I started my Festival adventures yesterday with the noon hour Bookmarks event, A Writers Book Club, featuring Jowita Bydlowska, Douglas Glover, Sue Goyette and Elizabeth Ruth. Each author spoke about their approach to the works they read and write. I was pleasantly struck by how much I connected to each one of these panelists for varying reasons, which gave me the same thrilling satisfaction I feel after buying an album and discovering that I love every song. Jackpot!
Let’s begin with Elizabeth Ruth. As some of my friends are aware, I’ve spent the last four years working with Hemingway texts, studying The Sun Also Rises and having preposterous fights with Ernest in my head. When Elizabeth began to speak about writing her third novel, Matadora—set in 1930′s Spain and Mexico—a book that delves into themes of politics and passion through the eyes of a young, female bullfighter, I was rapt. She went on to discuss her own relationship with Hemingway, from his muscular writing style to how she decided to address bullfighting from a feminist point of view. She spent six weeks in Spain, admittedly arguing and conversing with Hemingway in her head as she attended bullfights and researched the history and complexities of bullfighting. She compared a writer’s ambition to that of a bullfighter’s: both activities lead us into new, unpredictable territory. And how does a writer know when a book is complete? When the manuscript most closely resembles the writer’s initial intention. Handily, I found these two articles about the development of her novel available at the signing table. Check them out, The Quill & Quire and The Globe & Mail.
Sue Goyette is an award-winning novelist and poet. And how did this author draw me in? For starters I used to be a competitive open water swimmer, so her new collection of poetry, Ocean, had already spoken to me before the event. For Sue, the act of reading is a refreshing experience, a ‘re-set’ button that brings her back to what she calls her “essential self.” I enjoyed her description of fiction writers, as they inevitably must go inward, somewhat self-absorbed, in order to cultivate the great “ecosystem” of a novel. “Our art is smarter than we are,” she said, “a lot of the time what we need is to get out of our own way.” I agree. We need to trust ourselves. Trust the process. Stop getting in the way. Funny how hard this can be.
Author Douglas Glover (Savage Love) has been reading books with a pen in his hand for years. His family always knows what books he’s been reading because of the notes that decorate the margins. He feels that he learned a tremendous amount about writing from reading recent Nobel Prize winner, Alice Munro. Glover paid attention to her sentences, noticing and admiring how she could use the word ‘but’ three times in a phrase and make it work. Glover is the author of multiple story collections and novels. I highly recommend you visit his online magazine Numero Cinq. Follow the right hand column and click Literary Craft and Technique.
Jowita Bydlowska, author of the national-bestselling memoir, Drunk Mom, was born in Poland and moved to Ontario with her family when she was fifteen. She knew only a dozen English words and most of them were swear words. She walked us through her experiences as a teenager and learning to read and speak English, and how eventually, authors such as Robertson Davies and Margaret Atwood would inspire and inform her desire to write. After high school, before she decided to apply to journalism, she worked at a bank. She paused here to look gravely at the audience, “Not what a writer should do.” However, she was able to read a lot during this time. Eleven years ago she met a “wonderful guy,” her now-husband and well-known Canadian author, Russell Smith, who was instrumental in her development as a writer. I am both inspired and moved by Bydlowska’s courageous decision to write a memoir that charts her relapse into alcoholism and the struggles she faced to raise her son and achieve sobriety. Jowita’s work appears occasionally in Hazlitt Magazine, where you can also read about writers and their libraries.
The evening Showcase readings gave us insight into the new works produced by authors Sahar Delijani (Children of the Jacaranda Tree), Douglas Glover and the “Waynes”—Wayne Grady (Emancipation Day) and Wayne Johnston (Son of a Certain Woman).
Sahar Delijani was born in an Iranian prison after her parents were arrested for political activism in 1983. She spoke with host Jennifer Keene (CBC Radio 1) about her life, the path that led her to literature and answered candid questions about the revolution in Iran and the harrowing experiences of her friends and family. Wayne Grady spoke on themes of prejudice generation after generation.
Before presenting his reading, Wayne Johnson said, “It’s nice to be back in Calgary. I was last here two years ago. However, please don’t get used to the notion that I am going to write a book every two years.” (Shades of yesterday’s post in this statement for those of you who read it). He read a scene from Son of a Certain Woman, and later—in his interview with Jennifer, mentioned that in his very distant past, he’d been on a path into the priesthood, but that ultimately he decided against this. He consoled his mother by telling her he would go into medicine instead, but didn’t, deciding instead to become a writer. “I went for the big bucks,” he said, quintessential deadpan humour effective as ever.
Another poignant and enlightening day on the ground at WordFest.
PS – It was a full moon yesterday, so if you are feeling a little crazy or unlike your normal self, all should be better very soon. See you at Chuck Palahniuk!
Samantha Warwick is the author of the novel Sage Island (WordFest artist 2008 + 2009). Her nonfiction and poetry have been broadcast on CBC Radio and appeared in various literary and commercial publications including Geist, Event, Room, filling Station, The Globe & Mail and FASHION. Samantha is the Official WordFest Blogger for 2013, and moderator of “Afternoon Delight,” featuring L. Marie Adeline and Ophira Eisenberg on Saturday, October 19.