CBC asked all of the Canada Reads finalists to answer a kind of holiday gift guide questionnaire. Today was my turn. (Excuse the crazed photo. It’s not CBC’s fault. It’s tough to get a good shot of me. Tell me I don’t always look like this…)
Archive for the ‘Robertson Davies’ Category
A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from one of the literary producers at CBC Radio about coming in to record a segment of their great CBC Book Club Podcast (longtime listener, first time… guest!). So in I went to the CBC Broadcast Centre, slapped on the headphones, and answered a series of questions I’d been sent earlier in the week. It was kind of fun. Anyway, it was produced and posted today. Check it out if you like…
As I’ve noted several times already in this space, Robertson Davies is one of my literary heroes. His novels were among the first to show me that literary prose, compelling stories, and deeply developed characters could coexist with a heaping helping of humour. John Irving also helped enlighten me on that score. That Robertson Davies and I appear together on the list of Leacock Medal Winners (he in 1955, for Leaven of Malice) still sends a tremor through me when I think of it. In December 1995, shortly after his death, my wife and I attended Robertson Davies’ memorial service in Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto. It was the first time I’d ever laid eyes on Douglas Gibson, Davies’ longtime editor, and miraculously, now mine. Last night, some 14 years later, my wife and I attended Robertson Davies: The Peeled I at the wonderful Hart House Theatre, just across the quadrangle from Convocation Hall. It was a one man show featuring Reed Needles as RD. He bears a striking resemblance to the great writer. We thoroughly enjoyed the play. It only runs for a couple days, so if you’re a Davies fan and are anywhere near Toronto, check it out.
Here’s the photo of Robertson Davies that hangs in our third floor library, supervising my writing. Whenever I hit a dry spell or am struggling with a sentence, I look up at this photo for inspiration. Then I get back at it…
I’ve just stumbled upon a fascinating resource for anyone interested in the history of publishing in Canada. Created at McMaster University, my beloved alma mater, Historical Perspectives on Canadian Publishing is a web-based cornucopia of information, letters, essays, articles, photographs, and audio recordings about publishing in Canada. There are nearly 100 interesting case studies in the following different categories:
It really is a must-visit site if you’re interested in the world of publishing in Canada. My own editor Douglas Gibson figures prominently, and there are even scans of letters he’s sent off to one of his treasured authors, Alice Munro and a letter he received from another of his authors, the late, great Robertson Davies, one of my literary heroes. Doug had mentioned to me that he’d donated his papers to McMaster and clearly they are being put to good use.
In my travels within the site, I even found an article about Helen Humphreys by Kiley Kapuscinski that discusses her travails finding a publisher. Stephen Leacock‘s self-published but very successful 1910 book, Literary Lapses, was cited as an historical example of good works being overlooked by the publishers of the day. Then, I was quite surprised to find that I am actually mentioned in the article as a modern example of a writer who had faced challenges breaking in to the publishing world. I had no idea. Very cool. Here’s the brief excerpt:
I was a late convert to Robertson Davies. Unlike most Canadian teenagers, I never encountered Davies in my high school English classes. So I was well into my twenties when I read my first RD novel. Like many, I started with the Deptford Trilogy, comprising Fifth Business, The Manitcore, and World of Wonders. I was hooked. I proceeded to read every one of Davies’ eleven novels. That still didn’t quench my thirst for his wonderful prose so I read his book of ghost stories called High Spirits. Then his volumes of humourous diary entries written in the voice of his alter ego Samuel Marchbanks.
Why was I captivated by Robertson Davies? I’m not certain I can explain the attraction particularly clearly. As usual, it’s a combination of factors. His writing is of another time. I’ve often thought he was born a century too late. His novels tend to unfold in the present even though the carefully crafted sentences bear all the marks of an earlier age. In a word, he writes beautifully. His sentences don’t just tell a compelling story, they reflect the joy he clearly felt in writing them. As well, his characters are rendered so clearly, so deeply, yet so effortlessly, that you all of sudden realize as you read that you know these characters and care enough about them to love them or despise them. You hardly feel it happening. Such is the power of his pen. I believe he wrote his novels in long hand with a fountain pen.
As I wrote in an earlier blog post, my wife Nancy and I attended a public memorial service to mark the passing of Robertson Davies in December 1995 . I’ll never forget it. All of the CanLit heavyweights were there including my own editor and publisher, Douglas Gibson. To close out the service, the crowd rose to its feet and belted out Adeste Fideles, which is O Come All Ye Faithful in Latin.
That Robertson Davies and I have both won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Award for Humour will always be one of the great and humbling joys of my life. If you’ve not dipped into Robertson Davies, do yourself a favour and lose yourself in a great Canadian master.
My Aunt Nancy is rare book dealer who operates Thornley Point Books out of Iroquois, Ontario. Shortly after the Leacock shock last April, she wisely suggested I collect all of the Leacock winning books from the inauguration of the award in 1947. I thought this a wonderful idea and she set to work hunting down high quality editions of Leacock winners. As it happened, I already owned about a third of the 61 books that have won the Leacock Medal. Well, nine months later, the project is complete. The last four books needed to complete the set arrived from Nancy this afternoon. I’ll continue to add the winning books to keep the collection current.
In the photo above, the top shelf and the bottom left-hand shelf hold the complete collection of Leacock winners. (If you strain your eyes, you can just see half of the green spine of the iUniverse edition of TBLP at the far right end of the bottom left-hand shelf.) The bottom right-hand shelf features other “Leacockiana” including The Letters of Stephen Leacock. Not shown in the photo, because it’s still sitting on my desk where I’ve been thumbing through it, is a first edition of Feast of Stephen, an anthology of lesser-known Leacock writings compiled and introduced by one of my CanLit heroes, Robertson Davies.
Thanks to Nancy Edmonds for initiating this rewarding exercise and for securing the books. It was exciting to have boxes arrive in my office every few weeks or so bearing the fruits of her labour. I’m grateful.
Tis the season for new year’s resolutions. For many years, a mainstay of my annual list of resolutions had been “get started writing the novel.” I took that one off my list in 2006 as I tweaked and fiddled with what was essentially a completed manuscript for TBLP. But here we are on the eve of 2009 and I’m finding myself resurrecting “get started writing the novel” for this year’s list.
So here, in no particular order, are a few new year’s resolution I’ll be trying to keep:
Write the sequel to TBLP. I’m nearly done the rather detailed outline for the sequel to TBLP so it will soon be time to start the writing. I’m excited yet filled with trepidation at the prospect. I’m not sure how long it will take, but I’m on it!
Add more meaningful content to this blog rather than just littering it with every minor new development in the life of TBLP (I may find it interesting that libraries are ordering TBLP but I’m hard-pressed to expect anyone else to find it compelling reading!). So, with this in mind:
- I intend to blog about some of the writers who have inspired me including Robertson Davies, Stephen Fry, Paul Quarrington, John Irving and Mordecai Richler, among others.
- I’ll blog a little about how I approach the task of writing. I’m always interested in the how writers actually tackle the act of writing. And I really mean the more practical aspects of it. Do they write in the morning? Do they write in long or short time spans? Do they write in the kitchen? How do they start? Etc. etc. I’m still feeling my way on this but I think I’ve learned a couple of things from writing TBLP.
- I may also offer some observations on the broader topic of writing in general, and humour writing in particular. This will likely veer into questions of technique rather than just dealing with the more practical issues like laptop versus pen and pad, kitchen versus home office, etc., noted above.
Continue to do whatever I can to promote TBLP. Since the Leacock shock in the spring, I’ve been quite busy with readings and speaking gigs at various writers festivals. It’s been a new but very fulfilling and enjoyable experience for me. And, I think that book sales are higher because of those events. Even though M&S published TBLP in September, I think there are still appearances and talks and readings that I can do keep the name of the novel out there.
Spend more meaningful time with my wife and two sons, despite returning to a heavier evening and weekend writing schedule. We’re a very busy family. But being a busy family doesn’t mean we can’t be busy together. It takes planning and patience, but nothing is more important.
Make 2009 a strong year professionally (i.e. my day job!). I derive great satisfaction from my work as a PR professional. I work with some wonderful people, clients and colleagues alike. We have a great PR firm in Toronto and Ottawa and we’re doing some very interesting and innovative work for our clients. I want that to continue and grow even more.
So here’s to a wonderful and memorable 2008 and a happy and healthy 2009.
I received many wonderful gifts from family and friends this Christmas and I have much for which to be thankful. But my in-laws outdid themselves with this amazing photograph of one of my literary heroes, Robertson Davies. The photo shows Davies at a booksigning at Upper Canada College (which he attended from 1926-32), likely back in 1985, when his novel What’s Bred in the Bone was originally published.
Robertson Davies is quite simply one of Canada’s most gifted writers with an unsurpassed love and mastery of the English language. In the pantheon of Canadian letters, he is a charter resident. While he came into the world in 1913, I truly believe he should have been born 50 years earlier. His writing, while exploring quite contemporary themes, seems of an earlier age when language served to inspire and not just communicate. He died in early December 1995 and I will never forget attending his memorial service at Convocation Hall (University of Toronto). Many luminaries spoke including Margaret Attwood, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Davies’ editor and publisher Douglas Gibson. Yes the same Douglas Gibson whom I’m honoured is now my editor and publisher. It was an amazing memorial service filled with amusing stories and memories of a life well-lived. Robertson Davies won the Leacock Medal in 1955 for Leaven of Malice (part of the Salterton Trilogy). For me, one of the most deeply satisfying and humbling aspects of winning the Leacock this year is seeing my name on a list that also includes Robertson Davies. It still makes my knees weak and wobbly just to think of it.
So this wonderful photograph means a great deal to me. It’s being framed even as I write this and within the next week or so will hang prominently in our library where you can find first editions of the 11 novels of Robertson Davies. The library is also where I write. I know with Robertson Davies looking over me, I’ll have only to turn my head for inspiration. A treasured gift indeed…