Sharpen your pencils! New collection set for 2020

Judy Penz Sheluk has come along way in the four years since her debut novel, The Hangman’s Noose, was published by Barking Rain Press. The Canadian author now has two Amazon bestselling mystery series, and she has set up her own publishing company, Superior Shores Press. This June, Superior Shores released a multi-author short story collection, The Best Laid Plans. I was delighted to have my 2013 story, “The Sweetheart Scamster,” reprinted in it.

Judy has now put a call out for submissions for Superior Shores’ second crime fiction collection. The title will be Heartbreaks & Half-Truths: 21 Stories of Mystery & Suspense, and it will be released June 18, 2020. This is another great opportunity for crime fiction writers to see their work in print!

The theme of “heartbreak and half-truths” must be an integral part of the stories’ plots — which would seem to give authors plenty of scope. The collection will feature cozy, locked-room, noir, historical and suspense stories; speculative, sci-fi, fantasy and paranormal tales will not be considered. Submissions can be previously published, although they can’t be currently available online, and preference will be given to new material.

Length should be approximately 1,500-5,000 words.

Deadline for submitting is Jan. 15, 2020. Send entries to JUDY@JUDYPENZSHELUK.COM with “Heartbreaks & Half-Truths” in the subject line.

Judy Penz Sheluk.

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Agatha sets a Cozy example

Agatha Christie, whose books bring in handsome royalties 43 years after her death.

When I was shortlisted for Britain’s Debut Dagger in 2010, I flew to England to attend the awards ceremony in Harrogate. I spent 10 days in the Old Swan Inn, the same hotel where Agatha Christie holed up for 11 days after her mysterious disappearance in 1926. Thus began my love affair with Christie, the Queen of Crime Fiction.

Today, 43 years after her death, Christie is still a best-selling author. Her books alone bring in more than £5 million in royalties every year, then there are royalties from her plays and the movies that are based on her novels.

Her novels, collectively, have sold more than four billion copies. And Christie is the world’s most translated author; her fiction has been released in more than 100 languages. There is also a continuing output of books about Christie. She is not just a literary figure; she’s a cultural phenomenon.

But Agatha Christie did not invent the detective story. That was done by Edgar Allan Poe. His “Murders in the Rue Morgue” was published in 1841. Then came Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White in 1859, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, in 1887. 

Poe and Conan Doyle established several conventions for the detective novel:

  • the brilliant, eccentric detective.
  • the less-brilliant associate who narrates the story.
  • bumbling police officers.
  • the Power of Reasoning that’s used to solve the mystery.

Christie rose to fame during the “Golden Age” of detective fiction, the era of classic mystery novels released between the First and Second World Wars. They were written by Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh and Josephine Tey.

But Christie was not an instant success as an author. She completed her first novel, Snow Upon the Desert, in 1911. She shopped it around, only to receive rejection after rejection. It was never published. Her second novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was rejected six times before it was published by Bodley Head in 1919.

What makes Agatha Christie’s stories stand out?

  • She’s considered the greatest PLOTTER in fiction writing. Her books are puzzles, an advanced form the board game Clue.  Yet Christie was upfront with the fact that she often had no idea who her Killer was when she began a novel. She relied on the clues she created, just as her reader would, to piece together a solution to the mystery. But doesn’t this sound like a pantser, rather than a plotter?
  • She also created two memorable characters: Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple.

A lot is known about how Christie wrote from the notebooks she kept. We know that she liked to plot her crime stories from the MURDER itself.

  • She planned the type of murder, the Killer, and the motive.
  • She factored in the various suspects and their motives.
  • She pulled readers in different directions with clues, red herrings and double bluffs.
  • She relied heavily on dialogue to vary the pacing and heighten suspense.

We also know that she disliked Poirot. While many readers love her larger-than-life Belgian private investigator, Christie grew to dislike her literary creation intensely. She once called him a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep.” Maybe that’s why she killed him off in Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case. The novel was written 35 years before her death, but it was only published in 1975, shortly before she died. And The New York Times gave Poirot a front-page obituary!

Given her feelings for Poirot, it must have been a relief to write about Miss Marple, the spinster who spent her entire life the village of St. Mary Mead. Miss Marple is a dramatic departure from the detectives of Poe and Conan Doyle. Her wisdom is feminine. She relies on her knowledge of the domestic sphere and close human relationships, on intuition and common sense. With Miss Marple, Christie does not turn her back on the spinster stereotype: that old, unmarried women are nosy and spend their time eavesdropping. Rather, she embraces it and expands upon it.

Miss Marple shows us that Christie inherited as much from Jane Austen as from Conan Doyle.

The Miss Marple mysteries—12 novels and 22 short stories—mark the beginning of the COZY sub-genre, and modern Cozies follow standards developed by Christie.

  • no graphic sex, swearing or violence.
  • an amateur sleuth
  • a closed community.
  • a charming setting.
  • a satisfying resolution.

Think about how closely today’s cozies follow these hallmarks!

Those of you writing cozies may want to follow elements of Christie’s formula with the novels you’re writing.

  • Set up. Christie’s novels open by establishing the world her characters inhabit—usually a well-ordered closed community (and the community doesn’t have to be an English village; in Murder in Mesopotamia, the small community is an archeological dig in the Middle East). Christie uses a lot of description in her setups, and this gradually drops off as dialogue and interaction between characters take over. You’ll want to go lightly on description for today’s readers.
  • Murder occurs. Christie usually waits a fairly long time to bump off her first victim. The murder in Death on the Nile occurs half-way through the book; Murder in Mesopotamia, a quarter of the way through; Endless Night, two-thirds through. For Christie, the murder had to be built up to; it wasn’t the beginning of the story, it was the middle. She’s skilled at hooking her readers and building suspense with other crimes and goings-on before the first murder takes place.

But you may not be able to hold readers’ attention as well as Christie, and you could risk losing your readers if you don’t have something exciting up-front.

  • The First Victim in Christie’s novels is often an unlikable character, often a rich, nasty old person who enjoys taunting his heirs that they wish him dead so they can collect their inheritances. And the old coot is usually right about that. Or the murder victim may be an outsider who no one in the community knows or cares about—as in A Murder is Announced and They Do It With Mirrors. This means that these First Murders don’t touch readers’ hearts. A SECOND murder later in the book usually kills off a nice, blameless character who just happens to know too much.
  • The Narrator. The best-known Christie narrator is Captain Hastings, the “Dr. Watson” to Hercule Poirot, who narrates several—not all—of the Poirot stories. Miss Marple only narrates one short story, “Miss Marple Tells a Story,” because she does not usually enter the story until later in the book.

You’ll need to decide who will narrate your novel. This will be a crucial decision for you story.

  • The Sleuth. Miss Marple was Christie’s reprieve from working with Poirot. She’s an elderly busybody, yet she is extremely likeable. Make your Sleuth likeable—this is essential for Cozies, although other sub-genres can have seriously bent protagonists. Give Sleuth flaws, but flaws that don’t offend the reader. Miss Marple is the village busybody, but readers love her.
  • Sleuth’s Motivation for getting involved. Why does the Sleuth get involved? As a private investigator, Poirot is usually called upon for help. Miss Marple isn’t officially in the investigation business, but she is often called upon for help as well. In 4:50 from Paddington, The Body in the Library and Nemesis, by friends. In A Murder is Announced, her reputation has grown and police Inspector Craddock involves her.

BUT it’s often just Marple’s curiosity that pushes her into action. In A Caribbean Mystery, another guest at the resort starts to tell her the story of a man who got away with murder more than once, only to break off his tale when he realizes other are listening. When the storyteller is murdered in his room that night, Miss Marple is on the trail.

Give your Sleuth a good reason to get involved, more than just curiosity—such as wanting to protect a friend who is the prime suspect in the investigation. Your Sleuth will also need a goal that will propel her on.

  • Keep your Sleuth on Track. Once the Sleuth has a goal and decides to act on it, she launches into the main part of the novel. She interviews multiple suspects with motives. And she attacks any obstacles that get in her way.

And don’t let other characters do your Sleuth’s work. Christie got away with it in 4:50 from Paddington. Miss Marple was elderly and her strength was failing, and she had a young friend, Lucy Eyelesbarrow, work at the manor house near where she believes a murder took place. Lucy uses golf practice to search the grounds, and eventually finds a body hidden in the stables. In The Body in the Library, Miss Marple ultimately solves the mystery, but she is not always the driving force of the investigation.

Christie got away with this, but you won’t. Keep your Sleuth front and centre, always driving the investigation forward.

  • The Villain. The best mysteries have well-rounded villains, not cardboard characters, with backstories, motives, and plans for the future. And in Cozies, villains are often likeable characters. most of Agatha Christie’s are. And she must have mistrusted the medical profession because there are a good number of killer doctors in her mysteries. Your Villain needs to be smart, but not as smart as your Sleuth. And don’t reveal the Villain’s identity until the end.
  • Suspects. Christie often used the “Closed Circle of Suspects” literary device—a limited number of suspects, each with the means, the motive and the opportunity. In other words, one of the people in the closed fictional community is the murderer. No character in Christie’s novels should be considered exempt—not even a child, the narrator or the Sleuth!
  • Subplots. A good novel often has a subplot—or two. In Christie’s mysteries, the main thread is the murder. A second thread is often a romance OR a suspicious-looking character—not the murderer—who has a vendetta against the group or one of the other characters.

But don’t let your subplot compete with your main story. If it does start to compete, you probably have another novel that you’ll need to develop separately. And no sex scenes in those romantic subplots, please!

  • Clues. Christie provides clues, but she doesn’t always play fairly with her readers. She was skilled at misdirection. Red Herrings—misleading clues—are her best device for confusing readers. The challenge for readers is to separate the real clues from the Red Herrings. The real clues are often given at the beginning of the book, but are so underplayed it’s easy to miss them. Christie often used the word “interesting” to describe a clue with little relevance, but she never used this word referring to a vital clue.

Another trick is the Double Bluff, an attempt to deceive the reader by saying exactly what she will do—knowing that the reader will assume she’s bluffing. An example is the first suspect, who is ruled out early in the story (Murder in the Vicarage) but who turns out to be the Killer after all.

And Christie sometimes withholds vital information. The solution is often part of the Backstory, and the Reader is not privy to this until close to the end of the novel.

And sometimes everything is exactly as it appears.

  • The Midpoint comes half-way through the novel, a scene that changes the direction of the plot. It could be new information, or a new understanding by the Sleuth. The Midpoint is often a setback called a Reversal, and all clever plots should have reversals. The Sleuth realizes she was going in the wrong direction and has to come up with a new plan. In Christie’s novels, the Midpoint is often the Second Murder, as in A Murder is Announced.
  • Cause and Effect. Remember that all the action, all the Sleuth’s progression toward the Climax, builds, not randomly, but through cause and effect.
  • Climax. At the Climax, the Sleuth confronts the Villain, usually with words rather than weapons in Cozies. Many of Christie’s Climaxes involve a Big Reveal, a scene in which Poirot or Marple gather all the suspects together, list the clues and the red herrings, and then reveal the murderer. There’s usually COMEUPPANCE in these gathering scenes, with the Sleuth publicly embarrassing characters who have secrets.

BUT occasionally Christie’s Sleuths put themselves in real danger at the Climax. In 4:50 From Paddington, Miss Marple arranges to be alone with the Killer so her friend can come in and identify him as the man she saw strangling a woman on the train. In Nemesis, Marple allows the Killer to visit her in her bedroom in the middle of the night.

  • Disguises. Christie frequently uses disguises. Characters physically disguise themselves as someone else (After the Funeral) or take on fake identities (A Murder is Announced).

Readers should also pay attention to characters who appear frail or disabled; they’re often not. And characters whose lives appear to be in danger should be looked at closely. Also, pay attention to scatter-brained characters; they’re prone to make off-handed remarks that seal their fate.

You might want to use a few disguises in your stories.

  • Servants. Their input can be vital (Mitzi in A Murder is Announced) because they see and hear things as they blend into the background. But Christie’s servants are rarely killers, although killers sometimes disguise themselves as servants. Characters in modern Cozies may not have servants, but there may be other characters who blend into the background in their worlds: waiters, shop clerks, letter delivery people, hydro workers.
  • Social Issues. Understanding Christie’s historical period is essential to appreciating her stories. Her characters speak about the changing social classes, the arrival of immigrants in their villages, and the heavy taxation in England after the First World War. Christie pokes fun at her countrymen who have trouble coping with social change, and at the landed gentry whose privileged world is upset by the corpse in the library or on the lawn.

Racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia also turn up in Christie’s books. I like to think she intended this as part of her satire of the insular English: their obsession with their gardens, their cucumber sandwiches, and the status quo. Here’s the narrator of Murder in Mesopotamia’s initial take on Poirot: “I knew he was a foreigner, but I hadn’t expected him to be quite as foreign as he was.”

After the Second World War, many American readers were not amused by Christie’s characters’ views on ethnic or religious differences. Her publishers received letters, including one from the Anti-Defamation League. Her agent probably figured that these letters would seem ridiculous to her; in any case, he didn’t forward them to her. He simply gave Dodd, Mead, her American publishers, permission to delete any potentially offensive references to Jews or Catholics or Blacks. She apparently didn’t notice the changes.

You’ll probably want to explore social issues in your novels, but remember—as Christie did—your aim is to entertain, not to preach. As Samuel Goldwyn once said, “If you want to send a message, try Western Union. All I want is a story.”

  • Resolution. Once the conflict is over and all the ends are tied up, show readers what your fictional community is like now that order has been restored to it. Thrillers can end at the Climax, but Cozy readers want to see how these characters are doing once Evil has been vanquished. Not pages and pages, but enough to give readers a satisfying ending. And remembers that Endings are what readers take away with them…and talk about. A satisfying ending will sell your book to other readers.
  • Humour. Humour is a big part of today’s Cozy mysteries…and this goes back to Christie’s mysteries. Her stories are shot through with sly humour. The comedy is there to tame the evil.

In 4:50 from Paddington, a corpse is found in the stable on a great estate. The family’s grandson, Alexander, and his friend come tearing up to the stable on their bikes hoping to see it.

“Oh please, sir, do be a sport,” Alexander says to the police officers. “Here’s a murder, right in our own barn. It’s the sort of thing that might never happen again. Do be a sport, sir.”

“Take ’em in, Sanders,” Inspector Bacon said to the constable. “One’s only young once.”

  • Series. Cozies today are often part of a series, just as Christie’s were. Today we have Elizabeth Duncan’s Penny Brannigan mysteries, Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy cat series, the late Howard Engel’s Benny Cooperman mysteries, and many more. Publishers and readers love a series. When you have a popular leading character, you’ve already sold your next book.

As you can see, Christie’s mysteries, even the Miss Marple mysteries, do not always fit snugly into the Cozy mold.

  • The murders often occur later in the stories than we like to see today.
  • Christie didn’t always play fairly with readers in providing clues, etc.
  • Miss Marple doesn’t always have a good reason to get involved in the investigation.
  • Miss Marple sometimes lets other characters do her Sleuth’s work.

But keep in mind that Christie was breaking new ground when she wrote her mysteries. And she could get away with a lot just because she was the famous Agatha Christie.

You, however, can’t.

(From an address to Sisters in Crime Toronto, Sept. 19, 2019.)

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Word on the Street tomorrow!

WOTS 2018, with three Mesdames of Mayhem: Lynne Murphy, Cathy Dunphy and Sylvia Warsh in profile.

Tomorrow, Sept. 22, Toronto celebrates the written word at Word on the Street. The 30th annual literary festival will be held at Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Visit me from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Mesdames of Mayhem’s table, booth WB3 in the main Harbourfront building. And I’ll be at Crime Writers of Canada’s table, booth WB4, from 2:15 to 3:30 p.m.

More than 250 book and magazine exhibitors will be at Harbourfront. Admission is free!

Check out the WOTS website.

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Military Wives sound a high note at TIFF

Scrappy little comedy difficult to resist

Kristin Scott Thomas directs the choir in Military Wives.

My first day at Toronto’s International Film Festival, and the fest opened on high note with Military Wives, a film inspired by the real-life choirs formed by military spouses while their men are on deployment.

Military Wives‘ script is more than a little formulaic. One of the young wives turns out to have a huge singing talent. The film’s two leads, Kristin Scott Thomas—the biggest name in the movie—and Sharon Horgan, as rival choir mistresses, start off trading barbs, begin to develop a friendship, then completely lose it in a verbal cat fight in a parking lot. And there’s the predictable scene when one of the women receives the terrible news that her husband has been killed in combat. The other wives rally around her, and the result is the heartfelt song that the choir takes to London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Military Wives was directed by Peter Cattaneo, whose credits include The Fully Monty. Instead of unemployed steel workers stripping to make a living, this tale is about the spouses of service men trying to keep their spirits up on a soulless military base.

But in spite of its zero-to-hero storyline, Military Wives is a scrappy little comedy that is difficult to resist. Its dialogue rings true, it offers sparky little turns from supporting players, and Scott Thomas and Horgan’s performances make it sing.

Best of all, it respects the sacrifices that military spouses make for a cause that no character in the film seems interested in justifying.

 

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Woodstock 50 years later

The three days in 1969 that shaped my generation.
August 1969: 500,000 young people converged in a celebration of peace, music and love.

Fifty years ago this past weekend, Woodstock, the music festival that brought 500,000 young people together in a celebration of peace, music and love, was held at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm 70 km southwest of Woodstock, N.Y.

I wasn’t there, although I certainly wanted to be. I was 18 years old and my parents wouldn’t hear of it. One of the great misses of my life!

This past weekend, tie-dyed, white-hair pilgrims converged at the generation-defining site to celebrate the 50th Woodstock anniversary. Arlo Guthrie returned to sing “Flying into Los Angeles.”

And Ed and I celebrated the three days that shaped our generation last night by watching Michael Wadleigh’s 1970 documentary Woodstock, which received the Academy Award for best documentary feature. The director’s cut, which we watched, ran just under four hours with plenty of performance footage.

Highlights are too many to do justice to, but a few of them are:

  • A young nun, in an opening scene, flashing the peace signal.
  • Kids lined up to call their parents at phone booths.
  • Richie Havens, sweat drenching hi shirt, belting out “Freedom.”
  • A young Joan Baez, her lovely face radiant, singing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.”
  • Joe Cocker giving his all to “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
  • Sly and the Family Stone with “I Want to Take You Higher.”
  • Ten Years After, featuring Alvin Lee, with a blistering rendition of “I’m Going Home.”
  • And the famous finales by the late great Janis Joplin (“Work Me Lord”) and Jimi Hendrix (his brilliantly twisted version the “The Star-Spangled Banner”).

I’m afraid the time has come for watching events such as this from the comfort of our living room.

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Elvis still the King!

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Elvis Presley died 42 years ago today at the age of 42.

Radio tributes to Elvis Presley on the 40th anniversary of his death two years ago brought to mind my long-ago trip to Memphis to cover the King of Rock ’n’ Roll’s funeral for the Montreal Star. I was a young reporter, always on the lookout for a front-page story, and I had heard from a “source” that a Montreal travel agency had booked a charter flight to Memphis. The first few hundred Elvis fans who put their money down would travel to Memphis for the King’s funeral.

I was onto it at once. My editor approved my pitch, and I was at Dorval Airport early the next morning. My assignment was to report on the funeral – and the Montreal fans who had spent $165 each to say goodbye to their idol.

After a four-hour flight, we landed in Memphis. It was a scorcher of a day, but our travel provider had an air-conditioned bus waiting for us. We listened to Elvis songs as we toured Elvis sites in the city, inching our way through streets thronged with Elvis fans. We passed Graceland, the King’s home, and snapped photos, but the funeral there was for invited guests only. So we waited outside Forest Hill Cemetery, and saw the funeral procession enter the gates. Elvis’s casket arrived in a white hearse, followed by 17 white limousines. We waited while the casket was interred in the family vault, then watched the procession leave the cemetery. (Elvis’s remains were moved to a grave on the grounds of Graceland two months later, after a failed break-in by grave robbers.)

That was as close as we got to Elvis before we headed back to the airport, but his Montreal fans were ecstatic. “I can feel Elvis all around me,” one of them said as we drove past Graceland. “He lived and died in there.”

“If I died today, my life would be complete,” another told me.

My favourite was from a Memphis police officer doing crowd control outside the cemetery. He’d been a year behind Elvis at Humes High School, and had seen him perform at the school’s annual talent show in 1953. “He put a foot on a chair, strummed his guitar and sang his heart out. For me, that’s when rock ’n’ roll was born.”

Those memories wove themselves into my story “Farewell to the King,” a tale of four young women who travel to Memphis for Elvis’s funeral. The story is included in the short fiction collection In the Key of 13 to be released by Carrick Publishing in October.

Elvis Presley died 42 years ago today at the age of 42, after suffering a cardiac arrest. And more than four decades later, he is one of the world’s most profitable entertainers. Millions of people still buy his music and 500,000 fans visit Graceland every year to see where he lived, died and is buried. Elvis ranked No. 2 behind Michael Jackson on Forbes’ list of the highest-paid celebrities in 2018. The list, which is released every October, showed Elvis pulled in US$40 million last year.

Every year, fans from around the world gather in Memphis to mark the Aug. 16 anniversary of the King’s death. This year has been no different. Elvis Week 2019 opened on Aug. 9 and wraps up tomorrow. Events included tours of the Graceland mansion, a contest by Elvis tribute artists, an evening of reminisces by artists who shared the stage with Elvis, and an auction of his memorabilia. The highlight, as always, was the candlelight vigil. It drew tens of thousands to Graceland last night, the one night of the year fans can enter the gates free of charge, and it lasted well into this morning.

Think of it: all those fans and all the money they spend on his music, 42 years after his death. Elvis has been dead as long as he was alive.

Mai-Lei, one of the characters in “Farewell to the King,” put it this way: “There’ll never be another like him. Elvis was the King. He was ours.”

Elvis's hearse leaves Graceland on its way to Forest Hill Cemetery
Elvis’s hearse leaves Graceland on its way to Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis.
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Newfoundland: Icebergs, jellybean houses and moose farts

 

Iceberg off King’s Point, Newfoundland, in late July.

“When Canada joined Newfoundland in 1949…” The line is delivered as a joke today, but it reflects the tension in Newfoundland pending the decision to join Confederation. The referendum result was 52.3% to 47.7%, and in the capital of St. John’s on March 31, 1949, the day Newfoundland entered Confederation, black ties and black flags at half-mast signaled the end of hopes of many Newfoundlanders for an independent Newfoundland.

Over the years, I’ve met Newfoundlanders who had relocated to Alberta and Ontario for employment. Friendly, engaging people, all fiercely proud of their Newfoundland heritage. They made me eager to visit their province. Finally, this summer, Ed and I did that.

We landed in Deer Lake, spent two days in Corner Brook, then travelled up the Great Northern Peninsula to Gros Morne National Park. We walked across bog lands to Western Brook Pond where we took a cruise inside an ancient fjord carved by glaciers millennia ago. The village of Cow Head was our base in Gros Morne, and our window in the Shallow Bay Motel looked out on the Gulf of St. Lawrence with a chain of small islands in the near distance. Magical in the evenings!

Entering the fjord on Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne National Park.

At St. Barbe, we took the passenger and car ferry across the Strait of Belle Isle to Blanc-Sablon, Que., then travelled down the road to L’Anse-au-Clair, Labrador.  A beautiful, barren mountain landscape with huge boulders, ponds and yellow lichen on exposed rocks. Still some snow in late July in roadside ditches and in the hills. Red Bay Whaling Station, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was a major Basque whaling site in the 16th and 17th centuries. Historians believe a decline in  whale stocks led to the abandonment of the station.

L’Anse aux Meadows is at the northernmost tip of the Great Northern Peninsula; the Vikings landed there 10 centuries ago. Archaeological evidence of a Norse presence was discovered in the 1960s, and L’Anse aux Meadows is the only confirmed Norse site on mainland North America and it may have ties to Leif Erikson. The remains of eight wood-framed peat-turf  Norse buildings were uncovered during the evacuation of the site between 1961 and 1968. The buildings in the photo below are reconstructions of the Norse buildings; the originals have been reburied.

L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland.

Trinity, Newfoundland.

So much to see in Newfoundland. To the left is a shot of Trinity, a small town on Trinity Bay with beautifully restored fishing rooms and heritage saltbox houses. The buildings’ exteriors are all wooden; a law was passed forbidding aluminum siding. Since the cod moratorium in 1992 (the once-plentiful fish stocks had dwindled to near-extinction), many  fishing villages now focus on tourism.

Towns with whimsical names: Dildo, Heart’s Delight, Heart’s Desire and Heart’s Content. In Heart’s Content, also on Trinity Bay, we visited the Heart’s Content Cable Station, that served as the western terminus of the first permanent trans-oceanic submarine telegraph cable, with its sister station on Valentia Island, Ireland. The original cable was first brought ashore on July 27, 1866, and the station remained in use until it was closed in 1965.

And, of course, the capital and largest centre in the province, St. John’s. The city is the oldest post-Columbian European settlement in North America and has a magnificent, protected harbour. The Narrows, a long, narrow channel between the Southside and Signal hills, is the harbour’s only entrance and only 61 metres wide at its narrowest point. The city’s jellybean houses, the colourful row houses in the photo on the left, many of them on steep streets, give the city its distinctive character. They harken back to the time when houses throughout the province along the coast were brightly painted to make them visible to fishermen in foggy weather. The “tradition” was revived in the late 1970s to inject new life into a declining downtown. The row houses have become a symbol of St. John’s, shown in ads, on signs and replicated in souvenirs sold in gift shops.

Ed kisses the cod at our Screech-in ceremony. Kissing the cod is a Newfoundland tradition to welcome newcomers. Once the cod has been kissed, the newcomer is asked, “Is ye a Screecher?” The reply is, “Indeed I is, me old cock, and long may your big jib draw.” Then the newcomer drinks a shot of rum known as Screech.

Newfoundlanders do marvelous things with language. Here are some of their expressions, which mirror the Gaelic dialects spoken by early settlers:

“Whadda y’at?”

Translation: “What are you up to?”

“Where y’ longs to?”

Translation: Where are you from?

“Who knit ya?”

Translation: Who’s your mother/parents?

“I’m gutfounded. Fire up a scoff.”

Translation: I’m hungry. Make me some food.

And “Long may your big jib draw.”

Translation: May you have good fortune for a long time.

Humpback whale in Witless Bay. Photo by Tim McArthur.

And here’s a Newfoundland recipe I picked up: MOOSE FARTS, a confectionary not unlike chocolate truffles.

Ingredients: 1 can sweetened condensed milk, about 300 ml. 1/4 cup melted butter. 1 tsp vanilla. 1 1/2 cups of (each) dried coconut, graham cracker crumbs and chocolate chips.

Instructions: Melt butter and combine with condensed milk and vanilla extract until well blended. Add graham crumbs, coconut and chocolate chips. Mix to combine well. Refrigerate for an hour before rolling into 1-inch balls. Roll the balls into additional graham crumbs and chill until firm. Store in a sealed, refrigerated container.

View of St. John’s from Signal Hill. All photos by Ed Piwowarczyk unless otherwise noted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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