Seen Reading interviews WordFest attendee Pauline Willis

Hi, all! It’s Julie Wilson, author of Seen Reading, and throughout WordFest 2012, I’ll be checking in with festival attendees. I’ll ask the each one the same questions and together we’ll see just how varied the responses will be.

Next up, is Pauline Willis, particularly giddy to be at this year’s festival because she’s the mother of author Deborah Willis (Vanishing and Other Stories), who appears this year.

When I first approached Pauline, she was a bit shy, but I quickly put her at ease, telling her that, ten bucks, her imagination would fire up once we were underway. And surely it did.

Pauline’s one of my favourite kind of festival-goers, the reader who picks events precisely because she doesn’t know what to expect.

(Photo credit: Monique de St. Croix, official WordFest photographer. Find her on Facebook!)

Julie Wilson: Who are you most looking forward to seeing at WordFest 2012?

Pauline Willis: Naturally, my daughter, Deborah Willis!

JW: Is it scary to watch her read in public?

PW: I’ve seen her read in public many times, so I’m not anxious anymore. I do feel proud of her! And my introduction to Richard Ford was wonderful. Now I can’t wait to read more of his work. And I’m also interested in the French authors, that will be my introduction to them, and the Italian authors, as well.

JW: So your experience at WordFest, a local festival for you, is like an international event.

PW: Yes. Also, I taught French at U of C (University of Calgary) for many years before my retirement, and Italian when I first started teaching.

JW: This approach reminds me of filmgoers who attend film festivals with the express purpose of seeing films they wouldn’t otherwise see, or certainly not the next week in mainstream distribution.

PW: Definitely, yes.

JW: What’s your favourite book of recent years? Anything stand out?

PW: One that I just finished that was marvellous was Room, by Emma Donoghue. I just thought it was so well done. I was absolutely enthralled. It was the narration, the way she brought so many questions to bear on a story one doesn’t normally think of, [kind of spoiler] especially in the aftermath of the escape. You just don’t often hear about the aftermath.

JW: Do you have a favourite book of all-time?

PW: Ooh . . . I think I’d have to say Le Rouge et le Noir/The Red and the Black (1830), by Stendhal. I did my thesis on him and I still enjoy it so much, so that says something in its favour.

My second choice would be Anna Karenina (1877), by Leo Tolstoy. It’s not only about her, it’s about the condition of women at that time, so it’s much broader than the title would suggest. The psychology is just so good, the analysis, and the way he brings in women of different stations.

JW: Is psychology a theme you’re drawn to in literature?

PW: You might say so, yes. I’m not crazy about picaresque novels, for instance. It’s just one event after another.

JW: Last question. I hope you have fun with it, because you’ve just woke up on a desert island . . .


JW: There’s a bag beside you. Among other items in the bag, there’s a book. What’s the book?

PW: So it could be one that I’ve read or I haven’t read . . .

JW: It could. The last reader I interviewed selected The Complete Illustrated Shakespeare because it would burn well, but he’d keep the pictures.

PW: I would probably choose the complete works of somebody, too. The complete works of Balzac, maybe, and then you’d have a whole world there with you.

Thanks for playing, Pauline!


To follow along with my reader sightings, and to contribute your own—no matter where you live—use the hashtag #seenreading.

If you’re joining us at WordFest 2012, be sure to also include the hashtag #wordfest2012.

And if you see me wandering about, please do say hello. I’d love to know what you’re reading!


Julie Wilson is The Book Madam (@bookmadam), a publishing professional who splits her time between Toronto and San Diego.

She’s an active reader ambassador, coach, and conduit, and creator/author of Seen ReadingFreehand Books & HarperCollins (ebook)—a collection of microfictions written in response to people who read in public. (WordFest’s festival bookseller, Pages on Kensington, also has copies on hand, along with some keen magnetic Seen Reading bookmarks. Stop on by!)

Follow Julie as The Literary Voyeur at @seenreading.

Visit her online homes at and

Julie appears at WordFest 2012 at the following events:

Name Your Sources
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
5-6:30 p.m.
Vertigo Theatre Centre, Studio
with Deni Y. Bechard, Russell Wangersky and Rachel Wyatt

How Should a Writer Be?
Saturday, October 13, 2012
1:30-2:30 p.m.
The Banff Centre
with Joe Meno and Susan Swan


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