Well, here you go! As promised, I’m proud to unveil the cover for my fifth novel, Poles Apart, due to hit bookstores on October 20th. I think the design team at Random House/McClelland & Stewart, led by Scott Richardson, have done a great job on the cover. It’s playful and cryptic, and captures the tone and fun of the book very well. My deep thanks to Scott and his crew.
I didn’t think I could be any more shocked than when I miraculously won the 2008 Leacock Medal for The Best Laid Plans. Wrong. When my name was called from the podium this afternoon in Orillia as the winner of the 2015 Leacock Medal for No Relation, I really didn’t know what had hit me. Had I heard correctly? Was that my name? Yes, and yes. I honestly didn’t think I was going to win. I can’t really explain why I felt that way, but I was convinced it wouldn’t happen this time around. And I was quite happy with that. I was thrilled to be a finalist. But it was in fact my name I’d just heard. It was.
I stood up, walked to the podium, shook hands with Leacock Associates President Mike Hill, and then strung together an ill-prepared (actually, ill-prepared is generous — it was unprepared) assembly of sentences to try to express my deep gratitude for this unexpected honour. I’m still processing it all, but suffice it to say that I’m over the moon. As I said in my impromptu acceptance remarks, all roads in my writing life lead straight to Orillia and the Leacock Medal. I suspect that every Leacock winner in the award’s 68 year history has been grateful. How could they not be? But I can pretty well guarantee that no winner has been more grateful than I.
Up in Orillia this morning, the wonderful folks who kindle the Leacock flame in this country unveiled the shortlist for the 2015 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour, one of Canada’s oldest literary awards. I was thrilled to see No Relation on the shortlist along with some very funny books by some very accomplished writers. My friend Zarqa Nawaz, the creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie, made the cut, along with one of my Canadian music heroes, Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea. I’ve loved his singing and songwriting for years. I only hope I might get to meet him now that his memoir has been named a finalist.
It’s hard for me to believe that each of my novels has been a finalist for this very special recognition. Anyone who claims it never feels quite as good after the first time is flat out wrong. That principle may apply to other pivotal events in our lives, but for literary awards, I’m just as tickled today as I was back in 2008 when I was Leacock virgin, as it were.
I offer my humble gratitude to the judging panel. I’m over the moon and look forward to attending the Orillia luncheon on April 30th, not just to find out who wins, but also to hang out with the warm and friendly guardians of Leacock’s Legacy. Deep thanks all around and my congratulations to my fellow finalists. It’s great to be in their company. They’ve all written worthy works that we should all read.
I must lie down now. The excitement of the day has taken its toll…
It’s hard to believe, but eight years after writing my first blog post in this space, it’s time for my annual look back across the past year to reflect on how fortunate I’ve been in my writing life:
- It was a very busy year on the talks/readings front. I gave 142 talks and/or readings in 2014, up from 137 last year. So much for my attempt to slow down a little bit. Again, my annual refrain, my deep appreciation for the patience and forbearance of my wife, Nancy Naylor, and our two sons, Calder and Ben. I truly believe these gigs are important in the never-ending quest to sell books, which, in turn, allows me to write another. My travels took me from Halifax to Vancouver, Sault Ste. Marie to Mexico City, and dozens of ports in between.
- Starting in January, CBC Television aired the six-part miniseries based on my first novel, The Best Laid Plans. I loved it, and many others did, too. It pulled some very strong viewership numbers, but the travails at CBC, starting with the loss of Hockey Night in Canada, mean that, alas, there won’t be a second series. But we’ll always have six! I also enjoyed my brief cameo appearance in the final episode, though my phone has not been ringing off the hook for auditions.
- At some point in the year, I can’t remember when, I became the 2014-2015 writer in residence for Hillfield Strathallan College in Hamilton. This isn’t that onerous an undertaking, but I’ve enjoyed my time at the school working with the students.
- In late February, I launched the chapter-by-chapter podcast of my fourth novel, No Relation. As usual, I posted one chapter each week until it was finished. You can find the podcast versions of all of my novels on iTunes.
- It was a surprise and an honour to receive the L.W. Shemilt Distinguished Alumni Award from McMaster University’s Faculty of Engineering in May.
- In May, my fourth novel, No Relation, hit bookstores and opened on the Globe and Mail Bestsellers list where it stayed for many weeks. I’ve been on the road promoting it ever since.
- Great progress has been made on the Touchstone Theatre/Patrick Street Productions collaboration to develop a stage musical based on The Best Laid Plans. A few of the songs were unveiled at a sellout special session at the Vancouver Writers Fest this past October. They are wonderful. The stage musical will debut in September 2015 at the York Theatre in Vancouver.
- In the fall, I developed and taught the Humour Writing course at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies. I teach the eight week course again starting in May, 2015.
- I have just finished the manuscript for my fifth novel, Poles Apart. The last couple of chapters were written in Paris during a welcome vacation visit my wife and I made in November. We now move to the editing phase, as well as cover copy and design. It is slated for release on October 6, 2015. I’ll start to record and post the podcast version of Poles Apart sometime in July.
I’m sure I’ve missed some happenings from 2014, but I’m already focused on 2015 (I still can’t believe I just wrote 2015.). Looking ahead to July, I’ll be one of the writers on an Adventure Canada trip up the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As well, I’ll be participating in several literary festivals in various Canadian cities including Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and Eastport, Newfoundland. And my fifth novel, Poles Apart will hit bookstores in early October. Many thanks for all the support I’ve received from readers around the country. I’m grateful. Onwards and Happy New Year!
It’s always nice, even a thrill, to write the words “The End” at the bottom of the page. I finished the manuscript for my fifth novel, Poles Apart, last night. It comes in at just under 98,000 words, and so is a touch longer than my last novel, No Relation. I wish this meant I was well and truly finished. Alas, no. We’re still a long way from seeing the novel on bookstore shelves. But I think of this as, to borrow from Winston Churchill, “the end of the beginning.”
My wonderful editor, Douglas Gibson at McClelland & Stewart, will now go through it, first as a reader, and then on the second, third, and fourth passes, as an editor. We’ll talk about his reaction and suggestions. Then I’ll take another run through it, tweaking here, tightening there. If our first four novels together are any indication, and I hope they are, the editing process ought not to be too onerous (I’m touching wood right now!). But we’ll see.
I’m just happy to have this first major phase completed. If all goes well, expect to see Poles Apart in bookstores in October, 2015. (Fingers eternally crossed…)
Earlier this year, I was invited to give the closing address at the Ontario Writers’ Conference. It was not one of the standard talks I often give about one or another of my books or my strange journey to the published land. So I was a little nervous about it. Anyway, for what it’s worth, you can watch it here if you’re interested or suffer with insomnia…
Yesterday, at the Vancouver Writers Fest, I had the honour of participating on a panel discussing the adaptation of my first novel, The Best Laid Plans to the stage as a musical. This has been underway for over two years, now. But it’s really happening. It will premiere in September of 2015 at the York Theatre, here in Vancouver. On the panel yesterday were Katrina Dunn, the Artistic Director of Touchstone Theatre, Peter Jorgensen, the play’s Director and head of Patrick Street Studios, Vern Thiessen, the Governor General’s Award-winning playwright who is writing the play, Ben Elliott and Anton Lipovetsky, the award-winning composers, and yours truly. It was quite an afternoon.
I had met Katrina before when we’d done the initial negotiations for the stage rights to the novel, but I’d never met any of the others beyond a few emails with Vern and Peter. I was thrilled to meet them all and get an update on their progress. Then we hit the stage for the panel discussion in front of a sellout audience. Katrina was the ring leader. I offered a general overview of the novel. Peter described a bit about the history of adapting novels as stage musicals. Then Vern talked about what he considered when adapting TBLP to the stage. Then the fun started. I read three excerpts from the novel that led beautifully into three scenes and three songs from the production performed by the two composers and a wonderfully talented local actor/singer. Remember, I had never heard these scenes or songs, so I was taking it all in for the first time while on stage in front of a large crowd. My heart was pounding. All of the songs and the dialogue leading to them were wonderful, compelling and powerful. At one point in the middle of the second song, I very nearly burst into tears. It was a love song sung by Angus to his recently deceased wife, and it was beautiful, haunting, and very moving.
Music is important to me. I’ve played guitar, written songs, and sung (not particularly well) since I was 17 years old. I played in a band in university. I think I have a sense of what makes a good song, largely because I’ve written quite a few bad ones. Ben and Anton are incredibly talented songwriters who seem to have a magical collaboration. In less than a year, when the show opens in Vancouver, I think you’ll agree that these songs will be with us for a very long time.
Much more work lies ahead, but this is really going to happen. And I think it’s going to be something special. And by the way, the hovercraft will part of the play!
My friend and fellow writer Farzana Doctor ‘tagged’ me for this CanLit blog hop challenge. No ice bucket is required. I’m to answer the four questions below (check), and then ‘tag’ two other writers (still working on it) to take the challenge. So here goes:
1. What am I working on?
I’m about 20,000 words into writing my fifth novel, tentatively called Poles Apart. It’s my pro-feminist comic novel. You can see feminist themes lurking in the background of my first four novels, but they’re front and centre in my fifth. Feminism has been a long-term interest of mine. If all goes well, we expect publication by McClelland & Stewart in the fall of 2015.
2. How does my differ from others of its genre?
Well, I’ve yet to unearth any other feminist comic novels, but I’d love to find one. (Drop me a line if you know of others I should be reading.) Beyond that, I’m at a loss to describe how my novels are different from other funny novels except perhaps that I wrote them and they’re in my voice. Kind of a thin response to this question, I know, but there you have it.
3. Why do I write what I do?
I’m a member in good standing of the ‘write what you know‘ school of writing (except for the S&M scene in my first novel). There are pieces of me and pieces of my life strewn about the pages of my novels. Not so much in an autobiographical sense. But I just find it easier to write with authority, conviction, and authenticity if I’m writing about things I know about, or care about. In short, it’s easier for me to “feel” the story, and then write it.
4. How does my writing process work?
How good of you to suggest that my writing process works! I’m an engineer by academic training. Engineers don’t build bridges without blueprints, and I don’t write novels without blueprints. I’m a big time planner or outliner. Writing the manuscript is the very last stage in my so-called process. By that time, I know nearly all there is to know about the story. It’s captured in a 40-70 page chapter-by-chapter outline that guides the writing of the actual manuscript. A nearly-fulltime day job means that I don’t write everyday. I write when I can. In writing mode, I can usually sustain a pace of one 5,000 word chapter each week until the novel is written.
I’ve reached out to a couple other writers and I hope in a few weeks you’ll see their responses to these questions.
Now, back to my manuscript…
Update: The great writer Patrick Bowman has accepted the challenge. One down, one to go. Stay tuned…
Looking back through the archives of this blog, I seem to have a tradition of announcing when I’ve actually started writing the manuscript for each of my novels. You see, the writing is the very last step in the process for me. I spend a long time, many months, concocting the story, mapping it out, and finally developing a full, chapter-by-chapter outline. This means that when it’s time to write, I really only have to focus on crafting sentences. I know the story already.
Well, I’m pleased to report that I have officially started writing the manuscript for my fifth novel, tentatively called Poles Apart. I’m about 10,000 words in, with about 90,000 more to go. It’s always a good feeling when the actual writing starts. The story and characters instantly feel more real to me, which makes it easier to put words to my outline. Poles Apart continues the exploration of family dynamics I began in No Relation (though the two novels are not connected in any way), and also indulges my long-standing interest in gender equality. Feminism has lurked in the background of my four earlier novels, but takes a more prominent role in Poles Apart. I tend to write about what I know, or have experienced, or care about. This new novel is no exception. Gender equality has been an important social issue to me since my days in the student movement in the early 1980s. As in my first two novels, both political satires, I’ll try not to veer over the line into preaching and proselytizing, but I may not always succeed. Rather, the plan is to let the funny story and the quirky characters carry the social message, I hope with a light touch. So I see this novel as satire, not pure comedy. But in the end, you’ll be the judge of the that.
The hope is that I’ll finish the manuscript by early in 2015 so that McClelland & Stewart can publish and release the novel in the fall of 2015. Now, back to writing…
Well, it’s official. Last week, we inked our first foreign publishing deal through the international network of my wonderful agent, Beverley Slopen. The respected publishing house Shui-Ling Culture and Books will translate the novel and publish it for the Taiwanese market. They hope to use the same cover design. My heartfelt thanks to Beverley Slopen who has worked tirelessly to take my humble novels beyond our borders. And now those efforts have paid off.
I often hear other authors being introduced as being translated into 23 foreign languages and sold in 34 countries, etc., etc. Well, now we can say that we’re translated into ONE foreign language… and I couldn’t be happier!
Here’s hoping this is the thin edge of the wedge and that other foreign publishing deals will follow. And if they don’t, well, we’ll always have Taiwan!
Here’s a Taiwanese book site that is already promoting No Relation and, as far as I can tell, discussing my strange publishing journey.