Chickadees at Christmas

By Miriam King, QMI Agency

Author Carol j Morris with her books, printed by railfencebooks - including her newest, Chickadees at Christmas. MIRIAM KING/BRADFORD TIMES/SUNMEDIA

Author Carol j Morris with her books, printed by railfencebooks - including her newest, Chickadees at Christmas. MIRIAM KING/BRADFORD TIMES/SUNMEDIA

When Carolyn j Morris was just 8, her mother died, in a tragic accident.

“Life changed after that,” Morris says. Living on a farm in Nottawasaga Township, her days became a constant round of school, and chores. “You just needed to get the work done,” she remembers. “I think I just wanted to be busy” - too busy to grieve.

But life went on. She grew up, moved to Toronto to attend University, became a Kindergarten teacher, and met her husband Iain. They married, and eventually moved to Beeton when daughter Georgia was 5 months old.

It wasn’t until 2006 that the wellsprings of memory, and of grief, were opened; Morris received a laptop as a Christmas present.

“Boxing Day, I started writing. I spent the Christmas holiday writing Mourning Dove,” she says, and finished the book during the March Break. It was the story of 11 year old Billy, grieving the loss of his father - and learning how to cherish his memories and rediscover joy, while at his grandparents’ farm.

It’s simply written, geared towards children or young adults, and explores grief and loss in a way that is accessible, and easily understood. Morris calls Mourning Dove “a boy’s adventure on his grandparents’ farm while he’s grieving his father. It’s a story about hope - and hope does not disappoint.”

But it took her 5 more years before she decided to publish. As she says, “Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”

It was 2011 when Morris finally decided to publish, “with much support from friends and family.” Her first hurdle was finding an illustrator, who could capture the nostalgic simplicity of the farming life in Mourning Dove.

Morris chose Anne Brolley, from Egbert. It was Brolley’s first effort at illustration, but Morris was drawn to “her determination and her real zest for life.” They sat in her kitchen and discussed the illustrations that would head each chapter. “Very rarely did we need to tweak them,” says Morris. It was even helpful that Brolley did not have a farming background; it allowed her to capture exactly what Morris had in mind.

Morris also launched her own publishing house, railfencebooks, to publish Mourning Dove and her subsequent stories. “I stopped dreaming my life, and started living my dream. I have been so blessed!”

With the book at the printer, she continued writing - eventually writing a series of 4 books, even while continuing to teach. Barn Swallows is about a 12 year old Billy, back on the farm for the summer, where he meets “Gus”. Gus is a country girl and Billy a town boy, Morris explains. “There’s a lovely competition between them.”

In Pine Warblers, Billy and Gus, now 13, visit the Spruce Valley Fair, and finally join 4-H - an agricultural youth organization that is still the backbone of many rural communities.

She has just released the 4th and final book in the series, Chickadees at Christmas. “I suddenly got excited about my characters coming together to celebrate a traditional Canadian Christmas,” she says. It’s the final book because Billy and Gus are 15 and, Morris explains, “I want my readers to use their imagination, and allow the characters to go in the direction they want them to go.”

The books are written for a Grade 8 or 9 reading level, ideal for home schooling, but are also, she notes, “enjoyed by all ages. I have seniors that enjoy my stories because of the memories of the farm, and the relationship between Billy and his Grandparents.”

Morris has numerous speaking engagements - especially at Seniors’ residences in Newmarket, Barrie and Keswick, where she brings along baby chicks and ducklings, to engage the residents. Morris also reads from her books, and has been moved by the response - “old farmers squeezing my shoulder, and saying, I enjoyed it.”

It has also allowed her to grieve the loss of her mother, Frances Pearl (Robinson) McQueen. “You never get over the loss of a loved one, but eventually you get through it,” Morris says. “Writing has allowed me to grieve and really heal, from losing mom so early in my life.”

Through her books, Morris says, “I try to give people permission to share their life with me” - and to discover strategies to overcome disappointment, anger and grief.

Mourning Dove, Chickadees for Christmas and the other books by Carolyn j Morris are available in local bookstores, including Novel Idea in Alliston. She is selling her books and autographing copies at the Uxbridge Fair, Sept. 5-7; Feversham Fair, Sept. 12-13; and Great Northern Exhibition in Collingwood, Sept. 19-21 - where she join 4-H as a girl.

For more information see www.railfencebooks.com or email cjmorris@railfencebooks.com

And the “j” in Carolyn j Morris? That was deliberate. She’s been a kindergarten teacher for 30 years; the lower case j is a nod to her students.

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