amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Elizabeth Hay

read from Late Nights On Air (McClelland and Stewart, 2007) as part of the Ottawa Public Library’s Literature with Lunch Series at the Main Branch on Metcalfe & Laurier.

I was surprised to see a packed auditorium on a weekday, but it makes sense. Lots of people work downtown, it’s at lunch and Elizabeth Hay’s Giller Prize, not to mention the rave reviews the book has been getting must be contributing factors.

I heard Elizabeth read at the OIWF this year and meant to buy the book then. This time around I did. She read from a section about a canoe trip in the 70s and the main character’s scary encounter with a bear. What I particularly enjoyed about Elizabeth’s writing was the vividness of her descriptions, the moist huffing of the bear as it stood over Gwen, how Gwen could hear its saliva bubbling. Ugh. Amazing stuff.

Another earlier scene describing the tenderness Harry felt for Gwen, his rubbing cream into her dry and chapped skin was beautiful and demonstrated a real understanding and compassion for people.

During the Q&A I asked Elizabeth how much research informed scenes like the one described above. She said that she did a lot of research, but didn’t google, preferring instead to do her research at the library (how apropos!). She read a lot of books about people’s encounters with bears, did have an experience with a bear on her own canoe trip (but not like the one in the book) and also used her imagination to extrapolate.

There were other really interesting questions. One woman asked whether Elizabeth wrote journal entries. Elizabeth said she’s been keeping a journal since the early 80s in which she writes down things that will be useful to her fiction.

Sales for the book by Collected Works were brisk and many people got Elizabeth to sign their copies.

If you are downtown on Wednesdays at lunch, check out this series. The next featured reader is Mary Borsky, who wrote the wonderful short story collection, Cobalt Blue (Thomas Allen Publishers, 2007). The reading takes place on January 30.

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