Coming March 2020

The Copy Cat

The Frame-Up Characters and Locales: Mona Dunn


I always knew who the heroine of my book would be.

I’d seen her many times over the years, and always felt drawn to the mysterious golden girl of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.


The real-life Mona Dunn was once described as the most beautiful girl in England, and when you look at the face above, one can hardly doubt the veracity of the statement.

But artist Orpen has painted her looking pensive; there is no sense of the devil-may-care girl who was a master equestrienne.

Though I read about Mona while preparing to write the book, the characters is almost entirely made up; I leave it to her family to tell her real story.

But there was never any doubt that this would be the girl who wold change the gallery forever, and who would attract the attention of Sargent Singer.


Mona scooted forward and began to pull on her stockings and shoes. “You startled me,” she corrected. She stopped tying a shoe to look up at Sargent. “Please . . . promise me you won’t tell a soul you saw me here. I will be in such trouble!”


In the book, it is Mona’s curiosity, and desire to interact with the world in front of the frames, that propels the story forward and forever changes the lives of the residents of the gallery.

What struck me as I wrote about Mona was how tedious it would be to be thirteen years old for the rest of your life.

As far as Mona can tell, nothing is ever going to change. And the arrival of Sargent, with his intensity and friendship, makes her question how she can possible do that for centuries more.


“Nothing’s wrong, it’s just . . .” Her voice trailed off. Panicked, heart sinking, Sargent stayed silent, afraid to upset her more. Finally she stopped sobbing and wiped her eyes. “It’s just I forgot how much I missed this world. In the gallery, I can go inside paintings and feel the sun on my face, walk in the grass, swim in the ocean, but somehow, it never feels quite like this.”


In the end, Mona becomes the symbol for a newly re-energized Beaverbrook Art Gallery campaign. I can only hope the same occurs for the real-life portrait of Mona Dunn. She is much more mysterious and enchanting than the Mona Lisa, and deserves nothing less than her due.



On the cover, Mona is looking away. But she will be discovered soon enough.


Okay Canada – this one is for you!

Since Canadian residents weren’t able to enter the latest Goodreads Draw, I wanted you all to have a chance to win a book from me!

Leave me a message before May 31st and you’ll be automatically entered to win my last The Frame-Up ARC!

The Frame-Up - Bookcover



The Frame-Up Characters and Locales: Patsy Ryder


Much as I love Mona Dunn, I love Patsy Ryder even more.


Painted in the late 1940s by New Brunswick artist Jack Humphrey, Patsy is a visitor to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery who finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time.


“Bonjour, Patsy,” said Juliette. “My name is Juliette. Do you know how you have come to be in this room? I do not believe we have met before.”

Patsy’s voice sounded far away, as if the paper covering her was a heavy dampening curtain. “I just arrived. I don’t think I’m supposed to be here. I was dropped off to be appraised by Director Singer.”


It is the fact that Patsy is a visitor that makes her so valuable to the story, as well as her bravery when called to action.

The decision as to whether to use an imaginary or real painting as the the visitor character was never in question: Patsy Ryder is a portrait of my mother.

This is one of a few easter eggs I’ve put in the book, and the most meaningful to me. Even better, on the day of my book launch at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery on May 27th, my mother, who passed away in 2001, will be there, hung on the wall for everyone to see.

I couldn’t be more proud.


My mother, at the age she was painted, with her childhood friend, Donald Sutherland. Yes, THAT Donald Sutherland.


So when you read the book and reach the part about Patsy, remember: the real one grew up to be someone very special!


Love you Mum!



I’m Presenting at The Writer’s Federation of New Brunswick’s WordSpring Festival this Weekend


I’m doing the morning’s keynote address at WFNB’s WordSpring Festival this weekend, and I am so excited!



I’ll be talking about being a late bloomer in the publishing world, then doing a workshop on writing compelling children’s literature. The festival takes place in Quispamsis from May 11th to 13th.

So excited and pleased to be invited!

The Frame-Up Characters and Locales: The Cotterell Family


I’m not going to lie: I LOVE The Cotterell Family



One of the things that struck me as I was “casting” The Frame-Up was that most of the portraits contained only one person.

But a family forced to live together for three-hundred-and-ten years? Now that was interesting.

And a family forced to live with four rambunctious children, including a baby? It makes me shiver to think about!

Meet the Cotterells: Sir Charles, Lady Cotterell, Baby Frances, Lizzie, Clem and Charles.



The Cotterells are important to the story: Clem is Mona Dunn’s best friend, partner-in-crime, and desperate to be like every kid who visits the art gallery rather than being stuck wearing foppish seventeenth century clothing; and Sir Charles, the bellyaching patriarch frustrated to find his portrait in a provincial backwater (he’d expected to live in the Louvre) who discovers a passion for movies.


Clement Cotterell intercepted Mona on her way to meet Max. “Come and find me tonight. Unless you’re grounded,” he added saucily. “I want to share some sick beats I’m working on.”


The idea of a young book from the seventeenth centre wanting to be like all the kids who visit made Clem real to me. Imagine watching other kids with their smart phones, and walkmans before that. How difficult it would be to see how childhood is changing, and yet deep down, Clem is not really any different from Mona or even Sargent and the other kids.

And Sir Charles? He is the curmudgeon who becomes a pussycat.

“I have not witnessed anything as wondrous in three hundred years,” Sir Charles said, bowing deeply. “Truly, I thought the only magic in this world was paintings coming to life. But moving pictures are spectacular. Please, tell Mr. Ben Stiller that I hold him in the highest esteem.”

Sargent laughed. “I don’t actually know Ben Stiller.”


What I love best about the Cotterells is how great a family they are, despite sometimes getting on each other’s nerves. And they adore Mona, and worry about her getting hurt because of her friendship with Sargent.


Can you spy Clem on the cover?




I can’t wait for you to meet The Cotterells!

The Frame-Up Characters and Locales: Lieutenant Colonel Edmund Nugent


How dashing is this painting?


Lieutenant Colonel Edmund Nugent, Thomas Gainsborough, 1764, Oil on canvas


In the story, Mona needed a friend who was dashing, chivalrous, and larger than life. The romantic ideal in a scarlet officer’s coat. Enter Edmund.

In real life, the painting is nearly eight feet high. It dwarfs the viewer. The subject is sure of himself, elegant, and yet masculine all at once.

I love the idea that the residents are able to expand or contract depending upon the painting they are in. It is fun to think of Edmund being engaged to the tiny Madame Juliette, and yet when they are in the same painting, they are a perfect fit.


He takes up a whole wall!


Edmund is adventurous, but he is also the voice of reason for Mona.


“Do buck up,” Edmund said, patting Mona on the head. “He struck me as an affable chap. Even if he does suspect you are alive, I’m sure he will not break your confidence. That would be most ungentlemanly.” Nothing outraged Edmund more than a loose tongue.


Given his engagement to Madame Juliette, Edmund is also Mona’s romantic ideal.


Edmund, in his red military frock coat with the golden piping and brass buttons, was the epitome of dashing, thanks to his chivalrous eighteenth-century manners and his elegant oak walking stick.


But soon, not even Edmund can reason with Mona, whose desire to live a larger life and be friends with Sargent Singer threatens the gallery residents’ way of life.


I love how artist Ian Shoenhorr dips the Edmund on the cover in red:



The Frame-Up Gets Some Wonderful Reviews!


I’m happy to report that The Frame-up is getting some great reviews!



Booklist gave the book a starred review:



School Library Journal is also very positive:


Gr 3-6–Inspired by the author’s lifelong love of art and the moving portraits in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, this inventive fantasy gives a second life to its painted subjects. For the past 100 years, Mona Dunn has watched the world go by. Like the rest of the pieces at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, she is alive but only allowed to interact with the other painted inhabitants of the gallery. Communicating with the real world is strictly forbidden. These rules keep the gallery’s secret safe but make life lonely and boring for the eternally 13-year-old Mona. So boring, that one afternoon she is caught recklessly moving in front of the gallery director’s son, Sargent. Sargent’s own loneliness prompts him to develop a friendship with Mona. Their mutual insecurity with peers is relatable despite the magical circumstances. Readers will delight in the canvas world that exists on the other side of the frame. Mona’s gallery neighbors are equal parts quirky and endearing, while a sinister threat propels the plot forward. The book includes a full-color insert of the masterpieces referenced, which could be a great starting point for readers to imagine stories and worlds of their own. VERDICT Not just for art enthusiasts, this middle grade read paints fantasy, humor, and mystery into a satisfying tale about the power of friendship.–Sophie Kenney, Vernon Area Public Library District, IL



Even Kirkus had some nice things to say:


“A girl in a painting and a boy visiting the gallery she hangs in foil art thieves. …MacKnight entices with art critique and technique. …For anyone who’s wondered about the people inside the frames.”


Keep The Frame-Up love going! If you read the book and love it, please leave a review on,, and Barnes and Noble and Goodreads. Those reviews really help!

And if you haven’t yet pre-ordered, click here and learn about the great contest I’m running!



The Frame-Up Characters and Locales: Hotel Bedroom


It is a haunting portrait.


Lucian Freud’s Hotel Bedroom, painted in 1954, is one of the most popular and valuable paintings at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, and it is also one of the most perplexing.


Lucian Freud, Hotel Bedroom, 1954, Oil on canvas


If you wanted to cast a villain for your story, really could there be anything better than this smoky-hued man, hovering in the background, staring down at the vacant-eyed woman in the bed?

In The Frame-Up, he is appropriately named Mr. Dusk, Lord Beaverbrook’s right-hand man, who spends his evenings spying on the other residents on behalf of the boss.


But Freud had painted Dusk as a grey, shadowy figure, and because of that, most of the residents of the gallery gave him a wide berth.


In the story, Mr. Dusk is a thorn in Mona’s side, who may or may not be out to get her.


She was back in the blank canvas when she spotted Dusk in a landscape a few paintings away. Did Max know he was breaking the rules? As if he sensed her presence, Dusk turned and looked in her direction. Then he disappeared, and she heard his footsteps coming towards her.


Dusk plays a pivotal role in the book, and is responsible for quite a few twists and turns in the story. And just like in the book, his placement on the cover makes him look mysterious and creepy.




I can’t wait for you to meet him!



I’m Presenting at the NCTE Annual Convention!


I, along with Teacher and MG Book Ambassador Extraordinaire Corrina Allen, have been accepted as presenters at this fall’s annual NCTE Convention!



Our topic:

Culturally Responsive Classrooms and the Arts: Poetry Visual Arts, and Storytelling
Scheduled for: Friday, November 16, 2018 12:30-1:45 p.m.


What is NCTE?

NCTE stand for National Council of Teachers of English.

Through collaboration and community, shared stories and shared experiences, NCTE supports teachers and their students in classrooms, on college campuses, and in online learning environments.

For more than 100 years, NCTE has worked with its members to offer journals, publications, and resources; to further the voice and expertise of educators as advocates for their students at the local and federal levels; and to share lesson ideas, research, and teaching strategies through its Annual Convention and other professional learning events.


Mission Statement

The National Council of Teachers of English is devoted to improving the teaching and learning of English and the language arts at all levels of education. This mission statement was adopted in 1990:

“The Council promotes the development of literacy, the use of language to construct personal and public worlds and to achieve full participation in society, through the learning and teaching of English and the related arts and sciences of language.”


I can’t wait!!! See you in Houston!

The Frame-Up Characters and Locales: The Party-Goers


And a good time was had by all…


Philippe Mercier (French, 1689-1760)
Bacchanalian piece: Sir Thomas Samwell and Friends, c. 1733
oil on canvas


Imagine you were at a three-hundred-year-long party.


If you can do that (I can’t!), you can imagine the conviviality that exudes from this painting.

These gentlemen always remind me of the folks you see on a pontoon boat in the summer. They are here for a good time, not a long time. But alas, these fellows have been hanging out together for a LONG time…

Since imagining the world behind the frame these past years, I’ve been obsessed with what the lives of the residents are really like.

Is Sir Thomas Samwell regretting posing with his friends? Does he ever wish they’d go home? Do they simply slide under the table at some point in the evening, or does the “magical” elixir have no impact after all these years?

What I do know is that these gentlemen are lovely.

On the far left is Sir Thomas Samwell, then John Neal, Captain John Floyd, William Wilmer, William Piers, and Caesar, who started out as Sir Thomas’ servant, but after about six months in the painting, became everyone’s friend and now sits at the table. Last but not least, is General Louis deJean, who everyone calls the guitar general.

Mona likes everyone in this painting, but cannot keep the two Williams straight! Still, she trusts them with her philosophical questions:

Some with to interact with those outside the frame,” Caesar said, taking a melancholy sip of wine.  “We come into our paintings with our original souls and memories, but sometimes it does not seem enough. I miss the real world at times. Alas, it is impossible to return.”

“Do you not think Max is able to do it?” Mona asked. She’d often wondered how he knew everything that was going on at the Beaverbrook.

Caesar shook his head. “Max is larger than life, but he is not larger than his painting. No one can leave his painting.”


One thing you may have noticed amongst the older paintings are that almost none of them contain people of colour.

That’s because only rich people could afford to have their portraits painted.

It’s important to realize that up until a certain point in history, art galleries represented a white perspective on the world. That is changing now, which makes art galleries like the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, more interesting places to live for their residents.


Pre-Order The Frame-Up!


It’s Time to Pre-Order The Frame-Up!


Two months from today The Frame-Up hits bookstores!

But I’d love it if you pre-ordered it now! Why pre-order?

Pre-order sales really help sell books. When bookstores – either locally or online — receive pre-orders, it encourages them to buy more stock, reacting to the buzz. Online, it ranks the book higher, which also creates more buzz.
How can you help?
Ask your local indie bookstore to bring in a copy for you. (In Fredericton, that’s Westminster Books). Not sure who your local indie is? Order here:
If you want an autographed copy, Westminster Books here in Fredericton will gladly ship anywhere in North America. You can call them at 1-800-561-7323.
Or, order online:
Barnes and Noble:

But there’s more!

Once you’ve pre-ordered, email me at to let me know. No receipt necessary.  Every pre-order will receive a personal note from me and 3 signed bookmarks. Plus, everyone who pre-orders will have their name automatically entered into a draw for the following:

 A T-shirt featuring the paintings of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, A Merrymaking Christmas ornament, a poster featuring most of the paintings featured in The Frame-Up, a Madame Juliette magnetic bookmark, a magnet of Edmund, and a Vincent van Gogh finger puppet! The winner will be drawn at end of day June 4th, 2018.

Thanks for pre-ordering!


The Frame-Up Characters and Locales: Madame Juliette & A GIVEAWAY!!!


Spring has sprung and it only seems appropriate to talk about the most spring-like painting in the book, Madame Juliette dans le Jardin.


Eugene Boudin (French, 1824-1898) Madame Juliette dans le jardin, 1895 oil on panel


Madame Juliette is one of the most important characters in The Frame-Up.

She is Mona’s confidante.

Like Mona, her painting is also about to be restored.

She is also Mona’s ideal of the perfect romantic heroine, since Madame Juliette is engaged to be married to the dashing Lieutenant Colonel Edmund Nugant. (more on him later!)

Mona is to be a bridesmaid at their upcoming wedding. If only she’d thought to dress up more on the day she was painted!

(one of the rules of the world behind the frame is that you only have with you what the artist thought about while painting you, which for Mona is a blanket, a stool, and the same dress for over a hundred years.)

As befits the time in which she lived — the late 1800s — Madame Juliette is genteel, which is the exact opposite of Mona, who tears around the gallery as if it is her own private playground.

Still, Juliette is sympathetic to Mona; she remembers what is was like to be so young, and she understands Mona’s frustration at doing the same thing day in, day out.


“How curious,” Juliette said. “I believe he was watch- ing us.”

“I’m certain he was,” said Edmund. “Should I go after him?”

Mona stared at the now-deserted hilltop. “It would be a waste of time, Edmund; he’s long gone. I suppose Max has him spying on me, making sure I don’t step out of line again.”

“Max is only trying to protect you,” Juliette said. When she saw the face Mona pulled, she laughed. “Come, let us forget Monsieur Dusk. Perhaps a gelato would take your mind off Max.”


Later in the story, Mona and Juliette face their greatest challenge together. Will they survive?

Can you find Madame Juliette on the cover?





Since next week is Easter Weekend, there won’t be a post next Friday, so how about a giveaway!

What’s at stake:

  1. An Advanced Reader Copy of The Frame-Up!
  2. A set of postcards of the paintings at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery

How to enter to win:

  • Leave a comment here on the blog
  • Follow me on Twitter or Instagram

The winner will be chosen April 4th. Good luck!!!!


Don’t worry if you don’t win – I’m cooking up a fantastic contest of goodies that everyone who pre-orders The Frame-up will be eligible for! More details on that to come in early April!


Happy Spring!



The Frame-Up Characters and Locales: Andre Reidmor and Lady Macbeth


The famous acting coach Constantin Stanislavski once said “There are no small parts, only small actors.”


I think of that when I think of the characters of Andre Reidmor and Lady Macbeth.

Neither have huge roles, but both interact with Mona Dunn at crucial points in the story and we are left to wonder at their intentions and if there is more to them than meets the eye.


Andre Reidmor



Andre Reidmor, Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder, 1540. Oil and Tempera on panel


I love this painting at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. Almost six hundred years old, the colours are still vivid and Andre makes me quake a little in my boots.

So I knew he had to be in the book, because if I was slightly intimidated by him, what would it be like for Mona Dunn and her best friend Clem?


What is this sleepover thing?” Andre Reidmor asked. His painting was almost six hundred years old, and he’d been on loan to another gallery when the last sleepover was held, in 1998.

“The children taking part in the art camps get to spend the night in the gallery at the end of the week,” Mona whispered, even though, if truth be told, she was a little afraid of the stern-faced giant bear of a man who strode about in his fur-trimmed green velvet cape.


What role does Andre play in The Frame-Up, and how does he survive the sleepover?


Lady Macbeth


Lady Macbeth Sleep-Walking, Eugène Delacroix, 1850. Oil on canvas


I’ve always loved Delacroix and Lady Macbeth is one of my favourite Shakespearean characters, so it was a no-brainer to include her in the book.

I imagine her wandering the Beaverbrook Art Gallery every night, shouting “Out, damn spot!” much to the annoyance of all the residents of the gallery.

There’s an annoying person in every crowd, and you just know that having Lady Macbeth wandering the gallery at night has gotten on everyone’s nerves for decades.

It’s probably also tedious for Lady Macbeth herself, forever banished to the sleep world.

While I won’t tell you Lady Macbeth’s role in The Frame-Up, I will say that Mona breaks a powerful taboo vis-a-vis the painting.

And if you are ever in Paris, visit the Louvre and see Delacroix’s most famous work, Liberty Leading the People. It is spectacular!


Since next week is Spring, we’re going to talk about a beautiful woman in flower garden, and I think it’s time to giveaway a advanced reader copy of the book! Stay tuned for more information!



The Frame-Up Characters and Locales: Helena Rubinstein


There are women and then there are WOMEN.

Helena Rubinstein was a WOMAN.

According to Wikipedia:

Helena Rubinstein (born Chaja Rubinstein; December 25, 1872 – April 1, 1965) was a Polish American businesswoman, art collector, and philanthropist. A cosmetics entrepreneur, she was the founder and eponym of Helena Rubinstein Incorporated cosmetics company, which made her one of the world’s richest women.


Helena Rubinstein, 1957, Graham Sutherland, Oil on Canvas


Upon seeing the portraits Graham Sutherland painted of her, Helena Rubinstein had this reaction (as described in her autobiography, My Life For Beauty (London: The Bodley Head, 1965):


They were both incredibly bold, domineering interpretations of what I never imagined I looked like. I had never seen myself in such a harsh light. Yet later, when they were exhibited at the Tate Gallery, although I scarcely recognized myself through Sutherland’s eyes, I had to admit that as paintings they were indeed masterpieces…One of the portraits was purchased by Lord Beaverbrook for his gallery in Fredericton, Canada. The other thanks in the entrance hallway of my New York apartment. Whenever I have a moment to study it, I wonder…am I really the austere, determined woman Sutherland painted so masterfully?


In The Frame-Up, Helena is not an austere, determined woman, but a convivial host, and a kind friend to Mona Dunn. Indeed, her painting is one of Mona and her friend Clem’s favourite places to visit. Helena plays a key role in the story, telling Mona and Clem about one of the most famous art thefts in the world, the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre.


Madame Rubinstein chuckled and placed a heavily ringed hand on Mona’s shoulder. “The paintings here are superstititous, that is all. They do not like his methods. But if Director Dinger does not mind, why should I?”

“Do you think we can trust Sneely?” Clem asked.

“Is anyone trustworthy, Clement Cotterell? We are all human and therefor frail.”


I can’t wait until you can read The Frame-Up and meet Helena Rubinstein!

The Frame-Up Characters and Locales: W. Somerset Maugham


One of my favourite characters in The Frame-Up is Somerset Maugham


Why? Well first of all, Maugham is one of my favourite authors (I re-read The Razor’s Edge at least every other year) and he was also a friend of Lord Beaverbrook’s.

With his brilliant storytelling mind, he was a natural fit for the story.

The Beaverbrook Art Gallery has several of the studies artist Graham Sutherland did of his portrait subjects (including sketches of Winston Churchill Sutherland did in preparation for the portrait he painted of the great man that Churchill famously destroyed in The Crown!) and I loved this sketch of Maugham in particular for two reasons:

1) There is kind of a pinched nobility to Maugham’s face in the sketch that draws you in and makes you want you to hear his stories. Maugham was 79 years old at the time of the sketch and had lived a long and interesting life.

2) The sketch is of a head only.

In The Frame-Up, most of the residents who live behind the frames have full bodies they can move between paintings in, regardless of whether we can see that body in the portrait or painting, because the artist was thinking of the whole of them whilst painting them.

That is not the case for sketches of body parts, since the artist is focusing exclusively on one thing, not the whole person.

Thus, our friend poor Mr. Maugham is only a head, albeit a head filled with 79 years’ worth of experience.

Imagine the frustration!

In the story, Maugham must rely on the kindness of other residents to take him places, and he often gets left behind, since Lord Beaverbrook has stuck him in a basement workroom to punish him for spreading gossip.



Maugham’s eyes narrowed. “It’s never just us and her,” he whispered. “We live in a world where someone is always watching. The paintings in this gallery have lived here for decades. They get bored, you know, they cause mischief. . . .”


I can’t wait for you to meet his character in the book!



The Frame-Up Characters and Locales: Merrymaking


One of the most popular paintings at the Beaverbrook Art Galley is Merrymaking.



Merrymaking, Cornelius Krieghoff, 1860, oil on canvas


This locale, home to the White Horse Inn, is very important to the plot of The Frame-Up.

The painting is one of the paintings to be restored by the strange art restorer, Archibald Sneely, and is home to dozens of gallery residents.

Mona Dunn escapes into this painting at a critical point in the story, only to find herself surrounded by a less genteel group of individuals.


Merrymaking, painted by Canadian Cornelius Krieghoff in 1860, was one of the most popular paintings in the art gallery and Mona knew why: it was the perfect French Canadian Christmas card, thanks to the party at the White Horse Inn, the snow, and the sleighs. Mona had never been in the painting, but she’d spent many evenings outside the frame, listening to the lively accordions and fiddles, wishing she could go for a sleigh ride.


I knew from the very beginning that Merrymaking needed to be in the book.

A careful examination of the painting shows us that there is quite a lot going on, and some of it seems less than Christmas-card-like.

In fact, there were too many story possibilities in the painting not to include it!

It’s a lively painting, and very accessible, so its no wonder it’s a patron favourite!

As with the last two paintings, it’s worth taking a look at the book cover again. Who knows what you might spot there?





Author of Children's Literature