I am constantly asked by people for my opinions on books for the younger set. The question usually brings a sense of dread to me. Not that there isn’t a shortage of books I think younger readers would enjoy, but the opposite is the case. There is such great collection of books out there that have such great details that mentioning why every young reader should be encouraged to read them would be quite a chore. So as the Autumn 2016 literary festivals begin to gear up, I plan to explore some of the participants online, check out there works that are accessible to me via my local library and mention the books here I like. Hopefully I will be able to network with writers, artists, illustrators and publishers further by discussing their works here.
One such way to grab the attention of any reader – let alone a younger reader – is to have great artwork to help a reader better understand a complex issue. While the words to a story may be important, art helps to move the narrative to build a better understanding of an issue in the mind’s eye. The more detailed and realistic the artwork, the better the story flows. And that is what Wallace Edwards has done with his artwork in You Are The Earth.
As one can see by the image of the cover of the book, Edwards has a realistic style to his work. It is almost like the beings that he draws are about to bounce off the page. Every line is fine and precise, giving detail to the image. No doubt readers of all ages will be engaged by Edwards’ artwork alone.
This is a unique book. The thoughts in it are profound and enlightening yet written in a simple style for young readers to grasp. But the images really punch the narrative through, giving the book that edge that makes the work come alive.
You Are The Earth is a great book for enlightening young minds about ecology. The artwork by Wallace Edwards is detailed and realistic which draws readers of any age into the book. This is a read well worth pondering over.
Wallace Edwards will be participating at the 2016 Toronto Word on the Street Festival (Link)
As the new releases for the Autumn 2016 season come out, many favourites are expected by book fans alike. One such book is Riel Nason’s All The Things We Leave Behind, which is to be released on Sept. 13. Nason first book – The Town that Drowned – earned not only fans young and old but won accolades from around the world. As Nason prepares for a whirlwind of activity just before her launch, she agreed to answer a few questions for me about her new book.
1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline for All The Things We Leave Behind?
Sure. It is 1977 in Hawkshaw, New Brunswick. Seventeen-year-old Violet is left in charge of her family’s antique shop for the summer while her parents go off searching for her missing brother, Bliss.
2) How long did it take you to write this book? Was there any research involved with the development of the plot of the novel?
It’s hard to say how long it actually took to write. It is something I worked on a bit at a time for years. Sometimes I went months and months without working on it. And I also worked on two other books (quilting project books, since I am a quilter as well) in the same time period. As to research, there was some, but mostly I spent my time writing and editing.
3) I have encounter many fans of The Town that Drowned that are excited to be reading your new novel. Are there similarities between the two novels? Any differences?
As to similarities, I return to the same geographical area, just ten years later. What happened to the river valley with the flooding and some of the things that came after are definitely mentioned in the new book. The main characters are a brother and sister again this time, but a very different brother and sister than Ruby and Percy. It is definitely a different type of story than The Town That Drowned.
4) Do you have any public readings/events planned for the new book? If yes, are there any dates you are excited to be partaking in?
Penn Kemp has been not only been a poet but a cultural icon around my home town of London, Ontario, Canada. Yes, her written words have inspired but her actions in a complex number of fronts have also been a source of enlightenment and engagement for numerous people. It was an honour a few weeks ago when she sent me an advance copy of her new work Barbaric Cultural Practice (Link to my review) but discussing it only seem to capture a bit of this thought-provoking individual. She agreed to answer a few questions for me here, adding a bit more insight into her and her work.
1) What inspired you to first write poetry? You have been involved in other forms of writing (including play writing). Does poetry hold any special traits for you that other writings don’t have?
My grandmothers were grand sources of inspiration. My Strathroy grandmother knew many poems by heart (that delicious phrase!) which she would recite to me in a kind of incantatory lilt. The sound transported me. My little Irish grandmother told me wild tales of legends that sparked my imagination into new realms of possibility, realms beyond my house and yard.
When my brother was born, my mother no longer had all the time in the world to read to me. So I memorized the nursery rhymes I loved. But that wasn’t enough; I wanted more. I tried to make sense of the black squiggles on the page until they slowly, finally, swam into meaning. What a discovery! It was pure magic to go from reading other people’s poems and stories to writing them myself. I would set up my dolls in a line on the couch and perform to this unfailingly attentive audience. Power to the reader! Power to the writer!”
What made me a poet? Curiosity. The thrill of adventure, of new worlds. I began piecing out the words to myself. I remember the thrill of pure magic when a word would leap into focus, into meaning. The black letters would assume a third dimension; they would dance. I could almost hear them speak to me directly. I was hooked. I wrote my first poem when I was six, excited and amazed at having created through apparent magic something out of nothing with marks on a page. I glimpsed a world in which words had a life of their own, just as toys did. I knew that if I could wake at the right time at night I would catch my toys at play. So too, I felt words could be surprised and fixed onto the page. If I listened closely enough, words would well up in my head and emerge as a poem.
Writing that first poem was the first time that I recall consciously feeling that I was doing an adult thing— creating something entirely on my own, assuming independence— growing up! I felt like the Little Red Hen in the nursery story: “‘I can do it myself,’ said The Little Red Hen, and she did.”
2) You recently sent me an advance copy of “Barbaric Cultural Practice.” (Thank you!) How long did it take you to write it? Is there any special hopes you have for the book?
Many of the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice have been culled from performance pieces that have been honed over many years and produced on CD/DVD, but not in book form till now. I’m grateful for family and friends’ encouragement en route and ongoing during the evolution of these poems. The list is long and extends back decades.
Poetry needs to be heard as well as read, so I have concentrated in recent years on audio renditions and videopoems in collaboration with Bill Gilliam, John Magyar, Dennis Siren and (always!) Gavin Stairs. How exciting to be able to offer links to video and audio performances of some of these poems through QR codes!
Several of the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice were provoked into being by political events; hence, the title. As an aging activist, I confront by words such issues as climate change and overwhelmingly new technologies. The poems juxtapose the stress of urban life as compared to nature’s round. The poems deal, for example, with the effect of computers on our psyche and with the imprint of electronic media upon perception, consciousness and dream life. Barbaric Cultural Practice pays tribute to our dear Mother World’s enchantments as well as her upheavals. Poetry is my response to the unprecedented complexities of our time.
3) (These next questions is one I know draws fear from other writers when I ask it here but I know some of my followers are eager to know an answer from you.) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
I read Canadian poetry and fiction, especially that which our library stocks. Daily, I scan “New Items” from London Library’s website! (Link to that page) Am reading a new edition of Mavis Gallant’s A fairly good time: with green water, green sky as well as Ann Carson’s Red Doc>. Then on to Margaret Christakos’s Her Paraphernalias: on Motherlines, Sex/Blood/Loss & Selfies.
4) I know you have a reading event planned at Oxford Books on Oct. 11 but do you have any other reading events planned? Are public readings something you enjoy?
I do enjoy public readings. It’s a privilege to share the innermost source of poetry when performing. And I love to hear poets read their work: the timbre of voice precisely matches their written word. Once I’ve heard a poet read, that voice echoes in my mind when I next read the work.
Here are some upcoming events where I’ll be reading:
September 3, 1:30 – 4:30 p.m. With musician Bill Gilliam @ 2pm. Vino Rosso Bar & Restaurant. 995 Bay St., Toronto ON M5S 3C4, 416 926-1800.
5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
My forthcoming play, The Triumph of Teresa Harris, originated in a short piece for London’s PlayWrights Cabaret at McManus Theatre in 2013. Then it was produced as an hour-long processional play at Eldon House Museum, with one actor and two musicians (co-artistic directors of Light of East Ensemble). More information about the original production, The Dream Life of Teresa Harris is up on https://teresaharrisdreamlife.wordpress.com/. There too are some reviews from the show. I am developing the play into a full length piece with ten or more characters for production at London’s Palace Theatre in March, 2017. The original musicians are participating in the play again.
Teresa Harris was born in 1839 at Eldon House and died in 1928 in England. She tells her amazing life story from her home here. Born the youngest of a prosperous pioneer family intent on bettering itself, Teresa married a Scottish military man who promised to carry her off to foreign parts she had dreamed of all her life, sickly though she had always been. Teresa’s story emerges through her own voice and that of her protective mother and her two husbands. Research reveals that Teresa and her second husband St. George Littledale were the greatest English explorers of their period, travelling further into Asia than any Westerner had.
Hers is an historical life as mediated through my imagination. My visits to beautiful Eldon House brought the era alive. It was easy to write from Teresa’s perspective since I identified with her and admired her adventurous spirit. It was fun to imagine her desire to escape the strictures of family convention for more exotic locales. Having been raised in London in the Fifties, I felt the town hadn’t changed all that much from the colonial outpost it had been in Victorian times. It was still very Anglo and class-conscious, patterned upon London, England like a pale shadow of the Mother Country. At twenty-one, I too couldn’t wait to escape, to travel the world! And I did. I was also happy to return to settle comfortably back in the house I grew up in after forty years away from London.
6) You seem to be active on both Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those platforms in relation to your writing? Does your WordPress blog site also work well for your writing?
The platforms are a necessity for a working writer to spread the word… and sometimes they are an escape from writing: fun, as well! The virtual communities are engaging: who could have imagined being able to keep in touch with so many people at once. And folks can promote various causes on my (Facebook) group, Support and Promote Canadian Arts and Cultures.
7) You have travelled around the world and still call the London, Ontario, Canada area your home. How do you like living here?
See #5. Yes, London is home. I was born in Strathroy and raised in London. I belong here.
Are there cultural institutions here that you consider unique that inspire your writing? If yes, what are they?
As the City of London’s first Poet Laureate and as writer-in-residence for Creative Aging London, I was very involved in different aspects of the community. Several occasions prompted poems. Other poems were commissioned by groups such as ReForest London.
Western U. gave me a great grounding in literature as a student there. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed teaching classes in Continuing Ed., and as Writer-in-Residence, and hosting a radio show, Gathering Voices, at CHRW. (Link to CHRW’s webpage for “Gathering Voices”)
This fall, I will be working on aspects of the play, including publicity and marketing, with students from Western in the course, Canadian Literature, Creativity, and the Local, with a Community Engaged Learning component. Working with me in this applied learning opportunity, the students will cultivate links with Eldon House and The Palace as part of the project. (Link to the course outline from Western University’s online calendar)
I first became involved in publishing when a local publishing house, Applegarth Follies, asked me to be their poetry editor in 1977. (Josiah Applegarth was London’s first settler). While I edited Twelfth Key, the famous Brick Magazine was published alongside. Another offshoot of Applegarth was Brick Books, still publishing glorious poetry nation-wide some forty years later and still based in London!
For many for us book fans, reading is not only a means of entertainment but a way to enlighten ourselves about the world and the way people interact in it. As the Autumn 2016 new releases come around, there is a promise of such reads for us. One such book is Jowita Bydlowska’s Guy: Or Why Women Love Me. No doubt this book sounds like it should be both funny and give us something to ponder. Bydlowska answered a few questions for me here about her new book.
A) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of “Guy: Or Why Women Love Me?”
Hope it’s okay to use our official write-up (it sums it up well): Guy is a successful talent agent who dates models, pop stars and women he meets on the beach. He’s a narcissistic, judgmental snob who rates women’s looks from one to ten; a racist, homophobic megalomaniac who makes fun of people’s weight; a cheating, lying, manipulative jerk who sees his older girlfriend as nothing more than an adornment. His only real friend, besides his dog, is a loser who belongs to a pick-up artist group. Guy is completely oblivious to his own lack of empathy, and his greatest talent is hiding it all…until he meets someone who challenges him in a way he’s never been challenged before.
B)What inspired you to write “Guy?” How long did it take to write it? Was there any research involved in the book?
One summer day in 2011, I was walking on the beach, in a bikini, and this guy walking by checked me out. Unlike most guys’ his glance wasn’t furtive – he seemed very confident and there was something about the way he looked at me that made me think he thought I should be honoured that he bothered to look at me. But perhaps I’m wrong about that interpretation; perhaps my fiction-writing part of the brain was already writing a story… Anyway. I had this thought about what it would be like to be a very good-looking dude who is a narcissist and who believes he could get any woman he’d wanted.
In terms of research, I talked to men about what it’s like to be a straight guy. Also, I have this attractive male friend who’s very popular with women and I’ve asked him his pick-up techniques. Also, I spent some time hanging out on Pick-up Artist Internet forums. Filthy, fascinating stuff.
C) Your online biographies have you listed as both a journalist and a fiction writer. Do you find much differences between the two styles of writing? If yes, explain.
A non-fiction writer reports (creatively or otherwise) from reality, and a fiction writer observes, filters, and interprets the same reality and reports from imagination.
D) Who are you favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
Michel Houellebecq, Bret Easton Ellis, Elana Ferrante, Laura Albert, Sheila Heti, Miranda July, Barbara Gowdy, Joseph Boyden, Lena Andersson, Jessica Knoll, Jim Shepard, Otetessa Moshfegh, Karolina Walclawiak, Douglas Glover, Herman Koch, Leonard Michaels, Lena Dunham, John Fowles, and many more.
I’m reading apartment listings right now as I’m in the midst of looking for a place.
E)No doubt you will be working on new items for your journalistic career but are you working on any new books right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
My agent just sent out my latest novel, Wolves Evolve, to a few publishers here and in the US. The novel is about complicated marriage, adultery, mental illness, aquariums and self discovery. Next, I plan to write a novel about Warsaw Uprising.
F) Your biographies have you listed as living in Toronto? How do you like living there? Are there any cultural institutions that Toronto has that inspire your writing at all?
I’m not a huge fan of Toronto right now – being single and living here (and taking care of a kid) is ridiculously expensive. I’d like to move to the country. Or Europe. In terms of cultural institutions, I do love International Festival of Authors that happens here ever fall. One of the themes in my newly submitted novel Wolves Evolve is comparison/ contrast between Toronto and a West-coast city like Seattle.
I had been in a bit of a funk with my blog last week. The summer months have been busy on other fronts for me, and my personal reading and reflection time has been somewhat limited. I had been trying to look forward to the autumn new releases in hopes of something invigorating for my mind would come forward. Then a message from Penn Kemp came via Facebook, asking if I would look and review her new book coming out in the fall. I agreed and I found myself enveloped in her Barbaric Cultural Practice.
Penn Kemp is an icon in the cultural landscape. Her biography page on her blog states she has over 25 books of poetry and drama published, plus six plays and numerous works recorded on different electronic means. But this new work is brilliant in its form.
No doubt, many of us Canadians were shocked last year when the government used the term Barbaric Cultural Practices on several fronts to justify their actions. We were outraged by the term, elected the government out of office and, no doubt, didn’t give the term much thought since. But Kemp has done something enlightening for readers by using the term for this collection of poetry. She has crafted her personal thoughts and views in this work and given all of us something to consider about our own actions. As she told me in the email she sent me with the advance copy: . . . the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice pay tribute to our dear Mother World’s enchantments as well as her upheavals. They confront the stresses of urban life as juxtaposed to nature’s round, and deal, for example, with the effect of computers on our psyche and with the imprint of electronic media upon perception, consciousness and dream life. They are a response to the need for action against climate change and a humorous protest against overwhelming technology.
The beauty of me reading poetry at this stage of my life is the admiration of thought and consideration of the human condition that writers of the form have. After spending numerous years attempting a career in the media field, turning to reading and considering literature has been an enlightening experience for me. Literature should cause a reader to consider their world and their actions in the world around them. Penn Kemp has done that for me with her collection Barbaric Cultural Practice. No doubt I will be reading it again and quoting it here when it is published.