Stella Leventoyannis Harvey read from her book Nicolai’s Daughters at Thin Air, Winnipeg’s International Writers Festival. The story takes place in both Canada and Greece and deals with family relationships from the perspective of Nicolai and his daughter Alexia. Even though I’m not Greek, the passages that Harvey reads are relatable on multiple levels. The themes are both universal and yet very Canadian at the same time. Family secrets, multigenerational conflict, and the struggle to understand a culture you’ve never had the opportunity to be part of, make this book a must read for so many people.
From a Blog by Jeannette Bodnar, posted by THINAIR Publicist
Looking for creative inspiration? Look no further than Whistler with their annual Readers and Writers Festival today on go! Vancouver.
A chill is in the air. Fall has arrived in Whistler. A time of year when your thoughts turn inwards and you reflect. So there is no better time for Whistler Readers and Writers Festival Oct 12-14. We’ve got writing tips for you on today’s show.
In her Ted Talk a few years ago Elizabeth Gilbert shared how the American poet Ruth Stone believed her poems came thundering at her across the vast fields she worked in. She’d have to run as fast as she could to her house, chasing after the poem, to try to get a pen and write it down before the poem rolled onward.
Well, running might have worked for Ruth Stone about sixty years ago, but when a chunk of fiction comes thundering toward me and I’m on the Sea To Sky highway, driving 120 km/hr on the single-lane curvy stretch, I can’t exactly pull over and write it all down.
But what do you do? Ruth Stone said that if she didn’t get to her pen and paper in time, the poem would roll onward, looking for another poet.
I’m fiercely competitive so when the fiction comes to me, there’s no way in hell I’m letting it go to another writer.
So I do what all good writers do: I keep one hand on the wheel, hoping the thousand and five times I’ve driven the highway means I remember precisely in how many seconds the next curve is going to appear, and I fumble for a piece of paper. Any piece of paper. A napkin, a receipt, the box I’m going to mail tomorrow, and in the case of a few months ago, the field trip permission form I had to photocopy for my students.
Did I mention I’m writing a young adult novel? That means the content I write about is, well, teenage-y. The characters swear, talk about sex, and sound like a bunch of fourteen and seventeen-year-olds.
What came thundering down the highway at me wasn’t an insightfully descriptive passage, full of symbolism and depth. It was a conversation between two of my characters. A stand-off conversation, if you will. Full of “Piss off, bitch” and “What are you going to do about it?”.
So that’s what I scribbled onto the back of the field trip form that I pressed against the centre of my steering wheel while I tried not to cross the yellow line.
It’s also what got photocopied ninety-five times because, as all creative minds do, I forgot about the dialogue the second it appeared on paper.
And handed out to ninety of my Grade Nine students.
And taken home to their parents.
It was only the next day that I realized what was on the form.
So what did I do?
What all good teachers and writers do.
I lied. I blamed the Grade Eights. Oh foolish, young silly Grade Eights. They do silly things like write on field trip permission forms. With swear words.
And now, when the fiction comes thundering at me on the highway and I’m swooping through turns, I make sure I don’t write on an important piece of paper.
I write on my arm.
|Reading Alistair MacLeod.William D. MacGillivray (Writer & Director). Terry Greenlaw (Picture Plant Producer). Kent Martin (NFB Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2005.
88 min., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: C9105 185.Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.Review by Libby McKeever.
All of us are better when we’re loved. (Alistair MacLeod.)
Reading Alistair MacLeod takes viewers into the life of the Canadian writer and the inspiration behind the storyteller. Filmmaker William D. MacGillivray has interspersed MacLeod’s personal annotates with various famous Canadian writers who read from his work. These writers include Margaret Atwood, David Adams Richards, Russell Banks, Wayne Johnston and Colm Toibin. Although they all read from different titles, there is a common thread of reverence for Macleod’s lyrical craft and a great fondness for him as person.
Although MacLeod was born in Saskatchewan, when he was a boy his parents returned to resettle on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island. Macleod followed the path of many young islanders when he left the island to work in the mines. He eventually settled with his wife and children in Windsor, ON, where he taught Creative Writing at the university and returned to Cape Breton Island each summer with his wife and children. Macleod would set off early on these summer mornings to hike the headland to his writing shack and would return at lunchtime to spend the remainder of the day with family. Author Lisa Moore commented that MacLeod’s writing tells of the contrast between the tenderness and brutality of life in Cape Breton and of the tightknit community who live there. He builds his stories around characters, and, as one islander remarked, there is a common thread of Cape Breton Island people being both compelled to leave and then to return, if only in their minds.
MacLeod had early success with his short stories in the United States and was published in Best American Short Stories. MacLeod’s son Alexander reads from one of the early stories and comments that he feels these are his father’s very best work, stories that explore humanity while sometimes cutting deeply to expose the raw story underneath. Author Wayne Johnston states that MacLeod “writes prose as you would poetry,” and Margaret Atwood praises the “folkloric quality” of his work and the deceptive simplicity that reads so beautifully. Composer Christopher Donison has created an opera called “The Island” which is based on MacLeod’s short story collection of the same name. Throughout the film, viewers see McLeod and Donison confer over the music as performers sing his words.
Reading Alistair MacLeod is a delightful and inspiring glance into the life of one Canada’s foremost storytellers. MacGillivray has used a humorous and gentle lens to allow viewers some insight into the story behind the tales that have touched so many. The film’s cover photograph captures MacLeod and his battered briefcase outside a small white building, his writing shack. Perched on top of a grassy headland, the shack overlooks a pebbled beach and out towards Prince Edward Island, one of the beautiful images portrayed in the film. The back cover shows part of the MacLeod clan, some wearing tartan, gathered outside a small church. This is also the closing scene to the film and leaves viewers with the impression of family man who is touched by landscape of the human story.
Alistair MacLeod has published 14 short stories, collected in The Lost Salt Gift of Blood (1976) and As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories (1986). His acclaimed novel, No Great Mischief (1999) received several awards and his most recent book,Island (2000) is a collection of his short stories. He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2007.
Reading Alistair MacLeod would be well suited to English, media arts, Canadian literature and Canadian cultural students in the Senior Secondary grades.
Libby McKeever is a Youth Services Librarian who works at the Whistler Public Library and at Whistler Secondary School in Whistler, BC.
by Angie Abdou
Writers’ Festivals charge me right up. Every time I go to one, I make a discovery. At Campbell River’s Words on the Water, I was drawn into the multifaceted work of the beautiful and stirring Kate Braid. At Saskatchewan Festival of Words, I was moved by the gutsy and energetic Elizabeth Bachinsky and her politically-charged poems. What I admire most about both of these poets is the way they grab onto the inkling of inspiration and let it guide them, even (or especially) when it takes their work in unexpected and untried directions.
That same kind of bravery caught me again this weekend at the Lethbridge Word on the Street, this time in the presentation of Betty Jane Hegerat. It’s odd for me to speak of Betty Jane Hegerat as one of my festival discoveries. I know Betty Jane. Every summer, she teaches in my hometown at the Fernie Writers’ Conference, for which I sit on the program advisory board. She has published her books with Oolichan Press, which (again) is located in my hometown and owned by my good friend Randal MacNair. In fact, last spring, the marketer at Oolichan asked me to review Betty Jane Hegerat’s new novel, The Boy, for a local magazine. I said no. The novel is about a horrifying historical incident, one that involves the death of children. Quite simply, I didn’t want to read this book. It sounds depressing. Who needs it?
But then I heard Betty Jane speak of The Boy. Like Kate Braid and Elizabeth Bachinsky, Betty Jane looked fully alive as she described the way this story grabbed onto her and wouldn’t let go, the way it demanded to be told. She didn’t want to write this story any more than I wanted to read it, but the harder she pushed it away, the louder it got. It left her no choice. She would write this sad Stettler story, and since it would have to be at least partly nonfiction, she enrolled in the MFA program at University of British Columbia to hone her Creative Nonfiction skills. Again – there’s that bravery I so admire.
And again it is rewarded. I buzzed through her entire reading at Lethbridge WOTS, each one of her phrases giving me a new jolt of energy. This book contains that spark of life that comes along with risk. Plus, her process (and the passion with which she spoke of it) fascinated me. In the end, Hegerat wrote The Boy not only because it demanded to be written, but also in the way that it demanded to be written – part fiction, part memoir, part nonfiction. Now, she has not only a book about unpleasant material, but also a book that’s very challenging to market. I mean, where does a bookseller put it, right?
This is what I love. Someone who writes a book with no thought to marketing: Halleluiah!
According to Mark Medley, there are over 100,000 English books published in Canada every year. If an author only sort of wants to write a book, we don’t need it. We have enough. So, how’s this for a challenge: Only write stories that demand to be written. We can then hope that the initial spark of necessity will transform those stories into books that also demand to be read. I certainly feel that way about The Boy after hearing Betty Jane Hegerat at WOTS.
See – Festivals get me all charged up. Now, freshly fuelled from WOTS, I look forward to heading to the Whistler Festival, particularly for my workshop on characterization, where I know I will meet exciting new writers with stories that demand to be told.
by Katy Penny Courage, determination, guts, willpower- they all define grit. But which actually describes grit? You can look it up in a dictionary or a thesaurus, and it will tell you the meaning, but only you can choose what it means to you, and it means quite a lot to me. A way to explain from a more personalized view would be telling you that my parents divorced when I was only three years old, leaving my two older brothers and I only one parent to keep us going. When my brothers were fighting viciously and my mom was trying to split them up, I would sneak around them and eat their breakfast just because I could. At the age of 4, my brother Chris tumbled down our rock wall after slipping down the sleek, sharp rocks, and when he landed he stood up and walked away like it was nothing. In 2006, we had to sell our beautiful house in Whistler and move to Pemberton, where we bought a house we thought we could afford, and got a mortgage. We received a warm, friendly welcome of smashed driveway lamps, a broken glass door, people driving into our garbage cans and taking away our sweet, beautiful dogs. In the end, we couldn’t afford it, and our house may foreclose soon. Going through so many mean and disrespectful tenants, we had a hard time even affording food, with my brothers eating like horses. My mom would often have to visit the food bank for extra food supplies. Although some may think my problems are big, they aren’t, compared to some people’s stories, mine looks like a piece of cake. Considering everything we’ve been through, we are still alive and thriving. My oldest brother is in university, my second oldest brother (Chris) has a job and is training to be a lifeguard, and my mom is working and going to university to become an SEA.
My view of grit is, well, no matter what happens to you in life, whether you get knocked over or fall down, you have to get back up again immediately or you’ll stay down.
Katy Penny is a grade 9 student at Pemberton Secondary School and the winner of the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival Tru Grit contest. She wins a copy of Randy Boyagoda’s new novel, Beggar’s Feast.
You were working on a big novel with big themes at the time – art and the meaning of images in the twentieth century, and you thought once you had this book written and published, everything would be OK. You could even die in the knowledge you had leaped over some new bar.
And in the end, the reviews across the country were very good indeed.
Then you worked for three years on a novel that washed out. It’s still in a drawer now. You showed it to three people and decided it was not good enough.
It was harder to start again after that than at any other time in the novel-writing game.
Only moronic self-help strategies, such as listening repeatedly to Stan Rogers’s song, The Mary –Ellen Carter (whose chorus is “Rise Again”) managed to sustain you.
It was an exceptionally dark time, made worse with a son as a front-line soldier in Afghanistan while I wrote about death in another war zone.
I kept writing. It was a struggle, but in the end it worked out OK. The young man survived and the new novel was written and again, most of the reviews are pretty good.
Here’s the message to my younger self and to others in this pursuit – one thinks of publishing books as a high jump. Just write that one book, just get over that bar and everything will be all right.
But that image is wrong. Writing novels is closer to jumping hurdles, and those hurdles go on to the horizon like the railroad ties in Gordon Lightfoot’s song.
~ Antanas Sileika