Photo Gallery | 'Piping & Penning' workshop at St. Agnes Academy in Dalton


DALTON

Earth Day is a time to reflect on and celebrate the environment and the life and inspiration it provides for people.

For Berkshire-based author Jana Laiz, it was the natural environment that served as a muse for her latest book, "The Twelfth Stone," as well as a number of her other stories like "Thomas and Autumn," a story about a farm boy and a baby chicken, and "Elephants of the Tsunami" written in response to the 2004 natural disaster.

The author says it was a daydream she had in the sixth grade that led her to create a tale featuring the lead characters Fiona and Rionnag who, along with others, encounter destructive developers, evil faeries, captured mortals, love, adventure and more in "The Twelfth Stone." The Celtic American fantasy that takes place in Scotland and Berkshire County, and Laiz said she's worked to research and represent both places and cultures authentically.

Berkshire-based author Jana Laiz (left) and professional bagpiper Nancy Tunnicliffe (right) talk with students at St. Agnes Academy in Dalton during a
Berkshire-based author Jana Laiz (left) and professional bagpiper Nancy Tunnicliffe (right) talk with students at St. Agnes Academy in Dalton during a 'Piping & Penning' workshop being conducted on Tuesday, April 1, 2014 (Jenn Smith/Berkshire Eagle Staff/photos.berkshireeagle.com )

Earlier this month, Laiz shared her writing and research process with students of St. Agnes Academy through the launch of a new interactive writing workshop called "Piping & Penning."

The author was looking for help in creating authentic Scottish dialect and dialogue for "The Twelfth Stone," when she was connected through friends to Nancy Tunnicliffe, a Berkshire-based professional bagpiper who now co-presents the "Piping & Penning" workshop with Laiz.

In addition to nature, Laiz said, "Music is an inspiration for writing for me."

Tunnicliffe, whose love for the bagpipes began in the third grade, has since performed with the Boston Pops Orchestra and for the British Royal Family. Her husband, Robert, was from Scotland. Between those two loves, Tunnicliffe said she was able to learn much about Celtic culture and history as well as the language.

Barb Kotelnicki, who is on the St. Agnes Academy executive PTO board, said the workshop seemed like an ideal way to spark students' creativity, so the group wrote and received a grant from the Central Berkshire Fund of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation to support it.

"We wanted to offer this unique, authentic experience to support the work of our teachers and to help our students see themselves as authors," Kotelnicki said.

The author and musician said they hoped they were able to teach students that directly experiencing music, nature and culture can influence their work, written and otherwise.

Laiz and Tunnicliffe will be traveling to Scotland together in May. They will then return to St. Agnes to share a slideshow presentation with middle school students, as well as local seniors who will be participating in a book club and reading Laiz's "Weeping Under this Same Moon," based on a true story of two teenage girls from different cultures, whose paths intertwine during the Vietnam War era.

Learn more at janalaiz.com.