Book Club Guides & Writing Workshops


My grandmother taught school in 1901 at Churubusco Public School in Indiana, with a class of 54 students in grades two and three. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been. I followed in her into the teaching profession which, for me,

From: The Star Weekly, 9 November 1963
Photo by Michel Lambeth

In the late 1970's, when I decided to stop elementary school teaching and devote myself to full time writing, I had only one regret : I would miss the children and the classroom. Eight years later, with three plays and a childrenís poetry book published, I found myself back in the classroom, reading from my own work and inspiring children to write.

I went on to teach adult creative writing classes, theatre classes, poetry classes and, most recently, novel-writing classes. Although writing is now my first love, teaching will always be a close second.

Book Club Reference Guide

Author's Introduction

I began the first draft of That Summer in Franklin in February 2000 at the Saskatchewan Writers' Winter Retreat, St. Peter's Abbey in Muenster, SK. I had two weeks there with none of those inevitable interruptions one has while writing at home.

I already had two main characters that I really liked : Colleen from my then-unpublished short story, "One Friday Night" and Hannah from another unpublished story, "Miss Purity Flour". Hannah and Colleen already knew each other as they had worked together as waitresses at the Brittania Hotel. I needed a plot to knit these two characters together, and so I began writing, not knowing exactly where the story would lead.

Writing is a strange thing. Sometimes when I begin it's like watching a movie inside my head and I simply write down what is happening, what the characters are saying, having no idea where the story is heading or how it will end

Many drafts and many years later, the novel became what you read today : a story about friendship and coming to terms with aging; about learning to accept life and all the punches it throws; about how things don't turn out the way you think they will when you are young.

I had a wonderful time, researching and reliving the fifties. As well, my research into the issues of dementia broadened my knowledge and helped me to understand my personal experiences with my mother's age-related dementia.

I hope the novel speaks to you and leads you to a broader understanding of family and friendship - the joys, the complications and the heartbreaks.

Thanks for reading and send me an e-mail. [Click the "Contact the Author" button at the top of this page]


In 1955, fifteen year old Hannah Norcroft and Colleen Miller work as waitresses in small town Franklin's prestigious Britannia Hotel. Even though the owner's sixteen year old son, Larry Mourand harasses them and kitchen helper Charlie's sudden death frightens them, tips are good.

Forty years later, in 1995, as each admits a failing and elderly parent to Franklin's Sunset Lodge, the women meet again. Other than their connection during that long ago summer, their commonality factor is zero.

Hannah, single with a younger lover, is a successful Toronto high school teacher while Colleen, who married early, has five children and has never left Franklin.

When a reporter, writing about the history of the old hotel, researches Charlie's death, these two women are forced to deal with the traumas of That Summer in Franklin.

Reading Group Study Questions

1. In Hannah I, Hannah says, " No one now believes what small-town fifties life was likeónot with their smart phones and morning-after pills and rap lyrics. But it wasn't like "Leave It to Beaver" and "Happy Days" and all the other TV cardboard-cutout versions of the decade."

For readers of a certain age, the fifties will be familiar territory. What do you remember about that decade? Dress, music, dating, food, movies, singers etc. How was it different/the same as the TV shows above?

For younger readers, what is your impression of the fifties? Your parents' era perhaps? What influences from the fifties still linger in our society today?

2. In Colleen I, we find that Colleen, without telling her dad, has already made arrangements for him to move into the local nursing home, Sunset Lodge

Do you think this is underhanded of Colleen or do you think extenuating circumstances have forced her to make this decision?

Discuss the difficulties she faces and what other choices she could make.

3. In Hannah II, from Hannah's remembered date with Gordon Ellis: "From the perspective of Fifties societal mores, anyone then would have put the blame squarely on her. He was just hoping to sow some wild oats. She thinks about her teenage moms, caught like flies on life's sticky paper. Stuck there with reality and dirt flecks. She was lucky, really, physically strong and aggressive when shoved down onto the car seat. Furious and fighting back. They came here to watch a movie, after all."

Date rape was not a term used in the 1950's. When did this change and how?

What knowledge/help did teenage girls in the 1950's have to draw on?

Teenage girls today are, ostensibly, much more sexually knowledgeable. How is date rape viewed today?

Does advertising / media play into this scenario and, if so, how?

4. In the opening paragraph of Colleen II we read: "They all call it "the accident", not just Colleen, even though no one else in the family has read about denial"

Why does Colleen call "the accident" denial? Discuss whether or not denial has actually helped Colleen? Would there be a better alternative for her to follow dealing with her dad? Her life? How would she go about this?

5. In the hospital room, in Hannah III: "So nice of you to visit," her mother warbles, staring up at her now. Hannah is sure her mother doesn't have the slightest notion who she is. . . Social etiquette, like a fine-meshed sieve, letting everything else sift through, still there giving shape and logic to conversation".

Discuss the underlined sentence as relating to Hannah's mother.

Is her behaviour a result of her being a product of her generation or is it because of her illness or a combination of both?

6. In Hannah III, after Hannah's first brief interchange with Maureen dealing with Mrs. Norcroft in the hospital, Hannah muses: "Amazing how chance meetings, planned meetings, human encounters in general promote chat even conversation, but rarely communication."

What things stand in the way, now, of Hannah and Maureen communicating? This question begs the issue of social class, not something Canadians like to admit exists. Is there a social class structure in small town life today? If yes, is it more or less than forty years ago? Give reasons for this.

7. "Never say never. In Colleen III, Colleen wonders who said that. Why is it that, so many times in life, we do exactly what we say we won't do, what we hate."

Is this a reasonable thing to say? Why, do you think, Colleen says this? What other alternatives did she have in her life? Discuss the importance of life choices when we are in high school and how life frequently modifies what we think we are going to do in life.

8. In Hannah IV, when Hannah is thinking about why Aunt Harriet and her husband didn't come from Winnipeg to visit her and her mom in Franklin, she thinks: " People didn't travel in the fifties, even the sixties, that much."

We tend, now, to take travel for granted. Discuss how travel has changed since the 1950's and why. Think about road quality, car speed, train and airplane cost, time available.

9. Also in Hannah IV, Hannah's mom has a Victrola to play records. It seems so antiquated by today's standards. That and the 78 records are antiques in our eyes.

If someone in your group remembers, have them tell you about the Victrola and the old 78's. If no one remembers, research it and report on how one worked. Make a list, by decade, of what came after and how our expectations changed. In the 1950's and even into the 1960's. families had other types of home entertainment. Talk about these and whether any have survived. What have we lost? Gained?

10. From Britannia Then, page 104: "Female employees in the fifties had few options. Harassment was common; reprisal almost nonexistent. Whatever each girl thought about Larry, she kept to herself, neither willing to share information with such sexual overtones, not wanting to be seen as being morally loose, storing it as far back in her mind as possible. This summer job was there and each would see it through to the end, no matter what."

Talk about sexual harassment then and now :

Are girls safer now than in the 1950's?

What has made this so?

There are groups of working women still highly vulnerable and open to sexual harassment.

Who are these women?

Why is this so?

11. The closing words of Hannah V: "Short-term memory versus long-term memory, Hannah thinks. . .Fear of reprisal, embarrassment or both aid and abet long term memory."

Short-term memory loss is much discussed today in the media. Talk about whether or not Hannah's statement is one of over-reaction to the situation or not.

12. In Hannah/Colleen I, the personality and lifestyle differences between the two women come face to face. Each woman tries to hide from the other what she perceives to be her and her parent's shortcomings.

Talk about why each woman feels the way she does and whether it is important in the short term, the long term. Compare these to meeting old friends/acquaintances at a class reunion.

Think about what makes these meetings smooth or rough. As they get older, do people continue to "put their best foot forward" or are they willing to "say it as it is"?

14. At the end of Hannah/Colleen II, when Hannah returns to her mother's house after visiting Colleen and her family on Christmas Eve, she says:"Here's to Christmas Eve 1995. Here's to what we all make of our lives."

Why does she say this? Has her visit with Colleen changed her thinking about herself? How? Will this modify her reserve toward other people and, if so, how?

15. In Colleen VIII, the meeting between the two sisters is more than a little difficult. Colleen's reaction is as expected; Lillian, however, seems impervious until after they find the will.

Death often brings out the best and worst in people :

How does Frank's death do this for Colleen, for Lillian?

What has each misunderstood about the other and why?

16.Hannah spends time with Aunt Harriet in Hannah VIII and makes this observation: "So be it, Hannah thinks, and a millisecond later she feels a lightening flash of clarity, one of those forever earmarked realizations - it's all right when Harriet reacts that way. It doesn't make Hannah angry or defensive because there is no baggage attached. Harriet has a perfect right to say what she thinks. If Hannah could only sever the baggage, toss it away, she could be so much more compassionate with her mother."

Discuss this observation :

Why it is so important to Hannah?

17. After Allan Searp interviews Hannah and Colleen, he makes the following observation: "He's smart enough to know he can say so much and no more, not if he intends to stay here for the next five years. Franklin is still a small town; the Britannia still carries an aura of its past glory. Tarnishing that image would not, politically, be in his best interest."

Talk about the implications of this statement :

for Allan;

for Hannah;

for Colleen.

18. ??????? What are your discussion points ?

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Writing Workshops

Adult Workshop A: Writing as a Profession

Fee: $300 plus .35 KM mileage

This 1½ hour [2 x 3/4 hour sessions] workshop includes:

  • biographical information given by author
    • when writing career began,
    • books published,
    • works completed
    • works‑in‑ progress
  • selected readings from short fiction, poetry or plays
  • the creative process:
    • idea to first draft,
    • rewriting ad nauseam,
    • final draft to acceptance 
  • the publishing process:
    • MS acceptance
    • editor changes requests
    • rewrite to included change requests
    • editor review of changed MS
    • repeat last two steps as required
    • editor acceptance
    • copy editor review with corrections
    • finished product to printer
    • proof copy by printer
  • the business side of writing:
    • learning to live with rejections,
    • surviving financially
    • writing your own promotion,
    • giving readings and workshops,
  • questions and general discussion

Adult Workshop B: Adults Writing for Children

Fee: $300 plus .35 KM mileage

This1½ hour workshop [2 x 3/4 hour sessions] covers:

  • biographical information given by author
    • when writing career began,
    • books published,
    • works completed
    • works‑in‑ progress
  • short readings from authors's published works for children
  • the creative process for writing for children:
    • idea to first draft,
    • researching the market for age range and suitability,
    • rewriting and rewriting,
    • final draft to acceptance
  • writing plays/TV scripts : adapting a story to dramatic form
  • the business side of writing:
    • learning to live with rejections,
    • surviving financially
    • writing your own promotion,
    • giving readings and workshops,
  • questions and general discussion

Student Writing Workshops for Schools

Workshop C1 = one 1 to 1+1/2 hour session

Fee: $300 plus .35 KM mileage

  • a student introduction to writing stories, novels, poetry and plays
  • notes and reference list
  • lecture on writing
  • discussion
  • questions

Workshop C2 = two 1 hr. to 1+1/2 hr. sessions

Fee: $500 plus .35 KM mileage

First session :
  • introduce students to the writing of stories, novels, poetry and plays
  • notes and reference list
  • lecture on writing process
  • discussion
  • questions
Second Session :
  • writing session on one of stories, novels, poetry or plays
  • appraisal and discussion session

Adult Workshop D : Demonstration of Student Writing Workshops [C1 + C2]
( Suitable for Teacher's Professional Development Days )

Fee: $300 plus .35 KM mileage

This workshop is available for Poetry, Prose or Play writing Student Workshops for Children :

  • handouts : outlines for both workshops
  • demonstration of
    • half-day [C1] workshop
    • full-day [C2] workshop
  • review of ways to use Workshops in the classroom
  • discussion with teachers n use in the classroom
  • reference list handout

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