Focus on Author Amanda West Lewis - theHumm August 2023

Focus on Author Amanda West Lewis - theHumm August 2023

By John Pigeau

Focus. Click. Wind. opens with a tense, tumultuous, claustrophobic scene: a student protest of the Vietnam War at Columbia University. It’s 1968, and we see the action through the eyes — and camera lens — of seventeen-year-old Billie Taylor, an aspiring photojournalist who is there with her college boyfriend because she needs to be a part of it.

As the police, armed with pounding boots, heavy clubs and “snarling eyes,” close in on the roomful of peaceful protestors, Billie knows her “camera is her weapon, not her fists.” Armed with her Rolleiflex camera, she’s intent on capturing images of “the enemy” — in this case, the “blue fury” of uniforms and badges marching up the staircase.

The doors burst open, violence erupts, and Billie is able to capture a few images of the chaos before she’s pulled under a table to safety — but just like that, bruised and breathless and shaken, she finds herself drawn into the perilous war at home. From that moment on, she becomes obsessed with making a difference through activism. Through documenting truth.

The opening scene in Amanda West Lewis’s latest YA novel Focus. Click. Wind. is intense and exhilarating, but is the book a thriller? Well, in part, yes. It’s deftly crafted, and the prose is propulsive and quick-paced. After Billie meets some potentially dangerous activists in Toronto, it’s clear that their activities come at great risk. Every secret meeting she attends pulses with tension. Every task she agrees to take on comes with uncertainty and risk. She keeps hearing about or uncovering alarming new atrocities by the day. And it’s all hush-hush and fear-inducing, because someone is always watching.

But Billie is passionate and simmering with youthful rage. She’s feisty and stubborn, but is she willing to risk her life to stop an unjust war? At seventeen, she’s understandably confused and conflicted about a great many things: the war in Vietnam and the killing of Vietnamese people, but also the war on people back home — the poor, the Blacks, and every draft-age person in the US. Billie is clever and compassionate, but still young and at times naïve. She’s figuring things out in a time of great turmoil, which genuinely makes West Lewis’s novel part coming-of-age story as well.

Focus. Click. Wind. is captivating, shrewd and sophisticated — a difficult story masterfully told.

Stylistically, the novel is so well-written it makes for a brisk, easy read. However, the book wasn’t easy for West Lewis to write, she says, because she had to do a fair amount of soul searching.

“I had to go back into my own teenage passion and fall in love with my confused and conflicted self,” she explains.

“While the book is not autobiographical in any sense of the word,” she says, “there are many elements from my own history that I have incorporated into the story.”

For instance, like Billie, West Lewis grew up in New York City. And later “I became a teenager in a house on Lowther Avenue in Toronto, where my mother took in drafters,” as Billie’s mother does in the book. But “I certainly wasn’t involved with any violent revolutionary groups,” West Lewis hastens to add. In the novel, Billie develops relationships with some dangerous activists.

There are other similarities, too. More philosophical, perhaps.

“I think that the political, social and economic times that you grow up in shape your outlook,” West Lewis reflects. “I grew up during the vibrant turmoil of the late sixties and early seventies, so of course it had a profound effect on who I have become.”

“Over the last few years,” she adds, “I have seen a similar period of foment and questioning. Young people are struggling to make sense of horrific wars, climate catastrophe and social and sexual upheaval. The parallels to me are quite stunning. Because of this, I feel a solidarity with today’s young adults.”

In her opinion, those young adults are very smart. “I believe wholeheartedly in the moral compass of young people,” she says.

The novel is, therefore, never condescending — especially in its clear-eyed depiction of many of the appalling realities of the time: the killing of countless innocent Vietnamese people, the inhumane use of Agent Orange, police brutality, non-stop government lies, American soldiers returning home in body bags, without limbs, or severely traumatized — and so on.

“Do I think YA readers are up to this reality? Yes, definitely and more,” West Lewis says. “I think the worst thing we can do is to try and sugarcoat the truth. We owe it to them to be open and as honest as possible.”

When Billie starts spending more time with underground political protesters at Rochdale College, one of those people, Martin, says to her: “Photographs change people’s minds. They show the truth. They make a difference.” And this rings true to Billie. She’s confronted by a line from Hamlet: “When our actions do not, our fears do make us traitors.” Then she feels compelled to make a difference. And eventually, she does.

“I think the ‘need to make a difference’ is what can carry us through hard times,” says West Lewis. “It can give us purpose. It can help us to survive the chaos around us. I would love young readers to know that making a difference, whatever that means to them, isn’t just about picking a cause. It’s about what is in your heart, as a human in society. It’s about examining your heart and finding what is unique to you. It’s about the artist within. I would love anyone who reads the book to discover that person or rekindle that passion.”

I asked Amanda West Lewis what she would like readers to take away from Billie’s feelings of growing anger and impatience about the carnage of war.

“I’d like a young person who reads this book to feel that their feelings are validated,” she said. “I’d like readers, young and old, to think about their responses to the world around them. If we can change our thoughts, we can change the world. And, as we all know, it desperately needs changing right now.”

West Lewis is “pretty passionate” about Focus. Click. Wind., and thrilled to be doing a book tour where she will be going to bookstores and doing readings. On Thursday, August 10 at 7pm, her tour stops at The Book Nook in Perth.

“I’d love to have people, young and old, come and join in the discussion,” she says. “I’m hoping we’ll have Question and Answer sessions with people who lived through the sixties, and people who are trying to live through the twenty-twenties. I can’t think of anything more exciting.”

Focus. Click. Wind. is available at an independent bookstore near you, and wherever fine books are sold.


Kristi Bird — Taking Flight - theHumm August 2023

By Sally Hansen

Art… and Soul

For Kristi Bird, her art is both a refuge and her salvation. Her alluring acrylic paintings of wildlife and nature are a feast for the eyes and balm for the soul. In a world that is struggling to cope with more and more overwhelming challenges, the solace of the natural world grows ever more compelling. Bird’s loving celebrations of nature and the wild creatures with whom we share this fragile planet are profoundly therapeutic, both for the artist and the vi......


Tarts and Arts in Arnprior - theHumm August 2023

By Terry and Joyce Dawson

What’s all the fuss about butter tarts? At its most simple form, the butter tart is just butter, sugar and eggs. The magic happens when these three ingredients are combined and baked in a pastry shell until golden. The filling may be a bit runny, or cooked longer to become more solid. The first known printed recipe was found in the early 1900’s Royal Victoria Cookbook that was produced and printed for sale as a fundraiser by the Women’s Auxiliary for the Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie, Ontar......


Focus on Author Amanda West Lewis - theHumm August 2023

By John Pigeau

Focus. Click. Wind. opens with a tense, tumultuous, claustrophobic scene: a student protest of the Vietnam War at Columbia University. It’s 1968, and we see the action through the eyes — and camera lens — of seventeen-year-old Billie Taylor, an aspiring photojournalist who is there with her college boyfriend because she needs to be a part of it.

As the police, armed with pounding boots, heavy clubs and “snarling eyes,” close in on the roomful of peaceful protestors, Billie knows her “came......


Sharing the Wild Life!
MMLT’s Festival of the Wild Child 2023
- theHumm August 2023

By Submitted the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust

Saturday, August 19 is going to be a big day at High Lonesome Nature Reserve near Pakenham. It’s the annual Festival of the Wild Child, hosted by the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust (MMLT). This year’s theme is “Sharing the Wild Life” and we want to share some amazing nature experiences with you and your family.

Join MMLT for a fun day of learning and sharing in this beautiful nature reserve. There are 8 kilometres of trails winding through the property, providing opportunities to see the varied......


Orion Auditions for Jesus Christ Superstar - theHumm August 2023

Perth’s Orion Theatre Company is planning a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar as a cancer fundraiser in February of 2024. Auditions will be held at St. Paul’s United Church on Friday, September 8 (evening) and Saturday, September 9 (daytime). To book a time slot, please contact the producers at .

The artistic team consists of Peter Dixon (director), Heidi Stepanek (vocal director and choreographer), and Gordon Craig (music director). Shows will ......


Happy 50th Birthday, Mill of Kintail! - theHumm August 2023

The Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority is pleased to announce that the Mill of Kintail Conservation Area will be celebrating its 50th anniversary on Sunday, August 20. Located in the heart of Mississippi Mills (2854 Ramsay Concession 8, Almonte), the Mill of Kintail is a historic recreational 154-hectare property situated on the Indian River. It boasts over 6km of trails and houses the R. Tait McKenzie and Dr. James Naismith Museum.

Festivities will officially get underway at 10am......


Highland Games Time! - theHumm August 2023

The organizers of the North Lanark Highland Games invite everyone to join them in celebrating the Scottish culture and heritage of the Ottawa Valley at the 38th annual Highland Games, taking place on August 26 right in the heart of Almonte.

There is much to see and do! You can cheer on champion heavyweight athletes while they try their best in the Caber Toss, Sheaf Toss and Stone Throw, listen to some talented pipers and drummers, and watch the twirling feet of some graceful Highland dancers. If ......


Why I Need the Newspaper - theHumm August 2023

By Glenda Jones

There are some daily routines that are cherished, and in our house it’s the newspaper. Since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, the newspaper has landed in our house daily: The Trail Daily Times, The Kimberley Bulletin, The Victoria Times Colonist, The Globe and Mail, The Halifax Chronicle, The Ottawa Journal, the Citizen and The Almonte Gazette have all had their era.

My father read us “the funny pages” when we were pre-school, all our favourite comic strips fro......


Canada’s Walk of Fame — Hometown Stars - theHumm August 2023

The stage is set for a Bicentennial bash in the birthplace of basketball!

On Saturday, August 12, everyone is invited to welcome Canada’s Walk of Fame to Mississippi Mills for a special Hometown Stars event. This special occasion will celebrate the area’s very own 2019 Canada’s Walk of Fame inductee, Dr. James Naismith, and all the contributions he made to the sporting world as the inventor of basketball. Presented by Scotiabank, in partnership with Cineplex, the Hometown Stars......


PuppetCon: Puppets for All Ages & Stages! - theHumm August 2023

If you’ve ever been in the audience at the Puppets Up! International Puppet Festival and thought to yourself, “that looks like fun,” now’s your chance to get involved!

The first ever PuppetCon is coming to Almonte from August 11–13, thanks to presenting sponsor Levi Home Hardware Building Centre, other local sponsors, volunteers and organizers who have made it a point to ensure there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

“You hear a lot of people talk about ‘all ages......


Our Perth Trees Seeks Volunteers - theHumm August 2023

A small informal group of volunteers is working to increase and protect the tree and shrub population in Perth and the surrounding townships. Our Perth Trees (OPT) evolved out of a concern for the destruction of trees and shrubs caused by the spongy moth (aka the gypsy moth) and the effects of climate change.

“The forecast is for extreme heat in the coming years. And we’re already experiencing frequent above-normal temperatures,” says Kate Donnelly, OPT founder and volunteer. “The ......


Attention Art Lovers
Paint the Summer Returns to Westport!
- theHumm August 2023

By Submitted the Rideau Lakes Artists’ Association

What could be more inviting than charming Westport in the summer? This waterfront destination that promises great shopping and delicious food is also a mecca for artists and creators of all stripes. August is a month to relish the sweetest summer weather, put down the gardening tools and head out to seek some beauty and culture. If that sounds like a good idea, have we got a show for you!

After last year’s wonderfully successful event at Westport’s WTC Communications Centre, Rideau Lake......


“Trail Town” — CashingIn on Cycle Tourism - theHumm August 2023

By Jeff Mills

This summer, there have been more and more cyclists in the Valley enjoying an ice cream, coffee or sticky bun, gathered to have a bite or snapping photos of our wonderful small towns and villages. Cyclists are having fun — and spending money — in the Ottawa Valley. 

Strong, resilient communities are ones where diverse groups come together, then work together for the common good. They approach tasks from an “abundance” perspective — one that assumes we already have what we ne......


The Moth Project - theHumm August 2023

Two brothers — a biologist and a musician — spend the summer of 2020 in quarantine together with their six children at the family cottage near Perth, Ontario. Through the ritual of evening campfires, a thread of an idea emerges that weaves together their combined worlds — art and science, myth and fact, music and moths. Two years and a Canada Council grant later, The Moth Project is bringing their show to a diverse range of venues with the release of an album and accompanying book featuring music, p......


Ganja Guidance for the Cannabis-Curious - theHumm August 2023

By Kris Riendeau

If you’ve ever wandered into one of the ubiquitous “pot shops” that have popped up all over the Valley, you may have found yourself at a loss, trying to decide between products, strains and delivery methods. CBD or THC? Sativa or Indica? Gummies or salve? Fortunately, there is someone local who can help! Nancy Sendell is a cannabis sommelier whose mission is to educate people about today’s cannabis marketplace. Through her WestPot Cannabis Sommelier Services (located in Westport), she offers a v......


Killaloe Craft Fair
Music, Art and Activities with a Grassroots Vibe
- theHumm August 2023

It’s an Ontario mid-August weekend and what should you do? Gaze up at the Perseids Meteor shower and marvel at the dust of an ancient comet burning up in our atmosphere? Or sit on a natural outdoor amphitheatre as sweet acoustic guitar dances on the summer breeze, lulling you into connection and community? You could always join a bongo-infused high energy joyful, multicultural dance session as you twirl with the original and neo-hippies of the Ottawa Valley. Or maybe ......


The MabinogionThe Power and Delight of Ancient Celtic Stories - theHumm August 2023

By Jennifer Cayley

On Sunday of the Labour Day weekend, five fine storytellers and a splendid harpist, together with a crowd of lucky listeners, will gather in a rustic Ontario barn not far from Maberly for a telling of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. Listening to this jewel of Welsh medieval Celtic literature will be a time of deep quiet and creative imagining as listeners travel through the landscapes of the strange and wondrous world these old tales inhabit.

The Mabinogion is a book of eleven stories collec......


A Seven Gifts Workshop
Landscaping through Indigenous Eyes
- theHumm August 2023

By Submitted Mississippi Mills All My Relations

What is distinctive about the Indigenous relationship to the land? What are the plants that Indigenous people find culturally significant, and why?

On Saturday, August 5, Mississippi Mills All My Relations (MMAMR) is offering a free two-part workshop for you to learn the answers to these questions. This is part of MMAMR’s Bicentennial Seven Gifts project, an educational public art installation in Riverfront Park that celebrates the Seven Grandfather teachings of the Anishinaabe Peoples.



Powered by Youth! - theHumm August 2023

Last spring, the Perth Youth Players announced an inaugural series of workshops to help youth learn skills related to theatre. Young people from Perth and surrounding communities immediately filled the workshops to capacity. Upon completion of the series, the group presented a rollicking showcase of what they had learned, to the delight of a live Studio Theatre audience. The program was such a resounding success that an encore fall series has been announced.

Perth Youth Players is a p......


The Last Oz Story at Station Theatre - theHumm August 2023

By Submitted The Smiths Falls Community Theatre

The script begins with the credit: “For Elise as promised”. Elise is the daughter of playwright David Myers, who, like many others, wished there was more to The Wizard of Oz story after Dorothy returned home to Kansas. So Myers took it on, with assistance from his friend and composer Scott Michal. Their rendition borrows a little more from L. Frank Baums’ novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz than Hollywood’s The Wizard of Oz movie — for example, Dorothy has silver slippers not ruby, though we’r......


Save the Date for Fiberfest! - theHumm August 2023

Come out to the friendly town of Almonte on September 9 and 10 for the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum’s 28th annual Fibrefest! Taking place at two locations — the Almonte Community Centre and the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum — admission to Fibrefest is $8 per day and grants access to both sites. Local guilds will demonstrate spinning, knitting, weaving, rug-hooking, lacemaking, smocking and quilting, while vendors including quilt shops and alpaca farms will be selling finished fibre goods and textile supplies from across the province.

This year, several hands-on workshops and ......


Carleton Place Gallery
Opening August 24: an Art Gallery for the Community
- theHumm August 2023

Four dynamic local artists — Colleen Gray, Ginny Fobert, Gillian Marston and Pamela Stewart — are thrilled to be officially opening their new space on August 24. Their vision for the Carleton Place Gallery is “to cultivate a true local artists’ hub, support and grow local art, and help living local and regional artists in selling their work, while keeping the costs as low as possible to exhibit.” Their hope is that the gallery will evolve to become an essential element of a v......


Blue Heron Wetlands
Important Wetlands Now Protected by MMLT
- theHumm August 2023

The Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust (MMLT) is pleased to announce it has protected a new property in Lanark County — a hidden gem of great ecological significance and home to a diverse range of plant, butterfly, bird, amphibian, reptile and mammal species, including 16 species at risk. Spanning 106 acres, the nature sanctuary adjoins three other MMLT properties that have been under the protection of the land trust since 2014. This addition creates a 900-acre contiguous stretch of natural ......


Climate Network Lanark — Feedback Needed! - theHumm August 2023

By Kris Riendeau

I recently had a ton of fun volunteering at the Climate Network Lanark (CNL) booth at Stewart Park Festival, along with my husband and daughter. We had a terrific view of the stage, rocked out to some fabulous music, and helped festivalgoers divert their waste and leftover food from landfill. We also got to promote the good work of CNL, whose actions on behalf of the environment go far beyond a three-day stint at one event. While chatting with Sue Brandum, one of CNL’s founders and a member of the ......


A Real Toy Story - theHumm August 2023

When Andy Tamas, member of the Arnprior-McNab-Braeside Men’s Shed, learned about the devastating wildfires in Nova Scotia, he checked in on a former member, Denis St. Pierre, who had recently moved from the Arnprior area to Nova Scotia to be closer to family. 

“Denis shared with me that his daughter’s home had burned to the ground in the fires and that he was looking for design plans to build a rocking horse to replace the one his granddaughter lost in the fire,” ex......


Dance, Cello and Flowers - theHumm August 2023

A Conversation Between Dancers, a Cellist and Flowers will take place on August 19 at Gossamer Gardens Flower Farm, located between Perth and Smiths Falls. Enjoy a performance by internationally renowned Canadian cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne and Ottawa Dance Directive.

The solitude and beautiful, bucolic spirit at Gossamer Gardens Flower Farm, with its 19th century Lanark County farmhouse, is a perfect setting for contemporary dancers and a cellist to bring a sense ......


Outerbridges Out and About in the Valley! - theHumm August 2023

Ted and Marion Outerbridge — TikTok sensations and headliners at Hollywood’s Magic Castle — are set to stage their new show, Mysteries of the Keyhole House, at several new venues. The show moves to Studio Theatre Perth from July 28 to August 12, to Carleton Place from August 18–26, and to Gananoque from September 8–16, with performances on Fridays at 7:30pm, and Saturdays at 2pm and 7:30pm.

The Keyhole House is an enchanting sanctuary inhabited by masters of Grand Illusion, Ted and Marion Out......


All About Garlic - theHumm August 2023

By David Hinks

Why do we waste fossil fuels shipping garlic halfway around the globe to our local supermarket when we can grow superior garlic right here?

Garlic is quite easy to grow, but I find it doesn’t routinely fit into the garden plans of local gardeners. I suspect that many gardeners don’t regularly grow garlic as it just doesn’t fit into the “plant the garden by May 24 routine”, or it is not something that their parents or grandparents grew (full disclosure — growing up on a dairy farm in Southwestern On......


Perth Night Market Returns
Come for an Enchanting Evening this Fall
- theHumm August 2023

Perth Tourism is delighted to bring back the popular Perth Night Market, taking place on Saturday, September 16.

Beginning at 5pm, this free event features over 80 artisans, crafters, makers and more from Lanark County, the Ottawa Valley and beyond, showcasing the incredible talent found close to home. A variety of entertainment will also be featured, from musicians to magicians and more.

Most shops throughout Perth will be open late for the event, giving atten......


Post Up at MVTM - theHumm August 2023

Mallory Tolcher’s Post Up will be displayed at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum (MVTM) from August 12 to October 7. Tolcher is a Canada-based interdisciplinary artist and athlete who challenges societal norms, redefining femininity within the typically male-dominated realm of sport. Post Up is a series of textiles installed on metal rims and wooden backboards, reimagining the conventional basketball net through the intricate, domestic and traditionally feminine medium of crocheted lace.



John Dorsch Scales New Heights - theHumm August 2023

Ottawa Valley singer-songwriter and guitarist John Dorsch recently released his 15-song collection with MTS Records. Faith In Me is the lead single and YouTube video from the album.

ELEVATiON showcases Dorsch’s unique folk rock/Canadiana style and is full of vibrant melodies that bring the listener on a journey of music. He draws on influences from Rush, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, John Mayer, Tommy Emmanuel, Jerry Reed and Merle Travis to create his own blend of traditional and moder......


Family Fun at the Pakenham Horse Show
- theHumm August 2023

Do you ride, drive, show or love to watch horses? If so, the Pakenham Horse Show is for you! This exciting equestrian event is now entering its 158th year and is supported by many local sponsors ......