a comment. Those that fail that simple test will not be posted.

If you don’t like the new rules, don’t leave a comment. Your right to do or not do is completely unharmed.



Another Medical Hiatus

October 20, 2017

Well, my hope that I would get back to posting in real time foundered on some major infections and a week in Mount St Joseph’s Hospital who discharged me today. At least I can now add their wonderful staff to my praise of the BC Medical profession.

And thank goodness for the images, music, poems, and certain celebrations that I tend to pre-schedule sometimes weeks in advance for keeping the blog ticking over.

Finally back at home, I am keeping my fingers crossed.

What I Do

March 26, 2017

Here on the blog I have a great time publishing my photographs, playing music, beating up on senseless developers and crony-politicians, talking about art, celebrating the odd anniversary, and whatever else comes up. It’s play time.

But each day, whether it is for a long time, or just an hour, I work on my history projects; and this is the real work on which I am engaged. To me, it is a bit like playing the piano — you have to practice every day to keep the muscles limber and the mind sharp.

Much of this effort goes into the Grandview Database. I am currently working on the next version which will be published on 1st April. There are several lifetimes of material still available to be loaded into the database and by that means made easily available to anyone who wants to look. If anything is to be my legacy, I suspect that is it.

But I am also keen to produce another book, this one covering the birth of Grandview from 1860 to 1935 (which will tie in with my earlier book, “The Drive“, which starts in 1935.) To that end, I wrote a book-length series of essays last year, but it didn’t work for me (or my readers), as the book tried to cover the entire period from 1900 to 1970 and there was significant overlap with the earlier book. So, I have begun to rework the material into a more focused and recognizably narrative form, and my plan is to publish drafts of it serially at Grandview Heritage Group as I complete sections  The first part was published today.

In the end, the entire work will be produced as a book. But I hope both those interested in the subject and I will gain something from the serial publishing idea.



Essays To Come

December 5, 2016

My writing here has been a little less than usual these last couple of months. That is because I have been working on completing my new book: “Grandview: Collected Historical Essays.” The main draft is now complete and I have this week sent out the manuscript to selected professional readers for critical comment. Given that the readers don’t tell me to rip the whole thing up and start again, the plan is to have this in stores by the end of January.

For those interested, the Table of Contents looks like this:

  • John Mason’s House (1891)
  • Creating Grandview (1900-1907)
  • A Little Church In The Stumps (1904-1909)
  • Crime Story I: Wild West and Big City (1910)
  • Boom and Bust (1907-1913)
  • Early Retail on Commercial Drive (1905-1915)
  • Demographics of Commercial Drive in 1910
  • Grandview’s Parks (1890-1930)
  • The Bufton Family (1923-1985)
  • The Viaduct That Saved Grandview (1938)
  • Lawn Bowling Leads to Rock and Roll (1930-1965)
  • Crime Story 2: Just Like In The Movies (1949)
  • The Fight Over The School Site (1940-1955)
  • The Library Saga (1929-1975)
  • Crime Story 3: Robbery Central (1940s, 1950s)
  • The Acronyms of Activism (1907-1967)
  • Getting To Today.

When it becomes available, I will post another notice.

Happy Anniversary To Me!

September 23, 2016

On 23rd September 2001, I started my first blog. It was on Blogspot. In 2004, I switched to Typepad, and in 2008 came to rest at WordPress (thus, the v.3 in the title of the blog).

Before that, from the late 1980s through the 1990s, I had operated a number of Bulletin Board Services (BBS) both for myself and for others, and had then been active with some of the early online communities (UTNE Cafe, Brainstorms, etc).

So, today is the 15th anniversary of me on blogs. I’ve had a lot of fun and hopefully, if only for a moment or two, I have managed to reach out and touch someone.

An Historical Day

March 31, 2015

Out bright and early this morning, to get to the Nikkei Centre in Burnaby by 9.  Michael drove, while Penny and I complained about planning and suburbia.  We were there to witness and cheer on the final student project presentations for the UBC Geog 429 course taught by David Brownstein.

For each of the last few years, Professor Brownstein has linked up his final year students one-on-one with a wide variety of community groups, to conduct a research project suggested by the group and accepted by the student. This was the third year the Grandview Heritage Group (GHG) has participated. The first two years were not entirely successful; but this year we struck gold with Kevin Shackles.

The project he agreed to undertake was a review history of the corner grocery stores in Grandview (not those on the Drive or Hastings) and to track their decline into non-existence.

Kevin really threw himself into this project and met with several of us on several occasions for discussions and suggestions.  His presentation this morning was excellent, polished and focused.  He will be making a more detailed presentation to the next meeting of GHG and we will publish his final papers on our website.  The final paper will include a detailed spreadsheet covering the histories of all the grocery stores that used to colour our neighbourhood.

There were a total of 10 presentations this morning, covering subjects as diverse as the Point Atkinson military park, the history of air pollution in Vancouver, and a study of social divides in northern canneries and fisheries. Good stuff, all of them.

So, a good morning, and I was planning to come straight home and write about it. But in the car coming back, I had a small epiphany about how to handle a particular part of my current research, and as soon as I was home, I was buried deep within the 1901 Census of Vancouver and hardly came up for air until now.

A day full of history, and all the better for it.

Into Research Mode

March 11, 2015

Well, I’m back at my back at one of my favourite perches — looking at the minutiae of East Vancouver history (1888-1915) through the lens of the contemporary daily newspapers. That’s a good thing, especially for the new book I am planning. Trouble is, it takes up most of my time and most of my intellectual energy, so posts on other topics here may well be few and far between.  We’ll see how I do with that.

There will still be the music and image posts on alternate days; poetry on Mondays; environmental stuff on Fridays; Changes on the Drive on the first of each month, and posts on celebratory and other memorable days.  To my coterie of regular readers, I hope that is enough for the time being.

Thanks for viewing!

The Drive” at Canterbury Tales Bookstore!

March 2, 2015

Big shout out to Canterbury Tales bookstore at 2010 Commercial Drive who just placed a big order for copies of my “The Drive” history today!

The book is currently available locally at Canterbury Tales, the People’s Coop Bookstore, and Super-Valu.

Call Out For Great Service

December 16, 2014

There are a lot of reasons to dislike Amazon. I certainly don’t use them to buy books because I prefer to support my local bookstores and our wonderful library system.  However, I do use Amazon to print my self-published books through their Print-On-Demand service called Createspace.

Creatspace is an excellent service for authors, but I am here today to praise not them but DHL, the shipping company.

I ordered a new batch of “The Drive” on Sunday afternoon, choosing the cheaper of the two delivery options.  By Monday morning the books had been printed in New Jersey and picked up by DHL.  By 2 this afternoon the package arrived at my house in Vancouver and I have my books ready for Christmas sale.

That’s damn efficient service by any measure.  Well done!

This Is Not A Newspaper

March 26, 2014

This is not a newspaper nor is it the CBC or the BBC.  It is a place for me to express my own views (thus the name of this blog) and to pass on observances that I think are of interest.  I do exactly as much research as I choose when writing these pieces. Nothing more should be expected of me.

When I write history pieces, the research will be as exact and accurate as I can possibly make it.  But when I write political pieces or articles on art, music, food or when I write general observations, what you see is what you get — my view with absolutely no guarantee that anyone else will agree.  Everyone is welcome to do their own research, their own reading, and make up their own minds.

I would have thought this was obvious.

But clearly some with a different point of view expect something else.  The comments that my post on the anal bleaching sign attracted are a fine example.  Obviously the commenter disagreed with my position and claimed I got my facts wrong.  No, I did not: I reported accurately on what I saw (the sign), I reported accurately on what I heard on the street (“I am told that” the PAC had objected), and I gave my own opinion on the issue.   No facts were harmed in the production of that post.

As I wrote to the commenter, the comments and my email are open for anyone to state their differences of opinion, but I expect something other than just “you are wrong.”



Happy 6th WordPress Anniversary!

February 3, 2014

Today is the 6th anniversary of the start of this particular blog.

It is the third version of my blog:  the second was on Typepad and lasted from 24th April 2004 until 3rd February 2008. Most of that seems to survive and there are some interesting essays on that site if I do say so myself,

My first blog was on Blogspot and has deteriorated over time.  I started it on 23rd September 2001 in response to 9/11, and transferred to Typepad in April 2004.

We’ve had over half a million views on version 3 of the blog which, I know, is puny compared to a lot of sites, but which seems like an awful lot of visitors to me.  I am truly grateful to each and every one of you who takes a moment or more to read these scratchings.

Onward for the next six years!

Food, Sleep, and Food Again!

December 14, 2013

There was a slow start to the day: the goddess slept and I watched a brilliant game of rugby.  By the time we left the house it was already almost one o’clock.

We delivered a new batch of my books to both the bookstore and SuperValu (where I have sold more copies of “The Drive” this year than anywhere else), did some shopping, and had a long talk about God with an 82-year old Croatian acquaintance at Renzo’s. Finally we arrived at Fet’s for lunch as we were both longing for a decent burger.

It seems to have been a while since we were at Fet’s, but it still feels like our home away from home.  They have an interestingly eclectic menu, but their burgers have always been our favourites.  In the fifteen years or so that I have been a customer, they have developed from a pasta/burger/sports bar into a very sophisticated restaurant. This is reflected in the careful plating of dishes these days, even with the burgers.  I’m not at all sure, however, about the no-stem goblet I had my wine in today.  But that didn’t detract from the (as usual) overall excellent meal.

Waddled home and, quite naturally, fell into bed for a deep three hour dreamless nap.  A true joy.  By the time I was awake and properly functioning it was almost 8pm — where do the days go?

Between us, the ever-loving and I set up bread to bake in the morning, and I made a British breakfast for supper (bacon, sausage, chips, eggs and beans). Satiated once again, herself settled down to an evening of English TV while I am watching England get thrashed at cricket by those damnable colonials from Australia, the only disappointing part of the day.

Soon, very soon, it will be time to have another, longer, nap.

The Satisfactions of Basic Research

April 4, 2013

These days I am ploughing through newspapers in preparation for writing volume 2 of “The Drive“.  This is the grunt work of research, getting the basic narrative spine established.  It is absolutely essential, but rarely exciting — and I have several months more of it to come. Still, there are the occasional surprises and pleasures.

A couple of weeks ago, for example, I found a 40 year old newspaper article, along with a picture, about someone I know, and she was so pleased to see it.  That’s always fun.  Yesterday, I found a map of the ancient streams and creeks that used to run through the neighbourhood. It was prepared in 1978 and may well show information not available from any other source.  That’s exciting.

If I find one of these types of things ever other day or so, it helps make the basic gruel a little more satisfying!

A Day Full of History

March 29, 2013

As part of my research for volume 2 of “The Drive”, I spent yesterday at the City Archives digging up papers on the local provision of social services and the birth of the Grandview Woodland Area Council in the 1960s. I was also checking out documentation on the last gasps of the Grandview Chamber of Commerce which had been the narrative hook throughout volume one.

I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea reading dusty old minutes of long-ago organizations, and studying earnest reports that usually didn’t go anywhere, but I just love it.

I chose to go yesterday because it put me in the right place for the regular Vancouver Historical Society‘s lecture series.  Last night it was the splendid Eve Lazarus talking about one of Vancouver’s most flamboyant entrepreneurs, Alvo von Alvensleben.  During my researches into the great building boom of 1908-1912, I had come across von Alvensleben, and I was aware he left Vancouver under a cloud at the beginning of the First World War.  But Eve filled in a wide range of detail, from his family in Germany, through his investment exploits in Vancouver, to his later life in Seattle.  It was a fine talk, a packed room, and a bunch of good friends.

Before the talk began, just before sunset, I took this shot of downtown Vancouver; an unusual view.

Vancouver from MOV_small

U-Turn In The Brain

February 23, 2013

For most of the last twelve months I have been concentrating my research efforts on the first twenty-five years of Grandview’s existence, say from 1890 to 1915.  I have collected a vast amount of data (much of which I have yet to publish), created some research aids, given presentations, written short pieces (here and here, for example) about that period, and generally immersed myself in that time and place.  It has been great fun.

However, now that VPL cataloguing has completed their work on the “Highland Echo” files we donated, I have decided that writing volume two of my history of “The Drive” has to take precedence. It is a bit of a shock moving my brain from the stump-strewn streets of 1905 to the raucous vibrancy of the 1960s and 1970s.

It also means I am back to camping out on the seventh-floor of VPL for the next many months as I work my way through the Echos from the early 1970s to the late 1990s.  When I was researching the first book, I had access to the physical copies of the paper; this time I have to make do with microfilm versions.  After three full days of work, I can say that this is much harder work and I really miss the tactile experience of turning pages.  Still, it is the best information available about the time and place — at least until I start interviews with real people later this year.

Luckily, I have the Grandview Heritage Group and their exciting discussions and projects to keep me in touch with the full range of our wonderful neighbourhood’s history and heritage.

Building Permits

January 13, 2013

I haven’t been writing blog posts regularly over the last few weeks because I am swimming in an ocean of historical data that I am trying to collate for a project.  Part of this data is coming from the extraordinarily important work that Heritage Vancouver is putting in to transcribe all the old Vancouver building permits and make them available on-line.  Building permits are fundamental documents for tracing the early history of our community.

Patrick and his colleagues are to be congratulated for their far-more-than-useful efforts in making these landmark documents easily accessible to all researchers. This work continues, of course, and I understand that they have just this week released a further 400+ permits dated 1916 — more work for me!

Great stuff. Congratulations all around!