Monday, September 17, 2012

Don't tell me the moon is shining....

Don't tell me the moon is shining: show me the glint of light on broken glass.
Anton Chekov
As a writer (and an artist) I have always "seen" the images I write about in my head - very clearly. Some writers have told me they don't see the things they are writing about in their mind's eye as they write. When I worked with novice writers, I talked about using their inner eye while writing, in order to describe in words any vibrant visual images they wanted to create in their stories. Many had no idea what I meant.

I would try to explain with this example. "When you go for a walk, look up a the sky and try to describe in words in your head what you are seeing. Do the lines of Canada geese flying over look like just a bunch of geese passing overhead? Or do they look like they are playing "crack the whip" in the ice-blue sky"?
As a writer and artist I am always looking, looking, looking. When I see something that pleases me, or catches my eyes, or shocks me visually, I try to write it in my mind the way I see it. I probably look a bit gormless at those times, but it works for me. I carry little notebooks to jot down images as well.
I think it’s important that we, as writers, use part of “writing time” to look, to examine, to study our  worlds - to help train that inner eye, so our writing will conjure up clear images in our readers’ minds.
It seems to me there is a very strong link between visual art and the art of writing. When Chekov wrote, "Don't tell me the moon is shining: show me the glint of light on broken glass." I believe he was telling writers to "see" -- to paint and sculpt and create vivid images in their minds as they write, not to simply state the facts by telling us what we must see. We have all heard the phrase “Show, not tell.”  He said it the best.
I decided to see if I could express this connection I feel between writing and “seeing” - by searching out artists and their paintings and pairing them with writers' quotes. I hope this brings Chekov's image of “show not tell” to life in an interesting way - using the expressions and descriptions and visions of the moon and moonlight by writers and painters.

Tom Thomson "Moonlight and Birches"
Have you seen the bush by moonlight, from the train, go running by? Blackened log and stump and sapling, ghostly trees all dead and dry; Here a patch of glassy water; there a glimpse of mystic sky?
On the Night Train, Henry Lawson
"Moon" JMW Turner
The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding,
      up to the old inn-door.
The Highwayman, Alfred Noyes

"Moonlight" Winslow Homer 
 How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here we will sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet
Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare
"The Starry Night", Vincent Van Gogh
Crazed through much child-bearing
The moon is staggering in the sky:
Moon-struck by the despairing
glances of her wandering eye
We grope, and grope in vain
For children born of her pain.
The Crazed Moon, William Butler Yeats
 Dieppe Sketchbook
"Moonlight on the Sea"
JMW Turner
 I sat by night beside a cold lake
And touched things smoother than moonlight on still water
But the moon in this cloud sea is not human
And there is no shore, no intimacy,
Only the start of space, the road to suns
Transcanada, F.R. Scott

"Dog with Ladder", Joan Miro
The squalling cat and the squeaking mouse
The howling dog by the door of the house
The bat that lies in bed a t noon,
All love to be out by the light of the moon.
The Moon, Robert Louis Stevenson
"Ladder to the Moon" Georgia O'Keefe (Inspired by Miro's painting)

That I could clamber to the frozen moon
And draw the ladder after me.
Arthur Schopenhauer, quoted from "Parerga and Paralipomena"
"Lovers in Moonlight" Marc Chagall
Two Lovers watched the new moon hold
The old moon in her tight embrace.
Said she: "There's mother, pale and old,
and drawing near her resting place."
Said he, "Be mine, and with me wed,"
Moon high she stared ... and shook her head.
 Moon Song, Robert William Service

"The Wandering Moon" William Blake
The night walked down the sky with the moon in her hand.
 A Memory, Frederic Lawrence Knowles
 "Harvest Moon" Samuel Palmer
 To lie on the bottom of the sky, like a gold doubloon.
The harvest moon has come,
Booming softly through heaven, like a bassoon.
And the earth replies all night, like a deep drum.

So people can't sleep,
So they go out where elms and oak trees keep
A kneeling vigil, in a religious hush.
The harvest moon has come!
"The Harvest Moon" Ted Hughes
 "Moonlight" Edvard Munch
 And then as now you hung above those trees
illuminating all. But to my eyes
Your face seemed clouded, tremulous
From the tears that rose beneath my lids
So Painful was my life: and is, my
Dearest moon: its tenor does not change
And yet, memory and numbering of epochs
Of my grief is pleasing to me. 
 To the Moon, Giacomo Leopardi
"Moonlight Spiritual" Bernard Hoyes 
Music is moonlight in the gloomy night of life.
Titan, Jean Paul Richter

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Suffering from Islomania....

Lawrence Durrell with his wonderful wit and insight wrote:

“…I once found a list of diseases as yet unclassified by medical science, and among these there occurred the word Islomania, which was described as a rare but by no means unknown affliction of spirit. There are people…who find islands somehow irresistible. The mere knowledge that they are on an island, a little world surrounded by the sea, fills them with an indescribable intoxication. These born “islomanes”…are direct descendants of the Atlanteans”  (From  his "Reflections of a Marine Venus")

I wondered if the word isolated comes from the word "island". So I looked it up. It comes from French isolé, from Italian isolato, from Latin insulatus (made into an island), from insula meaning island.

That's what I have, I think. Islomania. I like being alone (isolated at times) and I love islands. When I was very young I read many fiction and non-fiction books about islands. There is a small island off the tip of our peninsula where my parents built their summer log cabin. I respect and love that untidy wild island. Our loon nests on it every year, and so we rarely go there for fear of disturbing the loons and other wading birds. But we see it every day. And watch over it.

I found the old spectacles that started me off as a writer on that island - while cleaning up the area which had been used as a dump by early campers - and from those frail worn spectacles my first novel "Who is Frances Rain" evolved.

This is our island taken from my shore one misty morning last week.

Photo by Margaret Buffie

The island in a few of its many moods below - it always reminds me of a galleon that never moves from its moorings, yet, in turn, watches over us every day and night, while we play and sleep.


Photo by Margaret Buffie


Photo by Margaret Buffie

Photo by Margaret Buffie


Photo by Margaret Buffie

Friday, July 20, 2012

Write as if your characters' lives depended on it.

This thought came to me this morning when I realized, that in my new (getting older by the minute) manuscript, I have not been as committed  to my characters and their needs as I usually am. The storyline is developing, but the characters are still not, as yet, fully living and breathing individuals. For a while it has felt a little bit like pushing puppets into position and making them speak and move. I now have to really get to know them, one by one, and find out who they are, what their dreams and hopes are, and what is at stake for them in this world I've created. Then move forward together. I can't let them down.

Monday, June 25, 2012


The word, solitude, means: to be alone, without people.

Solitude is not the same as loneliness. Yet it  takes on different and subtle meanings at different times in one’s life. Not everyone needs the same amount of solitude but most of us crave it at times.

I appear to need solitude more often than most people I know. For me, it means being alone by choice. It does not mean the same as being forced into some form of solitary confinement, or by shunning, or by emotional withdrawal from others.

True solitude is a choice I make – or one I have to make.

I crave solitude when I write.

I can’t work or be open to creativity unless I am alone. To me, writing is like a dream state, which I can only fall into in complete aloneness. Enter another human and I am jolted awake and the dream is shattered. I can’t identify with people who say they wrote a novel in coffee bars or open libraries, on the bus or in their noisy living room. I think perhaps some have not been able to overcome the fears of being alone while creating. I can’t work any other way.

Writing for me, if I'm honest, can also be an escape from the "noisy" world around me, which is curious because most of the time I’m writing  about characters under stress – and they are all talking to each other and to me! I suppose that’s why I have to work in solitude – to listen to a different  form of heartbeat, to work out ideas, past emotions, and many other sentiments through my writing ...

“Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Writing is an escape from a world that crowds me. I like being alone in a room. It's almost a form of meditation - an investigation of my own life. It has nothing to do with 'I've got to get out another play.'" Neil Simon

"(The writer) must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking.” Jessamyn West

"Young Woman Writing" Pierre Bonnard


I crave solitude to read...

Children today are much more active in a controlled and organized way than my generation. I wonder sometimes if this generation of parents realize how important it is for their child to have moments of solitude in their day. Pleasurable solitude. “Alone time” to lay on the rug and think. To draw  or write quietly in a corner. To read a book with no sound in the house but the quiet tick of a clock.
“We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence.”  Phillip Pullman

"We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence and private: and therefore starved for meditation..." C.S. Lewis


"The New Novel" Winslow Homer

"Woman Reading in a Garden" Henri Labasque

I  crave solitude when I am sad or grieving. I crave solitude when I am tired or in pain.

Solitude can heal. This quote by the great Wordsworth, below, says everything I want to say.

"When from our better selves we have too long been parted by the hurrying world, and droop. Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired, how gracious, how benign in solitude." William Wordsworth.

"Interior With Sunlight on the Floor" Vilhelm Hammershoi

"Bedroom" Vilhelm Hammershoi

I crave solitude in a crowd....

"All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone." Blaise Pascal.
“Get away from the crowd when you can. Keep yourself to yourself, if only for a few hours daily.” Arthur Brisbane
“There is music amongst the tree in the garden, but our hearts must be very quiet to hear it.”  Minnie Aumonier

"Rose Garden" Peder Severin Kroyer

I crave the freedom of solitude....

At my cabin, canoeing as the mist drifts off the lake and the sun rises, I feel the freedom of true solitude. In the city, under the weight of being starved for time alone, I think about those moments that I've experienced, when I was free, and I yearn for them. But I also find comfort in the memory of them.

"Solitude" Thomas Alexander Harrison

"Angel Wing Mist on Long Pine" Margaret Buffie

"The Canoe" Tom Thomson

"I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude." Henry David Thoreau

"Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your own presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement.”  Alice Koller

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Gardeners are always optimistic....

Sissinghurst White Garden

Vita Sackville-West

"The most noteworthy thing about gardeners is that they are always optimistic, always enterprising, and never satisfied. They always look forward to doing something better than they have ever done before." Vita Sackville-West

Vita Sackville-West had a massive and splendid garden at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, which we visited about 20 years ago - where it is still preserved and cared for.

Although I have only a small garden now, in an area of old Edwardian homes in my city, where the gardens are small,  (and compared to Sissinhurst, miniscule!) this quote is still true for anyone with a few square feet of soil and a passion for gardening.

A small painting I did of my garden.

Copyright Margaret Buffie

This wonderful quote is also very appropriate for writers. For like gardeners, writers are always optimistic, always enterprising, and never satisfied. And we are always looking forward to doing something much better than we have ever done before.

So, here's to summer, gardeners and writers!! Some photos of my own garden; a few from this year and a few from last summer. I am looking forward to all the changes I've made the past few weeks as I split perennials and added lots of new loamy earth we mixed ourselves.

Jacob's Ladder copyright Margaret Buffie

Snaps and Sedum and Chives copyright Margaret Buffie

Hatty's Pincushion copyright Margaret Buffie

Sedums copyright Margaret Buffie

Verbena copyright Margaret Buffie

Miniature Irises copyright Margaret Buffie

Butterfly Snapdragon 
copyright Margaret Buffie

JP Connell Rose copyright Margaret Buffie

Morden Blush Rose copyright Margaret Buffie

All photos noted as my garden: Copyright Margaret Buffie

Monday, May 28, 2012

Searching for ancestors?

Christine McGregor has started a new genealogy business online called The Branch Genealogy Services. Christine has a Masters Degree in Canadian History and has been an avid genealogy researcher for many years. She has done private searches for other people and is now ready to "branch" to speak. This year, she has joined the handful of genealogical researchers in Canada. She is taking questions and requests as of now. Her expertise is Canadian, Scottish, English, Irish and German Galician genealogy.

If you are Canadian and your great-grandparents came to Canada from England,  Scotland or German Galicia, but you can't find them on any genealogy sites in records for these areas, Christine can set you on the right road - or search them out for you!

If you are living in Great Britain or any part of the world, and have wondered what happened to family who came to Canada, she can also help you, as she has access to many Canadian services for information; including ships' manifests, war records, vital stats info, census records and many more records right across Canada.

One of the big tasks Chris has accomplished over the past 15 years is her own family's history. She has taken her grandmother's family back to 1297 in Scotland. An incredible accomplishment, as Scotland is very difficult to access.

Christine is a meticulous researcher and very pleasant and open to deal with. Check out her site at

Friday, May 25, 2012

Big Questions. Any answers?

A Girl Writing
by Henriette Browne, 1829-1901

The whole secret of life is to be interested in one thing profoundly and in a thousand things well. Horace Walpole.

I really identify with this quote. But I'd have to add two things interest me profoundly. However, the real question for me is: Why am I interested in the things I am interested in?

I have long been interested in writing stories. But why am I interested in writing at all? Why, one day, when my daughter was an adolescent, did I decide to take on writing as a serious venture? And now, twenty-five years and ten books later, I am still writing.

Being an introverted kid, I lived a great deal of time in my imagination, making up places and stories that only I got to live in - creating parallel worlds for myself, really. It relieved anxieties. It took away my fears, made me brave. And it was fun. So, is it perhaps a mix of interest, curiosity, fear, and fantasy that made me interested in expressing myself through writing?

There is a scientific theory that being sad makes us more creative. I'd like to get into that, but I'd be way over my head. It's now being tested in brain studies. They can have my brain when I'm through with it. But where creativity comes from in the first place is something I cannot answer.

I am also an artist. Did I blunder into a fine arts degree because it was the only thing I was consistently praised for in school? Is it that simple? I think, for myself, I was mainly interested in the fact that I could pick up a pencil and actually draw something that was a fair representation of what I was seeing. Pretty simple really. And it became of deep interest to me..

We all, I suspect - have interests that, if nurtured could grow and develop into something creative - might even be eventually called "talent". I taught young people art, and adults writing, for years - and I saw huge "talent" wasted by laziness and a lack of deep interest.

Turning an interest into something truly creative only works if there is drive and enough dogged perseverance to learn, stretch, grow and take risks.  All art involves craft, after all. It's the profound need for some of us to follow our interests that makes the difference: and not being afraid to jump into the deep end, to make mistakes, test ourselves - and trust that, in time, skills and a deeper meaning will come.

It's having the compulsion to develop our interests into something uniquely "us" that is a huge part of changing our passions into creative creatures that take on a living breathing life of their own, whether it is music, art or writing.

So, what drives some of us to continue to practice and generate our more creative interests - no matter what other people think? I think, for some of us, these enthusiasms for the things that absorb us actually feed something deep inside us that we crave; perhaps a growing sense of self during the act of creation; and as we use all of our skills, interests, curiosities and creativity to execute a vision that is ours alone, we also find ourselves coming closer and closer to finding out that, perhaps, we are actually capable of doing things that will amaze even ourselves.

But where did these interests come from that have captivated me for so long? And why am I driven to continue to invest in them? I really have no idea... but maybe I don't need the answer after all.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Weave a canopy above....

I have been reading Christina Rossetti's poems again. There is one called Winter Rain I love, and one passage in it really resonated with me last  night as I read it.

"Where the kind rain sinks
and sinks,
Green of Spring will follow.

Yet a lapse of weeks
 Buds will burst their
Strip their wool coats, glue-
coats, streaks,
In the wood and hedges;

Weave a bower of love
For birds to meet each other,
Weave a canopy above
Nest and egg and mother." 

I've just been checking this week to see if the tiny mother finch would come back to nest again in my hedge and there she was! But I will leave her in peace this year. I looked at the photos I took last spring in the bower of my own tightly canopied cotoneaster hedge. I worried over this spot for days, then missed the chance to see the final "flight" when I had to leave the city. When I came back the nest was empty. The finch was a wary little mother but I was able to take one shot of the four eggs and then, later, two very fast shots of the hatchlings, (three survived) so the little chicks asleep are a bit blurred. One is lying on his back sound alseep, the second crushed up beside him also asleep and the third is tucked there on the right with his wing over his sibling. I feel both tenderness and fear when I look at this photo. The nest itself was less than three inches across, so you can imagine how tiny these hatchlings were. Did they fly away? I hope they did.

"But for the fattening rain
We should have no flowers
Never a bud or leaf again
But for soaking showers.

Never a mated bird
In the rocking treetops..."

Friday, May 4, 2012

"That Which Matters" Review