Archive for February, 2009

100 years ago the Silver Dart flew…

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009


If you’ve read TBLP, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of Alexander Graham Bell.  In the novel, Angus reveres Bell and honours him by naming his hovercraft  Baddeck 1.  Bell summered in Baddeck in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.  It was the site of many of his triumphs as an inventor.  Whether building his record-breaking hydrofoil or testing various kite designs, a whole lot of ingenuity and innovation unfolded on the shores of Bras d’Or Lake.  On February 23rd, 1909, the Silver Dart, a rickety plane of bamboo, string, wire and silk, lifted off the ice at Baddeck making the very first controlled, powered flight in Canada.  The Silver Dart was designed and built by the Aerial Experiment Association, a group founded by Alexander Graham Bell in 1907.  One hundred years later, almost to the day, a replica of the Silver Dart flew again, taking off from the very same ice.  Aided by my interest in, and respect for, Bell, I found the re-creation of this historic first flight to be quite moving.  It was a fitting and worthy tribute to Bell and his team of intrepid adventurers.

It’s going to be a busy few months…

Friday, February 20th, 2009

I’ve just updated the Appearances page with a raft of new speaking/reading/signing gigs that have been coming in recently.  Many of the new ones are from public libraries, which I think is wonderful.  I’m thrilled that most libraries across the country seem to have stocked TBLP.  I always enjoy  meeting  book-lovers in general and TBLP readers in particular.  Perhaps I’ll see some of you at one of these upcoming events.  If you’re there, speak up!

  • Monday, February 23, 2009: A talk at another local Toronto-area book club.
  • Friday, March 27, 2009: A talk to a private book club in Caledon, Ontario.
  • Tuesday, March 31, 2009: A talk, Q&A, and book signing at The Whiff of Grape, a dinner club in Toronto running continuously since the 1960s.
  • Saturday, April 18, 2009, 2:00 p.m.: A talk, reading and panel discussion at the Port Hope Public Library with some local self-published authors.
  • Tuesday, April 21, 2009: A talk at a private book club in Ottawa, Ontario.
  • Thursday, April 30, 2009: A talk at a private book club in Orillia, Ontario, home to the Stephen Leacock Museum.

Writing Update: Chapter 1 is done…

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009


Well, I’m out of the starting blocks.  I promise not to bore you all with chapter by chapter progress reports on TBLP’s sequel, but a threshold of sorts was crossed this weekend.   After spending several weeks outlining The High Road (working title only), it seemed to take me a while to get started on the actual writing.  The log jam was broken this past weekend and eureka, I finished the first pass at Chapter 1.  It will still go through considerable polishing before and after I tackle Chapter 2, but at long last, I’m well and truly underway with my second novel.  If all goes according to plan, there will be 20 chapters of approximately 5,000 words each.  If feels good to have the first 5,000 words behind me.

Writers I revere: Stephen Fry

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

As threatened on this blog earlier, here’s the first in a periodic series of posts on a handful of my favourite writers.  They are writers who have made me laugh, made me think, made me happy, and in some cases, made me write.

The living writer with whom I would most like to have dinner is Stephen Fry.


You may be forgiven for thinking that Stephen Fry seems an odd choice to include among the writers who are important to me.  After all, most in our TV-addled ranks would know Fry as an actor or comedian or even improv artist.  He is all of those.  He was a TV star in England with his best friend Hugh Laurie when they were both still in their twenties.  A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Blackadder, and Jeeves and Wooster made Stephen Fry a household name and a national treasure in England.  He also earned critical and popular acclaim for his portrayal of Oscar Wilde, a hero of Fry’s, in the 1997 film, Wilde.

I won’t write his biography here but his story is worth knowing.  Fry’s memoir, Moab is My Washpot, is a terrific read covering the first twenty or so years of his life.

But to me, Stephen Fry is a polymath in the true sense of the word.  He is a man of “varied learning” as the Pocket Oxford defines polymath.  In addition to his prowess as an entertainer, he’s an intellectual with a first class mind and a brilliant writer to boot.  By all accounts, and I assume many of them are true, he’s also a very, very nice bloke.

I confess that I picked up his first novel, The Liar, with considerable trepidation.  I knew little of Fry, and what views I had were shaped by the silver screen and my TV.  A comic actor who tries his hand at writing fiction?  Seems a long shot.  The Liar was published in 1991 when Fry was 34.

It took about half a chapter for me to decide that Fry is not your run-of-the-mill actor who levers his fame to publish a bad novel.  The Liar is a great read that showcases Fry’s considerable intellectual and writerly gifts.  His reverence for the language is on display from page one.  His humour alternately burbles and bursts on virtually every page, always striking the right balance.  I thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel and was struck by its depth and substance, even as I chortled and guffawed my way through it.  This is no lightweight romp. (A deep romp perhaps?)

I devoured his next two novels, The Hippopotamus (1994), and Making History (1996) and enjoyed them just as much (although I’d have to say that The Hippopotamus is my favourite).  The blend of humour, intellect, and beautiful writing pushed all of my buttons.  And all of this from a writer the world knows primarily as a sketch comedy artist.  Quite a feat in my view.

His most recent novel (please let there be more), curiously entitled The Stars’ Tennis Balls (2000) (and eventually retitled in North America as Revenge) didn’t quite do it for me as his earlier books had.  There is a darker undercurrent that isn’t quite balanced by the humour.  But I’m quibbling.  It’s still a great read.

Since publishing his first memoir and these four novels, Fry, like the true Renaissance man and public intellectual that he is, published some nonfiction works including books on classical music, poetry, the speckled bear (?) and his whirlwind visit to every state in the U.S. He has also lent his wonderful voice to the Harry Potter audio books and has continued with his television and movie work.  I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

I doubt his writing will be every readers cup of tea, but I have loved his books.  I have tremendous respect for people who succeed in many different fields of endeavour.  Stephen Fry is in very select company as an extraordinarily versatile and gifted artist.

You’ll laugh yourself silly while you shake your head in wonder at his prose and his mind.



Sony e-Reader update: Reading is reading

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

sony-prs505-imageBack in June, I wrote about my purchase of a Sony e-Reader.  Now, six months later, I thought it was time I reported back.  Let’s get one thing straight right off the top.  I love books.  I’ve loved them for a long time and can’t imagine not loving them for my remaining days.  I enjoy the tactile experience of holding, yes just holding, a book.  It satisfies a deep need I seem to have.  But reading is what it’s all about in the end.  I’ll never stop buying, collecting, and reading books.  But I was curious about whether the act of reading was altered by replacing the traditional book with a slim and sleek electronic device.

I’ve now read a few books on my Sony e-Reader and… I love it. Yep, I just love it.  I sped through John Irving’s Until I Find You on the e-Reader with absolutely no compromise in the reading experience.  It turns out that it’s the writing that keeps us turning the pages, or in this case, pressing a button.  Eventually, I simply lost track of the medium and fell headlong into the message.  I just forgot that the story was being told, not through hundreds of pages turned one by one, but on an electronic screen refreshing with each page.

The e-ink techonology looks surprisingly like words on paper.  When I really analyze why I enjoy the experience of reading on this device, I think it has something to do with the convenience and the ease with which you turn the pages.  When I’m reading a conventional book in bed, and I know I’m trifling here, I have to hold the book at the right angle for my lamp, turning it slightly to catch the light depending on whether I’m on the left or right hand pages.  I’ve never really noticed that this has its minor physical inconveniences, albeit calibrated in very, very small increments.  And reading a heavy hardcover when you’re nodding off can be downright dangerous.  But I noticed that these minor inconveniences disappear when using the e-Reader.  It’s very light and comfortable in my hand.  I can hold the e-Reader in the perfect viewing position and whenever I finish a page, I move nothing except my finger on a conveniently placed button that “turns” the page.  You can fly through the chapters just by pushing a button.  I know what you’re thinking.  Could I be any lazier?  But I’m telling you that the flow of my reading was enhanced with the e-Reader.

With an SD card in it, I can actually carry a couple of thousand books in my e-Reader.  An entire lifetime of reading in a nine ounce package the size of a very slim novella.  No more carrying an extra suitcase on vacation packed with dozens of books.

I’m still buying books.  But using the e-Reader has reaffirmed that reading is reading, whether on paper or on a screen that looks like paper.  John Irving is still John Irving on the e-Reader.

I’m now on the Speakers’ Spotlight roster

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009


I’m now part of the roster of speakers available through Canada’s leading agency, Speakers’ Spotlight.  One of their executives came to hear me talk about TBLP at the Women’s Canadian Club of Toronto a week or so ago and the invitation came shortly thereafter.  I’m chuffed about it as they only take on a handful of new speakers each year, despite hundreds of requests for representation.

They have an amazing array of famous and prominent speakers (and now I’m there as well representing the not so famous and prominent contingent!).  I’m available to speak not just about what I’ve taken to calling “my unorthodox journey to the published land,” but also about social media in general and podcasting in particular.  Here’s the Speakers’ Spotlight profile they prepared for their website.


A special podcast episode

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

It’s been about 16 months since the last special episode of The Best Laid Plans podcast but so much has happened in my side-line life as a writer that it’s high time I brought all of you up to date.  So here’s a talk I did recently at the Women’s Canadian Club of Toronto about The Best Laid Plans and my unorthodox and unlikely journey to the published land.  I hope you enjoy it.  It’s been quite a ride and I’m grateful for all the support along the way.

Comments are invited on the blog or send me an e-mail to [email protected].

The great music featured in the podcast is by Jon Schmidt and is called Winter Serenade. It is available from the Podsafe Music Network. My friend Roger Dey provides the voice that opens the podcast.