Around the World via an Eight-foot Table

By Beatrice MacNeil

I am standing behind my eight-foot table at the Sydney Terminal in Cape Breton, where I have been selling my books to the cruise ship passengers for nearly a decade. My first destination is to Tasmania, on the rim of eastern Australia.

© Katheryn Gordon

A grandmother bought four copies of my children’s book The Cat that Ate the Moon.  She tells me something about each grandchild as I sign each book. “I’m all the way from Tasmania,” she says. “You’ve no doubt heard of us, surrounded by those growling, ugly devils. They can be quite annoying little creatures, but you would really love the country if you’d come for a visit.” I ask her to keep my books safe from the clenches of the devils as she walks away.

A young woman from New York picks up a copy of the children’s book. She is quite amused by the pictures. They have been done in cross-stitch by a gifted artist on the island. “My father will put this book in his museum,” she says. “He collects children’s books with unusual sketches. The museum is in a large university in Pennsylvania. You will see it on the shelf when you visit.”

An older couple from Northern Ireland purchase a copy of my novel Where White Horses Gallop. Based on the outbreak of the Second World War, it portrays our own Cape Breton Highlanders, with fictional characters, to relate the horrors of man-to-man conflict. The man tells me in a soft Irish brogue that he is quite familiar with wars. “Technology will advance this world, but it can do nothing for human nature,” he says. I look into a pair of old eyes that are fading with grief. His wife asks if I’ve ever been to Ireland. “No,” I reply. “But it’s next to Rome on my wish list.” She taps me gently on the hand and wishes me a safe journey to Ireland. “You’ll love it dear, it’s as green and quiet as a grave these days.”

A middle-aged man stops by and reads passages from my first novel Butterflies Dance in the Dark, set in an Acadian village with three young children being reared by their single mother. The Mother Superior at the school is as tough as a boiled owl. He pauses and puts the book down and walks off without a word. A short time later he is at the table reading from another chapter. Again he slinks away. On his third visit, he nods politely and asks in a quiet voice where had I studied psychology. “On my knees in the confession box, I got my degree in Latin, French and English,” I reply. He is quite interested.  He is a psychologist from South Africa who teaches at a university. “You would make an interesting guest in one of my classes.”

It occurs to me that the gas tank in my RAV was blinking on empty when I arrived at the terminal this morning. Thankfully, I’ve earned enough in sales to fill it for the drive home.

I marvel how far my books can travel to destinations that I, myself, may never get to see.

Beatrice MacNeil will share her new novel, The Box of the Dead, in a round table on Saturday, October 27 and a reading October 28.

Five questions with… novelist Corey Redekop

© Judd Dowhy

Corey Redekop will be at IFOA to share Husk, a novel about a struggling actor turned zombie.

IFOA: Who are you most excited to see at the Festival, and why?

Redekop: Aside from all the authors I “know” through Facebook and Twitter but haven’t yet met in person, there’s one individual I’m truly excited about (two if you count Cory Doctorow, but as we’re in the same event, I’ll just assume we’ll actually shake hands). I’m not sure if I’ll get to see him because of scheduling, but I do hope I’ll get chance to see and maybe meet China Miéville. Right now, pound for pound, Miéville’s one of the best fantasy writers on the planet, one of those rare writers able to infuse fantastical scenarios with absolutely believable characters (others being Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker). His prose is second to none, and The City and the City is one of the best fantasy thriller novels I’ve read this millennium. At heart, I am a huge geek, and while it bugs me that I’m actually older than many of the authors I geek out over, I’ll probably shriek with glee if I meet him.

IFOA: What are you reading right now?

Redekop: I typically read a few books at a time, my version of channel surfing, I suppose. I just completed Michael Tregebov’s very funny Jewish comedy The Shiva and Emily Schultz’s just so damned good The Blondes. I’m currently devouring Gemma Files’ A Tree of Bones, a great wrap-up to her Hexslinger trilogy, and I’m quite enjoying John Scalzi’s comic fantasy An Agent to the Stars. On deck, I’ve got Paul Tremblay’s Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye, Heather Jessup’s The Lightning Field, and Mark A. Rayner’s The Fridgularity.

IFOA: What’s the coolest thing about being a zombie?

Redekop: Well, you don’t need sleep, so you get a lot of work done. By “work,” I mean rampant cannibalism, but it is work, especially when your lunch refuses to sit still. Also cool? You can easily win any “how long can you hold your breath?” contests.

IFOA: We’ve heard you’ll be here for your birthday. What do you usually do on your birthday?

Redekop: Normally, I take the day off work and lounge about the house in a bathrobe or, sometimes, completely naked. Should make for an interesting round table. IFOA is a clothing optional festival, right?

IFOA: Finish this sentence: The Internet is…

Redekop: A massive timesuck, made of cats, a warning sign of the dumbing down of the world, and the greatest thing ever made.

IFOA: Bonus question: This year’s International Festival of Authors in one word…

Redekop: Eclectic.

Redekop will participate in two IFOA events: an October 25 reading and a round table called Zombies, Witches, Killers and Cowboys: Visions of the Future of the Novel on October 27.

Five questions with… poet Sandra Ridley

Ottawa-based poet Sandra Ridley was the winner of Harbourfront Centre’s 2012 Poetry NOW competition. She’ll be at IFOA to share her latest poetry collection, Post-Apothecary.

IFOA: Why do you choose to write poetry over prose?

Ridley: Poetry is the most natural form for me. I’m not a story teller at heart.

For any genre, if the writing is done well, form and content are inseparable and mutually reinforcing. I’m curious about omissions and leaps of reasoning, and the more associative and fragmentary connections between fluidities—what makes for disorienting atmospheric elements or emotive motifs—and personally, poetry seems better suited to that stylistic bent.

IFOA: What’s your idea of a perfect day?

Ridley: The kind of atemporal day when I forget who I am and what my wants and needs are. Those days don’t happen very often, of course. But they happen more often when there is sunshine involved. And a warm lake. And sand dunes.

And a couple of cold bottles of Beau’s beer.

IFOA: You grew up on a farm. How has that influenced your writing?

Ridley: I’m not sure if it has influenced my writing at all, but perhaps it has influenced my writing process. I have a very high tolerance for long stretches of alone-time. Actually, I have a love for alone-time. (I had lots of it as a child – the closest town was a hamlet of twenty-six people.)

Removing myself from involvements—necessary engagements and typical distractions—helps me focus on work. I’ve been lucky these last few years to have had a handful of weeks away each summer. I’m relatively feral by the time I come back to the city.

IFOA: If you could time travel, where and when would you go, and why?

Ridley: May 21st, 1927.

27 Rue de Fleurus, Paris.

Late afternoon, leaving Toklas and Stein’s salon just in time to see “Lucky Lindy” Lindbergh cross overhead in his single-seat, single-engine monoplane – winning the Ortieg Prize, by being the first to fly non-stop and solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

I imagine that the Roaring Twenties would be a favoured time for a lot of writers. It was a period of movement and creation—booming prosperity. Flappers and cloche hats. Motion pictures, jazz, and the Golden Age of radio. Les Années Folles. I think for many, but maybe not all, it may have been a time when people could forget the human animal’s capacity for destruction.

I would’ve been dancing and I would have had no fear of dancing.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I write best when I’m…

Ridley: Unconcerned with my expectations for a poem. Too often I let my inner-editor nay-say too early—so the words can’t accumulate. I wish I was a little more patient with the early stages of the writing process.

IFOA: Bonus question: This year’s International Festival of Authors in one word…

Ridley: Quaquaversal! (Bet you didn’t think I’d get that one…?!)

For more about Sandra Ridley’s appearance at IFOA, click here.

Meet our bloggers

As part of our commitment to bring you great coverage of the International Festival of Authors (October 18-28), we’ve recruited four stellar bloggers to attend events and share their highlights with all of you. Without further ado, here they are!

Brianna Goldberg is a writer and producer from Toronto whose work has appeared in both of Canada’s national newspapers and on all three radio services of the CBC. She recently returned from two years of travelling through the Caribbean and Africa, where she freelanced on topics ranging from terrorism to lingerie trends to the general awesomeness of Virginia Woolf. Find out more about Goldberg’s work online on her website or follow her on Twitter @b_goldberg.

Corina Milic reads, writes and edits for a living. She is the poetry editor at Canada’s funniest magazine that features a simian, The Feathertale Review. Monkeys don’t pay bills though, so she also works as an online editor and community manager at MSN.ca, Canada’s (legitimately) largest portal. She is currently trying to read every single book in her home. Track her progress here.

Iain Reid is the author of the critically acclaimed comic memoir One Bird’s Choice, which won the CBC Bookie Award for Best Non-fiction Book of the year and sold internationally. His second book, The Truth About Luck, will be published by House of Anansi Press in 2013. He writes regularly about books and writing for the National Post. Follow him at @reid_iain.

Janet Somerville teaches literature at Royal St. George’s College, a school for boys in Toronto’s Annex neighborhood where many of the authors who appear in her courses come to classes to talk about the writing life. A former PEN Canada board member and longtime volunteer, Somerville also curates an annual event called Get Caught Reading to benefit the Children’s Book Bank. She has poems published in Calling Cards: New Poetry from Caribbean/Canadian Women, tweets about books at both @janetsomerville and @TeenBoyLitCrit, and blogs about what she’s reading at Reading For The Joy of It.

Our bloggers are looking forward to the Festival, which begins October 18. For more information about our incredible lineup of authors and events, visit readings.org.

Emma Donoghue on writing, reading and love letters to elephants

© Nina Subin

The multi-talented Emma Donoghue, author of the bestselling Room, joined us for a Twitter chat with HarperCollins Canada this morning. Our favourite quote? On how long it took her to research her new short story collection, Astray, which spans four centuries:

“A decade and a half. I’m like your crazy aunt who never throws anything away.”

But she said a lot of other amazing things, too. If you missed the chat, here are some highlights:

[#Astraychat with Emma Donoghue” on Storify]

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