An Evening With John Brierley and Canadian Company of Pilgrims

On my first trip to the Camino de Santiago, I walked with my friend and Camino guide, Sue Kenney. As a longtime Camino guide, Sue organizes group Caminos to take pilgrims on the last 200km or so of the pilgrimage route in Spain. (Sue is doing TWO Camino tours in May, 2019…One of which is already fully booked.) The one thing Sue always makes sure her pilgrims have with them during their Camino is what I have come to understand is the Camino Bible. It’s probably the most popular guidebook ever written for the Camino de Santiago.

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Two Tickets to Paradise, Courtesy of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims

A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago (Camino Francés): St. Jean – Roncesvalles – Santiago is the title of that guidebook. It’s so well organized, detailed and curated that it’s easy to forget that it’s the brainchild of one person. Everyone on the Camino carries it. I carried it. It is a wealth of knowledge. If you have a question regarding a town, a restaurant, an albergue, or anything else…you turn its pages and you find the answer. If you have traveled the Camino and you didn’t do it with the guidebook below, chances are you saw other peregrinos (pilgrims) carrying it and/or flipping through its pages.

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CLICK THIS PIC to go to AMAZON to order your copy.

Last night the Canadian Company of Pilgrims had an event in Toronto at the Yorkwoods Public Library Theatre. Sue Kenney and two other peregrinas–Mony Dojeiji and Ingrid Folkers–opened the event with a short panel discussion on their own experiences with the Camino. Then the man who wrote the Camino Bible pictured above was there. In person. John Brierley himself was there to enthrall a packed theatre audience with tales of the Camino de Santiago and the various routes leading to the now mythical cathedral in the city of Santiago de Compostela. John also brought with him a rousing message of love and connection. It turns out the man who wrote the guide walks the walk. He was as lovely as the feeling one gets from experiencing the Camino itself. He was eloquent, informative and inspiring. He talked about the Camino family that I myself have experienced and am now a part of… and he cemented in me everything I have come to believe about the Camino.

By the time John’s talk was over and he had hypnotized an entire audience of some 300 people into blowing out the tiny candle he held out to us, I was more than ready to head back out onto the sacred pilgrimage in Spain. But he also told us we were not merely blowing out the candle, but sending the flame out into the world to give light and warmth to our Camino brethren now currently walking the paths back in Spain.

And I believed it.

I imagined that flame leaving the candle and crossing the Atlantic to find the heart of every pilgrim brother and sister currently walking the various Camino pathways leading to the cathedral and beyond… to Finisterre and Muxía… to the END OF THE WORLD.

 

 

Some pics of my first Camino in May, 2014. Michael and I will be heading back in September, 2019, walking from Astorga to Santiago. I can’t stay away.

If ever you hear whispers of the Camino de Santiago, take heed. Listen up. It is both a gift and a question. And I assure you, your heart wants to know the answer. It wants the gift. With my own journey, I discovered that the Camino calls you. I heard about it in passing and it sat quietly inside me. But quietly like a river that knows a waterfall is coming in the distance. When I didn’t heed the call, it got louder… because something inside me wanted to manifest my inner journey into an outer one. When I stepped foot on the path years later, I knew that it was meant to be. The Camino won. It called, and inevitably I answered.

And I know we Camino pilgrims probably sound like members of a cult…the way we go on about the pilgrimage years after we have walked it…but it’s just that it has given us so much. It’s just a long walk, right? A walk that thousands of people have taken over thousands of years. If you listen closely while you’re out there in the wind, putting one foot in front of the other while making your way to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, you can hear their whispers… their inner thoughts. Lean in. They have left their mark on the path lit nightly by the magical Milky Way. Even the stars know the importance of the Camino, and it is their wont to show you the way to Santiago.

But if you don’t trust the stars to show you the way, if you’re afraid of relying on the Vía Láctea to bring you to the sacred cathedral at the end of the sacred path, trust John Brierley. He’ll take you there.

 

(Much thanks to the Canadian Company of Pilgrims for showing me the way to John Brierley.)

 

A Way to Forgiveness – Healing on the Camino de Santiago

It seems I really cannot get enough Camino in my life. Recently, I read the exceptional travel memoir Walking to the End of the World – A Thousand Miles on the Camino de Santiago by Beth Jusino and it took me back to the beautiful pilgrimage experience I had in 2014. And today, I stumbled upon another documentary on the Way of St. James (Through the Facebook group POST CAMINO Support Group). It was an amazing movie!

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Check out Walking to the End of the World by BETH JUSINO. It’s a beautiful Camino memoir!

A Way to Forgiveness – Healing on the Camino de Santiago is a documentary by Erin Dooley. This documentary is a compelling film tracing Dooley’s pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago as she pondered over and struggled with the concept of forgiveness, both in general and as it related to her own end-goal of forgiving someone in her own life.

From the beginning, I was hooked. I meditated over forgiveness myself as I walked the Camino. I saw many parallels in Dooley’s journey with that of my own…including how things would suddenly come up on the Camino to remind her of the person in her life she wished to forgive. The Camino somehow seems to mirror us, so it was no surprise she discovered things along the path that startled her into immediate recognition of home. The perfect example was how–in small town Spain–she heard the song she and her husband chose to use when entering the reception that followed her wedding. Coincidences and synchronicity are commonplace on the pilgrimage. You don’t realize how startling those coincidences are until they keep happening to you.

For any fan of the Camino–whether you have already walked it, wish to walk it, or are just being called to it now by stumbling upon this post–this deeply personal and contemplative look into the gift and burden of FORGIVENESS is a must see documentary. With the beautiful Spanish countryside as a backdrop, and the vulnerability and authenticity Dooley’s emotional journey…you won’t be disappointed.

As a pilgrim of The Way, I just wanted to also mention…one of the things I most feared as I traveled from my home in Toronto to Spain actually happened to Dooley on her pilgrimage. Imagine the terror of arriving in Spain to walk the Camino and realizing your backpack didn’t quite make the journey! She handled this hurdle with amazing calmness…and the still of her hugging her backpack once it finally decided to meet up with her is worth the price of admission!

Here’s the trailer for the movie:

You can watch A WAY TO FORGIVENESS in two ways. Rent it and stream it now, or buy a DVD copy.

Visit A WAY TO FORGIVENESS online and pick it up today!

Follow A WAY TO FORGIVENESS on Twitter

My WCSC 2nd Place Short Story Contest Entry – Helen Finds Her Way to After

What follows here is my short story Helen Finds Her Way to After, which won 2nd Place in the 2017 Writers’ Community of Simcoe County’s Short Story Contest. Unfortunately, the WCSC has since become defunct. My short story had been published on their website, which no longer exists. So, I’m sharing it here.

HELEN FINDS HER WAY TO AFTER

 Both of Helen’s feet bled steadily as she walked. She fought to ignore the blisters making a nasty soup of blood and puss in the heel of each of her merino wool socks. It was nine a.m. With each passing hour she lost a little more of her will to carry on. She held on to the memory of her ex-husband’s laughter at the folly she displayed in thinking she could make this journey. She carried her daughter Meagan’s doubt, freely given when she had told her of her goal. Their lack of support was perhaps the only thing left to propel Helen forward to Santiago de Compostela. And to the apostle James, whose bones lay waiting for her there, whether she made it to the cathedral or not.

Must keep walking. It had become a mantra Helen hated just as much as she needed. Must keep walking.  

Helen’s left baby toenail had fallen off two days earlier, somewhere between Sarria and Portomarin. She had mourned for a moment before bandaging up what was left and carrying on. Must keep walking. Rationality had left her long ago.  

“Buen Camino,” a couple mumbled in tandem as they passed her by on a narrow dirt pathway leading to a cobbled bridge. Their walking sticks click-click-clicked as they walked by without looking up from the uneven ground.  

“Buen Camino,” she said before reentering her gloomy thoughts.  

Continue reading “My WCSC 2nd Place Short Story Contest Entry – Helen Finds Her Way to After”

As it is On the Camino, So Shall it be In Writing – Intentions

You may have noticed by now that I relate things to a circle of a few of my favourite obsessions…most notably music lyrics and the Camino de Santiago. Okay, and Paris. Paris is the filter for all of life. Today, while writing a short story for a specific short story contest deadline that is quickly approaching, I stopped in my tracks and said, “What are your intentions?”

That sentence, or variants of it, were heard and overheard on my pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago almost constantly. “What are your intentions?”, “What is your intention?” “But what are your Camino intentions?”

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Today, I had begun a short story without having intentions. It’s a habit of mine, like watching the sun go down (excuse the gratuitous song-lyric relating). I write without purpose or plan or intention quite often. I always had faith that the story would reveal itself to me as I went along. Whatever I start doing to my characters, they’ll eventually discover a path for the plot, arc, story, etc…and they’ll take it from there. They’ll run with it. Why should I do all the work? I did create them, after all. They shouldn’t be so lazy. They should pull their weight. I shouldn’t have to do everything.

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I’m SUCH a lazy writer…

Enter lately. Lately is not a friend to my style of writing because lately I am discovering that stories are fizzling out, ending abruptly in a puddle of purposelessness. I can’t always rely on my narrators and characters to see the story through to the end after all. That’s a nasty realization. Am I getting old? Is my memory slipping? Am I losing my mind?

Or have I just been too lazy to do things properly, and up until now very very lucky that it seems to work out in the end anyway? I’m suspecting this is most likely the case.

Today I full-tilt stopped writing long enough to ask myself, “BUT WHAT IS YOUR INTENTION!?” When I looked around me and came to the realization that I did not in fact have my backpack on–and I was not in fact in the north of Spain on a dirt path following yellow arrows all the way to Santiago de Compostela–I knew that I had struck a chord. As much as pilgrims on the Camino talk about carrying intentions and purpose for their pilgrimage, so too should writers carry intentions and purpose for their stories. We should always ask ourselves what those intentions are. If we do not know, then do we have any business whatsoever even writing the story in question?

Probably not.

This is my new plan. Before I run headlong into a story, I’m going to demand of myself what my intentions are for the story. Not quite the same as Camino Intentions, but the same idea. I won’t rely so much on my characters to figure out the plot path. I should do the heavy lifting. I’m the one wearing the backpack. I’m such a lazy writer, you have NO idea.

On the Camino, we often answer the WHAT IS YOUR INTENTION? question with things like I will be okay if I need to slow down today. I will not be judgemental today. I will be kind to others today. I will release something that I am holding onto today. I will breathe today. We choose these daily intentions and we walk while meditating on them.

In writing, I think my answer to the WHAT IS YOUR INTENTION? question is quite obvious…even though I have almost never held myself to such scrutiny while exploring story.

Today I set up a homeless guy to spend the night taking refuge in a hidden cubbyhole in a library. It began interestingly enough. I thought it went well, actually. The hoops he had to jump through to pull off the deed seemed plausible. He overcame the odds and tricked the library staff into forgetting him. He made it! Victory. He found himself alone in the library overnight.

Then, once the dust settled and the character glared at me awaiting the next move in his adventure, I hit the proverbial brick wall. That’s when, without thinking, I whispered that age-old Camino question to myself. WHAT IS YOUR INTENTION? I have/had absolutely no idea. Getting him locked inside was the extent of my vested interest in the story. Clearly that’s not enough. The STORY has to be about what happens after the set-up succeeds. CLEARLY!

It’s high time I started asking myself these rather important questions prior to wasting several thousand words on a story that is not a story. I don’t need to outline. God knows I’ve tried doing that enough times to know it doesn’t work for me. But I DO need to know my intention. I need to know what I want the story to be about prior to sitting down to write it…at the very least. At the bear minimum I should know what the bloody story is going to be about.

I have to stop doing this to myself.

So, do yourself a favour. And not only at the beginning of your story, but all the way through it. Whether it’s a novel or a short story…or a poem or an article or an essay or a blog post. Ask yourself that all important question at every step of the journey. WHAT IS YOUR INTENTION? If you don’t know what your intention/motivation is, figure it out. It’s better than leaving yourself high and dry or leaving your poor character abandoned in a library overnight with nothing to do. You deserve better and so does your character. Don’t do what I did. As obvious as it is that a writer should ask themselves what the hell it is they want to accomplish in a story, they sometimes forget to do so.

Say it with me now…

WHAT IS YOUR INTENTION?

My Kintsukuroi Journey – A Camino de Santiago Redo

All these places had their moments. In my life, I’ve loved them all. ~~ The Beatles

Lately, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the places I have visited over the past few years. Sometimes it’s almost unbearable thinking of returning to one of them, even though I have loved most of the places I’ve been fortunate enough to visit. The thing is… going back means not seeing somewhere else I haven’t yet explored and discovered for the first time. There’s only so much time. Life is short. Doubling back and revisiting places where my feet have already landed seems like the antithesis of good travel plans. There’s an entire world to discover. Why waste my time revisiting?

Because CAMINO. There I said it. Yep, this is yet another Camino de Santiago post. I’m going back. The Camino is, perhaps, the birth of my modern self. Well, that sounds highfalutin. But it happens to be the case. I had an awakening of sorts on the Camino de Santiago back in May of 2014. I had just come out of three years of intense therapy prior to walking the Camino. I considered the Camino my last cleansing step in the process of moving from victim to survivor to thriver. I would leave whatever residual burden I still carried from the scars along the pilgrimage path and come home burden-free, finally healed.

The scars would still be there, but they would no longer be open. I thought the Camino de Santiago would be my version of Kintsukuroi (A Japanese word meaning GOLDEN REPAIR–the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum). I loved the idea that something could be more beautiful in the places in which it was once broken. I’m actually quite obsessed with the idea. I would walk the Camino de Santiago and fill in those last cracks in my psyche with gold. If pottery could go through the transformative process of Kintsukuroi, well…so could I! Dammit.

And I did. I came off the Camino feeling accomplished and whole. The golden light of the Camino de Santiago had invigorated me and filled my cracks with brightness.

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Even though I am spending precious time returning to the sacred pilgrimage path, I can’t bring myself to say it will be time wasted. Yes, I walked that way before. Yes, being there means I won’t be somewhere new and exciting and different. Sometimes you’re just not finished with a place. I think the Camino will continue to call me until the day I die.

Besides, it is different to see a place alone with friends you meet along the path than it is to start out at that place with a loved one beside you. This Camino, which we will begin in the September of 2019, will be experienced together. There is something to be said about showing a loved one a place you yourself have already fallen in love with. It will come back to life for me, I’m sure…but it will also shine new as a share it. I can’t even begin to describe how excited that makes me.

Some Images from my 2014 Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage

Imagine if the Japanese saw only destruction in the things that lay broken and shattered in pieces at their feet. Imagine if they didn’t have the imagination and the hope and the intuitiveness to give those broken things a place of honor. Sometimes surviving a fall makes a thing stronger, sharper…more precious. It might even make it more beautiful than it originally was. At any rate, I’m returning to the Camino…not as someone in need of a final healing, but as someone with eyes wide open to the wonder of the pilgrimage path. It’ll be quite a different Camino this time. It will provide for us. We need only open to its possibilities and wait for the gifts to unfold.

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Our September 2019 Mini-Camino…

 

 

 

Into the Void I Go…

Today I step my feet into the void once again. This reminds me, of course, of the quote from Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

“100 years from now? All new people.” ~ Anne Lamott

When I first came back to writing somewhere around the turn of the millennium I dove head first into the soundbite world of both Anne Lamott and Natalie Goldberg. Lamott spoke to my urgency to marry my words with the sacredness of life. Goldberg spoke to my need to tell my secrets, to get down my words…to write down the bones.

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.” ~ Natalie Goldberg

The writing of both of these women thrilled me and moved me. They made me want to be not only a better writer, but a better version of myself. With her insistence on going deeper into the things you fear the most, Goldberg gave me the courage to write about those things I did not speak of…And Lamott, with her beautiful and tragic ‘100 years from now? All new people‘, made me think, ‘What the hell…I’m going to die anyway. Without a trace.’ We are transient…this alone should be enough to remove the fear of going deeper. The two women converged to make me a more fearless writer. Later, these teachings helped me to be a more fearless person.

Together, they brought me back to writing. In a new way…one I feared less. I have them to thank, one catchy soundbite at a time.

Today I released a LONG short story into the void. It will most assuredly get lost in the din of words riding the ether superhighway these days, but that’s okay. I’m fine with this. I’m only here for a little while. I wanted to write this story. I wanted to ignite a passion in maybe ONE person. One little person out there in the world of somewhere in the ballpark of 7.5 billion people. If the right person finds my short story set on the Camino de Santiago and says to themselves, “I want to go there,” my job is done. I myself have been ignited through literature…I’ve found my way to many a places in this way.

It’s been almost twenty years now since I have reignited my journey as writer, and I have since heard much smack-talk about both of these women. The words granola and hippy and earth mother, etc, etc, etc have been bandied about–as though they were negatives, no less! I have even heard gimmicky used—that one, I really can’t tolerate. These women have FED me. One should be open to find inspiration wherever they find it. In them, I found it in abundance.

What the essence of creativity really comes down to, in the end, is that we all have our own paths to walk. How we get to creative expression doesn’t matter. Hell, some of us never fully get there or have no desire to get there. Or find creativity in things others might not think of as conventional creative activities. We are all on our own paths. And in the end, in the bluntest and simplest of terms, we are all essentially walking to our graves. “100 years from now? All new people.” How we make that journey? Therein lies the rub.

Today, I made another little pit-stop on my own creative journey. My LONG short story LIGHT NEAR THE END OF THE WORLD is NOW live on Amazon and Kobo. If you take a chance on this short story, I hope you enjoy it. Even if it doesn’t ignite a spark of desire in you to get out there and walk the path to Santiago de Compostella, I hope it at least entertains you.

HOMEWORK: Don’t forget to search out those things that scare you today…and go deeper. Past the fear. We’ll all be gone before you know it. Today is the day…

Buen Camino!

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Camino de Santiago, Spain. 2014

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Pick up Light Near the End of the World today. Discover the Camino…

Corinne began her Camino de Santiago pilgrimage way back in St. Jean Pied de Port, France, weeks ago. Exhausted, spent, and on the verge of giving up, she meets a pilgrim who gives her the inspiration she needs to carry on. But is it enough to get her there, to the famous cathedral at the end of the journey in Santiago de Compostela? Follow Corinne’s path along the Way of St. James as she struggles to carry on and to find herself along the way.

Light Near the End of the World on GOODREADS

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Throwback Thursday and Pride is Coming! Pre-order Now

The waiting is the hardest part. Tom Petty was not wrong. When you put your heart and soul into something and your agent tells you it’s good, you see a kernel of a chance that maybe someone else will like it. Like it enough to pick it up. Like it enough to help you get it out into the world. Then your agent sends it out into the hands of waiting editors. And then you wait. And then you wait. And then you wait. I’m not complaining. Far from it. I’m thrilled that my agent believes in my latest novel. And I’m thrilled that editors like the sound of the premise enough to request a full read. And I’m grateful to all.

It’s just REALLY hard waiting. Especially when you know you ripped your heart out for this one…that you gave it your all and then some. My latest novel lived inside me for almost a full three years before I let it out. In that time, I cultivated it, imagined it and re-imagined it over and over again. As I wrote it, I literally felt like I was taking another pilgrimage to the Camino de Santiago where the novel is set. I LIVED it. And now, full-stop-wait. SO hard. SO VERY HARD. But I get it. I’ve been here before. Many times. I have patience. But I also wear out the worry-beads during this stage in the process. Boy, howdy…it’s intense. I question and re-question every sentence, every word, every character, every piece of dialogue. It’s a funny thing writers do to themselves during this stage of the process. Self-flagellation has NOTHING on the writer awaiting word on the status of their novel after it leaves the hands of their agent.

BREATHE. Breathe.

I thought I would share a pic of the Camino for a Thursday Throwback. (-: Because, you know, I almost never share Camino shots.

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Samos, Spain – Along the Camino de Santiago

I thought I would share this particular picture because the town of Samos figures in my latest novel. There are a few scenes that take place in Samos, but I think my favourite is the one at the end of the chapter that features the beautiful town and its monastery. This fence is throughout the town around the large monastery there. At the end of the chapter three of my characters–Diego, Shania, and Bastien–leap this fence and walk into the river, clothes and all.

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This pic is also from the monastery in Samos. There’s a walk-around outside balcony that is literally covered with murals. They’re breathtaking. The setting is also featured in my novel. Diego, Shania, and Manny find a doppelganger for Diego on the wall.

That’s all. Two pics. The throwback is from MAY 2014, when I walked a portion of the Camino de Santiago with an organized group of Canadian pilgrims. The novel I completed last fall was festering in the back of my mind during that entire journey.

MY FINGERS ARE CROSSED for my Camino novel. I feel like I really gave it my everything and I hope it gets to see the light of day!

 

NOW…a mention of my upcoming release…which has nothing to do with the above. PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE is set to release in 5 days on FEBRUARY 6th! The first draft for this novel was mostly written at the 2015 Muskoka Novel Marathon. See below for a synopsis, cover and buy links. You can PRE-ORDER the Kindle version now…get it before the 6th and it’ll drop and be ready for you to read on your Kindle on the morning of the 6th!

PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE:

Ezra Caine is gay. He’s sort of out at school but not at home, where he fears the wrath of his father’s bigotry. When Ezra’s flamboyantly out friend Alex Mills takes one too many beatings from homophobic bully Will Severe, Ezra finally snaps. Fed up with the situation at school, he decides to do something about it.
With the help of his BFF, Nettie, and some unlikely allies, Ezra rallies to create their small-town school’s first gay-straight alliance. The Rainbow Alliance Club is formed. But the changes don’t come without hiccups, one of which being a messy scandal involving Alex and a gay hook-up app.
As Ezra and his friends attempt to sway their school into an alliance of tolerance and acceptance, Ezra experiences a few surprises of his own on the home-front. He also learns the hard way that friendships out of convenience aren’t always a good idea, just as some enemies might not be as bad as he originally imagined them to be.

Click on the pic below to preorder on AMAZON NOW! Only $3. The link is for USA, but it’s also available at AMAZON CANADA, KOBO, and BARNES & NOBLE.

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Inspiring Others on the Way of St. James – Camino de Santiago Peregrino Russell Kenny

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Russell Kenny at the End of the World! Finisterre, Spain. (Photo courtesy Russell Kenny)

When I walked a portion of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela back in 2014, I found everything about the journey to be inspirational. The people, the breathtaking landscapes, the allegories and symbolism…everything. It was a life-changing experience. Having walked only a portion of the Camino, I have come to understand that it calls one to it. And when one heeds the call, it becomes a lifetime passion. I know several people who have revisited the pilgrimage multiple times. I myself plan to walk it again in 2019, if all goes as planned. In the meantime, I never tire of talking about the Camino. Thankfully, others who have walked feel the same way. Russell Kenny is one of those people.

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Russell Kenny, entertaining on the Camino de Santiago… (Photo courtesy Russell Kenny)

 

One of the wonderful things I noticed on my pilgrimage were the messages you find along the way from past peregrinos (pilgrims) who have already made their way to Santiago. These could be found in the form of graffiti, meticulously spelled out using twigs and stones, in long cloth ribbons hanging from trees, etc. Everywhere, it seemed, was the desire to share the wonderment and inspiration. I imagined people who were heavily burdened by their packs, having their aha! moments, stopping and saying, “I gotta get this down! I gotta get this down!” They’d stop and jot down their thoughts on whatever they could find and leave the golden nuggets of wisdom behind for future peregrinos.

 

 

Words will always stop a writer in his or her tracks. And so will symbolism. Some left messages of hope, others inspirational quotes from favourite songs, and others still simply proof that they were there. Often, the message wasn’t even in the form of words at all. If you’re looking for the message, you’ll find it. The above pics are only a few of the messages I came across. There’s not enough space on the internet to share all of them.

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A Message to a Future Peregrino from Russell Kenny.

 

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A photo of a message a fellow peregrino sent to Russell to let him know his words are reaching their target audience.

Russell Kenny is one of the Camino’s inspirational messengers. Russell was able to track me down through my blog when he discovered the picture above. When he told me he has walked the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied De Port to Santiago–and further on to Finisterre and Muxia–9 times in 10 years, I knew I had to hear more. So I asked him if I could interview him for my blog. Thankfully, he readily agreed. Here’s what Russell had to say about his experiences on the Camino de Santiago!

1. First I’d like to ask you a little about your own Camino experiences in general. How many Camino pilgrimages have you walked? And which routes have you taken?

1st year (2007) I cycled from England to Spain through France and started in St Jean Pied De Port to Santiago and cycled back to UK. I decided after that walking was the only way to do the Camino. I have since walked from St Jean To Santiago, then onto Finsterre and Muxia, nine times in ten years. Some Caminos I did back to back because I could not face coming home. So I did the ‘Camino Levante’ from Valencia to Santiago and then ‘Via De La Plata’ from Seville to Santiago and also part of ‘Camino Del Norte’ from Irun, But I walk backwards and forwards on many Caminos because I am addicted to it. So in all 13 Caminos.

2. What was your inspiration for leaving messages for fellow peregrinos along the way to Santiago? What are some of your favourite messages? Either ones you have left or ones you have found on the path?

 My inspiration to leave messages, I do not understand myself. But when a thought comes to mind and there’s nobody around to share it with, I write it down quickly… any hour of the day. Even if I wake up at 3am sometimes with an idea, I’ll get my headlamp on in the tent to write it down. I guess I leave the messages because later people pass by me and say “Hey I saw your messages along the Camino and they made me think. Thanks!” That’s a good feeling. 🙂

3. Have you had a lot of response from the messages you left on the path? Were you able to connect with people who found your notes?

Yes I get many a-response. People I have not even met on the Camino track me down on Facebook and send me photos of the messages via my name I leave on the messages. And people I have met also contact me, obviously.

4. Can you tell us what it was like walking the Camino with a tent and living out in the elements, as opposed to staying in albergues (hostels)? Any harrowing experiences or interesting tales arise from camping along the Camino?

Most of the time I create my own hiking trailer that I pull behind me, connected to a little rucksack on my shoulders. I make a new trailer each year and then leave them on the Camino for some other pilgrims to find and hopefully use. I make my trailers as cheaply as possible from things I dig out of rubbish skips.

Albergues, I do not like. It feels like being captive in somebody’s idea of how a pilgrim should live. Lights out and doors locked at 10pm in a lot of albergues, people snoring or talking in the early hours of the morning, people switching on their headlamps or the room lights at silly o’clock in the morning. A tent is freedom, washing in rivers, sleeping and waking when I am ready to do so…plus there’s an increase of bed bugs along the Camino.

No bad experiences from sleeping in tent, just that the lamps of the early walkers sometimes wakes me up.

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One of Russell’s many hiking trailers, complete with his ever-present guitar. (Photo courtesy Russell Kenny)

5. Do you have any experiences to share in relation with your guitar? Any out-of-the-blue moments arise from being a peregrino with the ability to make song?

There’s one experience on the Camino this year (2017) involving the guitar whilst i was camping in a little forest near Pedrouzo. I always run out of money because I sometimes stay on the Camino for up to 8 months. Well, this one morning I had just enough money for a coffee and walked into town not knowing if I was going to eat that day or not. When I returned to my tent the pilgrims that had passed by in those few short hours of me being in town having a coffee etc had put 147 euros inside my tent. I cried for the fact they cared that much. It was so moving. A lot of pilgrims either left notes or talked to me later along the Camino saying they had left me money because I made their day good somewhere along the Camino a few days or a week ago by playing the guitar, but they didn’t get a chance to thank me at the time. So they left money when they saw my tent. 🙂 Experiences like this are countless and priceless…so nice. And they make me feel wanted. I don’t often get that feeling back home.

6. Any advise for those who have dreamed of walking the Camino de Santiago but have not yet taken the plunge? What is it about the Camino? As a fellow peregrino, I am at times overwhelmed with emotion just thinking about my love of the Camino. In your experience, and in your own words, what makes the Camino such a transformative life-changing experience that keeps drawing you back?

Those that dream of walking the Camino… just get off your ass and do it. Think of those that cannot do the Camino for health reasons, family reasons, trapped in the wrong marriage or relationship reasons.

The Camino is a reflection of life, but you have the choice to walk away from a situation you do not like. This is not always the same in real life. Meeting new people from all over the world is healthy…we take our masks off for those few short weeks, talk to strangers about life’s ups and downs, step out of our comfort zones because we are out of the system that blackmails us to live the life of system-slavery.

A lot of the time I cry about the conversations I have had with people after listening to some of the horrific or sad things that have happened in their lives. Getting to Santiago is not the answer for anyone along the Camino. The magic of the answers a lot of us seek are in the walking and the talking with certain people you connect with mentally while sharing each others stories…free therapy from real people rather than a trained therapist that knows nothing of real pain.

Advice for those walking the Camino for the first time? Buy boots 2 sizes too big and wear thick socks. Or wear sandals the whole Camino in rain or sun. Losing toenails is a painful shame that could lead to further infection, so give as much room to your feet as you can in your footwear.

 

 

(Above two photos courtesy Russell Kenny)

8. Finally, when is your next Camino? And which path will you be walking?

Camino 2018…I will walk the Portuguese Camino in reverse from Santiago to Lagos. 

Thank you so much for sharing your Camino thoughts here, Russell. And a hearty thanks for the messages you leave along the pilgrimage! I was happy to find them along MY way. The constant connections to past peregrinos was a great inspiration to this–at times–weary pilgrim. Know that your gifted words are touching people in the exact way you hope them to. Buen Camino, my friend!

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If Russell’s messages have made you smile along YOUR WAY, look him up… (Photo courtesy Russell Kenny)

 

 

When You Finish a Novel that Consumed You

There’s nothing like typing THE END at the bottom of your MSWord document. It is a distinct kind of joy and sorrow to do so. On the one hand, there is a great sense of accomplishment. On the other, you are sadly saying goodbye to great friends. It is the hug that wounds, the kiss that burns, the cut that feels so good.

After living inside the Camino de Santiago for the past month, retracing my own steps for the sake of my characters, I am exhausted-spent-exhilarated-lonely-happy-thrilled-gutted-euphoric-elated-dejected-emotional and fragile and infinite and empowered. And a few other emotions thrown in for good measure.

If you’re a novelist, you know the feeling.

My young adult novel The Walk–or The Camino Club (I cannot decide)–has been put to bed. It will be what it will be. I need to strike that pilgrimage place from my list of obsessions for a spell. The Camino itself fully consumed me while writing that novel. From watching the movie THE WAY on repeat, to listening to the same movie’s soundtrack on repeat, to reliving my own Camino experience through memories and photographs…I swear I feel like I just got back from Santiago de Compostela today. So powerful was the spell it has had on me these past weeks.

Goodbye Santiago de Compostela. I love you so much. And I love the characters I created to walk the path towards you too. Goodbye Diego, Shania, Manny, Troy, Greg, Claire, Meagan, Gilbert, Kei, Mia, Becky, AND Bastien. Buen Camino!

But there is nothing to do after finishing a novel, but to jump into the next one. Whether that be returning to a work in progress or starting something new. To dally would be to get out of the habit. So, onward. Back to the novel I began in Brussels this past May. It needs to be completed. Today, I turn the page from Spain and open a new one on Brussels. I swear, these settings are consuming me just as much as these characters.

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Time to revisit Brussels, one of the few settings for my current young adult WIP. This is me in Grand Place, the beautiful square in the heart of Brussels, just two minutes from where I stayed this past May.

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My upcoming release PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE is now on GOODREADS. Click the image above to swing on over to GOODREADS and add #PMBAP to your shelf! It drops February 6th, 2018.

The Monster of Passion

If you’re anything like me, your story sparks blow up while you’re trying to keep ahead of them.

Recently I began to write a short story for a contest I wished to enter. When I see local writing contests, I like to enter as a way of showing my support for the organization that is hosting them. The intention is never to place in the contest. I don’t have enough self-esteem to hope for that to happen. If it does, even better. But if it doesn’t–if I just happen to be one of the paying entrants whose money helps to support the continuation of the contest in the future–well, I’ve already won. I like that these writing opportunities exist.

I haven’t forgotten the thread of this post. It’s actually about the short story I penned for the writing contest. Or rather, it’s about what happened when I took on the spark of an idea that prompted that original short story. Perhaps it was the subject matter itself–the Camino de Santiago–but I doubt it. Because it happens a lot, no matter the subject matter. I begin to write one short story, and, like a horse in a race it begins to make its way to the finish line while I struggle to keep up with its frenetic pace. What happens next is typically what happens in a horse race. While the horse and I are tearing up the track, another more urgent horse comes barrelling up alongside us.

The second horse in this analogy, as you may have guessed, is another spark for a short story idea…which stemmed from the original. Do I get off the first horse and hop onto the second? Probably dangerous, right? It may kill my momentum and fizzle out the writing fire I’ve begun with the first story. If I try to jump to the second horse, I may fall and end up horseless.

Here’s where multi-tasking comes in to play. No…I don’t try to write both stories simultaneously. That’s like straddling both horses, and it’s almost always a catastrophe in my own personal experience. I DO jot down a few of the second story’s more pertinent sparky little details before I lose sight of them, though. I can do this while maintaining my pace with the first horse.

If you’ve ever been to the races, you’ll know there are very seldom (never) races which involve only TWO horses. Enter horse number three. If you’re feeling a bit of stress reading this and realizing that the Creative Spark Fairy is often a sadistic bastard, you’re not alone. I’ve known this for quite some time.

So there I was, writing my short story for the writing contest and knowing the deadline was RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER. I mean, at the stroke of midnight my time to submit it would be up. And a third horse came up alongside me. “Hi. Look at me. I’m another story!” I can’t hush these sparks. They demand attention. They insist that you juggle them. They want to be told. Our passions are monsters…they take hold of us in the best possible way. They make us better.

Maybe it’s a matter of being really good with a lasso? When I was 5ish I lassoed the family television and pulled it around the living room, so I happen to know that I am exceptional with a lasso. (Before you ask, yes I did get permission to do this prior to doing it. I’m not crazy. My parents, on the other hand, may very well have been. They should always pay attention when their most rambunctious child is asking them a question. Especially when he’s twirling a lasso over his cowboy hatted head while asking it. It’s like they never learned.) So, back to the horse analogy. I DID manage to stay on my first horse and race him to the finish line in time to complete and submit the original short story prior to the submission deadline. Yay, me! What I also managed to do was lasso the other two horses and get them to keep pace with me so that I could explore the sparks that created them in the first place.

After the first story was submitted, I hit the ground running with story number two. The thing about this particular subject matter was I can think of a hundred thousand stories that take place on the Camino. When I walked it, I met so many people from so many different countries. And I got snippets and tidbits of their stories while I walked. People open up on the Camino de Santiago. They whisper to fellow peregrinos some of their deepest most private thoughts. They share their lives.

So when I started that first story, about a woman walking the Camino in order to find a way back to who she was before she identified solely as a wife and a mother, more people came up to me from the deep well of creativity that the Camino inspires in me. I wrote about Helen and that second horse, Corinne came barrelling up and said, “Wait…I too have a story that you can tell.” And then a third horse, Richard, came up and pleaded, “No, tell my story.” And it just snowballed from there.

 

Images from Portomarin, Spain…one of the multitude of beautiful and inspirational places along the Camino.

Usually when this happens with a spark I do see a few projects through. But often I only use one of them. Often, it’s the original that goes out into the world. But it’s also at times the third or the fourth or the fifth story that I eventually end up using. I never consider the unused ones to be a waste of my time, though. Every spark becomes a horse race. And horse races are fun. I enjoy exploring all my options before I settle with the winning horse. And then there are the times that a subject matter possesses me so thoroughly that the topic comes up across the board in my writing life. I’ll write plays, novels, short stories and poetry from the same well. It’s the only way I know how to exhaust the well. Get all my horses to the finish line. Then and only then can I move on to the next spark that inflames my passion. This Camino race? It certainly has a lot of horses in it. I suspect this race will be off and on for the rest of my life. Its horses are strong and fierce and filled with spunk. It’s a horse race without a finish line. And I’m good with that. I have to be. I’m a peregrino.

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