Monthly Archives: March 2016

“I think most of my inspiration . . . comes from those very human moments that can happen anywhere” | Q&A with author Lisa J. Lawrence

New authors are always exciting to discover, especially if they are out to engage new minds. This past week Lisa J. Lawrence launched Rodent, a gripping novel aimed for the teenage set. Lawrence grew up in several different locales in British Columbia and Alberta.  She now resides and works as a teacher in Edmonton.


1) First off, can you give a bit of an outline of Rodent?

Rodent is about a sixteen-year-old girl, Isabelle, who is essentially the caregiver for her mother and younger siblings because of her mother’s alcoholism. She tries to keep everyone alive and together as her mom bounces from job to job and they move from friends’ basements to shelters to sketchy apartments. Rodent begins after one of these moves. At the same time, Isabelle starts grade eleven at a new school. That brings a lot of new, unexpected things for her—both good and bad.


2) Where did you get the inspiration to write Rodent? Was there much research involved in writing it or was it more of a work of ‘pure imagination?’

The spark for Rodent came one night when I was putting my youngest daughter to bed, who was three or four years old at the time. After going through the bedtime routine and tucking her in, I thought, “What would it be like for a child to have to do all of this?” I started thinking about circumstances in which children care for other children, playing an adult’s role. From there, it was mostly a work of imagination. I had a couple of teenaged “consultants” who I would bounce things off of from time to time! I know a RCMP officer who was kind enough to answer my police-related questions. I also read some accounts of children living with a parent with an addiction.

3) I know it has been a short while since Rodent was released but how has the reaction been to it so far?

So far, the early reviews and feedback on Goodreads (Click on link here) have been positive. That’s a great feeling. When you share your story with others, you hope they’ll like it or at least relate to it in some way.

4) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

Margaret Laurence held the title of favourite for a long time. I’m all over the place these days. I hate to be a cliché, but I adore the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I was a late bloomer; all the movies were out before I started reading any of the books, and then I was hooked. I felt a little depressed when I finished them all! I also enjoy Susan Juby, especially her Alice trilogy, and some Neil Gaiman. I loved Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpoole. With my daughter, I’m currently reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. In the near future, I hope to tackle Seven the Series.

5) Is there much planned in the way of public readings or book-club events for Rodent? If yes, are there events you are excited to be attending?

I am looking forward to a launch for Rodent at Audreys Books in Edmonton on May 14th. It’s my first launch, and I’m excited to celebrate with friends, family, and anyone who would like to attend! I also plan on doing some readings at local schools. I’m open to participating in other events that may come up as well.

6) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

I’m currently finishing a manuscript about a thirteen-year-old girl with Turner syndrome. I’ll just say it takes place in northern Alberta and involves some highly unusual circumstances!

7) You have an active fan page on Facebook right now. Will you be using it to keep in contact with fans? Will you be expanding to any other social-media platforms like Twitter or Pinterest?

Yes, the Facebook page is new. (Click here for link) It’s been pretty quiet so far, as I get things going, but I hope to use it to keep readers informed about upcoming readings, etc. I’m eyeing Twitter as well, but I don’t think I have a really good feel for it yet! Maybe it’s the word limit that gets me.

8) Your biographies have you listed as living in Edmonton. How do you like living there? Does its cultural life offer you much in the way of inspiration for your writing?

I love Edmonton. It’s been my home for about twenty years now. I think most of my inspiration, though, comes from those very human moments that can happen anywhere: feeling left out, restlessness, overcoming something difficult, making an unexpected connection. I grew up in a small town (Stettler, AB), and a lot of inspiration comes from there as well. Having said that, I do love Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre and Fringe Festival!


Link to Orca Book Publishers webpage for Rodent


New profile description

Due to recent conversations –  both online and in face –  I felt compelled to up date my profile descriptions. Here it is:

While I have a media background, I love the concept of reading – especially books – and the quiet forms of discourse it brings. Any reviews I do on here I do on my own time and not-for-profit. My followers – mainly fellow book lovers – tell me that they love the way I show segments of books that I review (and no copyright infringement is intended) I am truly grateful for any advance reading copies of books that I receive and in those cases will not post segments of those books before there publication date. One day soon I hope to actually have a ‘library of tranquility’ when time and resources allow.

“I don’t want to know what happens before I write a novel, but I do want to sense the depth of mood and wonder that’s possible.” | Q&A with John Farrow on the release of “Seven Days Dead”

Fans of a good thriller are always excited the next installment of the adventures of the favourite protagonist. And that includes fans of Émile Cinq-Mars. As Seven Days Dead is about to be released, author ‘John Farrow’ gives some insights to his work.


1) First off, can you give a bit of an outline for Seven Days Dead?

Seven Days Dead follows my lead character, retired Detective Émile Cinq-Mars onto the island of Grand Manan, NB, which is off the coast of Maine, for a holiday. Naturally, he doesn’t get much of a vacation. The island’s patriarch has died and early on only the reader knows how. An event that raises its own questions. A strange cult ventures onto a ridge under cover of a massive storm (this is Book 2 of The Storm Murders Trilogy, after all), and a man who lives off the grid in the mysterious (and actual) community of Dark Harbour also hikes onto the cliff’s edge in the extreme conditions. When the storm abates another prominent islander is found dead, and he’s been eviscerated. When the daughter of the dead patriarch comes under suspicion and evidence mounts against her, she exhorts Cinq-Mars to come to her aid. In order to unravel the complexities of the crimes that have transpired and those that follow, the city detective must delve into island history and come up against contemporary internecine battles, at risk to himself and his wife, before the case can be resolved.

2) How long did it take to write the book? Was there much research involved in writing it?

Exposing Foolish Thoughts | Review of “Malarky” by Anakana Schofield (2012) Biblioasis

Beyond the glitz and the hype of literary awards, the lists of authors they provide many of us readers can be a great means of new books and new styles for us to discover. The Scotiabank Giller Prize of 2015 introduced many of us to Anakana Schofield and her book Martin John (Link to my review). But her earlier book Malarky shows her keen imagination and wonderful writing style. And it deserves to be mentioned here.

Episode 1 – Page 7

-There’s no way round it, I’m finding it very hard to be a widow, I told Grief, the counsellor woman, that Tuesday morning.

-Are you missing your husband a great deal?

-Not especially. I miss the routine of his demands it’s true, but am plagued day and night with thoughts I’d rather be without.

-Are you afraid to be in the house alone?

-Indeed I am.

-And these thoughts, do they come when you are having problems falling asleep?

-No, I said, they are with me from the first sup of tea I take to this very minute, since three days after my husband was taken.

-Tell me about these thoughts?

-You sure you want to know?

-I’ve heard it all, she insisted, there is nothing you can say that will surprise me.

I disbelieving, asked again. You’re sure now?


-Men, I said. Naked men. At each other all the time, all day long. I can’t get it out of my head.

-Well now, she said and fell silent.

She had to have been asking the Almighty for help, until she finally admitted she could think of no explanation and her recommendation was to scrub the kitchen floor very vigorously and see would a bit of distraction help.

Schofield does a great job here of building empathy very slowly with the readers by releasing drips of thoughts, emotions and conversations of an nameless Irish mother. (Often referred to as “Our Woman”) We jump from sections of her life where we see her  question the caliber of sincerity of her husband, dealing with her son’s sexuality and eventual signing on and deployment in the military, her own confused explorations of sexual encounters with other men and the passing of other people from her life. We gain insight to the fight of thoughts, desires and emotions against what is suppose to be a rigid and organized life of this woman.

Episode 10 Pages 110-111

Our Woman thinks back and commences. They lie against her couch and she talks into the space between them and the fireplace. Neither looks at the other as she soliloquizes and the fire handily cracks a bit to cover up the odd word.

Remember, she begins, I have had three children and so each birth was different. For starters they were all born in a different season and we’d different problems around the farm as each arrived. I delivered every one of them alone in a room except for a doctor or nurse who called in occasionally to ask how I was getting on and then took over at the end. In those days, your husband was not allowed in the room while you gave birth. When my son was born my husband did not know he’d arrived for two days because there was a lot of problems with a sick cow at the time and he was out day and night tending to it and I had gone to Castlebar and stayed there and word had been sent, but we’d no phone then and well you don’t want to know this. The worst birth was the first my eldest daughter, it was an indicator of what was to come for she’s a difficult and obstinate girl and pardon my vulgarity, but she has a very big head. I was offered a handful of blue and pink pills, which at first I refused, the seeing how awkward this creature was I requested they hand them to me again. They didn’t make a difference, but my waters, which had insisted on not breaking then dropped out of me and my distant memory of her birth is that my feet were as wet as a penguin’s.

He laughs.

Great, he’s still alive, she thinks.

– I can only say to you that it was an inhumane experience that I vowed so help me God I would never repeat as long as I was in the full control of my senses.

-You felt no joy? No election? he asks. You had no moment of completeness?

-I was stitched from my arse to my elbow. I was tired. I was resentful and I wanted to cut my own hands off.

-And then?

-Then I had a cup of tea and six weeks later, I felt better.

This is one of those books whose every word needs to be savored. Schofield has given thought to the thoughts of “our woman” and carefully crafted them into this book. And in doing so she has given unique insight to the mind and the pains it endures.

Episode 15 – Page 154

When they came; I’d been expecting them. Knew how they’d look, knew I would know they’d come before they knocked on my door. And I did. the phone rang. Naturally the phone rang. The phone always rings. This is the problem with the phone. I nearly miss the days when we’d go two and a half miles to the pub and wait out the evening for the pay phone to ring for us, for someone to call out is so and so here: a call from England. And everyone would push out of the way and let you through in a hurry, all hoping the voice would still be there on the line for ya. And it was similar when they came to my door to tell me about Jimmy. I only hoped the miracle would be he was still there, but I had know for so much longer than they gave me credit for, that he was not.

Malarky by Anakana Schofield is a great piece of literature that should be savored, not rushed through in its reading. It provides great insights to the mind and thoughts of one person and gives readers fodder to consider their own situations in life.

Extracted from Malarky by Anakana Schofield © 2012 Anakana Schofield. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.

Link to Anakana Schofield’s website

Link to Biblioasis webpage for Malarky


Using Poetry to go beyond the History Books | Review of “Settler Education” by Laurie D. Graham (2016) McClelland & Stewart

It was a rush that was typical of our modern life the day I went to pick up this book. I walked through a maze of hallways at a college campus filled with bodies trying find their own ways around me. I walked into a office, talked to a receptionist who picked up a phone and announced me. And with a rush of quick smiles and handshakes I was back out with this slim volume in my hand trying to make my way through another confused mass of bodies. I found a cafeteria and grab a lukewarm cup of coffee and sat down. There is still a confused chunk of humanity around me as I open to the first page.

And within reading the first well-crafted words, I was absorbed into Laurie D. Graham’s Settler Education.

Number One Canadian (Excerpt) Page 1

Stutter-stepping. The last fumes out

of Ontario. Beds and sliding doors and dining cars tunnelling

through the forest, its genealogy

of clear-cut, its firework trees new and hot.

We show them our ghost stations. We show them

tea at the window as birch die tangled

in power lines, birch hauling lines

down to the level of marsh, and marsh rising

to meet electricity.

Page 2

This is the line.

A propane tank every fifty clicks,

wall-eyed shoots and utility corridors,

gift-buying hours in the recreation car and hints

of lake and woodsmoke if you’re looking for them.

No Oh My Nation, No God Save Our Queen,

no colonial  imperative except in our being here, in what it means

to shower on a moving train, track rolling under the drainhole,

the luxurious pillows, my last minute discount.

This is what they starved a people for.

Page 3

Through tree scenes, tableaux in the dome car,

the soldiers, the settlers, the track laid, the way made.

Making goods of them. Servants, subjects, comrades, always

more, and the trees smoulder, the trace smoke in the camera’s vision

that comes of passing too fleetly. We pause at vistas and wildlife,

coniferous worming at the periphery.

A train car neat with men and their rifles.

Outside, thread of campsmoke obscured by clouds, by trees.

Notes Page 107

“NUMBER ONE CANADIAN” is the name of the train that runs from Toronto to Vancouver. When the train returns east, they call it the Number Two.

Graham has woven a complex tapestry here where many historians and other academics have failed for us. The book tells the story of the Plains Cree uprising at Frog Lake and the settlement of the Prairies. Graham’s poetry here weaves through time, places, impressions, journal entries, letters and so forth to brilliantly give the mind’s eye of any reader a clear impression of the places and the events.

Among the Buffalo Page 17

we were told that in a day or two we would reach the buffalo country

might expect to see considerable herds

day after day no signs

we became skeptical

Saint, hell. Riel’s a criminal.

He brought law out here, one good thing to

                                       come out of

                         his treason

I found several of the party quietly reading

to one of them I asked  have you seen the buffalo

he started as if he received a shock from a battery

You’re gonna get the redneck view from this

                                  end of the table

each bend of the river brought us in view of new herds

on both sides        not in dense masses

as when migrating    but scattered bands from ten to one hundred

sometimes close to the bank

they went at a lumbering gallop as the steamer approached

Next you’ll say I got no right to be here,

            been farming this same plot for a full century.

the appearance of the steward with a rifle on his arm

and all was excitement

Graham has gone beyond using just words here. She using layout and typeface to set different moods here that vault the reader from one emotion to another. This is a complex read yet one that is worth savoring.

Frog Lake (Excerpt) Page 21

Ditchweed, fuchsia. The first thing grows after fire.

Chased here by weather, rain then clearing sky,

Wandering Spirit, Iron Body, Miserable Man,

Round the Sky, Little Bear, Bad Arrow.

A grave, once unmarked, months from here.

Brome grass in all the places the earth’s been turned.

Settler Education by Laurie D. Graham may be a collection of poetry but it goes where history books have failed us. Graham gives detailed descriptions of emotions, thoughts and actions which causes readers to actually feel and care about the scenes. A great piece of literature.

Link to Laurie D. Graham’s blog

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s webpage for Settler Education

“For me, this novel was born out of my frustration watching the news and reading the paper every day” | Q&A with writer Liam Card

Busy people sometimes make the best storytellers. Liam Card is one such person. Usually involved in the field of movie production, he does divide his time to allow for writing. As his new novel STOPGAP is about to be released, Card took a few minutes in an airport waiting area to answer a few questions for me.
1) First off, can you give a bit of an overview of  STOPGAP?
LOGLINE: In an attempt to rid the world of all violent crime, a recently deceased ghost becomes the most notorious killer in history.

SHORT SYNOPSIS: For Luke Stevenson, an otherwise simple afterlife has become catastrophic. He’s been paired to mentor Safia, an angry teenage girl who recently died a violent death. Safia can not only affect the living – unheard of among ghosts like them – but can actually end human lives. With the best intentions, Luke becomes ensnared in her operation to rid the world of all violent crime.

With Luke’s help, Safia prevents acts of violence before they occur, leaving the world in a state of joy, shock, panic, and looking for answers as the body count rises. Perhaps Safia has made the world a safer place. However, when her plan begins a terrifying evolution, Luke must find a way to derail it, as billions of lives hang in the balance. 

2) What inspired you to write STOPGAP? Was there any research involved with writing the book?
One of my creative writing professors at the University of North Carolina told me that writers should write about topics surrounding their frustrations with the world around them. For me, this novel was born out of my frustration watching the news and reading the paper every day. I find it disgusting how terribly we continue to treat one another on this planet, and the justice system in place doesn’t seem to deter violent criminals enough to see these horrible acts go away in the near future. So, as a writer, you sit in that anger. You sit in that frustration. You recognize how you feel about it and then start to run scenarios. I challenged myself to create a situation whereby acts of violent crime would cease to exist. That’s it. Enough. People can’t hurt each other anymore. Now, what does that look like?
After much trial and error, I realized that the imagined situation would have to be due to a higher form of policing. Said differently, I reached the conclusion that a world with no violent crime would only be possible if humans couldn’t follow through with the act, itself. What I required was something, or someone, to intercept these acts before they could take place. Once that was set in stone, the real work began. Honestly, I must have drawn up two or three dozen scenarios before landing on the one that is now in print. I was able to find my story and began constructing the rules of the afterlife (which the story would hinge on for my scenario to play out). This wasn’t a research-heavy novel, unlike my last one – whereby I was writing a first-person medical genius trapped in a plumbers career. This higher concept novel required running constant checks and balances to ensure that I hadn’t broken any of the rules I had created in giving birth to the idea. It was an entirely different process that I truly enjoyed.
 3) Are you planning to do a reading tour with this book? If yes, are there any dates/events that you are looking forward in doing?
I’m not sure if the publisher has a reading tour in the works. It would be a tremendous amount of fun, but I think the focus is to try and get the novel into several book festivals and hopefully ride a wave of momentum if there is one to ride. It’s difficult to plan whether a novel is going to be a success or not. That said, if it happens to catch fire, the publisher and I will be ready to get out there and take advantage of the momentum.
Like the last novel, I will be doing a number of Toronto-based bookstores, Toronto Library book signings and Q&A’s.
 4) Do you feel your writing is the same or has it changed since Exit Papers from Paradise?
Writing, like anything, is a process of improvement. I learned a lot from my first novel and carried those hard-learned lessons into STOPGAP. Where I feel like I have a strong sense of character, I spent a lot more time on ‘story’ for novel number two and making sure (like a screenplay) that the story followed a bit more of a classic path vs. something a bit more experimental.
 5) You mentioned in an earlier Q&A that Exit Papers from Paradise was in development for a feature film. Did that ever come to pass?
Exit Papers From Paradise is in development for a feature film. Over the past three years I have been working with a producer adapting it from the novel to a screenplay. It has been a very challenging experience, but I feel that we are closer than ever. The producer and I are now getting to the point where we are confident enough in the adaptation that we can enter the next phase of film development: Polish and Packaging. Here, we will seek to attach a noteworthy director and (if successful) polish the script based on the director’s notes. Film is an entirely different beast, but I love that medium of storytelling as much as writing novels. That is for sure. It would be one of life’s thrills to see the character of Isaac Sullivan come to life on screens across the country and beyond. Also, Exit Papers is a story that I think many people can connect and identify with. In short, Exit Papers explores the gap between the person you are and the person you think you should be.
 6) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
Right now, I am totally focused on the adaptation of Exit Papers from Paradise. I have a few ideas kicking around for novel number three that will only take shape once the screenplay is under control and I can give a new idea the time and focus that it deserves.
 7) In your last Q&A you mentioned you admired Kurt Vonnegut and Irvine Welsh. Are there any new writers or books that you have read recently that you admire?
I am a huge fan of Craig Davidson. I love Chuck Palahniuk and was blown away by (both) Damned and Doomed. These two writers are masters of the craft and I would love to be at their level someday.

“I’ve reached this really happy place where I’m at peace with my desire to just be prolific” | Q&A with writer Mark Sampson

Mark Sampson certainly was the subject of a few conversations within my circles with his novel Sad Peninsula (Link to my review) He certainly enlightened a few people about the role of comfort women in Korea during the Second World War AND caused a few of us to look at our own interactions with different members of our own society. So it was exciting to see on his posts on Facebook recently announcing that he has a new book coming forward. And it was equally exciting for me to have him answer a few questions for my blog.
1) So you have just released a book of poetry entitled Weathervane. Could you give a bit of an outline?
Weathervane collects the poems I’ve been writing and publishing over the last 15 years or so. The book is broken up into three main sections: the first looks at the various vicissitudes of weather and the changing seasons, and how they can be a metaphor for our relationships or emotional worlds; the second gathers poems that look at the consequences of action or inaction; and the third offers profiles of interesting people, places or things – some real, some fictional, some flattering, some critical. My poems run the gamut from formalist approaches (there is a sestina and a palinode included in the book, for example) to total free verse. A lot of it is lyrical or confessional. Some of it is funny (I hope). All of it tries to add some brief instance of illumination on an everyday moment.
2) You have written and published both fiction and poetry.  Do you enjoy writing both formats or is there one form you prefer other the other? 

Yes, I love writing in a number of forms: novels, short stories, poetry, book reviews and literary criticism. I think if I was forced to pick just one, it would have to be the novel, just because of its expansiveness, but poetry offers its own unique pleasures. I really love the concision of poetry, the way it allows you as a reader to leave gaps and breathing spaces for readers. I think a poem can be just as engrossing as a work of prose, but on its own terms.  
3) Who are you favourite writers? What are you reading right now? 

It’s so hard to pick a writer or group of writers as “favourites,” just because I try to read widely enough to expose myself to all sorts of forms, tones, voices and subject matters. But I guess I have my soft spots. Prose wise, I find myself returning over and over again to British writers Anthony Burgess, Martin Amis, Iris Murdoch, and the like. I’m really inspired by comic writing, and I try to infuse a lot of my own prose with it. As for poetry: I really love the verse of poets George Amabile, Jeffery Donaldson, Catherine Graham, and M. Travis Lane.

Right I’ve got a number of books on the go. I’ve been rereading The Iliad and The Odyssey, by Homer. I just published a review of a debut  novel, Bret Easton Ellis and Other Dogs, by Swedish writer Lina Wolff. And I finally got around to reading Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, which cleaned up at awards season when it was published back in 2011 and has been on my radar for quite a while. The nightstand stack of books is always out of control. I’ll probably still be reading 10 years after I die. 
4) Are you planning any public readings of  Weathervane? If yes, are there any dates or events that you are excited to partake in? 

I am indeed. March 23 in Windsor, Ontario; April 5 in Toronto; and April 28 in London, Ontario. There may be other events later in the year, but they haven’t been confirmed yet. 
5) It has been a little while since  Sad Peninsula has been released. How did you find the reaction to the novel? Was there a Korean version of the book released? 

I was really pleased with the reaction to Sad Peninsula after it came out in the fall of 2014. It got several reviews, including in some high-profile publications like Publishers Weekly, and I got to do a number of readings here in Ontario and in the Maritimes. Best of all, I received a lot of encouraging notes and emails from readers after it was published. It’s funny, because not all of the feedback was positive, and I didn’t necessarily have a problem with that. The book, as you may recall, was written from two alternating points of view: the first from a Korean woman who was a sex slave (“comfort woman” was the euphemism) for the Japanese military in World War Two; and the second from a young Canadian man teaching ESL in Seoul in the early 2000s. Some reviewers and readers really loved the comfort woman sections but hated the bits about the teacher. Others really thought I nailed the ESL teaching culture but were unimpressed by my rendering of the sexual slavery and its emotional aftermath. The fact that both parts got both negative and positive comments heartened me in a weird way. I felt that Sad Peninsula was, on several levels, a very difficult book, and I was glad there was such a multitude of responses to it.

The novel has not been released in South Korea. I know my publisher, Dundurn, has been pushing for a Korean version since it accepted the manuscript. But the world of foreign rights and foreign translations is incredibly complex and competitive, so I don’t know whether we’ll ever see that happen. I’m also not certain where narratives about the comfort women legacy really stand in Korea’s literary culture right now. I wonder if the reason the book hasn’t been picked up is because there have already been so many works of fiction over there exploring that history, and the country just doesn’t need yet another one (and one written by a waegookin, no less). Or maybe the opposite is true: maybe there are very few novels written in Korean about this history, and maybe the country isn’t quite ready to explore what happened to these women through fiction yet. It’s hard to say.

 6) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share? 

Yes, indeed. I’ll be back with Dundurn for my next novel. I submitted the completed manuscript to my editor about two weeks ago and it looks like the book – which is a comic novel about a university professor whose off-colour comments during a nationally televised debate go viral on social media; a VERY different book from Sad Peninsula, let’s just say – will be out sometime next year. I’m also back to writing some new poetry after a long stretch away from it (Weathervane has been in the can for a while now) and it feels really great. I’m also hoping to start a new novel at some point later this year. So I’d say I’m fairly busy.
7) You seem to partake a bit on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter? How do you like using those applications? Do they help you with your writing at all? 

Social media is good for staying connected with friends and colleagues in the writing community, and to help promote book launches and readings and such. And I’d definitely say the darker side of social media – the public shaming, the bun fights, the insidious attacks and trolling – certainly played a role in inspiring the new novel I just finished, mentioned above. But I think what you have to realize as a writer is that your social media audience isn’t necessarily the audience for your writing. The range of one’s social media presence is actually pretty small, even you have hundreds or even thousands of “followers.” And it’s important to remember that who you’re really trying to connect with is that individual reader standing in the bookshop or at the library, or hovering over your book’s entry on an online retailer’s website, and deciding whether to share their scarce free time with something you’ve written. Social media can only ever be an adjunct – and a very tenuous one at that – to that relationship with a reader.
8) So you have been writing for a little while now. Has your writing changed since you started out? If yes, how? 

Actually, it’s been a looooong while – 25 years as of this month. When I started out, I was halfway through Grade Ten in Charlottetown, PEI, and wanted to be Canada’s answer to Stephen King or Danielle Steel – basically a “commercial” writer. I wrote several “novels” (or, I suppose, novel-length pieces of fiction; it’s hard to call them proper novels, they were such garbage) over the next seven years, and by the late 1990s (I was in my early twenties by this point) I realized that literary fiction was where I really wanted to be. Then I went through a lengthy phase where I wanted to write big, chunky, “serious” novels that take seven years each to compose, a la John Irving or Wayne Johnston or Tom Wolfe. But in the last number of years, I’ve reached this really happy place where I’m at peace with my desire to just be prolific and write whatever the fuck I want, that I want to write a lot and in multiple genres and modes – novels and poetry, literary criticism and short stories, funny works and sad works and everything in between – and I’m just having a blast doing all that.
9) Your biographies have you listed as living in Toronto. How do you like living there? Does the city’s cultural scene give you any fuel for your writing?
Toronto’s cool. I moved here in 2007 after living abroad for a number of years and moving around in different places in Canada, and it eventually felt like home. I really do feel part of the cultural scene here. Despite what you might hear in other parts of Canada (especially back home in the Maritimes), Torontonians – or “Upper Canadians” as we call them – are actually very warm and welcoming. Toronto as a place is starting to creep its way into my fiction now, and I feel like this is the sort of city that can keep you stimulated while at the same time leave you alone, which is ideal for a writer. 

The Face of the ‘Human Zoos’ | Review of “In the Footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab” by France Rivet (2014) Polar Horizons Inc.

The concept of a ‘Human Zoo’ is a pretty daunting one to grasp. One is able to read many historical documents which show how  two Inuit families were lured from their homes in Labrador to tour Europe in the 1880s and perish in a Parisian hospital from Smallpox. But to put those documents into an order as so to put a face on the issue is not only a noble one, but one that is needed to improve the human condition in order for us to improve ourselves. And that is what France Rivet has done with In the Footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab.

Page 15-16 Preface

Originally from the community of Hebron in Labrador, Abraham was a Christian and had been educated by the Moravian missionaries. He was literate, played the violin, spoke English and some German words. Among the 35,000 individuals who were exhibited in major European cities during the decades of ethnographic shows (1800-1958), Abraham is, to our knowledge, the only one who left a written testimony of his experience as an ‘exotic showpiece.’

Shortly after his death, the diary Abraham had written in Inuktituk, his mother tongue, was returned to Labrador. Brother Kretschmer, A Moravian missionary in Hebron, translated it to German. English and French translations were also produced by the Moravian Church who printed them in some of its publications. Then, the story fell into oblivion for a century.

In 1980, the tragedy of the Eskimos resurfaced when Canadian ethnologist Dr. James Garth Taylor discovered a copy of the German translation of Abraham’s diary in the Moravian Church archives located in Pennsylvania (United States). It is through the article Dr. Taylor published in 1981 in Canadian Geographic of the eight Labrador Inuit who died in Europe was unveiled to the 20th century public.

Over the next 25 years, a few individuals looked into this tragedy including German ethnologist Hilke Thode-Arora and Professor Hartmut Lutz and his students at the University of Greifswald in Germany. They studied Abraham’s diary and tallied it with the diary of Norwegian Johan Adrian Jacobsen, who recruited the Eskimos. They searched in the Moravian archives, in 19th century newspapers as well as in the archives of Johan Adrian Jacobsen and Carl Hagenbeck. Their work was published in English and German, in scientific journals or in book form.

But to this day, nobody had conducted research in Paris where five of the eight individuals died. No one had yet tried to answer the questions: What happened in Paris? Where were the Eskimos buried? They had to have left evidence of their presence in Paris? Where were these traces?

These are some of the questions I have been trying to answer since 2011

Rivet’s work first came aware to me on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s documentary show The Nature of Things. The book combines elements of personal journal entries, news articles and scientific reports to give a unique perspective to Abraham’s journey to “civilization.” Rivet just puts in the right amount of comments in between the articles to give perfect insight to the story line.

Scanned image of Pages 150-151 “The Stay in Darmstadt and Nuggasak’s Death” from In The Footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab by France Rivet.

The story doesn’t stop with the stop with the illness,  anguish and the deaths of the group in a strange land. Rivet documents how interests by the scientific community at the time decided to have some of the groups remains exhumed, studied and then displayed for the public.

Page 242-243 Three Eskimo Brain Casts

What happened to the casts since these studies were conducted more than 110 years ago? Following the dismantling of the Musée Broca in the middle of the twentieth century, we know that part of Théophile Chudzinski’s collection of plaster brain casts was acquire by the anatomy laboratory of the Faculty of Medicine, at the Université Paris Descartes, then headed by Professor André Delmais. For several years, Professor Delmas worked to restore and expand the collections of the Musée d’anatomie Orfila and to integrate it with those of the Musée Rouvière. The result of his work was the establishment of the largest French anatomy museum know as the Musées anatomiques Delmas-Orfila-Rouvière.

From 1953 until 2011, the Musées anatomiques Delmas-Orfila-Rouvière occupied the exhibition hall and the galleries on the eighth floor of the Faculty of Medicine, rue des SaintsPères in Paris. However, the museum was closed in 2011 and its collections were acquired by the Université de Montpellier 1. Currently the collection is now packed and conditioned for long-term storage until the new owner takes possession.

No doubt In the Footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab is just the start of France Rivet’s journey to bring dignity not only to memory of the group Ulrikab went to Europe with back in the 1880s but also respect to his descendants of today. This is an enlightening read and one that brings respect to an element to the human condition in a new way.

Link to the Polar Horizons website

“Son of France” is definitely a crime novel but there are moments of lightness in it | Q&A with author Todd Babiak

I always feel badly about writers that I admire that seem to fade from my memory until they pop up on my radar with a new book. Todd Babiak is such a writer. His works are brilliant looks at the human condition and his first “Christopher Kruse” book Come Barbarians was a dark yet wonderful thriller.(Link to my review) Babiak “gleed” many of my followers of my blog by doing one of the first Q&As for me.  (Link here) Yet he slipped into the background until I learned of the publication of Son of France last week. I did manage to get in touch with Babiak recently and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about his new work. Look out bookseller, Son of France is now on my shopping list.
1) So you have brought Agent Christopher Kruse back for your new book Son of France. Can you give a bit of an outline of the book?
A: At the end of Come Barbarians Kruse is living in Paris and watching over a woman and her daughter. Son of France, begins shortly thereafter, as he tries to decide whether to stay or go back home to Toronto. He is working for the Mayor of Paris, at an announcement in a Jewish restaurant, when a man throws grenades inside. Kruse and his partner and mentor Tzvi, from Toronto, then try to find out who threw the grenades and why.
2) You mentioned in a Q&A that the first Kruse novel  – Come Barbarians  – was a ‘darker style’ than you had previously written in. Is Son of France in that same style? Are you friends still worried about ‘your funny brain still being filled with darkness?’
A: My friends have probably stopped waiting for lollipops and unicorns to burst forth from my brain. Son of France is definitely a crime novel but there are moments of lightness in it. Tzvi can be a comical guy.
3) Did you do much research for “Son of France?” If yes, was there any travel involved?
A: I have travelled multiple times to France. And I had to do a lot of research on the birth of the European Union, the continent in the early 1990s when everyone was talking about “the end of history.”
4) Are you planning any public readings for Son of France? If yes, are there any places or dates you are excited to partake in?
A: I’m hoping to be a part of the literary festival circuit in the fall, but other than that I’m going wherever anyone invites me.
5) I’m not seeing any translations of  Come Barbarians or Son of France into French. Have there been any translations? Has there been any reaction from any French residents to Kruse’s view and interpretations to French society?
A: So far, just from French people who have read “Come Barbarians” in English. We’re working on having it in French-speaking markets.
6) Have you read anything interesting since the our last Q&A that has excited your imagination? Any new writers that you admire right now?
A: I’ve just started Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck, who grew up in Sweden but now lives in Alberta. It’s terrific so far. And I’m excited to read Dan Vyleta’s new novel, Smoke.
7) Are you working on any new books right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
A: I’m ready to begin the third Christopher Kruse book but I’m taking a break to write a novel called The Empress of Idaho. It’s a saucy story that takes place in 1989 and I will never let my mother read it.

The Fruit of Knowledge and Revd. Merrily Watkins | Review of “The Wine of Angels” by Phil Rickman (2011) Corvus

We live in a time where traditions, beliefs and even history is being questioned. But how do we better understand the muddle of concepts, ideas and arguments  that are out there which  bombard our minds demanding they be included in our concept of logic? Phil Rickman has given us a starting point through his character of the Revd. Merrily Watkins. And the novel of her introduction, The Wine of Angels, deserves to be mentioned.

Page 19-20

Merrily had a recurring dream. She’d read somewhere that it was a common dream, with obvious symbolism.

By recurring . . . well, she’d fave it maybe once every few months, or the gaps might be even longer nowadays.

There was a period, not long before Sean died, when it came almost nightly. Or even, in that intense and suffocating period, twice or three times the same night – she’d close her eyes and the dream would be waiting there like an empty train by a deserted platform. Sometimes it was merely puzzling, sometimes it seemed to open up exciting possibilities. Occasionally, it was very frightening and she awoke shredded with dread.

What happened . . . she was in a house> Not always the same house, but it was her own house, and she’d lived there quite some time without realizing. Or sometimes she’d just forgotten, she’d gone on living there, possibly for years, without registering that the house had . . . a third floor.

It was clear that she’d lived quite comfortably in this house, which was often bright and pleasant, and that she must have passed the extra staircase thousands of times, either unaware of it or because there was simply no reason to go up there.

In the dream, however, she had to go up. With varying amounts of anticipation or cold dread. Because something up there had made its presence know to her.

She’d nearly always awaken before she made it to the top of the stairs. Either disappointed or trembling with relief. Just occasionally, before her eyes opened, she would glimpse a gloomy, airless landing with a row of grey doors.

In reality, if you excluded flats, she had never lived in a three-storey house.

Now, however . . .

Many of us were introduced to Merrily Watkins in the television adaptation of Midwinter of the Spirit (which is also the second book of the series.) However, reading the books give so much more insight into current social thoughts and mores. Watkins must deal with the pressures of being a female ordained minister in a small town. She tries to deal with the fine line of religion, tradition and superstition while dealing with her own tragic past PLUS raising a teenage daughter. Readers can forgive her for taking the Lord’s name in vain on more than one occasion.

Page 75-76

The evening visit had become a kind of ritual. Her trainers pattered on the flagged floor of the nave. Her footsteps made no echoes; the acoustics, as Alf had said, were warm and tight.

Walking on bones. Several of the flags were memorial stones, dating back three, four centuries. Francis Mott, d. 1713. John Jenkyn, whose dates were worn away into the sandstone like the lower half of the indented skull in the centre of Jenkyn’s flag – they didn’t dress it up in those days.

Couldn’t be more different from the last place, in Liverpool: a warehouse: scuffed, kicked about, a city church of smutted brick, with no graveyard, only rusty railings. The building couldn’t have been less important; it was what you did there, what you brought to it.

This church was important – medieval, Grade One Listed. Beautiful beyond price, even to people with no faith. And it felt friendly. Even to a woman. It enfolded you.

Hey, don’t knock it.

Merrily faced the altar through the rood-screen out of which row upon row of apple shapes were carved. Closed her eyes and saw a deep, dark velvety blue. Feeling at once guilty about this habitual need for reassurance.

‘Mum? That you?’

Merrily’s eyes opened. ‘In here!’

Jane’s head appeared round the door, hair as dark as the oak. ‘You’re not doing anything . . . private?’

‘Like what, for heaven’s sake?’

‘You know . . .’

‘Like doing the rounds? Locking up?’

Merrily stood with hands on hips. Getting a bit fed up with this attitude, the kid treating God like a stepfather. Was it always going to be like this until she left home and old mum in the dog collar became a figure of affectionate amusement?


While there is drama, excitement with this simple plot, Rickman has descriptive details and profound moments in this story. Watkins may be the hero and in a position of authority but she is in now way perfect. She bungles. She waffles. She is indecisive. In short, she is human in an extra-ordinary situation. Just like the rest of us at times.

Page 289-290

She felt completely wrong. She felt overdressed and under-qualified for the white surplice and the clerical scarf and the academic hood from theological college.

She should have been barefoot, in sackcloth. She was here to serve, and she wasn’t up to it. She was going to be a disaster. She looked out at all the pious, formal faces, fronting for the inveterate village gossips who’d always known she wasn’t going to fit in.

She fasted, at least – if unintentionally. A whole day on tea and coffee and cigs. Her head felt like it was somewhere in the rafters. She didn’t much care.

The bishop was ritually explaining a few basics to the congregation, as if they needed to know.

‘The Church of England is part of the One, Holy Catholic Church worshiping the one true God –  Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation.’

The word generation making her think at once of her daughter.

Oh, Jane.

The Wine of Angels by Phil Rickman has given readers a wonderful means of understanding the complexities of ideals that exists in today’s society. The protagonist, Merrily Watkins, is not a perfect person but is a human struggling through life for her beliefs. This is a great read and profound one to ponder upon afterwards.

Link to Phil Rickman’s website

Atlantic Books page for The Wine of Angels