Sunday 3 June 2012

Research Continues/ Landing Pages

I have a lot to read! This is just a portion of the material I'm going through for Tiger Dream. I have yet to order books that I couldn't take with me from Ghana – books that were too heavy or in a library. My reading was delayed for three weeks, but now I'm getting back into the swing of things. I'm hitting the drawing board also, to sketch out scenes for Tiger Dream, which will include images of Elmina Castle, slave ships, costumes, people and street scenes. I'm also creating landing pages for my website (right) and then will set up a sales page from which I can sell pdfs of my books to the public. Over the summer, one of my big projects is creating the advertising for my eBooks. 

Monday 14 May 2012

New Digs! Out with the Drug Dealer! In with the Art!

Returning from Africa and Holland, I moved into a friend's home whose father mistakenly rented to a drug dealer, who they call "hippie." Hippie trashed the place. On the outside it looks quite nice, and the location is perfect, with a great view, but inside the house is a disaster. On the left is one of the many night-vision security cameras that hippie left. He left nearly everything - after being forced out by the city and when the police took an interest. Many truck loads of junk were taken to the dump.
Walls were covered with graffiti and others painted black. Doors and windows were broken, and parts of ceilings ripped out. I spent a great deal of time sanding, painting, sweeping, and loading up the trucks with junk. The landlord will have the kitchen and bathroom redone. I'm paying a reduced rent until the place is fixed up to liveable standards. After a two month trip I don't feel settled - like I'm still on the move. It's strange not having a home. I can't wait to get back to work and have some friends over for dinner. My girlfriend, Debbie Holseth, tries on the dress and jewelry I brought back from Africa.

Thursday 26 April 2012

Amsterdam Library, Kitchen Sink, Research, and Art

For research into the slave trade I chugged off to the Amsterdam library near the central station. Some of the design is silly, but overall it's a big and beautiful space with sci-fi tables and lighting - the books glow because they are specially lit - central image above. Here I found great books on the slave trade. The giant kitchen sink (or parked space-ship) under construction (below) is a new Fail of modern architecture. Liesbeth Ten Houten in her apartment, is a semi-retired top agent for some of the best artists in the Netherlands. Liesbeth is also a teacher and world traveller. We met three years ago on a flight to Italy for the Bologna Children's Book Fair. She invited me to the Dutch party held at an inner city palace where I met European publishers which later brought me to Leipzig, Stockholm, and Amsterdam. I met with Liesbeth a couple times in Amsterdam and she is always enthusiastic, optimistic, and inspiring. Liesbeth passed on some wonderful advice regarding the publishing industry, which I will follow up.

Above, a shoe store in Amsterdam fails to properly light the shoes, but looks cool. In the Rembrandt House, I chatted with the artist who demonstrated how Rembrandt ground and mixed his pigments with various oils. It was fascinating. The house was well preserved, and the art, of course, was wonderful. Below are examples of stencils in the Cuyperhause Museum, Roermond. Architect Pierre Cuypers used stencils to create wonderful imagery. Another inspiring exhibit. Children get a taste for using stencils too.  

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Roermond, Venlo, and a Kid's Party

At Nicole's bookstore in Roermond a customer selects a book for his child. Nicole introduced me to a Japanese method of telling stories in a theatre-like format. Nicole, Barbara and I, like many customers hang out for coffee and tell our own stories. 

Gerard, Barbara (my hosts and friends), and I try out a Greek restaurant in Roermond. Gerard's nephews, Baer and Sjraar have a birthday on the same day. Friends come over and we take a group of kids to the park. I have some Ragu and a Dutch hotdog while we watch a soccer game. The photo of the young woman on a bicycle below is just a sample of the many women, professional and otherwise who ride bikes everywhere. Wow! Men do too, but I don't notice them as much. I love Holland for the bikes and lanes. I wish we could have more of Holland in Canada. 

Monday 16 April 2012

Arrival in Europe

Welcome to Europe. After a month in Africa, and entering the airport at Frankfurt one is struck by huge contrasts. It felt like I was entering a film set of a science fiction film - everything was huge, shiny, clean, and cool - but a little antiseptic, as if everything of the natural world had been swept away. (Welcome to Modernism!) When I left the airport by train the beautiful fields and old buildings came into view, I felt better connected and more comfortable. The photos of the "e" symbol and the shop with the big hole (above) I took 3 years ago when in Frankfurt. The Rabobank outside of Roermond looks robotic. The oval building is a clothing store in Eindhoven. Below, the vending machine distributes underwear, not pop. I snapped the downtown picture of Roermond (where I am currently staying with friends, Barbara and Gerard). I met them three years ago at the Bologna Children's Book Fair in Italy. Leaving Dusseldorf, Gerard's brother's son, Sjraar, plays the drums in his home in Venlo. 

Sunday 15 April 2012

Reading and Learning in Accra, Ghana

Here I am recording the text of my book, The Boy from the Sun, for multi-TV in Accra, Ghana. Esi, who showed up for my workshop invited me to do a reading. I supplied the images, which I had on my laptop. Although the reading was something I should get paid for, I was willing to do this one time donation of my work as a philanthropic good cause.
Below, Christine (the owner of the Nabuku Foundations cafe, and Hiroko cook up a storm for us: Dr. Benjamin Sperry (historian at U of G), Dr. Edem Dzregah (English prof. at U of G, who supplied me with great intel about trickster stories), Manu Herbstein (Commonwealth Prize winner for his extensive novel, Ama, and very knowledgeable about the slave trade and culture in Africa) and Manjit Chodha (an artist and auditor directorate who is looking into corruption and policy solutions on campus). I managed to swerve the conversation at the dinner table to topics of interest, primarily the slave trade and its effects on Africa. We covered all sorts of related topics and it was fascinating how people's backgrounds and professional studies inter-related. These types of conversations happened often and was a great learning experience for me. We were all eager and interested in the differing viewpoints. The great food Hiroko prepared was a special delight that kept us at the table for long while.

Friday 6 April 2012

Reading to Kids / Party at the High Commission / Trotro No Go

My second reading at the Kathy Knowles library went better, especially since I got the kids motivated by having them write their own text for the incomplete Tiger Dream. It always a learning experience for me as well, as I get to see a little bit into the minds of kids. Two young tourists dropped, donated some money, and Claire took my picture below. 
 At the Canadian High Commission in Accra, Canadians and their friends are invited to a party the first Thursday of every month. Lots of diplomats show up. Ben and Sulina who stay at the guest house with me are talking with Sulina's nursing students from Edmonton. They are on an exchange program and get hands on experience at the Accra hospital.
At the Canadian High Commission in Accra, Canadians and their friends are invited to a party the first Thursday of every month. Lots of diplomats show up. Ben and Sulina who stay at the guest house with me are talking with Sulina's nursing students from Edmonton. They are on an exchange program and get hands on experience at the Accra hospital.
They ride an emotional roller coaster, delivering babies and having to watch other children die. Brilliant and brave, most of these young women are also planning to travel Africa before they head back to Canada for work. Below, two lane traffic often becomes four lane traffic. One trotro didn't make it. 

Monday 2 April 2012

Hiroko's Amazing Lunch! Hello New Ghanaian Food Choices

Hiroko Yoneyama came to my workshop 2 weeks ago. She invited me to lunch to talk about publishers and books. Using all locally grown foods, Hiroko's new food creations are a much healthier alternative to the typically oily and fattening Ghanaian food choices. Hiroko is a vegetarian. Many of the vegetables in Ghana are expensive and have to be imported. As one professor here said, his A list vegetables are difficult to find in Accra. Lunch consisted of 1. (the soup) Ayayo (Molokheiya) Egyptian soup. 2. Fried plantains with babara been (groundnut) Mexican sauce. 3 Avacado dip with pita bread + spices. 4. Steamed vegetable salad with ponzu (juices pressed from lemon and lime in soy sauce). And the dish below is: 5. Coconut milk with Asian tapioca. It was one of the best lunches I've ever had. A Ghanaian friend who has started a restaurant is testing Hiroko's new creations on the public. I'm organizing a party to visit on Friday night. Should be awesome.

Sunday 1 April 2012

My Best Photo Ever: Beach Shots and Elmina Kids

I can't believe I took this photo. I love the focal point of the girl in the yellow dress. All the intersecting lines work, and the composition is awesome. Of course, it's the subject matter that makes the photo.

 This fisherman is carving his father's name into his boat and a passage from the Bible. He referred to the tree used at its base as a Wawa tree (Triplochiton scleroxylon), which is either a boa bob tree or a kapok.
Elmina kids have a great time with what little they have and they get silly when a camera appears. Often they pose and want to see their images on the display of the camera.

Saturday 31 March 2012

Horrors at Elmina Castle, Ghana

This is a beautiful little castle built by the Portuguese in 1482 to store gold, but has a history of horrors when it became the point of no return for tens of thousands of slaves, who were traded, bought, sold, captured, and killed. Elmina Castle was an end point for slaves for more than 400 years. Shipped overseas to the Americas and one of the best surviving castles of the region it is a serious tourist site.
The three doors have great symbolic resonance. The door on the far right allows for entrance and exit, but only for the masters, not the slaves. The middle door opens to a cell for soldiers who were punished, usually for being drunk. But they had a window through which air, food and water could pass. The far left door is for slaves who attempted to escape or rebel. There was no window. It quickly becomes stifling hot inside. Slaves were thrown in here to die, and starved to death. Thus the crossbones. Their screams served as a warning to others not to attempt to escape. Their bodies were thrown into the ocean, also as a warning. For over 400 years this was done. Our guide had our group in the two cells for us to feel the difference. There is chapel in the courtyard for the soldiers and officers.

In the room of no return, this is the door of no return. It is estimated that more than 12 million Africans were shipped overseas from the various castles and forts along the west coast of Africa. Wreaths were left in memory of the slaves. This was the last room in Africa that slaves were to see before being loaded on to the slave ships. If they survived the journey, they were slaves for the rest of their lives, unlike in Africa where they were indentured servants, able to marry, start their own businesses, and buy their freedom. With the heat, and some reflection, I had to sit. Our guide through the castle did a great job of conveying the importance of the site.

Friday 30 March 2012

Elmina and Kakum Park, Ghana

I was "underwhelmed" when one of our troupe gave me a bag of salt. It became a running joke. However, after seeing part of the process first hand, I was delighted. The salt flats are where pools of sea water dry in the sun, allowing the salt to crystallize and be swept up and stored in piles in sheds. The dancers above showed up one night for dinner at the Elmina Resort. They were incredibly talented drummers and dancers, mixing traditional dance with breakdancing, and some fire play.

The incredibly tall kapok trees are hardwood trees, but vary in usage. Because the earth is shallow to the rock below, the giant buttresses keep the tall trees stable. The wood is used by the locals for different purposes, including boats. In Kakum park the trees are used for entertainment and education with a very high canopy/bridge walkway. By the way, this is my favourite shirt. It is entirely soaked with sweat, but doesn't show.

High up in the trees, the latticework of rope and paths of ladders creak, bounce, and swing as you walk along. One gets the feeling however, that if you were to fall you would land on a soft canopy of leaves, as the forest is so lush. But, there is a rocky bottom somewhere below.

Elmina, Ghana

Five of us, me and two profs (from UofG) and their wives stayed at the Elmina Resort. We broke the group and headed in opposite directions down the beach. Not far from the resort are people who live very close to the land and sea. It's a dramatic contrast of lifestyles. 

In Elmina, people sell their wares and services roadside. On the beach in front of the infamous Elmina Castle, fishermen carve out the logs of giant kapok or boa boa trees - or wawawa - trees as the locals call them. Slats are added to the base with nails and tar. Then the fishermen carve and paint their insignia, add religious slogans, and paint them. They often have flags of different nations - for fun I presume - and many fishermen wear soccer outfits.

Here people are waiting for a bus ride. The fishermen pack the small inlet of Elmina tightly. Usually each bigger boat waits at the mouth of the inlet and has a smaller boat carry the fish to market, and then return with supplies. Big boats will stay out to sea for a week. Giant blocks of ice are stowed on board to cool the fish. Their lights can be seen at night. No one fishes on Tuesday, and for three months in the summer they completely stop fishing to allow the sea to replenish itself.

Friday 23 March 2012

WALKABOUT: Downtown Accra

The day started meeting with Deborah Ahenkorah (right) and her coworker, Maureen. Deborah created a major prize for children's book stories, given to writers all across Africa. However, these are unpublished stories. Once the authors win prizes, publishers quickly snap them up – a reversal of our process, and far more beneficial in discovering new talent. Deborah heard about my workshop and wanted to learn more about illustration and the process. Deborah is creating a prize to encourage quality visual art in Africa for children's picture books. She is also very excited about new eBook technology as a way of getting loads of books to children who can't afford books.  
After the meeting I headed downtown to the National Museum, then to the busy Makola Market. Here I encountered great hostility to snapping photographs. One man threatened me with his fist. One woman demanded I erase photos from my camera. To stop her from taking the camera out of my hand, I did erase them. People grabbed my arms, yelled, "Hey! White man, come here!" or "Hey Obruni! Obruni!" and in one instance "White man! Get Lost!" However, lots of people smiled and were politely eager to sell and talk. In the back of a trotro, I took the photo of the baby. I saw only four white people in five hours – very few tourists here – so I was struck by the white mannequins (above). Fuseli, the guy on the motorcycle, gave me a ride to the beach and then extended the tour downtown. When I followed him to the peer, he gave coins to a fisherman which allowed me to take photographs. When in Africa, I highly recommend paying for a motorcycle ride. But you have to be brave!

Monday 19 March 2012

Children's Book Workshop for Ghana Association of Writers

Long before I stepped off the plane in Ghana, Manu Herbstein (author of Ama) suggested I do a workshop for the Ghana Association of Writers, on March 17. At first we had four participants, then after half an hour, more than 24. Enough remained for the group photo above. Manu is on the far left. (I'm standing with Kwasi Gyan-Appenteng, president of the GAW, in the photo on the left.) I spoke for more than 4 hours, touching on everything from creating lists and files, to writing, illustrating, publishing and promoting children's books. The Epson projector I purchased in Montreal worked really well for the presentation. I read two of my stories, and presented photos and information to illustrate some of my own work habits. Everyone was fascinated by my huge study drawings called Drop Sheets, and I think I convinced several writers of the importance of treating the visual art with as much consideration as the text. The reaction to the Love Ant was so positive, I'm going to make it my next printed picture book. I was presented with a wonderful Ghanaian shirt in thanks, which is now one of five Ghanaian shirts in my collection. The participants are all active members of Accra society and culture, so I may end up doing radio and television interviews. I'm hoping to do at least a couple more readings for children before I leave.

Saturday 17 March 2012

Ghana's First Cultural Forum/ Reading to Children

In the Kathy Knowles Library in Accra (Osu district) I read a few stories, using my projector for the first time. Text and images are projected together so children can read along. A white marker-board became the screen in the doorway of a giant blue shipping container that is part of the library. Kathy Knowles (Canadian from Winnipeg) has set up six such libraries in Ghana, (amongst other programs) and filled them with thousands of books. Kathy has also published children's books. The profits remain in Ghana to support reading and writing programs. I was happy to contribute, and time willing, I may do a few more readings. 
The same day, Manu Herbstein invited me to the official launch of the Ghana Culture Forum at the National Theatre. After speeches, and interesting statements from a concerned audience about Ghanaian culture, there was drumming and dancing. In the picture below, on the far left behind the tripod (you can just make out his solid gold staff) is a chief (king). Manu Herbstein (author of Ama) is on the right.

Thursday 15 March 2012

The Little Things - Make a Lot

The little details add up, and when most travellers return from a trip they talk about the highlights and often don't have time to describe those little things that create an overall impression. Smell, for example, is not something I can describe easily and expect to have an interested ear. Detail is a prerequisite for creating a believable scene in a work of art, even for a children's book. The audience will take to it better, and engage more deeply in the story, so long as the facts don't get in the way of the mystery, the story and the action. I take dozens of photos every day and spend a good deal of time editing, filing, reducing their size, and picking my favourites. I make notes about what I've missed. I have three digital cameras with me, of which the small red Canon Powershot is the one I use most frequently.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

FIELD OF SCREAMS, U of G, Accra, Ghana
At the Guest House a resident refers to the night chanting, and incantations from the Christian groups as the "Field of Screams." It's a mix of traditional chants with rap and christian ceremony that happens at night, randomly during the week. The above group was one of four. The largest group, and loudest, had over 70 students. There was no light on them to take a picture. They will chant and scream till 2am, however, my residence is far enough away that they don't bother me. 

Saturday 10 March 2012

Beauty in Accra

The view from my doorway is lovely. I began this stroll to find the ant hill I saw two days ago in a field when I was getting a ride to the Institute of African Studies with Irene Odotei. I assumed there was only one mound. On the way, I learned that the U of G was graduating enough students for the Vice President of Ghana to attend. The car jam was huge. Students and their relatives wore beautiful clothes for the occasion, both traditional and current. A group of International Study students from Holland were also enjoying the sights and celebration. Unlike the Ghanaians they were willing to pose. I had great difficulty finding people willing to have their photograph taken. I stopped asking and had to sneak shots, which is why I don't have good photos of the event. At one point about a dozen half naked young men chided me in their language - Twi (pronounced Chwi) - from a balcony. They were yelling and acting tough, mostly smiling. I whipped out my camera and yelled, "You want a photo!?" They yelped and ducked behind the balcony. Their audience - a field full of well-dressed people and myself - burst out laughing.

The ground has a red colour from the rocky soil, called laterite, a clay enriched with iron and aluminum. It gets blown around a lot in the wind. It sets off the white student residences nicely, but is a pain for people to drive on when a road is in disrepair or where the dirt must suffice.

I did some quick reading on how these super colonies are made and what their function is. It seems the terminates either carry the sand to the highest point and drop the sand, or they actually sculpt as they go along.  The ants store food inside. Ones that are broken open reveal a pile of refuse at their base. The queen termite is also protected on the inside. She has been known to live up to 21 years. The males all die very quickly after they've performed their function. Probably why I didn't see any termites. In 2008, a professor here, Kwadwo Osseo-Asare got his students to do a little research on these hills. What they had to say is very interesting. 

Thursday 8 March 2012

Beautiful University of Ghana

On my second day in Accra, Ghana, I have already met a number of wonderful people who have been beneficial to my education and research for the book. I was surprised by the number of very old and crumbling books in the University of Ghana's library, but what I discovered were a number of old books that were very valuable, books I'm sure that we don't have in Canada. So, despite the condition – the red dust and worm-chewed pages, – they were very useful. For the time being I am staying at the Guest House on campus, which is a lovely place surrounded by trees. I look forward to the days ahead in Accra.

Thursday 9 February 2012

Tiger Dream Beginnings/ Chalmers Arts Fellowship Award

Yes, I know there are no tigers in Africa. I'm going to Ghana for one month (on a greatly appreciated Chalmers Arts Fellowship Award) to do research for this picture book/graphic novel (I'm not sure of the length) featuring a tiger who escapes from a city zoo in North America and who threatens to eat a young boy. The above image is one of 23 images created so far. Like Scheherazade of 1001 Arabian Nights, the boy must tell stories to save himself, in this case from a bellicose and pompous tiger who demands a good story. The tiger has already eaten 3 children on his rampage. One of the stories the boy tells involves a slave ship from Africa destined for North America. The clever boy also uses African trickster stories to his benefit, telling versions he’s learned from the many books in his home. Each story the boy tells features a tiger. For this particluar story, his second, the boy tells of a captain of a slave ship who has brought a tiger from India and has the tiger in a cage on his ship. I have a general idea of how the story might unfold, but I'm keeping options open for better ideas.