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.

David Adams Richards

March 2013

I greatly enjoyed listening to the much celebrated author at the Cyril Byrne event at SMU last evening. I’ve not yet read anything he’s written — a terrible confession I suppose — yet I will in the months ahead. (I can’t right now. When I’m creating my own fictional world for Thomas, Hélène and others, I simply can’t go into any other fictional world. So I’m reading non-fiction at the moment.) Richards read with a completely different voice than the one he speaks with. It was almost mesmerizing at times. The lyrical cadences of the work he read from were strong and striking. I also very much liked to hear him talk of his one meeting with Ernest Buckler, his admiration of Tolstoy and Dostoyevski, his transition from how he wrote when he was in his twenties to how he writes now, and much more. The evening’s host, Alexander MacLeod, was as eloquent as he always is, which rounded off the evening nicely.

Reviews Anyone?

March 2013

It’s a challenge for any book coming out of a small regional press to get reviewed in any major media outlet. Their nearly exclusive focus is on the books that come out of the large publishing houses based in Toronto or in the USA, books that have budgets for promotion. Novels like Thomas, A Secret Life are rarely given any profile at all. As a result, people generally only find out about books put out by Atlantic region publishers by word of mouth. So … if anyone reading this note happens to have read and enjoyed Thomas — or any other Atlantic Canadian book — maybe you’d be willing offer a review or thumb’s up on any of the Amazon, Chapters-Indigo, Goodreads or other web sites that feature books? Or on Facebook? It’s still word of mouth, but it’s a whisper (sort of) that can reach a lot of ears many times over. Thank you, should you feel so inclined.

Credit where credit is due

March 2013

I have the feeling most readers don’t pay much attention to the acknowledgements section in a book. I can understand. Yet these generally short sections are important to authors. It’s where the various people who made the book a reality are given their due. My next book, due out in a few weeks, is Louisbourg: Past, Present, Future. I’d like to acknowledge in this entry the others behind the book.

The idea for a fresh take on Louisbourg came not from me at all. I suppose I thought I’d written enough about the place. It was Patrick Murphy, Managing Editor of Nimbus Publishing who suggested in May 2012 that it might be appropriate to have a new book on Louisbourg to mark the tercentenary of the French founding in 1713. I mulled it over for a couple of days and decided that yes, Patrick was right. I could put together a book that tells the Louisbourg story for a broad audience in a more sweeping way than I or anyone else have told it before. That would mean beginning the history five thousand years ago — when the harbour was formed — and continuing on through the French period into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as well. And then I wanted to cap it off with a glimpse into the likely near future of the place.

Right from the start, I wanted to enlist Parks Canada historian, Anne Marie Lane Jonah, and Parks Canada archaeologist, Rebecca Duggan, as contributors to the project. I thought initially as co-authors, but the timeline was too short. So instead, they agreed to contribute a few short essays each. Those pieces add extra depth in their areas of expertise.

Meanwhile, once I had a finished text, most of which I wrote in a couple of months, the manuscript was placed in the hands of Nimbus editor Whitney Moran. What a great contribution Whitney made. She tightened the writing and spent countless hours sorting through several hundred image candidates. (Too many image possibilities, which was my fault.) Hat off to Whitney. I think in the end she may have spent as much time on the book as I had myself. The final step saw the package being given to Nimbus designer, Jenn Embree. She did a wonderful job packaging the whole thing, which turned it into a book.

Two New History Articles

February 2013

The latest issue of The Nashwaak Review (Vol. 28/29), contains two articles of mine. One is “The Overlooked Importance of the Turning Points Before Québec, 1759” and the other is “Thinking green (and not) in 18th-Century Louisbourg”. Both started out as conference papers; the first given in London in 2009 and the second in Québec in 2008.

Stewart Donovan, editor of The Nashwaak Review, has made both of those pieces, and others by other authors, available as pdfs on the journal’s web site. Here’s the link.