Tuesday 11 June 2013

Charis Cotter and the Ghosts of Baccalieu

Students at Tricon Elementary in Bay de Verde can brag that they live in one of the most haunted places in Newfoundland. While some some might be frightened of dead fishermen seeking revenge, shipwrecked sailors, or mysterious figures appearing on the highway at midnight, for the kids at Tricon, they are old friends.

This is because every student from Kindergarten to Grade 6 at the school have contributed either drawings or ghost stories to a new book called The Ghosts of Baccalieu. The book is part of an ArtsSmarts project led by local children’s author Charis Cotter, which pays tribute to the rich tradition of ghost stories in the province.

Cotter is an award-winning children’s writer, editor and storyteller based in Western Bay. She has a very particular interest in ghosts and makes an annual “Ghost Tour” of Newfoundland schools every fall with her book about international spooks, A World Full of Ghosts. In 2010, she was the celebrity judge for the St. John’s Ghost Story Writing Contest, sponsored by the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Library.

Cotter conceived the project and worked with the students to produce the book with help from the staff at Tricon Elementary. Work began last fall when students were asked to collect ghost stories from their families and friends. The community responded, sharing traditional ghost stories which had been passed down through the generations.

“One of my favourite stories is Ghost on the Gander by Brianna Barrett,” says Cotter. “It's about a young man who goes away to work in a lumber camp near Gander in the 1940s to help support his family. His father is dead and his mother has other children at home. One night he saw his mother standing at the foot of his bunk, just looking at him. The next day he got a telegram that she was sick. By the time he got home she was dead.”

“I like it because it reflects so much about what was hard back then about growing up in Newfoundland,” says Cotter, “and it's also really spooky the way she just appeared to him.”

Students were able to experience the entire process of bookmaking, from storytelling, to writing, editing, proofreading, design and publishing.

“I felt it was important for the students to experience everything that goes into making a real book—the fun, the creativity, the hard work—in order to better understand its value,” says Cotter. “I hope that this process will encourage a love of books and reading, by making it all very personal.”

The book will be presented to the community on Thursday, June 13. Appropriately, a special guest “ghost” will make an appearance from beyond the grave to greet visitors. Student artwork will be on display and selected authors will read excerpts from some of the scariest stories.

“Another favourite is The Longboat by Zander Doyle, about fishermen who heard men rowing a ghostly longboat in the fog in Baccalieu Tickle,” describes Cotter. “They heard them clearly, talking and calling and rowing, but no boat was there.This phenomenon reoccurs often before a big storm. I like it because there is something very creepy about ghosts forever rowing a boat, trying to get to shore and never getting there. And what could be more ghostly than a ghost boat in the fog?”

As a writer, Cotter likes ghost stories because they have an immediate appeal to kids.

“Ghost stories are fun to listen to and fun to write,” she states. “Ghosts blur the boundaries between what is seen and unseen, and children are accustomed to crossing back and forth between those two worlds.”

Copies of the book are available for sale at www.theghostsofbaccalieu.com.

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