Speaking of the UK…

v0_masterLast week I was talking about some really great news coming out of England about how they were using field trips to help improve children’s writing skills. One of the things that I noticed, of course, in reading about the places they took the students, of course, was that they were taking them to places that were very different from where we’d take kids here. In England, there are castles and churches that are literally a thousand years old!

Of course, in Canada we have some amazing historical sites as well, but I have to admit I love the fact that in Europe, you can so easily visit all the sites I’ve read about in my favourite books, and so many of them are perfectly preserved and almost exactly as they were.

And that’s why I decided to set the novel I’m currently working on in medieval Scotland, in the time of Robert the Bruce. Even though the events of the book would have taken place hundreds and hundreds of years ago, when you research the time period there is so much information out there. There’s such a rich historical record that I don’t have to guess what structures looked like, because many of them are still there! With all the research I did, I really started to be able to imagine what it would be like to live in that world.

Do you have a particular time period or place that connects with you?

Opening up the world of writing to kids.

childrens-writing-SATsA while back I talked about how a trip to Cuba had really inspired me, and how travelling in general really motivates me to want to write more. Well, it looks like it’s not just adults who benefit from new experiences when it comes to improving their writing. Some new studies from England are showing that the writing skills of kids who go on memorable field trips at school improve dramatically.

Schools participated in a program called “Improving Writing Quality,” where children were taken on day trips to exciting venues like zoos, castles, caves, for example. Afterwards they would have sessions where they’d write about the experience. Then they tracked their writing skills over nine months, and guess what?  Dramatic improvements!

This is great news, and I’m excited to read it. I really hope that schools here in Canada will follow England’s lead on this one. Because I think one of the most important things to remember when it comes to education, is that not everything can be learned from a book. And even if it can be learned in a book, imagine how much more exciting the learning process is if you actually get to see and experience the things you’re reading about!

And the more experiences children have, the more of the world they’re exposed to, the more their imaginations will grow, they more their horizons will broaden. So if you really want to do your children or grandchildren a favour, share an adventure with them! Not only will you have the pleasure of spending quality time with them, but you’ll be helping to improve their futures. And who knows, you may be helping to create the next J.K. Rowling!

Cuba at the end of the day…

Cuban_boysSo the other week I talked about my recent vacation and how important I think it is, as a writer, to ‘get away’, even if it’s just for a stay-cation. But I thought I’d let you all know about my actual  vacation, as it was pretty momentous for my husband and myself.

It was the first time in 25 years we actually left Canada! I know, it seems crazy, but life is complicated and it’s not always that easy to go away. Given how rare this opportunity is for us, we decided to go somewhere exotic: Cuba.

I’m so very glad we made this choice; I feel like I learnt so much from the experience.

I, like many, had a lot of preconceived notions about what we might find in Cuba. I thought that I’d arrive to a land where tanks or armed personnel lined the streets—after all, that’s what the news is always telling us about communist countries. But nothing could have been further from the truth.

The country is poor, there is little question of that, and there are obviously very complicated political and social issues at play that I wouldn’t even attempt to tackle here. But fundamentally, it is a country filled with beautiful people doing the best they can to care for their families; in that, they are no different than any of us. And as I got to know some of the hard-working people there, it became more and more difficult for me to understand why the United States would still be so stony in their approach to a nation that seems, at least to me, so honest and filled with so many compassionate people. I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t time for the US to re-evaluate their position on Cuba, especially in a world where there are countries that are in far greater turmoil?

The Cuban people are at the end of the day, people. We spend so much time demonizing the country that we forget about that fundamental truth. They are no more or less valuable and important under God’s eyes than anyone else—it’s time we all remembered that. I, for one, am grateful or the opportunity to have been given that reminder.

I can only hope that all my future travels be so fruitful in so many ways…