Barbara Nickel

The Missing Vivian Marple


He understood so much now…why Time in the garden had sometimes jumped far ahead, and sometimes gone backwards.

The quote is in the mind of Tom Long from Philippa Pearce’s novel Tom’s Midnight Garden. To read this book, even for the umpteenth time, even in snatches, is to escape Time but also to delight in its unraveling. There’s a scene when Tom, gone back to 1895 from the mid-twentieth century by means of a garden, finds himself without skates. His friend Hatty promises, in 1895, to hide her skates, when she grows too old for them or leaves the house, in a secret space under the floorboards of her room (Tom’s room in the present). Back in his present, Tom finds her skates and enters the 1895 garden with them in hand. There’s a brilliant moment when Hatty and Tom, children of different centuries, both hold the same pair of skates; they’ve tricked Time. “Time No Longer” says Tom near the book’s close.

Four months ago (four!) Time seemed to steal the whole morning as I searched in vain for Vivian Marple’s book of poetry, I Mention the Garden for Clarity. I wanted a garden quote to end the last post and nothing else would do. Where had Vivian gone? Her only book, published about twenty years ago by Quarry Press (long gone), not readily available and my only copy (signed I think) was mysteriously missing.

Now, months later, another copy (stamped by the National Library of Canada) finally in my hands, I’m searching again, this time for a quote that I might have used if I’d ended the last post in Vivian’s garden instead of Tom’s. Perhaps this, from “The Lamb”:

Imagine a woman in a blue dress
with a scar in the palm of her hand
who sings canticles on Wednesday
mornings as the magpies lift the
brown sky above the careful houses
of the suburb where you live

Why does the woman have a scar in her palm? Why canticles? Why Wednesday mornings and magpies and why are the houses careful?

I love canticles, just as, several pages later, I rejoice to come upon the word chalice in “statements about Margaretha and the cosmos”. The opening:

She is Margaretha, marigold, marry gold woman on the front porch. On the step is the mustard seed and the cook book. It is 1966.

I ask, “Why marry gold woman?” even as I savour the mustard seed and the cook book on the step. I ask “Why 1966?” Still after all these years new questions arise from her strange and fierce and original poems, reminding me of another poet. Who was it that wrote–

Of Silken Speech and Specious Shoe
A Traitor is the Bee…?

The capitals should give her
away but I’ll leave it here
anyway as twenty minutes
elapsed a long, long time ago.





Dear Peter, Dear Ulla has been selected as a finalist for the 2023/2024 Chocolate Lily Book Award. 

Barbara’s poem “Three-in-One,” originally published in Grain Magazine, has recently appeared in Best Canadian Poetry 2024  (Biblioasis) edited by Bardia Sinaee.

Check out Barbara’s 45-minute teaching video on Creating Believable Characters for the BC and Yukon Book Prizes’ In Class video library.

Dear Peter, Dear Ulla was a finalist for the 2022 Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People.

Dear Peter, Dear Ulla has been nominated for the 2023 Rocky Mountain Book Award (Alberta Young Readers Choice Award).

The Manitoba Young Readers Choice Awards (MYRCA) has nominated Dear Peter, Dear Ulla as a 2023 Northern Lights (Grades 7-9) finalist!

Essential Tremor reviewed in The Vancouver Sun. Read full review here.

Dear Peter, Dear Ulla is reviewed and “Highly Recommended” in CM (Canadian Review of Materials)! Read the full review here.

View All News

Author Visits

Interested in booking Barbara to visit your school or library? Choose from a wide range of presentations, from poetry workshops to readings of historical fiction.

Learn More