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2004: a nibble

Researching my characters' worlds

I’m nearly 2/3 through writing a new novella in my Quandaries series, which takes place in 2004. I wanted to find out what was going on in the world that year, and which events might be relevant to my story. Some events were huge; and since I remember them so clearly, they seem more recent than . . . 15 years ago already??

Unforgettable, incomprehensible

For example: the Madrid train bombings which took the lives of 193 people and injured more than 2,000 others; the Beslan School Siege in which 1,100 were held hostage over three days and 334 people - many of them children - were killed. And the incomprehensible Boxing Day Tsunami that took the lives of an estimated 230,000 people, displaced nearly 2,000,000 more, and affected Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, the Andoman and Nicobar Islands, the Maldives, the Seychelles, Yemen, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, and South Africa. I'm re-reading this news and thinking of all the people I know who live in those places, and those who worked in the emergency response in the months and years following . . . And here in Buenos Aires, where I’m currently residing, a year-end party at a nightclub ended in a horrific blaze and 194 people dead.

Foolish and fabulous

In much lighter news - though it was still big news - The Scream was stolen at gunpoint from the Munch Museum in Oslo. It was recovered two years later, and it might have been because the heist was conducted during museum hours and a bystander snapped photos of the thieves during their getaway . . ? Foolish Thievery Award, perhaps?

The Olympic Games came full historical circle that year, to be held in Athens.

My story's protagonist is an enormous hockey fan, so he’s very interested in the numerous hockey records that were set that year, including Tom Fitzgerald and Gary Roberts of the Toronto Maple Leafs becoming the first players in NHL history to play their 1,000 NHL game at the same time—and alas, for my Calgary protagonist, with a win over the Calgary Flames.

The stories that thrilled us

I also wanted to know about books and movies for children and teens that were released or popular that year, since this would make up part of the day-to-day world of my young protagonist. I remember watching and reading these with my daughter, who was 8 that year; but I hadn’t remembered there were so many great ones all in that one year! In movies, just a small sampling: The Incredibles, Shrek 2, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Finding Neverland, and Ella Enchanted. In books, an even smaller sampling: the wonderful art mystery, Chasing Vermeer was just out. The Lemony Snicket books were in full swing, like the Molly Moon books, as well as the Artemus Fowl series. The second book in Jonathan Stroud’s gripping fantasy Bartimaeus Sequence was released. And, of course, there was Harry Potter. On TV, millions were lost in Lost and Battlestar Galactica had begun!

An optimism

Construction of what is now the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, began in 2004 (it was completed, at dizzying speed, by 2009). And Taipei 101, with its magnificent earthquake-proofing technology, opened that year.

There was space news that year—quite a lot of it—and on our own planet, the first images of a live giant squid in its natural habitat were captured off the coast of Japan and new species were being discovered—not just insects and multi-cell organisms, but even large mammals, like the Blue-eyed Spotted Cuscus. The world was still surprising us bountifully.

Kenyan Wangarī Maathai, was honoured with the Nobel prize for her environmental work and for contributions to democracy and peace. Facebook was created. Reading the news of 2004, one is struck by the creativity, the industriousness, the hopefulness, despite the terrible cost of ongoing terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Orange Revolution was on in Ukraine. The financial crisis of 2008 had not yet hit. George W. Bush was re-elected in the United States, and Paul Martin was Prime Minister of Canada. Fake news, in the way we know it now, hadn’t yet been invented.

Meanwhile, back in my tiny town . . .

And where was I? I was eight years into self-employment and independent consulting and four years into cooperative single parenting. Working at home gave me a lot of flexibility raising my daughter; but I also travelled a lot. That year, I had work in Atlanta, Washington D.C., Beirut, Bangkok, and Nairobi. My daughter travelled with me for a job that took me to Uganda. And a very rare thing for me—I had an actual holiday away with a friend (in Greece).

I spent innumerable hours reading to my daughter, joined by our beloved Sheltie, Bella, who was still with us then. We laughed innumerable belly laughs at Big Fat Liar, Lilo and Stitch, the Pure Dead Magic series, and whimsical books like Philip Pullman’s I Was a Rat. My daughter spent countless hours writing and illustrating her own stories, with spellings that only a doting mother could decipher.

And I like to think that those times led fairly directly to these:


That was a year! That was an amazing year.

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