Saturday 25 December 2021

An interview with the Real Mrs. Claus.


The Scribbler was hoping to interview St. Nick again but the PR department at SC Enterprises has asked us to interview Mrs. Claus instead. Very little is known about her and the head elf in the PR Dept., Slipknot Boomside (people call him Slippy), felt it should change.


The last time we had the opportunity to speak with Santa was in December 2019. Due to the world-wide pandemic in 2020, we had to forego an interview with the man-in-red due to his hectic schedule. Preparations were unlike any other, so we did a recap of Santa’s interviews to the Scribbler last year. Have a peek HERE.


The Scribbler is more than pleased to have Mrs. Claus as our guest.. Wow. WE ARE IMPRESSED. What a lady. We didn’t know……..


Allan: So, Mrs. Claus….


Mrs. Clause: Oh please call me Svetlana. None of this Mrs. Claus stuff.


Allan: Um… okay, Svetlana. Nice name by the way. Sounds Russian. Before we get into the interview, let’s tell our readers about the photo above. The one Slippy from PR sent us. Titled - The New You. This is not the little old lady we’ve become accustomed to. You know, heavy set, the long dress, the ever-present apron, hair in a bun, granny glasses…


Svetlana: The image of the kindly, cookie making Mrs. Santa was a product of our PR department began in the early twentieth century, probably back around 1910 or so. There wasn’t a Mrs. Claus actually; it was all a figment of everyone’s imagination, from well know authors and poets who chose to romanticize the old guy. For the benefit of children everywhere and other true believers, it was felt he should be married. I mean, really, who would ever think a bachelor would be a Santa Claus, or Sinter Klass, as he was known back then. A female companion adds warmth, hominess, you know. But the twenty-first century calls for a new image and in this case, the real me.


Allan: Back in 2019 in Santa’s last interview, he mentioned how you two met, when you were a nurse. His description of you fits with the image above. How come you don’t age?


Svetlana: Ah, the mystery of the North Pole. No one ages here. We all get older but the beauty of youth lingers.


Allan: Like magic?


Svetlana: Not really magic, like pulling a rabbit from a top hat, or sleight of hand. It’s…; well it’s difficult to explain. It’s mystical…, dream-like. A moment in time and space where nothing changes. It really is quite beautiful.


Allan: Where are you from? Were you really a nurse, or is that part of the myth?


Svetlana: I’m from Siberia. My father was a reindeer herder, part of the Lapp community. I actually met Santa when I was only six. He was looking for reindeer to pull his sleigh. Oh gosh, he was so handsome. Oddly enough he took the reindeer with the shiny nose everyone had neglected. Of course, you’ve heard of him, Rudolph. When he left, he gave me a doll. I still have it. I moved to Australia when I was twenty. I wanted to heal people and truthfully, I was tired of the cold. And look at me now, back in the cold in the North Pole.

I was working the midnight shift when they brought him in.  He remembered me and asked about the doll. We fixed him up and poof, he disappeared. I knew we had worked on him for at least two hours and when he left, I checked the clock and only two minutes had gone by. Part of the mysticism I spoke of earlier. We’ve been together ever since.


Allan: I know this might be personal but do you and Santa still… you know…

***There is no response from Svetlana but the wide smile and blushing cheeks tells me enough.


Allan: Do you still bake cookies, look after the elves, and such?


Svetlana: Not any longer. When Santa stopped eating all the cookies and sweets people left for him, I mean he was getting so big and all the food made him sluggish, he couldn’t do anything for weeks after he returned. People took the hint and now they leave him money, so we are quite well off. We have the elves to look after the chores. I spend a lot of my time writing letters to the kids and sign Santa’s name. There are just too many for him. I spend time at my spa. I meet with women all over the world, especially those in need of support. I work hard for women’s rights and equality.


Allan: As Mrs. Clause?


Svetlana: No. As Svetlana Tsvetkova.  No connection to Santa at all.


Allan: Oh, you’re that Svetlana? I’ve heard of you and would’ve never known. Yes, you do wonders. Before we sign off Svetlana, is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?


Svetlana: Yes. To everyone, it is not enough to just ‘be good’ at Christmas time. You need to reach out to your fellow man and woman and commit yourself to at least one act of kindness each day.  Smile to strangers. Hold the door open, help the old person across the street, let someone cut in front of you, do something nice unexpectedly… just be nice all year round.


Thank you Svetlana… Mrs. Claus… for being our guest this week.


… and poof! – she disappears!




This, of course, is the last post of the year. I owe so much to many spectacular guests and to you, my dear readers. I need to thank many people for making 2021  great. I hope you all know I appreciate every one of you, from the bottom of my heart.

MJ LaBeff. Chuck Bowie. Steve Chiasson. Sally Cronin. Susan Toy. Marjorie Mallon, Angela Wren. Debby Geis. James Fisher. The Miramichi Reader.  Susan Jardine. Stephen Shortall. Leonard Shortall. Bernie & Jacinthe Blanchard. Paul Blanchard. The Seasonal Collective.  Lucille Robinson. Andy Gill. Cynthia Murray. John Roberts. Darlene Daigle. Lisa LeBlanc. Mill Cove Coffee. Chapters. Et al.


The next post will be January 1, 2022 and there are exciting changes coming to the Scribbler. A new format, new colors, new (and old favorite) guests. I’ll tell you more then.

Saturday 18 December 2021

Top Ten Posts for 2021 - Most Visited.


What a fantastic year it has been for the Scribbler with terrific guests.

All my guests are special. 

All my visitors and readers are special. They are the ones who make the blog as popular as it is. I am thankful for each and everyone of you. They are the reason for the numbers being as they are.

Someone asked me, "Why do you go to all the work of having different guest on your blog?"

The reason is simple (and a cliché) - I want everybody to succeed. If I can help authors or other creatives reach a new audience, it makes me happy. We all need each other.

Most of my guest are appreciative and express their gratitude by sharing my work or warm friendly notes expressing their thanks. It makes it all worth it.

So follow the list to see which posts had the most visitors and click on the links to discover why.

#1. Jane Risdon. August 14th.

Visits - 467

Please go HERE

#2. Autumn Paths. September 18th.

Visits 411

Please go HERE.

#3. Jennifer McGrath. February 13th.

Visits 389

Please go HERE.

#4. Marjorie Mallon. June 19th.

Visits 369
Please go HERE.

#5. Diane McGyver. January 9th.
Visits 367
Please go HERE.

#6. Guglielmo D'Izzia. March 20th
Visits 356
Please go HERE.

#7. Chuck Bowie. March 13th
Visits 351
Please go HERE.

#8. Hannah State. February 27th.
Visits 350
Please go HERE.

#9. Susan Bernhardt. April 10th.
Visits 260.
Please go HERE.

#10. Jane Tims & Roger Moore. May 15th.

Visits 259
Please go HERE.

Interesting Notes.

Five Authors are from New Brunswick.
Two are from Great Britain.
One from Nova Scotia.
One from Toronto.
One from Wisconsin, USA.

Chuck Bowie has been the most frequent guest for a total of six times. 
Roger Moore three times
Susan Bernhardt twice.

I thank you all for being my guests. I wish you continued success.

Exciting News!
I will be publishing my newest work on January 15th. A novella titled -

In will be available exclusively as an eBook on the Scribbler at first.

Watch for details. You can follow this link for updates.

Cover reveal coming soon.

Watch the Scribbler next week - December 25th - with an exclusive interview the Real Mrs. Claus. She's not the lady you've been led to believe. 

Saturday 11 December 2021

Returning Award-Winning Author Sonia Saikaley of Ottawa.


Let’s welcome Sonia back. This is her second visit to the Scribbler and she shares exciting news of her current book.

If you missed her interview, please go HERE.

Her novel - The Allspice Bath - was featured on the Scribbler posting of February 2020 

Six Great Books - Six Great Authors



From a Talking Crow to a Swooping Eagle: The creation of Samantha’s Sandwich Stand

By Sonia Saikaley


When I was a child, the closest I came to seeing myself in a children’s story was in Peter and the Wolf. Well, sort of. There was Sonia the Duck. Not that I’m a duck even though my contagious laughter could sometimes possibly be mistaken for a quack. Seriously, seeing my name in print made me feel closer to the narrative and when my kindergarten teacher read the story out loud to my class, all the children turned to me and smiled when they heard my name. I was a shy child so being the centre of attention was nerve-wracking but I loved that duck and returned my classmates’ smiles with a big smile of my own.

        Growing up in the seventies and eighties, I wasn’t exposed to many books with characters who looked like me. There weren’t children with a Middle Eastern background in the stories I read and, at the time, I didn’t question this but as I got older I wondered why I wasn’t represented in children’s books and when I started getting serious about writing, I decided to create a story about a young Lebanese-Canadian girl. I named her Samantha after one of my nieces.

        In my story, the character Samantha is bored and she needs something to do over the summer so like many children she wants to open a lemonade stand. This is what came to me first: lemonade. Then I googled children’s books with lemonade stands and found a huge number of stories featuring this favourite summer activity. This made me think about taking a twist on the lemonade theme so I came up with something from my Lebanese heritage, something I loved to eat on hot summer days and was just as cool and refreshing as lemonade. My mother used to make me homemade labneh (Lebanese cream cheese) and cucumber pita sandwiches and I loved eating those pita wraps. I found them light and refreshing on a humid day and even better, no hot oven or stovetop was required to prepare this meal.

        So one day I began writing this story and the title came to me easily: Samantha’s Sandwich Stand. I had Samantha packing shelves and dancing but even those activities didn’t stop her from being bored. I set the story in her father’s grocery store. My own dad had a charming yellow corner store where I’d help him stock the shelves, dust and sweep. I loved spending time in the store but, more importantly, I loved watching my dad interact with his customers. He was personable and joked with them, introducing me as Suzy. It was his nickname for me. The first draft of Samantha’s Sandwich Stand was written in 2001 when my dad was recovering from major surgery. He had been diagnosed with stomach cancer around 2000. Despite his surgery, the cancer returned.

        While taking care of my ailing father, I turned to my writing. I wrote a sad and moving book called The Allspice Bath but in between I worked on Samantha’s Sandwich Stand which featured Samantha, her dad and a talking crow who snatches some sandwiches from her stand. He wasn’t a bad crow with evil intentions (although he did steal the sandwiches, he made up for it later by cawing the news about Samantha’s delicious pita wraps). This lively story lightened my heavy heart while I watched my dad fight the cancer living in his body.

        When I finished Samantha’s Sandwich Stand, I saw a call for submissions to a Canadian writing contest. I decided to give it a shot and sent off the story for consideration. Although I didn’t win the contest, I made the longlist and received excellent feedback from the generous judges. I took those comments and rewrote the story and sent it off to publishers but it kept getting rejected so I rewrote it again. Instead of having a talking crow, I created a swooping eagle who could symbolize hope because in Samantha’s Sandwich Stand, Samantha gets discouraged because no one comes to her stand and buys her sandwiches. But the eagle was just one part of the story and over the years with my own different life experiences, which included teaching English in Japan, the story expanded and more characters appeared. The only original things that remained were Samantha, her dad, his grocery store and her sandwich stand.

        Samantha needed her friends to help. As a result, I developed three friends who shared their own cultural backgrounds so other children could see themselves in the story too. Because I lived in Japan several years ago, I created a character named Naoko after a wonderful friend and teaching colleague who provided guidance and friendship when I needed it the most. It wasn’t easy packing up my life and leaving my family in Ottawa to travel across the world but having people like Naoko around made my Japanese life easier. Naoko even surprised me on my last day in Japan by showing up on my train and guiding me through the busy Tokyo airport so I wouldn’t miss my flight. I will always remember her waving at me and wiping her eyes while I got ready to board my flight. I had grown to love Japan and was grateful to the friends who became family. To thank Naoko, I developed a young girl who plays her taiko drum to help her friend Samantha draw in customers. Then there was another character with a Scottish background, Ethan, and named after a friend’s nephew. I also added Samantha’s caring mom and kept her encouraging dad. Jimmy rounded off Samantha’s friends and I named him after my beloved dad. At this point in my life, my dad had passed on and I wanted a way to have him live forever so I added his name to the story. There was also his yellow grocery store.

        I only wished my dad could have lived to see my published books but I like to think that wherever he is, he is smiling and probably pulling some strings for me. Although it took about twenty years from that initial draft for the book to finally enter the world with the help of the amazing people at Renaissance Press and the talented illustrator Nathan Caro Fréchette, I kept on going. I didn’t give up. After every rejection, I got up again and again and kept sending the manuscript out. I failed often but with faith in myself and the encouragement of my family and friends, I remained hopeful that someday Samantha’s Sandwich Stand would see the light of day. And it has. I believe this book about friendship and perseverance will help children shine brighter in whatever dream or goal they may have.  


Thank you, Allan, for providing such a great forum for writers to share their ideas and stories. I am so grateful for your support.


***You are most welcome, Sonia. Great guest like you make it all worthwhile.


About the Book:

Samantha is bored. It is summer and her friends are on vacation. When she sees a lemonade stand, she wants to open one but her father convinces her to sell something different: her mother's homemade Lebanese cream cheese and cucumber pita sandwiches. But can she convince others that her sandwich treat is just as refreshing and delicious as lemonade? When her friends return from their holidays and offer to help her, along with a very hungry eagle, will customers finally come and buy her sandwiches? Samantha’s Sandwich Stand is an inspiring story about believing in yourself, accepting help from others when something doesn’t succeed at first, and celebrating each other’s differences.


About the Author:

Sonia Saikaley was born and raised in Ottawa, Canada to a big Lebanese family. The daughter of a shopkeeper, she had access to all the treats she wanted. Her first book, The Lebanese Dishwasher, co-won the 2012 Ken Klonsky Novella Contest. She has two poetry collections Turkish Delight, Montreal Winter and A Samurai’s Pink House. Her novel The Allspice Bath was the 2020 IPPY Gold Medal winner and the 2020 International Book Awards winner for Multicultural Fiction and a finalist in the 2020 Ottawa Book Awards. She is a graduate of the University of Ottawa and the Humber School for Writers. Many years ago she belly-danced her way across Northern Japan and taught English there, too. She loves eating labneh and cucumber pita sandwiches on hot summer days.



About the Illustrator:


Nathan Caro Fréchette is a queer transgender sequential artist, publisher, and author. He has published over a dozen short stories, both graphic and prose, as well as five novels, three graphic novels, and two works of nonfiction. He has taught creative writing over a decade, and has a degree in Film Studies and another in Sequential Art. He was the founder and director of the French Canadian literary magazine Histoires à Boire Debout, and an editor for the French Canadian graphic novel publisher Premières Lignes.



Saturday 4 December 2021

Returning Author Anna Dowdall of Montreal.


The Scribbler is pleased to welcome Anna back. This is her second visit and if you missed her interview, please go HERE.



Ashley’s Sense of Place


Readers and critics rarely fail to comment on the evocative settings in my three Canadian-based crime fiction books.  The award-winning writer Melodie Campbell, for example, says of April on Paris Street (Guernica Editions, December 2021), “the real star of this novel is the city of Paris.  Anna Dowdall is masterful at using all the senses to put you right on the streets of the City of Lights.“  Just as blushingly, Iona Whishaw says of the book, the scrumptious mise en scène creates so lush a feel of Montreal and Paris that it is positively edible.”  Lay readers are predictably a little less breathless, but one Amazon reader’s comment is typical:  “a spectacular setting.”


I hope I haven’t lost you already.  Few people read a mystery primarily for its setting.  I’m like any other reader who wants engaging characters who draw us in, and plots that carry us forward.  And yet, and yet…have you thought about just how subtly significant setting can be, how it invades everything, shapes the destiny of characters, informs their actions, and provides a pervasive point of view on the events taking place that nothing else can? 


When, in April on Paris Street, Montreal private eye Ashley Smeeton falls in love with a dodgy character she’s met in The Au Pair (Wild Rose Books, 2018), this is how I describe it:  “Two summers ago, apparently, she’d paid a visit to a strange bank in an unfamiliar part of the city, and there made an unremembered and sizeable deposit.”


As part of the crime plot, April on Paris Street takes Ashley deep into the unfamiliar reaches of eastern Montreal as well as through the underbelly of Paris, before all preconceptions including hers collapse.  The defamiliarized city, in this way, is educative, both for the reader and for Ashley.  You can’t fully get my tale of two cities plot, or the progress of its characters, without understanding this.  Montreal and Paris, in their least known, labyrinthine aspects, are the space through which all must move to get to where they are going.  And in the case of Ashley in love, for the lightbulb to come on.


For me, setting is an important fiction writer’s tool, to create atmosphere, to shape, constrain and comment on events, and to add dimension to character.  In crime fiction in particular, it can be deliciously effective to hint at things, even while the writer must withhold critical elements.  Not that my writing is driven by such abstractions.  When asked why I invest so heavily in setting, I usually say something like, you can take the girl out of L.M. Montgomery but you can’t take L.M. Montgomery out of the girl.  In other words, that’s just the kind of writer I am.  I like to create a detailed and atmospheric world, and lose myself in it. 


But enough about me and my obsession.  Even more readers than comment on the sense of place in my books comment on twenty-something Ashley herself.  She’s a mixture of potentially irreconcilable elements, an underdog and a working class heroine.  She’s an everywoman to bond with, but whose profoundest feelings are sometimes a little mysterious.  Despite or perhaps because of this, readers characterize her as highly likeable, even “utterly winning.”  Beginning with my first book, After the Winter (Wild Rose Books, 2017), in which Ashley, a child living in time-warp rural Quebec, appears as an important secondary character, the reader learns about Ashley through her context.


Aged nine, she’s an odd little duck, a loner who already sees the world as a Nancy Drew story.  She is half-Abenaki through a dead father; her mother struggles.  She is friends with a twelve-year-old, justice-dispensing ghost who haunts a swamp near her home.  In The Au Pair, having in the meantime highjacked my authorial purpose and taken over as protagonist, she reappears as an adult private eye living in Montreal.  We can see that she’s made something of herself:  she’s now the pal of cops, with an intuitive crime radar, awkwardly elegant but still Ashley—one foot in and one foot out of the everyday social world represented by the big city.


In April on Paris Street, finding myself with a part Indigenous character and no longer knowing quite how I should approach this, I took the plunge and had her reconnect with her Abenaki relatives, from whom the Smeetons have been estranged.  The subplot links to the novel’s exploration of a world that I characterize as divided, split, fractured—dual in various ways.  For Ashley, though, this duality of hers is central.  The reader can decide at the end what her reconciliation might mean for her.  It’s certainly not something I can pronounce on.


The point I want to make though is that this critical character dimension arises directly out of the historically-inflected space around Ashley, not just the space she’s in but the space from which she came.  Now I’m going to mention the Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin, so please forgive me.  He coined a term: chronotope.  He was looking for a category to described literary space that is fundamentally defined by the instability of time.  If you really want to grasp the complicating impact of setting as something more than inert backdrop, think of it as holding just under its surface the restless flow of history.  A world—just like the world of crime fiction, in fact!—where narrative sequence is non-linear and where rival truths have a tendency to erupt from the time before and interfere with the present. 


Where Ashley is concerned, there are multiple temporal layers to her unique setting.  There are the mean streets of two modern cities that conceal and reveal, the precipitating crime being the moment when that clock begins to tick.  There’s Ashley’s personal past, her family life, the relatives she knows and those she comes to know.  And there’s the compressed historical setting, which is still intensely personal to Ashley’s identity.


Taking this approach to setting, we can therefore think of Ashley and her setting differently. She was born in an imaginary town in the Eastern Townships, and by book three is a well-established resident of Montreal’s Pointe St-Charles.  But her personal place, the place that takes form in the books as she moves through them, is about 10,000 years deep.


So there you have it:  come for the setting but stay for Ashley.  Probably like you, I can only accompany her part way on her journey through her own unique space.  But, even where I can’t follow her, I find it’s instructive.     




Thank you, Anna, for your guest post. Wishing you continued success.


Please visit Anna’s website -