On a gorgeous October evening, right in the middle of a warm spell, I am riding in the back of a comfy van, gazing at city lights, swirling leaves, snaky roads and piercing headlights. There are five of us: women who span the ages from teen to senior.
Yet all of these women have something in common. Words. The compulsion to hear them, read them, and write them. An obsession that forces us to work without wages more often than not. Sometimes, once we push our creations into the world, they even get ridiculed. But those times when someone reads the words we’ve written and loves them – well, that’s what keeps us addicted.
We’re on our way to hear the Governor General Literary Award finalists. I’m a bit nervous, since it’s my idea, and sometimes I have to admit: the GG and Giller novels are a little…different. Often, great writers are not great speakers. However, we’re together, and I enjoy the company of these females immensely.
Not only are they very accomplished and smart, but they are also kind, witty and gracious. Their energy makes conversation interesting and challenging. We nudge each other along the continuum of the creative process with encouragement, suggestions and constructive criticism. I am their coach, but I am also their student.
The Governor General Literary Awards reading is a step on that continuum. We like to immerse ourselves in literature of all kinds. We are writers, but we are readers, too, which I believe is a huge requirement for success.
The evening is orchestrated by Shelagh Rogers, the hostess of The Next Chapter on CBC (a show that I can only dream of being invited to). This is an auspicious beginning.
The first reader is Phil Hall, a poet who won the GG for poetry last year. I am thrilled that he mentions the Great Canadian Poetry Weekends in Collingwood. My friend Merci and I still have vivid, pleasant memories of those years.
Tamas Dobozy wrote Seige 13 “because of the silence”. The victims are reluctant to speak of demeaning events, naturally. Dobozy says he is interested in the “inexplicability of real life”. How this resonates with me! I have used the genre of mystery to explore the nature of evil, injustice, the “inexplicability of real life”. I love this.
Robert Hough, author of Dr. Brinkley’s Tower, is hilarious. He’s thrilled to be on stage, he says, because he suffers from the usual writer angst: “If so-and-so doesn’t like me, no one likes me”. How true – when I see those one star, mean-worded reviews, I can’t help but feel that very way. His story is about a real person who invented a one-million watt radio tower that he placed in Mexico, inadvertently turning every home within miles into conduits for constant noise. He describes life in Mexico as a “luscious torment” and “sad and miraculous”. How perfect a description of our beloved Mexico.
Vincent Lam reads from his second book, The Headmaster’s Wager. It’s set in Vietnam and China. His soft-spoken, poetic delivery is mesmerizing.
Carrie Snyder is young and vivacious. She reads from The Juliet Stories, agonizing tales about war from a child’s point of view. “Decrepit and magnificent” she intones: what a lovely phrase on the dichotomy of life.
Linda Spalding is the only one whose outfit I notice (since I’m quite unobservant of fashion). But she’s striking in her scalloped skirt and black boots. Her book, The Purchase, tells the story of Quakers in the US in 1798, exploring slave ownership. Again, I am thrilled: my fifth book explores the same topic, also from the POV of people who ostensibly abhor ill treatment of others.
Oh, what words we devour! The writers are all great speakers and readers, too, which only enhances the meal. We are nourished by the phrasing, the idea, the intelligence that radiates from the stage.
On the way home, we’re quiet, digesting the experience. We all agree that the readings make us want to rush back to our respective writing nooks and pick up a pen (figuratively, since we all use laptops).
Inspiration is the end result of an evening chomping on yummy words. I highly recommend this eatery, whether you are consumer, producer, or both. My Books