How I Survived my First Solo Book Reading and Discovered the Magic of Why I Write


How I survived my first solo book reading and discovered the magic of why I write.

When the librarian from my local library asked me to do a reading from my memoir, River Tales: Stories from My Cowichan Years for their book club, I imagined a cozy conversation with a small group of eager fans.

It wasn’t until the librarian showed me the poster that she had made for the event, that I realized it was also open to the public!

I panicked.
I wasn’t practiced.
I had a ‘small’ voice.
I asked for advice.

My writers’ group said, “Project your voice, breathe from your diaphragm.
My younger son said, “Read excerpts that follow a theme.”
My daughter said, “Read the story about the raccoon and the chicken.”
My elder son said, “Practice, practice, practice.”

I did it all, and more. Ninety minutes, speaking to twenty-seven people. They listened, they laughed. I told anecdotes, and they asked questions. No one noticed my deep breaths, the moments my mind went blank, the times I fumbled with a memory.

Then a strange thing happened as I was telling my stories. I saw myself in the audience. The young woman in the front row clutching a copy of my book, her shining eyes never leaving my face, absorbing every word with her whole being; that was me years ago.

I remembered how I felt the first time I heard a writer speaking to me, her words moving within me and how I knew then I was going to be a writer. That was Sylvia Fraser reading from her memoir, My Father’s House 1987.
She wrote in my copy of her book: “To Liz, thanks for your glowing face, Sylvia Fraser.”

And another time, listening to the elegant British born Elizabeth Latham, reading from her locally based historical fiction Silences of the Heart 1995 and feeling inspired and at the same time despairing of ever being able to write as well.

Latham inscribed my book: “To Liz Forbes, and thank you for being such a warm and positive person while I read, Elizabeth Latham.”

I also recognized an older version of me in the woman who sat directly in front of the lectern and asked questions with what I knew was a burning desire to know.
This woman asked about writing, about publishing, asked how I organized my stories, and if it was a problem using real names. I wondered if she were also a writer, she evaded my question but I noticed her furiously making notes on scraps of paper jammed into my book. A closet writer. I wished I had asked her name.

Another woman wanted to know if I wrote with pen and paper or directly to the computer. I asked Jane Rule that question years ago; only her options were paper or typewriter. I confess that I don’t recall her answer, only that she said her arthritic hands were so sore she could barely manage to write.

I once thought if I knew an author’s secrets of writing (how often she wrote and where; in her own study or at the kitchen table), that I would know how to become a writer too.

If anyone had asked on this day of the library reading, I would have told them there is no secret; it is about a need to write, a desire to figure out life, to record the world around you. Most of us have messy lives, doubts about our abilities, know we will never be as great as: ‘pop-in-a-name-here’, but we keep on writing because in the end, that is all there is.

And, reading passages from your book and entertaining an appreciative audience and perhaps inspiring someone to write their own story, is where you’ll find the real magic that makes the work of writing all worthwhile.

Musings of an Island Crone


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Crossing the Threshold into Cronehood


Have you ever been to a Croning?
I have. But not by choice.

A Croning is a ceremony, often wicca like, where women are celebrated for reaching the status of crone, wise woman, or elder.

My younger friend Sharon invited me. It was twenty years ago and I was not ready to be a crone. I was old enough, over fifty (sixty actually), grey hair, gone through menopause and had become a grandmother, but I was not nearly wise enough.

Nor was I ready to embrace old age, I was in a new relationship and the association of crone with the word hag or witch just didn’t fit my self-image. Pictures in my childhood fairy tale books by Grimm and Anderson came to mind, hunched back old crones stalking innocent children in the forest, hags cackling over cauldrons of stewed toads. This was not my reality.
I went, but only because Sharon, who was celebrating her fiftieth birthday, and ready to welcome her cronehood, was treating me to the experience.

You know how it is when you walk into a room and everyone seems to know each other and no one hands you the play list? That was how it was for me on this day. I watched as people embraced each other, I participated in the required circle where we introduce ourselves by our matrilineal line, dutifully naming our mothers, grandmothers as far back as we could go. I had done this many times before, with passion, but I couldn’t dredge up any of it on this day.

Women’s gatherings can be welcoming, warm and infused with joy. Seeing women being free to express themselves and move unconsciously to their own rhythm is delightful. This gathering was like this, and I had a hard time getting in sync.

Most of the women at this workshop were too young to be crones in my opinion. Yes, there were a few elders, lovely white-haired women who dressed in the appropriate flowing organic cotton dresses and long strands of beads. These were women I would love to have known but I couldn’t make myself participate.

It was towards the end of the day that we held our Croning ceremony. I watched as the oldest woman in the room walked up to receive her crown of cedar and her crone blessing. Others followed. I shook my head when someone beckoned me to go up and I held myself apart from them as they chanted and twirled with scarves swirling from their outstretched hands.

There was something not quite right about the day for me, and I have never been comfortable in groups where feelings felt contrived but at the same time there was a part of me that longed to join in and to revel in the freedom they so joyously embraced.

I certainly was not ready to welcome Cronehood.

All this changed last year when I turned eighty. I had arrived at this magical age, still healthy and active with a long list of things I wanted to do. Definitely a milestone to celebrate. I could now properly claim Cronehood status. I did some research. The Unitarians had this to say about Crone ceremonies and the word Crone: link

We could perhaps define the crone as a woman that is gracefully adapting to the process of aging. She inspires others. She is comfortable in her own skin and with her spirituality. Her intuitive and creative powers are pronounced. But what really sets the crone apart is that she embodies a passion to explore meaning in her life; and she exemplifies an unselfish willingness to share her honesty, knowledge, wisdom, love, and compassion.

Honoring our wise women for the contributions of knowledge and wisdom is a tradition that has been lost over time. This ceremony acknowledges that our elders are our wisdom-keepers.

Crossing the threshold into Cronehood can be a major event in a woman’s life. It’s a celebration of all that you’ve learned, and all that you will come to know in the future. For many women, it’s a time to make new commitments and vows. This third cycle of your life is the one in which you become an Elder. The word Crone should now be a word of power for you, so celebrate it. You’ve earned it.

I took this advice to heart and celebrated my eightieth birthday with my family and a few crones. The accompanying photo shows my daughter Maureen, my friend Sharon, me and my sister Kate, all beautiful crones who are aging gracefully.

I have entered what I consider to be the fourth cycle of my life. I embrace my Cronehood as I join the legions of elders who continue writing and publishing well into their nineties.

Stay tuned,
Musings of an Island Crone


What are your writing goals for year 2020?


Chemainus Writers

A big shout out to my writers’ group. Who knew when we first met at the iconic Billy’s Delight Ice Cream parlour in downtown Chemainus that we would still be meeting nineteen years later? Although Billy’s Delight is long gone, of the four strangers who met that day, three of us, Bernice Ramsdin Firth, Tom Masters and I, are still going strong.

Chemainus Writers quickly grew and we have held the group at six or seven people so we have enough time to read our work and have it critiqued at each meeting. We meet every two weeks in each other’s homes. Between us we have published at least 26 books, and contributed to a number of anthologies, magazines and newspapers.

Feel free to follow us, you never know, we might become famous! The group can be emailed at

Members: Tom Masters; Sylvia Holt; Mary E Nelson; Lois Peterson, Bernice Ramsdin Firth; Mary Anne Hajer; Liz Forbes

We eat too—that got out of hand for a few years—whomever was hosting was preparing almost a full lunch which we all devoured. Writing and critiquing builds up an appetite. It got to be too much and now we are back to serving just coffee and cookies at mid afternoon; much easier on the host but we often mourn the former culinary delights. Which is why, our Christmas meeting is always a party. This year we met at Ma Maison in Saltair, on the outskirts of Chemainus, ate a delicious lunch; I had butternut squash quiche, followed by pumpkin cheesecake…so good.

Even though it was a Christmas Celebration it felt as though we should do something writerly, and we all read a short humorous piece on our writing goals for 2020, but with a twist. We had to write them in the past tense as though it was the end of the year 2020. This is harder to do than you would think.

Mary E Nelson, poet and author of Catla, a YA historical novel (Orca Books), wrote the following:

Looking back over this recent past year
has it standing alone – one without peer

Though winning the Pulitzer felt like a coup
Canada’s GG made my dreams come true

So I blushed and protested that my little words
just fell together – a flocking of birds

while waiting to see if the two Y.A. books
would make it through all the alleys and nooks

And by Jove, that they did! Wouldn’t you know
and now someone, Disney? – the very best blow
wants the rights for a movie – I told them go slow

For I’m tired of the limelight, it’s time for a nap
Yes, the year 2020 sure put me on the map!

Mary E Nelson

Did I mention that Mary has a wicked sense of humour?

Have a happy and healthy New Year-2020 and write those goals!

Liz Forbes
Musings of an island crone.

A small selection of books written by members of the Chemainus Writers.
Grant Evans in his study, with View from the Tower

Travelling books/used bookstores/Alert Bay BC


Do you ever wonder what happens to books after you’ve taken them to a used bookstore?

One of the books I was selling at our local Christmas craft fair, was my partner Grant’s revised 2019 edition of his memoir of his air traffic controller days on north Vancouver Island in the 1960’s. (The revised book has new anecdotes and a different coloured cover.)  A young couple browsing my table, recognized it as similar to the book they had purchased from a small used bookstore/museum up island. My daughter was speaking to the couple, I wasn’t there, but they told her that they read it while camping and loved it.

I was curious, a used bookstore and museum, all in one, it sounded familiar but where was it? And how did one of Grant’s books end up there? Then I remembered visiting a bookstore in Alert Bay on Cormorant Island off northern Vancouver Island. Grant and I were in Port Hardy in 2016 for the launch of the first edition of View from the Tower held at the Port Hardy Museum. We stayed in the area for a few days and on one of those days we took the ferry to Alert Bay.

Alert Bay Public Library and Museum, Visitor Centre
Alert Bay Public Library and Museum

I had recalled a bookstore and museum from an even earlier trip and I planned to take in a few copies of Grant’s View from the Tower. We drove along the beach road from the ferry looking for the building; weaving our way past the fleet of buses parked on the side of the road; gawking at the brightly coloured cottages that lined the narrow road; finally recognizing the rambling wooden museum and bookstore perched over the water.

Alert Bay painted houses
Alert Bay painted houses
Alert Bay buses

Books in hand I opened the old wooden door, the bell above the door jamb jingled merrily. Suddenly I had a clear memory of my previous visit. The same smiling, gracious woman, Joyce Wilby, was behind the desk to my right; and ahead of me, I swear the same man was sitting at the same desk hunched over his papers under an ancient lamp. He had showed me around the rabbit warren of cubby holes and displays that made up the archives of the museum when I was there before and I surprised him by greeting him like an old friend. I felt like I had known Joyce for an age too, we could be friends I thought, kindred spirits even. She readily bought a copy of View from the Tower for the lending library and two more books for her gift store, which was separate from her used bookstore.

Joyce had started the Lending Library as a Centennial project in 1957, took a librarian course and as well as owning the bookstore, has been the managing librarian and archivist of the Alert Bay Museum and Lending Library ever since. This energetic, knowledgeable woman had just turned ninety years old in 2016 and at this writing is still at her beloved bookstore/museum and enjoying every day.

I, of course found a book or two to buy from her used section, then I just had to prop a copy of Grant’s book on the window ledge outside Joyce’s museum store and take a photo which required that I stand in the middle of the road between the dribs and drabs of slow moving vehicles.

Alert Bay museum with Grant Evan's book in the window
Alert Bay museum with Grant Evan’s book in the window

I would love to know if that young couple who had come to my book sale at the Christmas craft fair, had bought View from the Tower from Joyce Wilby’s used bookstore and what they did with it after they read it. Is it still travelling around the second hand bookstore circuit?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if books could talk?

Grant Evans in Alert Bay
Grant Evans in Alert Bay
My tri-colour American Cocker Spaniel Blaze, curious about my book display.

How to sell books at a Seniors Christmas Craft fair


Our local Seniors Centre was holding its annual Christmas craft and baking sale and I decided to join them. This was a first for me, but we had just received Grant’s revised edition of View from the Tower from the publisher; my River Tales was still shiny new, and I had a few copies left of Growing up Weird and it seemed like a good way to spend a rainy Saturday and drum up some Christmas spirit.

I had already set up a practice run at home of how I would display the books, and snapped a few shots that were photo bombed by my dog, which was a good thing because on the day, my tablet refused to take photos and I have no visual record of the craft sale.

In case you wonder how it looked, I used a cranberry-coloured tablecloth and set a couple of stylized metal Christmas trees between the book stands. It was cheery and bright, and drew people over even though my spot was tucked in the corner by the Emergency exit next to a table laden with knitted fingerless gloves and crocheted hats. The Watkins lady was next to them with a display of vanilla, body lotions and foot repair salve, followed by the sought-after baking tables in the far corner.

Almost everyone who came in went straight for the shortbread and apple pies, not even glancing at the vanilla and fingerless gloves on their first go around, let alone my books.

On the other side of my corner, the shuffleboard table had been carefully covered with plywood to support a display of vividly dyed hand-woven scarves and wraps from Ecuador which were being sold by a couple of young women who attracted attention with their personalities and beautiful wares. It meant that groups of shoppers were near my corner but mostly with their backs to me.

At one point I furtively eased my table out farther into the room, perhaps blocking the exit, but sometimes ‘needs-must.’

The crowds came; the woman on the far side with the embroidered toilet paper rolls did a brisk business — cheeky sayings and puppies — apparently, they are popular gifts; the retired drug store owner’s sales of knitted facecloths, three for ten dollars were good too.

I had wondered how book sales would be among the stalls of knitted tea cozies and adult bibs, but they went surprisingly well.

My daughter and one of my sons dropped in for support and to let me grab lunch and look around. Interestingly, I noticed that when one of them was with me the sales were better. Maybe it was because two of us looking relaxed, and chatting together was more welcoming than one woman (me) staring hopefully.

Whatever the cause, when we bantered with the customer, and talked about the stories behind the books, not even trying to make a sale, there was inevitably a shift, as the person picked up a copy of River Tales or View from the Tower and said, “I’ll take this one.”

Although I was happy to make some money, the pleasure of talking to fellow readers and meeting new people was the best thing about the craft fair. So, look for me next year tucked in by the emergency exit, crushed between fingerless gloves and scarves from Ecuador.

Musings of an island crone,


Cover of View from the Tower, revised edition 2019

View from the Tower – New Revised Edition

FacebooktwittermailIt’s here!  View from the Tower, Tin Pushers and Pilots on BC’s West Coast

In response to the demand, Grant has re-written and revised his best-selling book about his experiences as an air traffic controller. It comes with a new title that reflects its broader range:  View from the Tower, Tin Pushers and Pilots on BC’s West Coast. This revised edition has more stories of laughter and disaster and more photographs, in short it is a better book.

Grant Evans with the new edition of View from the Tower

Grant Evans with the new edition of View from the Tower

Maybe ‘best-selling’ is a slight exaggeration, in Canada I believe you have to sell 5000 books to be a best seller, but Grant had sold the original print run, the book stores were calling for more and it was either re-print or revise-and-print and as Grant had more stories he wanted to tell, it became revise.

And what a revise, from top to bottom, cut and paste and re-imagine. As well as more stories surfacing, he had things that needed fixing. Part of the catalyst for change were the letters he received from fans. One person berated him for misspelling Port McNeill, an unforgivable oversight, another for misspelling (the author) Nevil Shute. In the first offence he was lacking an ‘l’ and in the latter he had one too many ‘ls’ plus an ‘e’. Sloppy editing at this end, and quickly corrected.

However, all fan letters are gratefully received; they are a wow-someone-read-my-book moment and the best, was the letter from Sharon McGillawee Smith of Port Hardy. It went like this: “Hi Grant, my Name is Sharon, and I am Jim McGillawee’s daughter.  I purchased your book for him for his 97th birthday, and he has asked me to get in touch with you.”

And get in touch with her we did. We met Sharon and Jim (who was the former airport carpenter at Port Hardy when Grant was there), and the rest of the family over laughter-filled lunches. We heard that Sharon hadn’t told her dad that he was mentioned in View from the Tower when she gave him the first book, and he had a great chuckle when he came across stories of his own adventures and was eager to reminisce with Grant about the ‘good old days.’

Sharon sent Grant old airport photos, including one of her brother Sheldon standing on the wing of a downed C-46 that had gone off the runway the day before Grant arrived in Port Hardy in 1960.

Can you imagine Grant, aged twenty-one, and his equally young wife and baby daughter arriving at this remote area having lived in Vancouver with its cosmopolitan way of life, and their first view of their new home is a downed airplane? This didn’t deter Grant one bit, in fact what makes Grant’s stories so appealing is that they are told by this young pup, a speed junkie with a yen for adventure, who is eager to take on anything that comes his way, always with bravado and a wicked sense of humour. We also see his introspective side which may have been fueled by long hours alone in the tower. And as an air traffic controller we never doubt that we are in good hands: Grant shows an equally competent control over his writing.

That these were different days is blatantly obvious as you read his stories. On his time off he could be asked to look after the inmates of the drunk tank, or pitch in to drive the school bus, or pack whale meat; there weren’t the rules and regulations as there are now and Grant was eager to work. In fact, he worked as hard as he played. Fishing was so good that his dog ate as much seafood as the family. When he worked in Abbotsford tower, he and his buddies frequently drove into the U.S. to the nearest beer parlour for their after-work drinks. The border control just waved them through.

Grant’s lifelong fascination with flight is evident in his writing, from his initial flying years, to his eventual choice of air traffic control as a career. (Early on he realized that flying could be hour and hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror and he chose ATC because he would always be in the centre of the action.)  It shows with his love of airplanes and his carefully crafted sketches that illustrate this book and through his admiration of, and friendship with, the many pilots he’s encountered.

View from the Tower is a rollicking good read right up to the finish when Grant takes early retirement from being an ATC instructor in 1984. It leaves you wanting more.Facebooktwittermail

River Tales by Liz Maxwell Forbes

Coming soon… River Tales

FacebooktwittermailRiver Tales – Stories from My Cowichan Years, a new memoir by Liz Maxwell Forbes, available June 2019.

Swept up in the back-to-the-land movement of the 1970s, two couples buy a rural property and set in motion what would be twenty years of adventure and misadventure for Liz Maxwell Forbes. The backdrop for this engaging picture of country living is the Cowichan River, a constant presence and reminder of what is most important in life.

Through everything, there was always someone who said, “You’ve got to write about this.” River Tales is ‘this’, one woman’s personal stories from that special time and place.

River Tales will be available from this site,  Ivy’s Book Shop and Bungalow Books in Oak Bay, Volume One in Duncan, and Rainforest Arts in Chemainus.

This map of Liz Forbes’ river property is a lively visual of the many stories to be found in River Tales. Drawn by her daughter Maureen Hodding who was there.

Map of RiverstoneFacebooktwittermail

Grant Evans with View From The Tower

Books for Sale

FacebooktwittermailWe have our books. 200 wonderful lovely books printed two days before Christmas. We dashed down island over the Malahat through fog and rain and almost snow to First Choice Books in Victoria and picked up Grant’s copies of View From The Tower. We were able to fill the almost 20 pre-orders before Christmas.

Yesterday, we placed copies of View From The Tower at Amy Jo’s Cafe by the Crofton ferry terminal to Salt Spring Island.


Ashley Harris receiving Grant’s books before she serves our coffee and muffins.

It is a new year and a new look at our local coffee shop. When we took Grant’s books in today we noticed that they had redecorated over the holidays and the wall colour matched the cover of Grant’s new book perfectly! Amy Jo and her daughter Ashley have a section featuring local authors and View From The Tower is well placed among these authors. The cafe is a popular spot for tourists and locals to buy the local art work, hand crafts and books on display.


local artist Beckie and Vicki buying VIEW FROM THE TOWER

Local artist Beckie Hutchinson and Vicki Halme buying copies of View From The Tower from Amy Jo’s.

Copies of View From The Tower are also for sale at Volume One Books on Kenneth Street in Duncan as well as directly from our web site.

Next step is to place the books at our local and up island museums and, taking a tip from the late Joe Garner, “Never Fly Over an Eagles Nest”, we are keeping a box of books to sell in the trunk of the car. We sold our first one of 2016 to my sister outside the Cowichan Bay Pub where we had just had lunch. We had given her one already for a Christmas gift and she asked if we had more.

“Oh yes”, we said and whipped up the hatch back of our car and did a quick sales deal. So stop us on the street if you want to buy…we have books.

This has been a great start to our new year. I love writing and selling, so it is a great package all around.


Prayer flags in November

November – Off to the publisher

FacebooktwittermailNovember is my least favourite month. Even though I am a west coast girl and don’t mind the rain, this gray, cold, eternal downpour is depressing. The south east winds are gusting and rocking my bird feeders. One lone black capped chickadee protected by the roof of the feeder is diligently pecking at the seeds. A prayer flag hung nearby startles with its splash of bright yellow and red. On my porch, small mauve pansies bloom in pots already plumped with daffodils waiting for spring. There is hope.

And in the warmth of our home we celebrate Grant’s accomplishment in finalizing his west coast aviation memoirs. View From The Tower is at the publishers now and will be available soon on this web page and at Volume One Books in Duncan.

All is well.Facebooktwittermail