My wife and I are currently working as artists-in-residence at a school in Bangkok and have been enjoying some of the cool and interesting restaurants in the neighbourhood. One such place is called “Iron Fairies.”

I first visited this restaurant back in 2012, but it was closed for renovations when I was back in the city in 2013. I was so pleased to see it back open—especially since I could show it to Marcie.

Beyond the doors of this magical place is a cozy cavern of delight. Just check out the thousands of bottles and some of the other props.

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My wife and I are currently in Bangkok to work as artists-in-residence at ELC school. We haven’t started yet, so we’re just taking a couple of days to explore the city. It’s actually my third sojourn here, but I kind of get to see Bangkok anew with Marcie.

We fought off our jet lag the first day and visited Jim Thompson house. Thompson was an American who fell in love with Thailand and moved here after WWII and revitalized the silk industry. He built his home to draw on traditional Thai architecture and filled it with beautiful artifacts from around SE Asia.

While visiting the site, you can see a celebration of the hand-weaving of silk.

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Personally, I loved looking at the sculptures and the many traditional doors (I do love to collect doors!) Here are some photos of some of my favourite doors that I found at the house:

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And, finally, here are just a few other photos of the site.

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This week I received advance copies of my new book, Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen.

Cracking open that box of freshly pressed books always fills me with a sense of excitement and trepidation. (This goes back to my very first publishing experience; I opened up the box only to discover they had printed the cover to Corranda’s Crown in low resolution, so was greeted by faded and pixelated artwork. Needless to say, they reprinted.)

This time, I wasn’t even in the country when the press proofs for the cover came, so it was up to the art director and publisher to approve the colors. For this cover, we made the decision of going black and gray . . . it may seem an odd choice for a children’s fantasy book, but it goes well with the color scheme of the rest of the series and, more importantly, it ties in thematically to Kendra’s journey in this final book in the series.

No need to worry about how the cover on this book turned out. It looks fabulous and, in many ways, my favorite of the series.

Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen - advance copies

The official release date of the book isn’t until April, but my wife and I are off to work at a school in Bangkok as artists-in-residence for the next couple of weeks, so I coerced my publisher into getting me some copies before we left, so I can show them off.

On this blog, I’ve posted a lot of the brainstorming, sketches, and inspirations that contributed to the creation of this book. It’s been a labor—I’ve written many books before, but never one that had to end a series. It’s an odd feeling to line all the books up on the shelf and see that it’s really happened, that it’s really finished.

The Chronicles of Kendra Kandlestar

The series is complete. There were so many agonizing twists and turns along the way, but I’m glad that I can sit back now and see that I was able to finish Kendra’s journey in the way that I wanted.

All loose ends are tied up, all story lines resolved. Now just time to wait for the official release date and to see if my readers share my satisfaction!

One of the final, and most entertaining, projects I did at the CWC Wizards’ Camp in Korea was “Wand Duelling.” I’ve only done this a few times before, because it involves a lot of my brain power.

How it works is this . . .

The kids design and build their own wizardly wands and write rhyming couplets to attack me. They get to prepare their spells in advance, and then come onto the stage to attack me. I have to defend myself by responding to each couplet by using the same rhyme scheme. I can’t use any of the words they use.

A typical attack went something like this: Mr. Wiz, this is no joke; I’m going to cover you in gooey egg yolk. I then had to rhyme by saying something like: Your hurtful rhyme makes me choke, But in your face, I throw a coke. Then comes the next attack. Whomever runs out of rhymes first, loses. It’s rather like a rap-duel, I guess, but a lot more magical. Here’s some photos of our wands—and our duels.

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One of the fun activities we did at the CWC Wizards Camp in Korea was to invent our own magic schools. We started by having the students write application letters to the school and then receive an official response. The students then got to imagine all of the details about the schools: the school crest and motto, the classes, the teachers, and the required supplies.

Here’s some of the students’ work . . .

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Of course, magical creatures are a big part of fantasy stories, so that’s why we designed and built enchanted eggs at the Wizard’s Camp my wife and I are teaching in Yangpyeong, Korea.

Here’s some of the photos of the students’ creations.

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One of the great activities we did this week at the CWC creative writing camp in Korea is have the kids write and perform their own radio plays. This activity was led by my wife, Marcie Nestman, who was able to draw on her acting experience to help the kids deliver top notch performances.

My part was a bit more humble—I just suggested the kids design their own posters to advertise the play.

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The performances were very amusing and we had some good laughs as the kids used various props to help communicate what was going on in their play. I was also impressed with how many of them tried different accents and voice styles to help bring their characters to life.

My wife Marcie Nestman and I are currently in Korea teaching a creative writing camp on the theme of the Wizard’s Library, which is really just a fancy way of saying fantasy.

We’ve had a lot of fun incorporating Marcie’s voice over and acting talents with my visual approach to writing. Our camp began with giving each of the kids a “magical” quiz to break their ice and test their powers of imagination. Afterwards, I delivered a presentation on the standard archetypes founds in fantasy stories and it was time for the students to begin developing their own cast of characters.

We gave them each a wizardly kit to help them in the creation of their characters. In each kit were things such as miniature potion bottles, a dragon’s tooth, and the feather from a magical creature. Here’s some photos of their creations . . .

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Last week was a busy one. In between working on my own projects, I delivered a series of creative writing workshops for the Children’s Art Festival in Richmond, BC. Kids of all ages attended the festival, while selected classes from local schools came to my workshop room to learn some of my top techniques for creating heroes, villains, and kingdoms.

Each of these workshops comes with a fun quiz to help warm up the students to the topic. I’m happy to report that three students failed the Quiz of Villainy. It’s hard to fail—and rare!

Below, are some pictures from the week, showing off some of the brainstorming done by the imaginative students. The Children’s Arts Festival will be back in 2016! Find out more here.

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Designing crests for our kingdoms

Before the students could work on their final design, I had them brainstorm multiple concepts on a worksheet. I was pleased to see the students invest some time in this important phase of the creative process.

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Heroic characters

The worksheet for this workshop isn’t so much about building a character profile, but about brainstorming different ideas for a heroic character. I really encourage the students to put aside their erasers and just create.

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Villainous Characters

Similar to the hero workshop, this class involves brainstorming, as opposed to creating a finalized character profile.

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I love maps. My own Kendra Kandlestar books certainly feature a few of them (you can check them out at kendrakandlestar.com). There are also plenty of maps that I do in my sketchbooks just to help me plot out critical scenes or sections of my books. It’s an approach to writing that I try to bring into my author visits to schools—like today.

I spent the day at John G. Diefenbaker Elementary school as part of an outreach literacy program sponsored by the Richmond Children’s Arts Festival. While I did my monster design for the youngest group (the kindergarteners to Grade 2s) I decided to do the mapping activity for the rest of the student body.

It’s a fun activity, to be sure, but what I especially love about it is that it combines so many different aspects of writing, such as brainstorming, plotting, character development, and setting design.

It works like this . . .

I’m at the front of the class with an easel, where I design an adventure with ideas from the students in the audience. But the great part of this situation is that the students are also armed with paper and pencils so that they can design their own individual adventures, putting in their own unique ideas.

We start by drawing a stick-figure version of a main character in the bottom lefthand corner. Then, in the top righthand corner (so as far away as possible from the character), we draw an object that was stolen from that character. Then, it’s just a matter of getting the character to the object—but not without making said character deal with a whole slew of obstacles first!

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I led two different sessions of this map making activity at Diefenbaker Elementary. During these two sessions, we certainly came up with some intriguing problems—and solutions. Not only did we have the ever-popular exploding volcanoes, deadly deserts, and spooky forests, but also giant sand worms, a trick trap door, and a school of chicken piranhas (don’t ask).

By the end of each sessions, the students ended up with basic plots that they could then transform into words or, as I like to call them, instant stories!

Below is a smattering of the maps that the students created. I know many of them are going to take their raw brainstorming and redraft them into more polished maps, but I love the energy of their initial output!

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