A book signing…

10 Routes that Crossed the World is in the bookstores! This past Saturday, I welcomed friends and book lovers to Bookingham Palace Bookstore in the Mall at Piccadilly, in Salmon Arm. Thanks to those who stopped by—including Sarah, Mary, Vern and Barb, Diane, Josephine, Barb, Lana and Sienna, and my ‘official’ photographer, Judith. Hope you all enjoy reading about the history of those worldwide trails.

Photo by J. Benson


A Passion for Maps

One of my best memories of my dad                                                concerns our mutual love of maps.

For him, it must have begun prior to 1928 when he signed up for a 4-year term as Apprentice with The Pacific Steam Navigation Company in Liverpool, England. This began his career as a mariner that would last into the 1950s, through steady promotions to Master and numerous global voyages. For me, in 4th or 5th grade, it began as we studied the fold-up maps that came with a subscription to National Geographic Magazine. We eagerly pored over each new arrival, and in particular those of countries which my dad had visited during his years at sea.

Then, in 1958, an Atlas Folio became available to store those maps. Once each one was inserted in the appropriate place, one would have a complete world atlas of colorful maps. That atlas represents many happy evenings of entertainment for me as a child, a life-long interest in geography, and especially for maps as an intriguing way to know the world. Not necessarily a treasure now in terms of monetary value, that atlas remains a prized possession for my family.

To this day, a paper map has a special feel for me, impossible to replace with the GPS directions favored by so many travelers. As a visual learner, I need the big picture to get the whole perspective. I like to know where I am, where I’ve been, as well as where I’m going and how I’ll get there.

During the research for a couple of recent non-fiction books, 10 Ships That Rocked the World, and 10 Routes That Crossed the World, I found myself poring over maps once again.








My appreciation for the skills I learned in those early years continues to grow. I put them to work again as I traced the historical voyages of the ships, and examined the routes laid down by people embroiled in events that shaped the history of various countries and cultures. That old atlas opened a door to unlimited learning. I think my dad would have been proud of how I’ve used the knowledge.



A New Book!


10 Routes that Crossed the World

People have always blazed trails across the land. They’ve followed them in search of power, riches, adventure, or simply a better life. In this fourth book in the World of Tens series, you’ll read about ten routes that cross countries and continents, and span time from 20,000 years ago all the way to the 20th century: the Bering Land Bridge, Roman roads in Britain, Camino de Santiago, Inca Trail, Khyber Pass, Trans-Siberian Railroad, Chilkoot Trail, Serengeti Migration Trail, Route 66 and Ho Chi Minh Trail.

As I wrote this book, I found it fascinating to learn the history of these trails, and discover the people and events that made them memorable. The research enabled me to relive people’s experiences from long ago, try to imagine what they saw, and trace the effects of their decisions and actions. Their footprints left the stories for the curious to discover. You’ll soon be able to read them in 10 Routes That Crossed the World, to be released in April.

The Deep Midwinter

It’s winter solstice. Here’s how the dictionary defines this shortest day of the year:

mid.win.ter  n.

1. the middle of winter

2. the period of the winter solstice, on or about December 22 in the Northern Hemisphere

The December solstice marks the ‘turning of the sun’, the signal for the days to slowly get longer. From this mid-winter day, the season begins to move toward its end.

The haunting poem\hymn, In the Bleak Midwinter, by Christina Rosetti, always comes to mind at this time.

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

I prefer to think of midwinter as ‘deep’ instead, because it isn’t all ‘bleak’, as in ‘cold and unfriendly with no pleasant features, no hope’. I found these bright and peaceful spots in my yard at this pivotal point in the winter. They seem to promise the hope for the New Year that we all long for!

Raspberry cane

Raspberry cane

Mountain ash berries waiting for waxwings

Mountain ash berries waiting for waxwings

Snow on cedar

Snow on cedar

Burning bush berries

Burning bush berries

Snow-capped Echinacea

Snow-capped Echinacea

Help the Birds this Winter


A recent showing of the award-winning Eco-Documentary, The Messenger in Salmon Arm drew attention to the plight of songbirds. Their numbers are declining sharply from habitat loss, climate change, light pollution, pesticides and cat predation. If you usually have small birds around your property, have you noticed the absence of the melodious ‘dawn chorus’ that used to wake you in spring at 4 AM? Maybe a song sparrow or a robin might show up to herald the new day….but a couple of chirps and whistles can no longer be called a chorus. Spring is far more quiet now because the birds aren’t there. A world without bird music is vastly diminished, in my opinion.

Don’t wait until spring to think of ways you can help these birds survive. While numerous smaller birds migrate to warmer climes during the winter, many stay put. Where I live in the Salmon Arm area, at least 25 species of songbirds have been recorded on the annual Christmas Bird Count. The seed, suet and water we provide winter birds active in daylight hours is their fuel to endure the colder overnight temperatures.

But my part of BC is bear country, and our communities are also home to nocturnal critters like raccoons—I saw their tracks in the fresh snow this morning, in fact. Bird feeders can attract these wild animals and bring them into close contact with people, causing problems. How to balance the need to feed birds with the safety issues—for both humans and animals? I’ve hung my feeder where it is easy to remove at dusk, and store inside overnight. Domestic cats are a serious threat (in all seasons) to songbirds as well, so I keep watch for any that may hang around my feeder. A small dish of water when temperatures are above freezing will help them too.

Chickadees like the one in the photo above will find your feeder quickly. A couple of them have trained my husband by calling for him every morning at breakfast… “Hey, get that feeder out here now!”

Since it appears that human activities are largely responsible for the songbird population decline, it’s the least we can do!


Merry Christmas!

Artists’ conk

I just finished writing 10 Routes That Crossed the World, due to be published next April. So trails are on my mind…..

On a hike along Reinecker Creek trail (above Margaret Falls in Herald Provincial Park) recently, I found something of interest.


This huge fungus is called a conk. It is one of over 1000 species of polypores (a group of fungi). Its presence on the tree trunk means there is probably a fair amount of decay inside the tree. Spores on the underside of this fungus will spread the infection to other trees through an open wound, or via insects or birds. For instance, a woodpecker might take the spores from this tree to another one.

Conks can vary in size; this is one of the largest I’ve seen. They can be different colors, but the large white under surface can be used by artists—hence the name ‘artists’ conk’. Scratching it, or rubbing will create a design that will remain once the conk has dried. Might be a neat place to write a story!

A Different Visit to Rio…in 1787

Rio de Janeiro — people from across the world have gathered to attend the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Now it is the second largest city in Brazil. But 229 years ago, in 1787, it was the country’s capital, and a major port. Why is that year significant?

On August 6, 1787, the visitors who arrived in Rio could not have been more different from today’s Olympic athletes. In fact, they were prisoners…convicts in the “First Fleet” from Britain on their way to establish a penal colony at Botany Bay, Australia. Eleven 3-masted ships were the first in a program called “transportation” that continued until 1868, delivering about 165,000 convicts to Australia.

The fleet entered Rio’s harbor through a narrow entrance guarded by forts. Its commander, Governor Arthur Phillip, bought fresh provisions for his ships, and took aboard seeds that would grow in Australia: coffee, cotton, indigo (the tropical plant produced a much desired blue dye). After a month in Rio, the fleet continued on its way eventually reaching its destination on January 20, 1788.



Find out more about the voyage of the First Fleet—in particular the ship Lady Penrhyn—in my book 10 Ships That Rocked the World (Annick Press, 2015). It is part of the series, World of Tens.



A colleague, Judith Silverthorne, has also written about the transportation of convicts in a YA novel, Convictions (Coteau, 2016). The story follows 14-year-old Jennie, sentenced to 7 years in Australia for stealing a sack of oats to help feed her starving family. Loaded with tension through dramatic action scenes, this well-researched book will give you an authentic taste of life aboard an 18th-century convict ship.