A Fire in ‘the Little Cod’


October 2007


The new novel, Azuba, is well into its next draft. In late August, my editor at Knopf, Angelika Glover, sent me her comments. I am always amazed at the quality of attention a gifted editor gives to a book. Not only does she understand what makes the book good in the first place, but she sees how to make it better: where the story needs to be fleshed out, where it needs to be pared.

In early September, the edited manuscript arrived at Winterwood Food Store, a lovely little health food store in Sussex where I pick up couriered mail. Standing in the sweet, spicy aroma — a combination of cinammon, freshly baked bread and geraniums — I’ve seen all of my books for the first time. And on this occasion, I slid out the manuscript of Azuba, 350 pages – most with pencilled notes in the margins.

I love this stage of a book’s production. What I’m working on right now is called a “revision from edit notes.” This is the time when I re-draw the novel, only now, reassuringly, I have a guide, asking me things like, “Why did she do this? What did she feel about it? You haven’t told us anything about Nathaniel’s mother!”


Until it gets really cold, I’m working in the sauna bath that I wrote about in Edge Seasons, away from the hammers, saws, ladders, plaster dust and singing electricians of our house renovation.

Here’s a picture of it.

Oct 2007 sauna early winter 08-26

I pack up manuscript, laptop, thermos, bread and cheese, and walk up through the field. The ponies watch me with their mild, curious eyes.


I pass into the woods, walk beneath the sun-shot yellow leaves of poplars, turn onto a narrow path cushioned with spruce needles. In the small upper story room of the sauna bath, there’s nothing but a table, a stove, a shelf of books, and (mysteriously) always a fresh collection of insect wings on the green-painted floor. The room is finger-freezing cold, and the first thing I do is start a fire in the “Little Cod” ship’s woodstove (appropriately for Azuba!)

From 9 a.m. until my laptop runs out of power, I live in Azuba’s world. I always think that if I could watch myself, I would see a woman sitting utterly motionless with her hands in her face – then, abruptly, staring at a computer screen with fingers flying. Time disappears. I live the story, hear its sounds, listen to what its people say to one another. I’ve completed almost 100 pages. So far, so good!

Here’s a bit of what else is going on.


The second-stage climate change plan continues to be very exciting. The house is now re-insulated from the inside out. Here’s what it looked like at its most appalling.

Now it has new triple-glazed windows, new siding, and new wiring. In the cellar, the field-stone foundation is (sadly, but effectively) insulated, and there’s an air-to-air heat exchanger hanging from the dusty old beams. Next, we’ll install a system to heat water using a combination of solar panels, and the kitchen wood stove. We’re waiting for a used Waterford Stanley wood stove, now being shipped from Maine.

As we work on the house, I ponder the past. The house was built in the 1870’s, when there were no telephones, electricity, indoor plumbing,or central heating. How recent it is, really, that we’ve gotten used to mechanization. I hope that we can give up many of our conveniences, and adapt to new sources of energy.


So many of the old ways are still the best. Gardens, for example. Here’s a picture of my vegetable garden.

My daughter-in-law, Sara, who lives just down the road, and I, are determined to either grow what we eat ourselves, or buy it at the Farmer’s Market. This year, I harvested all our own fruit: wild blueberries; my own strawberries and raspberries, augmented by a local U-pick; wild blackberries; and local apples, made into applesauce, apple butter, or wrapped in newspaper in the root cellar.

The root cellar also holds baskets of our own carrots, potatoes, cabbages, and beets. Braids of garlic hang on the kitchen wall, and there are canvas bags of onions and garlic in the laundry root. The 2 freezers are both full, one largely comprised of local organic cider and grape juice. I’m learning about how much is available from right here. Incredible cheese made by farmers who came here from Holland. Soap made by a couple from Yorkshire. Local dried beans and tofu. Good wine, local butter and eggs.


This summer, we decided to cut down on travel by making our pond the place to be, rather than driving to the beach. And by having our own local Canada Day Parade.

pond house-10 2007 Oct MARKHAMVILLE_PARADE-8


Peter and I will be leaving in November for the opening of his show at the new Habatat Gallery near Washington, D.C. We’ll fly on to visit his parents in their retirement community near Fort Meyers, Florida, where I am going to meet with a group of readers. (I’m happy to do this if I’m in your community.) Then we fly on to a family reunion in La Jolla, where beside the joy of being with Peter’s family, many of whom live in California, we will see the stark reminder of the devastating wildfires.

And then home to get back to Azuba, and to begin preparing for Christmas.

Thank you so much for writing to me. I love to hear from readers. Here is one final photo, my garden at its best, with a new path that I made from the fieldstones that had to come out of the foundation.

Oct 2007 arbour and path

Warmest best wishes to you all,