amongst books

amongst books

Friday, October 26, 2012

Writers Fest-Day 2: Fiction, Fiction, Fiction!

here are my fleeting impressions, by no means intended to be either accurate or comprehensive.

the fiction omnibus began with The Ever Present Past, an event featuring novelists Linda Spalding, Christine Pountney & M.G Vassanji & hosted by Charlotte Grey.

the three novels had diverse scope, ranging from religion, clowns, slavery, magic, colonialism, ethnicity.
I've added Linda Spalding's novel, the Purchase, to my wish list based on her excellent reading. The scene she chose to read described a slave auction. If I were to give advice to anyone who intends to read fiction at one of these events, it would be to choose a passage with movement or action or humour. Or a series of short passages that introduce a strong & compelling character & avoid passages that are heavy on description or overly internalized first person monologues. Spalding's choice was excellent because she managed to depict a character's complex emotions & compassion, described the auction objectively without imposing contemporary values while still managing to show us the outrageousness of selling humans through precise language & give us a passage that had a beginning, middle & end. It was a masterful reading.

The Question & Answer session with Charlotte Grey was fascinating. All authors & host agreed that history is always with us. Christine Pountney, in particular, said two things that I found quite insightful...forgive the paraphrase:
"Novelists are historians of consciousness."

This was in reference to the idea that even novelists who are writing books set in the current day are still showing the world as it is & as it will be seen by people who read the books later. For example books & stories by Hemingway, Fitzgerald etc depict the Roaring Twenties & today this is where much of our impressions of that era come from.
"To write a novel is to build a world around a question."

The latter was in response to a question from an audience member who wanted to know if the writers wrote their novels for catharsis or any specific purpose. All authors seemed to agree that they began a novel out of curiosity about something. This rang true for me as a writer also.
The second event featured novelists Shauna Singh Baldwin, David Bergen & Annabel Lyon & was hosted by local wunderbar poet Sandra Ridley.

I was fascinated by the voices in Singh Baldwin's novel, The Selector of Souls, & her ability to portray them so effectively. During the Q&A she mentioned when her writers' group responded to her main character, a Hindu woman who'd been the victim of domestic abuse, with pity rather than empathy, she felt the need to change the book & for some reason changed the era in which the book took place. one of the voices was a Hindu man who believed in the idea of Aryan supremacy. his rationale was quite chilling & effectively rendered by Singh Baldwin.
David Bergen is someone I've been fortunate to hear read at the festival before. The couple from his novel were fascinating, quirky & entertaining. The scene he read from sounded like it could have been in a play: Who's Afraid of Virginnia Woolf comes to mind. Bergen mentioned that for t his novel, he wrote from the point of view of a woman. The other readers wondered about the challenges he had to face. He talked about having empathy & said that in the end we really aren't all that different. To which I shouted, "amen, brother!" I related to the obsessions & anxieties of both the male & female characters in his passage. The Age of Hope, is definitely a bookI will pick up soon.

The Sweet Girl is Annabel Lyon's follow up to her novel The Golden Mean a book about Aristotle, Alexander The Great & the world of antiquity. The Sweet Girl continues the story. I  admit that when the Golden Mean came out, it wasn't at the top of my reading list because my knowledge of the classics is so faulty; i felt like i should read more of them before reading her novel, but after hearing Lyon's excellent reading from The Sweet Girl last night, both books have moved to the top of my reading pile. The passage she read was about a midwife & her interaction with people. It was a humorous & intense passage. I loved all the interesting terminology & quirky euphemisms for various sex acts.

It was fascinating when a member of a local book group studying the book asked about its ending. Some of the members had a different interpretation for the ending than Lyons had intended. She was quite interested by this. While it wasn't what she intended, it is a reminder that once a book is in the reader's hands, it travels by imagination. Imagination is the ultimate freedom, wouldn't you say?
Tonight I move to the front of the stage to host the Bywords John Newlove Poetry Award for the ninth year. So wonderful of the festival to continue to let us hold our event as part of their program. I'm excited & pleased for the winner & honourable mentions & for last year's recipient, rob mclennan, who will be reading from Miss Canada (International). I'm also really grateful that we'll have the music of Neil Gerster to start & end the event. He writes songs with brilliant lyrics, often containing literary references, & plays a mean ukulele. I hope you'll come. Even if you aren't a big fan of poetry, I think you'll enjoy this event. It's fast-paced: I discourage rambling; & it's always inspiring. After the event is over, I intend to enjoy a glass of red wine & a few pieces of dark chocolate whilst listening to the beautiful music of Lynn Miles, who will be performing at the CBC All In A Day celebration of her 25 years as a performer & song writer.

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