April, April . . .


Welcome to winter. Three or four inches of snow cover everything. Of course. It’s April in Winnipeg, so we’re not surprised. The German’s have a word for this fickleness of nature. Actually, a few words . . . it’s a poem. 

I didn’t teach my kids German. I know, it’s a shame. But . . . I did teach them this poem and I think it should be mandatory for any Winnipeger.

April, April, kann machen was er will. Bald Regen und bald Sonnenschein, bald ist die Luft voll Schnee.   (April, April, does want it wants. There’s rain and then sunshine, and then the air fills up with snow.) It’s by Heinrich Seidel from Mecklenburg (1842-1906). In German, there's a catchy cadence to it. 

Seidel was an interesting fellow. During the day, as an engineer, he designed the roof of the Anhalter train station in Berlin. He was also a sort of guerilla gardener (if I understand that term correctly), scattering seeds he collected on various trips, throughout his hometown of Berlin. Theodor Storm was one of his critique partners, and Seidel’s most popular book Leberecht Hünchen, a light-hearted series released between 1880 and 1893, is still available today. 

Seidel’s sense of humour and appreciation of nature comes through loud and clear in this simple April poem that any child, once they hear it, remembers for life (even my second-generation kids here in Canada).  

Experiencing weather invites a sort of a universal language, wouldn’t you agree? 

Simple Things


Grateful. Grateful for the constancy of this old enamelled teapot (bought in downtown Winnipeg, in the Hudson’s Bay basement back when that was still around).  I’ve poured green tea from this aqua teapot (made in Poland) almost every morning for more than four decades now. On occasion, I’ve traded it in with pretty glass pots, but they never last. So it’s back to this good old standby. 

My aqua pot has come along on many a camping trip and at times gets charred black by flames. It’s tough and now has enough character that I suppose I’ll be pouring tea from it for a few more mornings yet. 

I’m also grateful for the plants that have chosen to thrive in my space. I don’t consider myself a gardener. A plant has to be tough to hang out with me. But the English ivy is actually climbing and the humble spider plant loves it here.

The trick to my in-house garden? Only grow what works. That’s an insight I can pass onto real life. Find the right growing conditions: the right light, soil and water and stop trying to be somebody I can’t sustain. 

In Tainted Amber, my protagonist, Katya, is more of a shade-loving violet, but she yearns to be a sun-loving rose like her friend, Minna. Me? Perhaps I’m more of a carefree spider plant, able to adapt to almost any growing condition, preferably surrounded by books and good light. 





Learning to Write Better through Reading

I finished reading The White Rose Resists by Amanda Barrett this past week. The novel, based on the actual White Rose resistant group whose young leaders were tragically executed, via guillotine, in 1943, piqued my interest because of the extreme reviews it had on Goodreads. I’d only had a vague knowledge of the real event which involved Munich university student siblings, Hans and Sophie Scholl, along with fellow students, Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell and Willi Graf, among others. These five were convicted of treason and immediately killed. Their crime? Sending out propaganda leaflets suggesting that the war was a lost cause. 

I was moved by the actual events behind the novel, but I found the structure of this novel confusing.  When a narrative is written from different points of view, there needs to be a corresponding change in ‘voice’. This can be done through dialogue, thought processes and interactions. Merely defining a viewpoint with a name at the beginning of each chapter left me constantly turning back to the chapter beginning, wondering who the I had morphed into now. Who was doing the actual talking? The author never let me forget that she was telling the story, even though she no doubt meant the opposite. I get what she was trying to do. I’m guilty as charged, writing fiction in first person, present-tense to create the least amount of distance between the reader and the action. But when that first person is constantly changing, the reader can’t develop any empathy towards the character—only confusion.

Another irritant, which I put in the editor’s court, was the constant reference to vater and mutter, ja and nein, etc.. We get it, it’s a German story. But the words here seemed gratuitous and jarring. As well, by inserting the fictional characters, Kirk and Annelise, into the plot, she creates an artificial love story and only weakens the historical fact. I'm grateful to other reviewers who articulated much better than I can some of the issues of this mostly five-starred book. (Go to Goodreads to follow the discussion).

Enough of my criticisms. While the re-telling by Barrett might be flawed, there’s no weakening of the actual tragic incident.  I found the narrative most compelling when it shared the final hours of Sophie Scholl’s life. 

So while I’d been warned by other Goodreaders not to bother reading, I’m grateful I did, after all. Sometimes reading what doesn’t work can be as useful to a writer as reading what does. Here’s what I will try to apply to my own writing:  I will be careful with my use of foreign words; I will try to establish credible points of view; and I will not insert characters that don’t add to the overall plot. I don’t mean to disparage this novel. The author told a deeply felt version of an important event and she includes great references at the end which can lead readers to find the true story in between the fiction, if they, in fact, care. Writing historical fiction deserves truth. But in the end, as authors, we can only try our best. Editors, we need you!

Photo: Creative Commons, Bust of Sophie Scholl by Wolfgang Eckert 


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April, April . . .

Welcome to winter. Three or four inches of snow cover everything. Of course. It’s April in Winnipeg, so we’re not surprised. The German’s ha...