Paradise unfolding

Nobody crafts words like Merilyn Simonds. If you’re a word-craft-lover, I think you would very much enjoy reading about the evolution of The Paradise Project: her collection of flash fiction, now being printed in slow motion by letterpress …

… on St. Armand’s mold-made “salad” paper, with endpapers made from her garden and lino cut illustrations made by her son, artist Erik Mohr.

The Paradise Project is a collection of her award-wining short stories with gardens at their core, a bed-rock of imagery that is always with her. 

Merilyn on the “easy” work of writing:

It is an easy job, at least on those days when the words are there lining up, compliant, but feisty, too. Even when they aren’t, when I spend hours lugging commas from here to there, shovelling in new phrases, axing them out again, prying words apart, wedging in fresh ones, even then what survives always looks easy. The better the writing, the easier it looks.

Merilyn writes evocatively, emotionally, sparely. If you’re like me, you’ll tear up as well. 

The Paradise Project is being hand-published by Hugh Barclay, book artist and owner of Thee Hellbox Press. “I’m working on the last signature and I hope to put the press to bed on July 15th, providing that the stars and the moon are properly aligned.”

I long ago put in an order for one of these precious books. There won’t be many such. (Only three hundred, in fact.)

“Books of this artistic quality are only published about every 10-20 years and normally sell for 4-5 times what we are asking,” notes Hugh. The books are selling for $150 (about the cost of a forgetable night out in Toronto). If you are interested, e-mail Hugh to reserve a copy: 

Late-breaking news: because I put in my order long ago, my copy is book #1!!!


Putting the press to bed


My most treasured acquisition this year was a limited edition copy of THE PARADISE PROJECT by my good friend and brilliant writer Merilyn Simonds.

That my copy was #1 (!!!) makes it extra special, but this beautiful book is beyond extra special: end papers made from the flowers in Merilyn’s garden, a special plant-related cover paper, block prints by her artist son throughout, pages that need to be sliced open to read: yes, very special indeed. 

And now, a video of that final day, as Merilyn’s husband, writer Wayne Grady, reads a poem he wrote: “We’re putting the press to bed.”


Everyone knew it was a special moment … as is each moment you hold this lovely book, as is each word you read. 


And now, a brief catch-up in GullandLand: I’ve worked myself up to 1000 words a day on the first draft of the Young Adult novel about Hortense. It’s fun, and I’m enjoying it. I’m writing every day, which is key—on “free” days I commit to 100 or 500 words. No excuses! 

Any day now I’ll see a cover for THE SHADOW QUEEN. ARCs (Advance Reader Copy) are in preparation. I survived the massive Author Questionnaire. Now it’s time to start thinking about acknowledgements. (Always the last bit to be written.) 

I’m reading massively: Pride and Prejudice, Astray, The Dark, plus any number of How To books and research texts on my Kindle ap. 

Advice from a master: “The price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay…”

Late-1938, seeking feedback on her work, aspiring author and university student Frances Turnbull sent her latest story to a friend of her family, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

This is what he wrote back:

November 9, 1938

Dear Frances:

I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.

This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories “In Our Time” went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In “This Side of Paradise” I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.

The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he’ll ever learn about writing can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming—the amateur thinks he or she can do the same. But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is “nice” is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the “works.” You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.

In the light of this, it doesn’t seem worth while to analyze why this story isn’t saleable but I am too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more interested than,

Your old friend,

F. Scott Fitzgerald

P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent—which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.

My initial response to this letter was positive, but on re-reading I find it a bit snooty (and possibly even slightly prurient). I see no evidence that Frances Turnbull ever went on to publish anything. Too bad. 

What are your thoughts? 

(Source: F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters.) Also, the wonderful blog, Letters of Note.

The thrill of cutting book pages

Have you ever had to cut the pages of an old book in order to read it? It’s like venturing into virgin territory, a frontier. It never fails to thrill. 

I’m head-over-heels charmed by the “packaging” of Merilyn Simonds‘ limited edition letterpress collection of stories, The Paradise Project

The book is inside, and included is a paper-cutter to part the pages.

And have I mentioned? My copy is #1!

The book can still be reserved simply by e-mailing the publisher at 

For other posts I’ve written on this wonderful project, click here

For other news, I’m thrilled that almost all the Sandra Gulland Ink e-books are now on-line. I was shocked to discover that some have even sold. Imagine that.

I’ve created a Sandra Gulland Ink Facebook page which is picking up steam. Have a look here. The image of the covers is from the line-up on iTunes. Yes, I’m proud!  

I’m working on The Last Revise of The Next Novel, due at the end of September. I’m super pleased that in addition to HarperCollins Canada, it’s to be published by Doubleday in the U.S.

What do you think of this title? 

In the Service of the Shadow Queen

I’m also researching the life of Hortense, Josephine’s daughter, for the YAs I will write this winter (she said bravely). 

Yes, my head is spinning!

Gutenberg’s fingerprint: how much is a smudge worth?

Gutenberg’s fingerprint: how much is a smudge worth?


I’ve posted a few times of late about The Paradise Project, author Merilyn Simonds‘ limited-edition letterpress publication of short stories. In an age when publication is becoming more and more digital, I’m finding this hand-made centuries-old process fascinating.

Merilyn has been blogging about the process. Her latest post, Gutenberg’s fingerprint, is especially evocative.

The studio is crowded today: all the people who worked onThe Paradise Project have gathered to see the final pages printed and put the press to bed. …

Mico looks at the press as he will one day look at the person he loves. “He let me run this thing when I was 14, and ever since, I’ve wanted to come back. It was a big mistake. Now I never want to leave.

Me neither.

On the news front, I’m awaiting the delivery of my edited last draft. I’m told that there are only about 50 small suggestions. (That’s nothing!) I’m also told I was described by an editor as “Queen of Revision.” I love that!

I’m considering changing my main character’s name from Claude (her historical name) to Claudine or Claudette. A number of readers get confused by what they consider a male name. I like the androgynous name and it suits Claude’s androgynous character, but I don’t like confusing readers (at least unintentionally). Your thoughts? Preferences? I’m leading toward Claudine.

I put off sending out my newsletter until later in August so that I could give more concrete information about the publication date, a possible title, the Josephine documentary as well as Sandra Gulland Ink publications.

Yes, there is a lot coming to a head next month!

Illustration at top is from Bibleodyssey.