New 1758 Source

December 2013

Two Louisbourg items went on the auction block last week at Sotheby’s and there was great interest among those of us who follow such things. One was a map and the other a previously unseen journal of the 1758 siege (or rather of its aftermath) as recorded by an anonymous officer in the Cambis Regiment. The map went to a private buyer, but the journal — in a move that completely surprised everyone I know — was purchased by the Government of Canada. Well done! The journal will end up with Library and Archives Canada. Here’s hoping LAC makes a digital version available so all interested can have a look. Presumably, the journal had never been sent by the Cambis officer to any higher up French officials, because it then would have ended up in a French archives. The diary must have remained in his family for a while, perhaps 250 years. This is a major new source, and one that is likely to shed light on what happened at Louisbourg after the surrender and then during the crossing overseas.

Based on … inspired by

November 2013

The words ‘based on’ — or inspired by — is a code phrase often used by film-makers. It allows them to claim a connection with a real person or event at the same time as they are re-shaping it pretty much as they want. I have to plead guilty to that charge as well. In both of my novels — one out and one to be released in 2014 — I go far beyond what the literal history of Thomas Pichon would allow. In Thomas, Secret Life I followed the rough chronology and sequence of events of the real personage’s life. In The Maze I stay true to the “essence” of Thomas Pichon’s ambitious, secretive and sensual personality, but I have done so at the expense of any known chronology of events. I have taken aspects of a period of Thomas’s life, the late 1750s and 1760s, and transposed it to the 1730s. That was simply because it worked better for me; nothing more complicated than that. It’s fiction, after all.

To gush or not to gush

October 2013

Whatever happened to understatement?

I don’t know, but it’s nowhere in sight these days. Radio interviewers, with CBC headliners leading the way, just gush and gush. There is no superlative they do not bring out when they interview musicians, writers and anyone from the arts. Politicians, on the other hand, are treated like liars and cheats. (Well, some of them are, of course.) But I personally think things have gone too far. It’s the journalistic equivalent of the Standing O when none is deserved.

Here’s hoping journalists start to rein themselves in a bit. Not everyone they interview is Shakespeare or Ray Charles.

One Book NS

October 2013

I just finished Alissa York’s Fauna, which One Book NS picked as the book all Nova Scotians should read this year. I was extremely impressed by the book. The writing is so good. The characters and story-lines are intriguing and there are many, many thoughtful observations, and about subjects I don’t often give a second thought. I’m sorry I missed York when she was in the province doing readings from and talking about the book.

Angry with those who disappoint?

October 2013

I’m thinking particularly of those in the public domain. Certain disgraced Canadian Senators come to mind, or Toronto’s Mayor Ford. Or Lance Armstrong in the world of sports. Each of us has our own list.

What I’m wondering if we should not take the names of those who anger and disappoint and turn their very names into swear words? It works for me. One element of swearing is found in the tone of voice, the way the curse is muttered or said aloud. Try it. Mutter Mike Duffy or Rob Ford and shake your head or raise your fist.

In English Canada we have long tended to curse with terms that relate to the body in some way, some of which go back to Anglo-Saxon roots. In French Canada the swear words often come from a religious context. But why not from contemporary events?

With swearing now practically everywhere — films, TV, office and the street — words that once shocked or gave vent have lost their power. So just select someone who has annoyed you or let you down and use their name as a curse.

Canadian Gothic?

July 2013

I’ve just finished Anne Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees and I’m incredibly impressed by the terrific writer that she is. It reminded me many times of the great 19th century classics because it’s a sweeping saga across a great stage. And there is so much inventive imagery and clever word use, more than in any book I’ve read in a long time. And yet, and yet, what a Gothic tale. There are a few happy moments, but they are few and far between. Mostly it’s an unrelenting tale of woe, mishap and suffering of one kind or another. In that regard, the novel recalled Terence Malick’s film of a few years back, Tree of Life. In that film there was not even a hint that there could be joy and pleasure in life. At least MacDonald offers a few hints. Yet, it’s the tragedies where the emphasis is placed, and they do pile up. So much Canadian literature and so many films explore similar themes. Life is frustration and despair, and then you’re dead. Something Gothic in the air, soil and water of this land? It seems so. I’d like to think that there can also be serious literature without everyone being miserable or killed off.