Signs of Spring

The Thai pepper seedlings on my window sill are coming along nicely.


I was watching two starlings preparing a nest in a hole in a tree when something in the sky caught my eye. Thousands and thousands of geese travelling east, too high up for me to take photos. Vee after vee after vee, some tucked inside others, some staggered like bricks. The structure reminded me of a directory tree.

Every time I thought I’d seen the last vee, it turned out to be a gap in the waves of birds, and then more would flash into sight. They were so high up that I might have missed them, had it not been for the low angle of the late afternoon sun illuminating their bodies against the sky.

And to think that I almost put off going outside to put out the recycling.

Posted in Creative Non-Fiction, Nature | Tagged , | 10 Comments

Foreign and Far Away: now available as an ebook

Foreign and Far AwayJust a quick post to announce that Writers Abroad‘s fourth anthology, Foreign and Far Away, is now available as an ebook from Amazon.

Every year, Writers Abroad publishes an anthology and donates all proceeds to a charity.

My contribution, Floating World, is a short personal essay about life in the Mekong Delta, and some of the challenges faced by those who live there. I’m very pleased to have a story in one of the Writers Abroad anthologies for the second year in a row.

So far, we’ve donated £500 to Book Aid International from sales of the paperback. This charity sends half a million books to schools, libraries, universities, hospitals, prisons, refugee camps and rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. Please help raise more for the people who benefit from Book Aid International’s hard work. Thanks!

Read more about Foreign and Far Away in this post.

Where to order:
Foreign and Far Away is available through, and other Amazon sites, and also from These links will take you straight to the book. Order a few extra–they make wonderful gifts.


Posted in Books, News, Publications, Writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Tiny, True Stories in 130 Characters (and the latest issue of Creative Nonfiction)

Creative Nonfiction issue 51

“Can you tell a true story in a single tweet?” This is the challenge posed by Creative Nonfiction magazine. Entrants post their microessays on Twitter and tag them with #cnftweet. @cnfonline favourites the daily winners, creating a longlist from which the microessays that appear in the quarterly magazine’s Tiny Truths column are chosen.

I’m always happy when @cnfonline favourites and retweets one of my microessays, but it really makes my day when my tiny truth makes it into the print magazine. The best part is receiving my prize: a copy of the magazine. I was thrilled to open my mailbox last week and find a copy of Creative Nonfiction’s latest issue, The Human Face of Sustainability (Spring 2014). It’s green; it’s beautiful; it’s full of intense, powerful writing. I’m honoured and pleased that one of my microessays was among those chosen to appear in such an important and significant issue.

From Lee Gutkind’s editorial to the interview with environmental writer Elizabeth Kolbert to the essays from ten talented writers, I turned the pages and read and read. And I pored over the intricate illustrations. Marcy Miranda Janes created her cut paper artworks to accompany each essay, and her pieces tell stories too.

The writing in this issue is so powerful that, according to Gutkind, “[S]omething amazing happened: the panel [of sustainability experts from ASU] found all of the essays they read to be so impressive that they voted to award $1,000 to each of the finalists in appreciation for their fine writing and the urgency and importance of their messages. I have served on many similar panels, and I have to tell you, this has never happened to me before.”

It’s been a few years since I first grew enamored with the #cnftweet. As a mainly nonfiction writer, I find that writing them is a good exercise for finding the core of a story. As an editor, I love to whittle away at the details until this core is revealed. The distillation process itself fascinates me.

Just as I do with longer essays, I start by writing everything down, then look for what I can cut without changing the meaning of the sentence, paragraph, or story. Sometimes, it’s as simple as removing a superfluous comma. More often than not, all those adjectives I couldn’t resist, while pretty, do not add anything of note. (Cut, cut, cut.) Word order can be altered to reveal better structure and emphasis. An idea that is still too big for a tweet invites creativity: how can I structure this in such a way that while it may defy convention to fit the character count, it is still grammatically correct? Can I use this creativity to enhance the story, or will I just obscure the meaning? And just what makes the best #cnftweet anyway?

Browsing through the latest entries on Twitter, I always find a few that make me smile or nod my head. Many are just descriptions or statements of fact. A few appear to be fiction that has snuck in. And then I find the one that stops me in my tracks. The one that nails it. These are the cnf tweets that I read twice or three times. They contain life truths, lessons for seeing or living, moments of transcendence. And they contain writing lessons.

I’m not alone in my love of the art of the tiny truth. Several regular contributors recently participated in a virtual roundtable discussion to discuss “the challenges and lessons of the microessay”. They looked at what makes a good microessay or a failed attempt. They questioned the future of tiny essays outside of twitter. I found myself nodding and agreeing as I read the discussion. One of my favourite comments came from Jo Deurbrouck (@JDeurbrouck): “[A] microessay is like Doctor Who’s TARDIS: it’s bigger on the inside.”

Posted in Creative Non-Fiction, Publications, Twitter, Writing | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Two Mini Book Reviews: Great CNF published in 2013

two great nonfiction books from 2013

Must be something in the air. In the last few days, several people have asked for suggestions for good nonfiction books. Here are my two favourites from 2013.

Everything Rustles (Anvil, 2013), by Jane Silcott 

This book was announced yesterday as a finalist for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize (a BC Book Prize). (Go, Jane!) A beautiful collection of essays about aging and learning and fear. Writing and words and being human. Love and loss and teaching. Nature. Strength and weakness. And it has a gorgeous photograph on the cover that perfectly suits the book.

Conversations with a Dead Man: The Legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott (Douglas & McIntyre, 2013) by Mark Abley

A provocative look at Scott, a talented, obscure Canadian poet who was responsible for much of the suffering of First Nations people in Canada. Disturbing and at times difficult to read. And yet, a delight to read because of Mark’s unusual and ingenious trick of imagining debates with Scott’s ghost in hope of shining a light on the history behind the ongoing difficulties and injustices faced by Canada’s aboriginal people. Mark packs a lot of heavy historical info into this fairly slim volume, but the difficult parts are the things people did and the things other people suffered; this is not a dry info dump. The writing flows and this reader found herself engrossed from start to finish. Since I commented on the cover of Jane’s book, I’ll add here that the brooding photo on the cover of Mark’s book is just right too.

So what about you? What are your recommendations for a great work of creative nonfiction that I should add to my must-read list?

Posted in book reviews, Books, Creative Non-Fiction, Memoir, Reading | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments


Guardians, A Fox Pockets anthologyI’m pleased to announce the publication of Arabesque,  a weird flash fiction piece, in Fox Spirit Books’ latest anthology, Guardians.

Here’s a little teaser from the opening lines:


.     Hey man, you in there Marty? Open up.

     Oh, it’s you. C’mon in Nigel. Parched, man. I’m parched. Woke up this aft with a phone number on this hand, bandages on this one. Pocket’s full of money. No idea where it came from. I need water. Close the door, man.


Guardians is the third volume in the Fox Pockets series. Many thanks to Adele Wearing for giving Arabesque such a fine home.

The book also includes stories from Colin Sinclair, Geraldine Clark-Hellery, Jack Hanson, Paul Starkey, Alec McQuay, Jonathan Ward, Christian D’Amico, Emma Teichman, Rahne Sinclair, Margrét Helgadóttir, James Fadely, Den Patrick, Alasdair Stuart, Catherine Hill, and Chloë Yates, with cover art by Sarah Anne Langton.

Each Fox Pocket has a specific theme, but the themes are deliberately loose and the series contains a broad selection of science fiction, weird, fantasy, horror, crime and more. It’s fun to see the many different interpretations from the authors featured in each volume.

Guardians is available now from Lulu and Amazon, along with the other volumes in the series.

Posted in Fiction, Flash Fiction, News, Publications, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

“No space between us” now published at Blue Fifth Review

Galatea by Lilla Dent

The January 2014 issue of Blue Fifth Review is now live, and includes my poem “No space between us” among this month’s five offerings. It’s a gorgeous issue, with luscious artwork by Lilla Dent, who so kindly gave me permission to feature the image of her painting “Galatea” (2013, oils on textured plastic board), above. Thanks to editors Michelle Elvy and Sam Rasnake for giving my poem a home.

Blue Fifth Review: Blue Five Notebook Series 2014

Posted in News, Poetry, Publications | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

“Ebony Teeth” now published in Existere Journal

Existere Journal - Nov. 2013I’m honoured to have a nonfiction piece, Ebony Teeth, included amongst the literary and artistic offerings in the latest issue of Existere Journal.

Ebony Teeth is a brief look at the once widespread Vietnamese practice of dyeing the teeth permanently black. Though I rarely encounter people with black teeth now, I am lucky to know one particular woman, the elderly mother of a friend, whose teeth are “black as custard apple seeds” and who takes the spotlight in my essay. I am grateful to her, to my husband’s grandmother and to my friend Nga, for sharing folklore and poetry about tooth lacquering, as it’s also known.

Existere is York University’s journal of arts and literature, and publishes work by both emerging and established writers from York University and around the world . The journal is carried by Chapters / Indigo and many independent retailers across Canada. For bookstore locations that carry the issue, please visit the retail locations page on Existere’s website. The journal is also available at some locations not yet included on the list, such as campus bookstores and libraries. Single copies can be ordered via their “subscribe” page, which includes the link to the order form below the  subscription details.

Posted in Memoir, News, Publications, Viet Nam | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

It’s Here! Writers Abroad’s latest anthology: Foreign and Far Away

Foreign and Far Away - a Writers Abroad anthology

Every year, the online writing group Writers Abroad has published an anthology and donated all proceeds to charity. The selection of fiction, nonfiction and poetry in each volume comes from expat and former expat writers living in every corner and curve of the world. This year’s anthology, Foreign and Far Away, was published last Monday, October 21st . Isn’t the cover beautiful? Thanks so much to Vesna McMaster for the design.

My contribution, Floating World, is a short personal essay about life in the Mekong Delta. I’m so pleased to have a place in the Writers Abroad anthology table of contents for the second year in a row.

Foreign and Far Away is bursting with writing exploring the relationship between people and the landscapes and settings they live in, and the differences, similarities, connections and misunderstandings of life in foreign places.

Author Amanda Hodgkinson, who has lived in Southwest France since 2002, has written the foreword. Her debut novel, 22 Britannia Road, was published in 2011.

All proceeds from this year’s anthology go to Book Aid International. They aim to increase access to books and support literacy, education and development in sub-Saharan Africa. They have sent more than 30 million books to partner libraries since 1954.

Foreign and Far Away
Published by Writers Abroad
300 pages
38 short stories, 37 non-fiction articles and 19 poems

Foreign and Far Away is available through and These links will take you straight to the book. Order a few extra–they make great gifts.
Priced at: $10.99, £8.99 or €9.99 (depending on which Amazon site you order from).

Posted in Books, Creative Non-Fiction, Fiction, News, Publications, Viet Nam | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Guesting on Margrét Helgadóttir’s blog to talk about “Mindswitch”

Mindswitch by Chris Galvin NguyenNorwegian-Icelandic writer Margrét Helgadóttir recently extended a kind invitation to write a guest post on her blog. She was curious about my inspiration for my story Mindswitch in the anthology Impossible Spaces (Hic Dragones, 2013). She also asked about how and why I write short stories. I was happy to accept, and in doing so, to join the Impossible Spaces Blog Tour.

Hope you’ll drop by Margrét’s blog to read my post. I’ve written a bit about what happened when I decided to change my main character from male to female, and how, when I named her Hiền (Vietnamese name meaning gentle, mild, sweet or meek), this gave me the rest of the story. I also discuss the immigrant experience, which can in itself be an impossible space.

Warmest thanks to Margrét, for inviting me to write a guest post on her blog. Margrét also has a story, Shadow, in the anthology, which she recently talked about in a guest post on Rachel Yelding’s blog. Rachel is yet another contributor to Impossible Spaces. Do click the Blog Post image below, which will warp you over to the links to all the guest posts by the contributors taking part.

Praise for Impossible Spaces:
An important collection that every fan of short stories, be they ghostly, strange or weird, should read.M.R. Cosby

Impossible Spaces Blog Tour


Posted in Fiction, News, Publications | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Impossible Spaces Anthology

It’s almost here (update: it IS here)…the Impossible Spaces anthology…and Rob Shedwick, aka Digital Front, has put together this lovely trailer for us. I’m very pleased to have my story Mindswitch in this anthology and to work with such fine people.

In the words of publisher Hic Dragones:
“Sometimes the rules can change. Sometimes things aren’t how they appear. Sometimes you can just slip through the cracks and end up… somewhere else. What else is there? Is there somewhere else, right beside you, if you could only reach out and touch it? Or is it waiting to reach out and touch you?

Don’t trust what you see. Don’t trust what you hear. Don’t trust what you remember. It isn’t what you think.

A new collection of twenty-one dark, unsettling and weird short stories that explore the spaces at the edge of possibility.” 

You can buy Impossible Spaces in paperback, ePub or Mobi formats here. It is Also available from:
Amazon UKAmazon US, Amazon CanadaSmashwords, Kobo

Table of Contents:

Ramsey Campbell
Simon Bestwick
Hannah Kate
Jeanette Greaves
Richard Freeman
Almira Holmes
Arpa Mukhopadhyay
Chris Galvin Nguyen
Christos Callow Jr.
Daisy Black
Douglas Thompson,
Jessica George
Keris McDonald
Laura Brown
Maree Kimberley
Margrét Helgadóttir
Nancy Schumann
Rachel Yelding
Steven K. Beattie
Tej Turner
Tracy Fahey

Posted in News, Writing | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment