Tag Archives: JonArno Lawson

Learning from the Life Lessons of Uncle Holland | Review of “Uncle Holland” by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Natalie Nelson (2017) Groundwood Books


We have all made mistakes in our past, and we all have had to make difficult decisions because of those mistakes. But in many cases, those decisions can lead us to uplifting and interesting paths in our lives and define us in better ways. That is the story JonArno Lawson tells in his book Uncle Holland and with the illustrations by Natalie Nelson, the book is a delightful and unique exploration of an important aspect of the human condition.

Palmer and Ella had three sons – Holland, Jimmy and Ivan. Jimmy and Ivan were good boys, but Holland, who was the eldest, was always getting into trouble.

Holland sometimes stole things. He like stuff that was pretty, and sometimes he couldn’t help stuffing that pretty stuff into his pockets.

One day, when the police had caught Holland for the thirty-seventh time, they said, “Holland Lawson, either you go to jail or you join the army. It’s up to you.”

JonArno Lawson has a magical way of incorporating whimsy into his words. And this story is no different except that it includes a story moral lesson in it. JonArno has taken the story of his Uncle Holland and shared it with us readers, giving us  – no matter what age group we belong to – a unique lesson to learn.



Natalie Nelson’s illustrations for this book are stark and bold. They truly not only visually tell the story of Uncle Holland but also help create empathy for Uncle Holland’s family members. Nelson use’s colours just at the right moment for emphasis, giving the story the ‘right punch’ when it was needed.


Uncle Holland by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Natalie Nelson is certainly a unique story filled with whimsy and an important life lesson. Stark illustrations that punctuate the story with perfect colours at the right moment add to the plot and make this book an enjoyable read.


Link to House of Anansi/Groundwood Books webpage for Uncle Holland

Link to Natalie Nelson’s website

Link to my Q&A with JonArno Lawson about Uncle Holland –  “I hope the story conveys that it’s possible to find new and unexpected ways of moving forward, even under the most constraining circumstances.”



“I hope the story conveys that it’s possible to find new and unexpected ways of moving forward, even under the most constraining circumstances.” | Q&A with writer JonArno Lawson on his new book “Uncle Holland”

Cover image linked from the publisher’s website
I don’t think there is a more versatile writer right now than JonArno Lawson. And certainly not one as dedicated to his craft. His new book children’s book  – Uncle Holland – is coming out April 1 from Groundwood Books. And he is probably one of the most productive writers I know of this year . His listing of new titles is impressive. Lawson took some time out from his writing and editing to answer a few questions for me.

1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of Uncle Holland?

In Uncle Holland, a young man who’s constantly getting into trouble with the law – he steals things – is finally given a choice between jail and the army. He chooses the army, and finds an unlikely way to make something positive out of his new environment.

2) In reading the descriptions that Groundwood Books has for Uncle Holland, I gather that you have a personal connection with this story. Is that the case? What are you hoping – if anything – that Uncle Holland will accomplish?


Uncle Holland is based on my actual Uncle Holland, who died before I was born. In real life, he did get into a lot of trouble – and he really did start out in the army, but he became a jeweler afterwards. I was only guessing that he joined the army (in the 1930s) because of legal problems, but in the fall I asked his big sister, my Aunt Jean (who turns 100 this year!) why Holland joined up and she said “I don’t know – he was in some kind of trouble, but I can’t remember what”.  So it was a good guess!

Image linked from the publisher’s website
I hope the story conveys that it’s possible to find new and unexpected ways of moving forward, even under the most constraining circumstances. The Army might represent any kind of problem – in a way, school is like the army for children – you’re forced to go and you have to struggle all the time with pressures to conform.

3) How long did it take to write Uncle Holland? Was it an easy or difficult book to write?

I wrote Uncle Holland almost ten years ago – I wrote and illustrated the first version in one morning, as a self-challenge, at my favourite coffee shop (which no longer exists – it was called ToGo, at Yonge Street and Shaftesbury Avenue in Toronto – I still miss it) . My daughter’s kindergarten teacher wanted every parent to come in and read a book to the class at some point during the year, so when it was my day I thought – I’m supposed to be a children’s book writer – why don’t I see if I can come up with a story and pictures all at once on the day I’m supposed to present?  So I did – it was very exciting – it created a lot of pressure. I used my Uncle Holland as the main character, and a few details of his life, to save myself the trouble of inventing everything on the spot.
The story went over well with my daughter’s class, but I never really thought about publishing it. For fun, I showed it to Sheila Barry, who was my editor at Kids Can Press in those days. I wasn’t submitting it, just showing it to her because I liked the way my parrots came out – and she thought it was funny, but again, we never talked about it as a book. Then a few years ago she said she was still thinking about the story and wanted to look at it again.  It needed a little editing, there were a few inconsistencies, and odd phrasings, but it pretty much stayed as it was. 
Image linked from the publisher’s website



4) The illustrator Natalie Nelson has agreed to do a Q&A for me but I was curious to hear how you two connected?

Sheila was working with Natalie on a book to do with Flannery O’Connor by Acree Macam. I love Flannery O’Connor’s work too – so that was immediately interesting to me. Sheila showed me Natalie’s pictures and said she thought she’d be perfect for Uncle Holland, and I agreed, completely!

4)   I know you are busy with other books right now but are you planning any discussions/signings/etc. in relation with Uncle Holland?

There aren’t any plans for it at the moment. I wish Natalie and I could meet up to do some kind of event together – she and Sheila and I had an interesting exchange about how to talk about army life (and the point of armies) in the classroom, because that question had already come up for Natalie in a presentation.
My father was in the army too, and so was one of my Aunts – a fair number of my cousins have been as well – so it’s something I’ve thought a lot about.
Image linked from the publisher’s website

5)   Many of my followers use social media to track events that their favourite writers/illustrators may be involved with. You posted on your Facebook profile that you won’t be on FB for the “next long while.” Any idea how long that will be?

I’m not sure. . .I’m just checking in once a week or so now (that’s what I’ve done over the past few weeks). Some people seem to be good at using social media in a thoughtful, responsible way, but I find I just keep getting sucked in, and not using it productively at all. So I had my daughter change my Facebook password (I don’t know what it is anymore), which means that now I can only go in by request. I’ve felt much, much happier since. Not only were the posts distracting and often upsetting to me, but the sense of badly used time made me feel doubly awful.  Spending five or ten minutes on it once a week seems the best solution for me.

6)   In your last Q&A with me, you listed a number of projects that you are working on for this year. What is the next item you will be releasing for publication?

 I regret everything came out two weeks ago with espresso books. (Link to their website) That was exciting for me – they did a lovely job with it. The next one to come out is a non-fiction book with Wolsak & Wynn publishers, about playing cross-culturally with children. The title (as of now) is But it’s so silly: a cross-cultural collage of nonsense, play, and poetry. That should be out in August. And after that is Leap!, in the fall, a picture book with a poem as its text, with Kids Can Press, illustrated by Josee Bisaillon. So a busy year ahead. . .
Thank you for the opportunity to talk about the new book, Steven! I appreciate it.

Thanks for answering these questions JonArno! I know my followers appreciate your time and your writing!


Link to House of Anansi/Groundwood Books website for Uncle Holland

Simple Concepts Creating Deep Thoughts | Review of “The Hobo’s Crowbar” Written by JonArno Lawson/Woodcuts by Alec Dempster (2016) The Porcupine’s Quill

I purchased a copy of this book at the 2016 Toronto Word On The Street Festival


We all engage in some sort of wordplay in our everyday lives. But when words are put into an order to cause us to ponder for a moment, that is a real treat for our minds. And if those words are accompanied by gifted illustrations, then our minds are truly enlightened. And if that complete book is published in a dedicated and well-crafted manner, then it is a truly gifted read. That is exactly what JonArno Lawson and Alec Dempster have done with The Hobo’s Crowbar, published by The Porcupine’s Quill.

There’s Something Almost Real – Page 32

There’s something almost real

In everything that’s fake

Like some banana peel

That startles you awake

It gets beneath your heel

You slip out of your trance

And fall and crack your head

On stones meant for your feet

And if you crawl away enlightened

Then your journey is complete.

It is no secret that I have been waiting for this book. Lawson is an award-winning writer whose skill in taking even a few words and putting them in an order which creates a thought or an emotion in a reader’s mind. And that is exactly what he has done with this book. The phrases are simple yet the thoughts he creates are complex. Definitely a treasure to read.

Page 71

Up And Down

At first sight

I truly loved you


I wasn’t so sure

I was good enough for you.

(I was good enough for you.

I wasn’t so sure


I truly loved you

A first sight.)

Either Way, Again



The animals

On the ark-



The animals



On the ark-

The animals



The woodcuts that Alec Dempster has created for this book are detailed yet with simple lines. They greatly enhance the words of the book yet still allow the reader a great way of leeway to allow their own mind to imagine a scene.

Scanned image from Page 62 of The Hobo’s Crowbar. Woodcut by Alec Dempster.

There is a strength in the images that Dempster has here. Perhaps because they are woodcuts they seem to command a certain level of attention from a reader. They are intense and thought-provoking and accompany the words of the book well.


Scanned image of Pages 46-47 of The Hobo’s Crowbar. Woodcut (Left) by Alec Dempster and Important News (Right) by JonArno Lawson.

 The Hobo’s Crowbar, written by JonArno Lawson and illustrated with woodcuts by Alec Dempster is a mind-engaging book. It is simple in its details but complex in its actions and deeds. A great read.


Link to The Porcupine’s Quill webpage for The Hobo’s Crowbar

Link to JonArno Lawson’s blog – The Bottom of the Box

Link to my Q&A with JonArno Lawson-“The Hobo’s Crowbar was written in the way some of my other collections of poems have been written – mostly emerging out of sound ideas or just ideas that I jot down in my notebook as I think of them”

Link to Alec Dempster’s website

Link to my Q&A with Alec Dempster – “The book form is well suited to the black and white images I create whether it be linoleum prints, woodblock prints or paper cuts”

“The Hobo’s Crowbar was written in the way some of my other collections of poems have been written – mostly emerging out of sound ideas or just ideas that I jot down in my notebook as I think of them”| Q&A with Poet JonArno Lawson


JonArno Lawson’s works has been endeared by both adults and children for it’s wit and whimsy. He has been a winner of numerous awards – including the Governor General’s award in 2015 for the illustrated children’s book Sidewalk Flowers. It was exciting for me to see that Lawson will be release a new collection called The Hobo’s Crowbar in October, 2016 and he answered a few questions about his new work here.


1) The Porcupine’s Quill’s website  is calling The Hobo’s Crowbar a “collection of poems brimming with whimsical wordplay.” How would you describe it? What inspired you (if any) to write it?

The Hobo’s Crowbar  was written in the way some of my other collections of poems have been written – mostly emerging out of sound ideas or just ideas that I jot down in my notebook as I think of them, and then explore or fill out later. There was no central idea, just a pile of poems that seemed large enough to make a book from after a few years! Someone told me years ago that bpNichol worked on many of his projects in a similar way – he had files for different manuscripts where he sorted his ideas and poems, and at a certain point he’d realize something was full enough, or finished enough, to make a book out of (if he was aiming for a book – in his case, it wasn’t always a book!). I liked that model of working, and I’ve tried to use the same method, though I think Nichol was probably more organized than I am.

2) The Hobo’s Crowbar is illustrated with woodcuts by Alec Dempster. (Click here for a link to his website) Was there much planning between the two of you for the book? How long did it take to create the book?

The oldest poems in the collection go back twenty years. But most were written after 2013. Alec showed me his work after he was done – he’s an amazing artist – I had no input as far as his images went. He came for dinner a few months ago, and brought the woodcut for the cover image to show me the actual size – they’re less than half the size of the images you see in the book. Very small. Which is funny, because the paper cuts he did for Down in the Bottom of the Bottom of the Box were larger than the images you see in that book. He’s full of surprises.

3) Will you be planning any sort of book/reading tour for The Hobo’s Crowbar? (Or even a public launch for the book?) If yes, are there events you are excited to be attending?

 I’m going to be reading from The Hobo’s Crowbar at the Fog Lit festival in Saint John’s, New Brunswick, at the end of September. I don’t have anything else lined up, but it would be great to have some kind of launch in Toronto. Porcupine’s Quill is pretty wonderful about promoting their titles, so I’m pretty sure we’ll do something here.

4) You still seem to be keeping busy with Sidewalk Flowers. Do you have many public events upcoming for it? How do you feel about the success of it so far?

Sidewalk Flowers has had a great run. (Click for a link to my review) And it does still seem to be running, in part because the foreign editions are still coming out a few at a time. Right now it seems to be doing well in Germany – I was delighted when someone mentioned the fact I was half-named for German writer Arno Schirokauer in a radio review (on Radio Bremen). Sydney Smith (the illustrator) and I will be going to Ireland in mid-September to take part in the Children’s Books Ireland festival – we’re supposed to talk about our collaborative process at a session there. It seems every time I think nothing else could happen with the book, something else happens! At first it was wonderful, then I started to find it distracting from other work I was trying to do, now I’m just going with the flow – it’s all good. Time passes quickly and it’s silly not to enjoy the good things as they happen. I’m not great with the unexpected – my nature is more to enjoy watching than to enjoy being watched. But we all need some of both.

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

I’m working on a few different things. Mostly I’m working very hard to finish up a book about playing cross-culturally with children. It’s a non-fiction book. I have to have it finished enough for the publisher to start editing it by the end of July, so it’s pretty close now. I’ve been working on this book for ten years! So many interruptions. . .mostly my own. It will come out in 2017 with Wolsak & Wynn (a Hamilton-based publisher). It’s tentatively called “Around the World by TTC”.  I’m also working on a children’s picture book with Montreal artist Nahid Kazemi.  Later in the summer I’m starting on an Arabian Nights sort of story cycle – this is a big project, I have a lot of work (and reading) to do for it, completely different from anything else I’ve done, so it’s making me a little nervous (but exciting to think about too).

6) In the last Q&A (Link to “I like that kids have fewer filters, and they really don’t care about your reputation”) you listed a quite a few of your favourite writers. Have you discovered any new writers since then that you admire?

 Writers I’ve discovered since last time! That’s a good question. . . I’ve become a very big fan of Alison Gopnik. Her books about babies and children are fascinating. She has a book that came out just now called “The Gardener and the Carpenter” – well worth reading. Mark Winston’s “Bee Time” is a great read. “On the Move”, by Oliver Sacks. I’m part way through Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book “The Gene: An Intimate History” – very entertaining. He’s a fine writer.


Enlightenment without Words | Review of “Sidewalk Flowers” by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith (2015) Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press

Groundwood Logos Spine

It is difficult to imagine a poet bringing a story to life without words. And it hard for us adults to imagine being moved by such a story in a book form. But JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith have created such a book with Sidewalk Flowers. In it, they remind us how the world appears through the eyes of a child which is something we adults have forgotten and need to learn again.

Scanned image from “Sidewalk Flowers” by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith (2015) Groundwood Books

“Sidewalk Flowers is about a walk I took with my daughter through Toronto, seven years ago, as we headed home to my wife and two little sons. It’s about how she found flowers, and then gave them away very unselfconsciously,” JonArno Lawson told me in a Q&A recently and left it to that. (Link to that Q&A here) But both he and Sydney Smith have crafted a much deeper narrative with this book. We follow a little girl and her father on a walk through a black-and-white urban landscape. As we follow them, items in the little girl’s vision come to colour; her red coat, fruits in a seller’s stand, a vibrant pattern in a passerby’s dress, and so on. Eventually what comes to the forefront are sidewalk flowers she busily picks while her father is absorbed in more worldly and mundane matters.

Scan image from
Scanned image from “Sidewalk Flowers” by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith (2015) Groundwood Books

As we follow their journey further, other items come into the little girl’s vision; a dead bird, someone sleeping on a bench, etc. She deposits each one of her flowers on each of her observations, bringing attention and a little innocent joy to  the world around her. Even as she takes her father’s hand as they walk in through a park, she deposits a few of her flowers, adding colour to the world.

Scanned image from
Scanned image from “Sidewalk Flowers” by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith (2015) Groundwood Books

While catalogued as a children’s book, Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith provides a wordless message to both the young and old. A great read and a great item to ponder upon afterwards.


Link to JonArno Lawson’s blog

Link to Sydney Smith’s website

Link to House of Anansi Press page for Sidewalk Flowers

Simply Exploring those First Complex Emotions | Review of “Think Again” by JonArno Lawson / Illustrated by Julie Morstad (2010) KCP Poetry


It isn’t easy trying to grow up. You are awash with advice, thoughts, desires, emotions, and so on, that you just don’t what to do. An adolescent sometimes just needs a quiet moment to ponder a few things before they act. And JonArno Lawson and Julie Morstad have created a small volume to aid in that act of reflection for a young mind called Think Again.

Thoughtless (Page 11)

I try to leave all thoughts behind me,

but they always know.

They start to search and start to find

me everywhere I go.

Is being thoughtless such a crime?

My thoughts seem to think so.

Lawson has a great gift in the ability to write simple phrases that are thought-provoking and memorable. And he has incorporated that gift into this work as well. His phrases are based on the thoughts of a confused adolescent mind and are simple enough not to be too ‘preachy’ for a teenager to want to read.

Up To Your Neck (Page 20)

I know  that you might not agree

But it won’t matter much if you’re dead

Better three days up to your neck

Than five minutes over your head.

Julie Morstad  has created brilliant images to illustrate each of the phrases. The black-and-white drawings are – like Lawson’s words – seemingly simple illustrations but are quite complex when they are pondered. Perfect for a young mind to reflect on.

Scanned image of pages 16-17 of "Think Again" Words by JonArno Lawson. Illustrations by Julie Morstad.
Scanned image of pages 16-17 of “Think Again” Words by JonArno Lawson. Illustrations by Julie Morstad.

Think Again by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Julie Morstad is an excellent reflection of teenage fears, angst and desires. ‘Not too wordy’ and ‘not to preachy’ it allows the adolescent mind to carefully ponder themselves in this complex world. A great piece of literature.


Link to JonArno Lawson Blog

Link to Julie Morstad’s website

Link to Kids Can Press’ webpage for Think Again

“I like that kids have fewer filters, and they really don’t care about your reputation” | Q&A with poet/writer JonArno Lawson

I admire writers who can appeal to different audiences. JonArno Lawson is one such writer. He has written for both adults and children with a zeal that is infectious that anybody would want to continue to read more of his work. Lawson recently answered a few questions for me.
1) It has been a while since “Enjoy It While It Hurts” has been released. How was it received by the reading public? Any memorable events you care to share?
I’ve read from “Enjoy it while it hurts” 5 or 6 times now – the launch was a lot of fun, the audience was very nice. Same thing when I read from it in Hamilton a few months later, and in Picton last year too – a very nice audience.  I just read from the book last week, a few times, when I was in Nova Scotia – a poem called “My bum”, which was taken from a comment made by my youngest son (he told me he published his bum a few years ago, after I told him I’d published a book) nearly always gets a laugh. Sometimes the aphorisms go flat, but most of the time people seem to like them, or at least some of them. It’s a varied group of poems in that book, more like a bunch of different books mixed together – so I have to see what the audience is like (who’s there, and what the mood is), and then try to choose accordingly. You never know till you’re there! And even then. . .
2) You have written for both adults and children. Is there a preferred audience you enjoy writing for? If yes, why?
I try to write things that both adults and children can understand at first reading (or hearing). I like that kids have fewer filters, and they really don’t care about your reputation (it doesn’t mean anything to them, whether you have one or not, or if you do have one, what it is). In that sense, it’s fun to write for kids because you’re usually getting a more direct response – direct to the work. On the other hand, adults sometimes have more subtle and complicated associations and interpretations, so I like that too.
3) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
I have so many favourite writers! But I’ll take up the challenge and make a list. In no particular order (and I know I’m probably forgetting some essentials here) –  I like Michael Joseph, bpNichol, Idries Shah, Thomas King, Tahir Shah, Isabelle Knockwood, Amina Shah, Robert Ornstein, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, Charles Fernyhough, Saira Shah, Chris Stringer, Safia Shah, Sue Goyette, Arthur Deikman, David Pendlebury, Erin Moure, Ted Hughes, Doris Lessing,  Robert Twigger, Robert Graves, Laura Riding, Mina Loy, Adrienne Rich, Saki, Thomas McGrath, Zbigniew Herbert, Miroslav Holub, Vasko Popa, Yehuda Amichai, Mourid Barghouti, Jaan Kross, Sergei Dovlatov, Mikhail Zoshchenko, Timothy Findley, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Neal Ascherson, Kristin Cashore, Lenore Look, Jack Gantos, Edward T. Hall, Helen Waddell, Claudio Magris, Gertrude Stein, Avi, Kevin Henkes, William Carlos Williams, Ogden Nash, Christine Baldacchino, William Steig, Jeanne Steig, Carol Ann Duffy, Roberto Bolano, Nadezhda Mandelstam, Primo Levi, Fazil Iskander, Jim Copp and Ed Brown, Jackie Kay, Sheldon Harnick, Stephen Sondheim, Jacob Burckhardt, Yip Harburg, Italo Calvino, Mario Rigoni Stern, Muriel Rukeyser, X.J. Kennedy, Theodore Roethke, Stefan Andres, Tarjei Vesaas, Sebastian Haffner, David Jones, Rudyard Kipling, Jorge Luis Borges, Michael Heyman, Hakim Sanai, Pu Songling, Robert Louis Stevenson, Marilyn Singer, Marilyn Nelson, Kenneth Grahame, Shota Rustaveli, Bidpai, Ramsay Wood, Goethe, Mary Ann Hoberman, Imre Kertesz, Stendhal, Dennis Lee, Joseph T. Thomas, Jr., Philip de Vos, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Andrei Bitov, Jack London, Sebastian Hope, Tarquin Hall, X.J. Kennedy, Jason Webster, Lissa Paul, Dr. Seuss, Jason Elliott, Robert Frost, Jeff Smith, Dav Pilkey, Mo Willems, J.K. Rowling, Ingmar Bergman, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Audre Lorde, Marguerite Duras, Christabel Bielenberg, Emannuel Ringelblum, Hermann Langbein, Mervyn Wall, Xenophon, Fulke Greville, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Henri Bortoft, Jacqueline Woodson, Philip Nel, George Mackay Brown, James Aldridge, Plato, Henry Green, Denise Nessel, Maurice Sendak, Beatrix Potter, Tomi Ungerer, Ursula Nordstrum, Andrei Platonov. . .I feel badly, because I know I’m forgetting a lot. . .but these are all authors whose books I’ve returned to over and over again.
Right now I’m reading “The Secret Garden” by Mahmud Shabistari. Last week I was reading “Song of Rita Joe: autobiography of a Mi’kmaq poet”.
4) I have seen that you have participated in several public readings of your work. How did you enjoy those experiences? Have any of your works been the subject of any book clubs or reading circles? If yes, did you participate with those groups?
I’m not much of a public reader – I’d like to be better at it. I heard some great podcasts that Atul Gawande made recently – now there’s some great public reading! The experiences I’ve had haven’t been bad – I’ve only faced kind audiences so far, but I’m happier to stay home. As far as I know, my books haven’t been used in book clubs or reading circles, but some have been studied by primary school and university classes. Just last week I spoke to a class at Acadia (in Wolfville) that had studied some of my books, and it was a very nice experience. I also spoke to a primary school group that had read one of my books (near Wolfville) and they kept me busy with questions for over an hour.
5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, can you share details? Could you also give a bit of a description of “Sidewalk Flowers?” 
I’m working on another wordless book, which I’ll be collaborating on with Sydney Smith again. I’m not exactly sure of the scenario yet, so I can’t tell you too much (I can picture a lot of it, but don’t have a firm sequence at this point). I’m hoping it will take place next to the sea, but we’ll see. . .Sidewalk Flowers is about a walk I took with my daughter through Toronto, seven years ago, as we headed home to my wife and two little sons. It’s about how she found flowers, and then gave them away very unselfconsciously.
6) You seem to have a bit of a presence on Facebook and a site on Blogger. How do you like using those platforms as writer? Is it a good means of keeping in touch with your fans?
I joined Facebook this fall, after steering clear for years. I had to join because it’s how my son’s grade one teacher communicates about what his class is doing. I actually really like now how it allows me organize reviews, and it’s put me back in touch with relatives who live far away, and old friends (and some new friends!) – I like that. My daughter helped set up a webpage for me, and she also set up a twitter account for me this week. I guess as long as I keep it to five or ten minutes a day (but do I have the discipline?) it’s a good thing. It’s an easy way of staying in touch (and getting in touch) with people, which seems all to the good.
7) Many of your online bios talk about a connection with novelist Timothy Findley. Did you have a special bond with him in getting you started in writing?
He was very good to me. I sent him a chapbook of my work almost twenty years ago, and he really liked it. He connected me to a publisher right away, and offered a blurb for the back of any future book I might publish, and included a poem from that chapbook as an epigraph to his novel Pilgrim. One of the nicest things he did was take my wife and I out for a celebratory lunch at the Four Seasons!  Months before I’d even published anything – he just wanted to celebrate the poems. Bill Whitehead, his partner, was very kind too. That was a very happy way to start out as a writer. . .I loved his novels, so it meant a lot.
8) How do you like living in Toronto? Does the city offer you enough inspiration for your writing?
I’ve gotten used to Toronto. It’s home now. I’m from Dundas, Ontario, originally. It took me a while to find my way here – the pace and size were a bit beyond me for the first decade. . but now I wouldn’t want to live, permanently, anywhere else. I’m easily seduced by other cities, though. I love Montreal, and Miami, and I was just in Halifax – such a pretty city, it had a great feel. So does the town of Wolfville, where Acadia is. In some ways, the great thing about Toronto is that it isn’t seductive. As a writer, maybe it’s better to live in a place that isn’t constantly drawing you outside to look at it. We’re lucky to be able to see great sunsets and sunrises from our house – that makes me happy. But taken as a whole, architecturally, Toronto is a phenomenally ugly city.  On the other hand, it’s filled with amazing people from every corner of the world, and more and more are arriving all the time. To me, that’s the greatest thing about it.
9) Do you have any advice for any want-to-be writers?
Write write write! Or think think think, and then write write write. Or – stop all that thinking and just write, because you may not know what you’re thinking until you write it. Be hard on your work, not yourself – there’s a difference – but don’t be too hard on your work- write first, and then edit. Don’t edit what you might write out of existence by not writing it – and go out and submit things, anywhere and everywhere – I avoided submitting for ages out of fear and over-sensitivity. Don’t worry about being criticized – it’s all useful, whether you agree with it or not. Never assume what you’re doing is useless or stupid – that’s a common trap.  Stay optimistic! Read books about how to stay optimistic. Keep going!