Archive for the ‘Canada Reads’ Category

Five years later…

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

Time to look back on my writing year, as I’ve done annually since starting this blog back in January, 2007. It was another year of counting my literary blessings. Here are a few highlights that made 2011 such a memorable year for me:

As you can see, it was a very happy fifth year in my life as a writer. I am one, very grateful novelist.

Looking ahead, there’s more excitement coming in 2012. First and foremost, my third novel will hit bookstore shelves in September. Beyond that, who knows?


Just one more surreal TBLP moment…

Monday, December 26th, 2011

A few weeks ago at the Writers’ Trust Gala, I chatted for a few minutes with Margaret Atwood. Yes, Margaret Atwood. If you’d told me three years ago that in November of 2011 I’d actually be speaking with Margaret Atwood, I’d have scoffed until I had no scoffs left to offer. I’m still amazed that I managed to construct complete sentences and not fall down throughout the brief but memorable (for me) conversation. Margaret (I dared not use “Peggy,” which I assume is reserved for closer acquaintances) left me flabbergasted when she said that several audience members at a reading she’d given recently in Picton, Ontario had suggested strongly to her that she read both of my novels. She went on to note that they were so eager to ensure her compliance that the titles of my first two novels were dutifully written down on a piece of paper and given to her lest she forget them. As she conveyed this miraculous story, I did my best to plaster a modest smile on my face even as what felt like a hockey game broke out in my stomach and my heart rate soared into the red zone. I thanked her and let her move on to the throng of fans gathering on the periphery of our conversation. I then sat down for a moment to… well, to recover. Eventually I collected my wits that were strewn about me on the floor, stood up, and ventured into the reception. It was a lovely night, but my brief exchange with Margaret Atwood was certainly a highlight.

Our encounter came back to me this morning when I opened Twitter on my iPad to get caught up on all the news. Of course I’m one of Margaret Atwood’s nearly 289,000 followers. I had to sit back down again when this Tweet passed through in my Twitter stream:

I guess she kept that piece of paper from Picton. What a thrilling way to close out a wonderful year in my still fledgling life as a writer. Well, twelve hours later, I’m still sitting down. Tomorrow I may try to stand up, but I don’t want to rush it…

My Canada Reads posts now in one place

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

I’m more than halfway through my stint as this year’s Canada Reads resident blogger. Each week I’ve written a post for the Canada Reads site, which partly explains why I seem to be posting on my own blog less frequently lately. I’m enjoying the role after surmounting the weekly moments of anxiety as I try to figure out what to write about that week. Erin Balser at CBC Canada Reads has been very helpful in suggesting ideas for posts and has made my life much easier. In fact, she’s just done it again. Erin has created a page on the Canada Reads site that aggregates all of my posts to date. Thanks, Erin.

Not coincidentally, my final five posts will be about the final five books, tackling each one in turn, starting on January 4th.

Quill and Quire on CBC-TV TBLP miniseries

Friday, November 25th, 2011

CBC TV mini-series based on TBLP

Friday, November 25th, 2011


I’ve been sitting on this news for a few months now, but it’s finally official. The Best Laid Plans is in development as a six-part mini-series to be aired on CBC television. Jian Ghomeshi made the announcement as part of the big reveal this week of the five finalists for this year’s Canada Reads crown. A hugh crowd was gathered in the atrium of the CBC Broadcast Centre. It was a great event, but I confess my heart was pounding as Jian told the assembled throng that The Best Laid Plans was headed for television. What a thrill.

The director/producer of the mini-series, Peter Moss, is a very experienced television and theatre veteran having adapted the works of others writers including Mordecai Richler and Timothy Findley. The writing team is in place and they are true professionals. I’m honoured to have the story in their hands. You’ll hear more about them and the cast when all of the pieces are in place.

Jian Ghomeshi announces the TV mini-series.

This all began back in the summer when Peter approached my agent, Beverley Slopen, and me to secure the film and TV rights to the novel. It’s incredibly exciting to contemplate the story coming to life on the small screen. I’ll get to stay involved in the project throughout as a “story consultant,” not so that I can jealously protect my work, but really just to indulge my curiosity about the whole process of adapting a novel to television. I think it’s going to be a fascinating experience. I couldn’t be happier about how it’s all come together. I”ll keep you posted as we cross certain thresholds in the production. But it’s going to take a while. We’re probably at least 18 months away from seeing Angus on television. Be patient, art takes time! Thanks for all your kind words since the news broke, and stay tuned…

Jian Ghomeshi had me stand up at the Canada Reads launch after announcing the mini-series.

I’m the Canada Reads 2012 resident blogger

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

This is going to be fun. In fact, it’s already been fun. Winning Canada Reads last February quite literally changed my life as a writer. I am so grateful for the experience. So I’m thrilled that I get to hang on to Canada Reads a little longer as the resident blogger for the 2012 annual battle of the books. If you’ve noticed that I’ve been posting less and less frequently on my blog of late, part of the reason is that I’m deep into reading the Canada Reads Top 10 that were unveiled on November 1st. As well, I’ve already written my first official Canada Reads blog post and it went live last Wednesday. I’ll be blogging every week throughout Canada Reads 2012. I’ll also be moderating the online chats with each author, attending the offiical launch later in November, and I’m sure happily doing a few other things along the way.

So there may be slim pickings here on my own blog in the coming weeks, but I hope you’ll follow my Canada Reads 2012 posts each week. In the meantime, why don’t you head out to your favourite book store and pick up some of the Canada Reads Top 10 books? It’s non-fiction this year for a change. Trust me. You’ll be amazed and captivated by the storytelling.

Steve Jobs helped make me a writer…

Friday, October 7th, 2011

In the two days since Steve Jobs passed away, there has been no end of worthy trubutes to an extraordinary visionary. Most of the eulogies have rightly focused on how he changed our way of life and how we interact with technology. He changed our world with the wonders he dreamed up in Cupertino, California, including the Mac personal computer, iTunes, the iPod, the iPhone, and most recently, the iPad. My debt to Steve Jobs extends a little further. Those who know me will agree that unlike my twin brother, Tim, I’m no crazed Apple fanboy. Tim is all Apple, all the time. But, in 2006, my life took a turn when I bought my first 1gig iPod, and discovered the world of podcasting.

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve loved listening to CBC Radio. I learned so much from shows like The House, Sunday Morning, Morningside, As It Happens, Writers & Company, and of course the hourly newscasts. I was so interested in current affairs and politics back then that music would seldom be heard on the car radio. It was always the substance and depth of CBC. So when I first browsed through the podcast section of iTunes, I was hooked. Not only could I get my favourite CBC Radio shows whenever I wanted, but also podcasts from NPR , The Guardian, the BBC, the New York Times, Scientific American, and many others. For someone interested in books and the world around him, exploring the iTunes podcast directory was like visiting Disneyland. I immediatley subscribed to dozens of podcasts and considered having my ear buds surgically attached.

In the spring of 2006, I was so enamoured of podcasting that a colleague and I created Inside PR, Canada’s first podcast about public relations. My cohost, David Jones, and I recorded a half-hour show about our profession every week. And I mean every week. After more than 200 weekly consecutive episodes (if you do the math, that’s more than four years without missing a show), Dave and I finally surrendered our microphones to a new team of hosts including my friends Joe Thornley and Martin Waxman. So Inside PR lives on.

I know what you’re thinking. What does this have to do with making me a writer? Well, when I wrote my first novel, The Best Laid Plans, I spent a year in a futile search for an agent and/or publisher. Greeted with a deafening silence, I decided to build an audience for the novel on my own, and self-publish it. So in January of 2007, I began podcasting The Best Laid Plans, chapter by chapter, and made it avaialble for free on my website or through iTunes. In the absence of the very gratifying feedback I got about the podcast, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to go through with self-publishing my first novel. But the podcast version of The Best Laid Plans was very warmly received and still attracts new listeners every day, nearly five years after I began posting chapters.

After miraculously winning the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, I landed a wonderful literary agent and a publishing deal with McClelland & Stewart. Then the novel won the 2011 Canada Reads title and is now in its eleventh printing. M&S published the sequel, The High Road, in September 2010. It was a finalist for the 2011 Leacock Medal and is already in its fourth printing. I podcast The High Road too, just as I had my first novel. Finally, I’m two chapters from finishing the manuscript for my third novel, which M&S will publish in September 2012. I plan to podcast it as well.

Let me remind you of a sentence two paragraphs back. “In the absence of the very gratifying feedback I got about the podcast, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to go through with self-publishing my first novel.” That’s the Steve Jobs connection right there. Without the iPod, iTunes, and podcasting, it’s quite possible that The Best Laid Plans would still be a manuscript safely secreted in the electronic bowels of my laptop.

It’s been a surreal ride so far that may well have started when I bought my first iPod– that tiny perfect device born in the brain of Steve Jobs.

Everyday, I carry my iPod and my iPad with me where ever I go. I browse the podcast section of iTunes at least every other week in search of still more podcasts to feed my mind as I walk to the office every day. And late at night I’ll often be at my computer, working on a novel, as my iPod charges next to me…

Steve Jobs 1955-2011


Lovely Eden Mills…

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

I spent a good part of the weekend in the picturesque village of Eden Mills less than an hour’s drive west of Toronto, for the 23rd annual Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. What a wonderful festival. I drove down on Friday night with the hilarious writer, playwright, and broadcaster Erika Ritter. We both read at the Gala dinner that kicked off the festival. The audience was large, warm, and welcoming. After the after-party, Erika and I drove back to Toronto. This was truly a commuting festival for me as I made three trips in all.

The book table at Eden Mills efficiently managed by the good folks at The Bookshelf.

On the Saturday, I drove back to Eden Mills for the Author Dinner on the beautifully landscaped grounds of a volunteer’s home. Festival founder Leon Rooke spoke, we were serenaded by an amazing guitarist, and we ate until we could eat no more (at least , I did). It was great fun and very relaxing to be among so many wonderful writers and festival volunteers. It was during the Author Dinner that I crossed another threshold in my writing career. All writers hit these milestones as you progress in your journey. You know what I mean, your first book, your first reading, your first prize, the first time you see someone on the subway reading your book, etc., etc. Well at the Author Dinner, I was named in my first ever writer Port-a-Potty tweet. I’m not sure what to make of it but I think it means I’ve somehow “arrived” even though I had just “gone,” if you know what I mean.

On Sunday, it was another enjoyable commute to Eden Mills in the company of Erika Ritter. My reading was at 2:30, at the Mill. It’s a beautiful outdoor venue on the side of a gentle grass slope that runs down into the river. It seemed to go well, although the allotted 20 minutes flew by. I signed books at the outdoor book store afterwards and chatted with readers, which is always a favourite part of any festival.

There was another great dinner Sunday night as the proceedings wound down. They must have served a dozen different kinds of pie for dessert. I may have had a piece of each one but I can’t really remember now. I think it’s possible that I was drunk on pie.

Over the course of  the weekend, I reconnected with lots of other writers and bookish people who I’d seen at other festivals and reading gigs including Drew Hayden Taylor, Robert Wiersema, Clare Hitchens, Andrew Pyper, Bill Deverell, Nino Ricci, John Vaillant and Alissa York. I also spent some time with writers I met at Eden Mills for the first time including the Booker longlisted Alison Pick, Sylvia Tyson, Dan Vyleta, Lorna Crozier, and Giller winner Johanna Skibsrud among others. It was my first time at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, but I really hope I get the chance to go back. My thanks to the more than 100 volunteers who made it all happen. Hope to see you next year…

The Sunshine Coast Festival was amazing…

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

I’ve just returned from a few days in Brisith Columbia where I presented at the 29th annual Sunshine Coast Festival of  the Written Arts in Sechelt. It was a wonderful trip from start to finish. I arrived in Vancouver last Wednesday and spoke to an audience of about 100 at Simon Fraser University. I actually used a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate my talk and it seemed to go over very well. Lots of great questions, and several in the audience had brought their own copies of The Best Laid Plans and The High Road for me to inscribe. Always a great feeling.

On Thursday afternoon, I headed down to the harbour in downtown Vancouver to catch my floatplane for the Sunshine Coast. Yes, a floatplane. How cool is that? When I checked in, I asked what kind of plane we’d be taking and was informed we’d by flying in a six seater de Havilland Beaver. This was serendipity of the highest order. In my third novel, a Beaver floatplane plays a small but critical role. I’ve only watched YouTube videos of the Beaver, an iconic plane that opened up Canada’s remote reaches in the 1940s and 50s. And here I was about to fly in one. What a thrill. At the appointed hour, my fellow passengers, including the Governor General’s Award-winning non-fiction writer John Vaillant, and I dragged our bags across the dock to the Beaver. The pilot asked for a volunteer to ride up front in the co-pilot’s seat. I sprained my shoulder throwing my hand up in the air before anyone else. I crawled up into the co-pilot’s seat and donned the headphones the pilot handed me. What a ride. We flew the 25 minute trip at about 700 feet off the water so the scenery was unbelievable. The plane I was “co-plioting” (which means I touched nothing, but took photos with my BlackBerry and tweeted them the whole trip) was built in 1962. Yes, you read that right. We were flying in a plane that was nearly 50 years old. That’s how good and reliable a plane the Beaver is. Here are few shots.

The festival itself was wonderful. The venue was amazing and the audience of more than 300 book-lovers at each author appearance was very enthusiastic and full of great questions. I gave my hour long talk about my strange publishing journey on Fridayafternoon at 1:00. It seemed to go over well. (They laughed, they cried, and nobody left.) Afterwards, it took about an hour for me to sign all the books the audience had purchased. They sold out of both novels — a very nice problem to face. I got to meet and spend time with some great writers, which, other than meeting readers, is the best part of these festivals. It was so nice to chat with John Vaillant, Robert Wiersema, Zsuzsi Gartner, Sarah Selecky, Margaret Trudeau, Judy Fong Bates, Charlie Foran, Alex MacLeod, Susan Juby, Ivan Coyote, Anna Porter, Wayne Grady, and Merilyn Simonds. I also enjoyed the other authors’ sessions and made it to almost all of them.

Needless to say, I was very sad to leave BC, but eager to see my family after five days away.

While away, I did manage to keep up my writing on novel #3 on planes and in airports, and am pleased to report that I made it past the halfway-point in the manuscript. I’m enjoying the story and hope to write a few more chapters while we’re on our family vacation in Nova Scotia starting  next week. Stay tuned…

Writing update…

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Sorry for the long stretches between blog posts lately. It’s been so busy at the office and with readings, talks, and festivals that I haven’t been able to post as often as I’d like. Anyway, I thought it had been a while since I’d updated you on the status of novel #3. I think the last time I wrote about it was back on April 23rd when I announced that I’d finally started writing the manuscript. This came after spending a year or so thinking through the story and a couple of more months actually laying it out using my rather rigorous outlining process. Now, some three months later, the manuscript is coming along, although I’d hoped to be further into the novel by now. As of this past weekend, I’ve finished six of 18 chapters and am up to about 33,000 words. I’m pleased with what’s written so far, but there is still plenty of editing and polishing to do.

My outline for novel #3 is only about 30 pages long, while the outline for my last book was 65 pages long. I decided that there could be two reasons for this discrepancy. Either I’m more confident that I can write a 5,000 word chapter based on only a page of bullet points as opposed to two pages, or I really don’t know my story as intimately as I did the first two times around. I was hoping it was the former, but it turns out it’s the latter! But all is well. It just took me a bit longer to get the first third written. I know much more about the remaining two thirds of my story, so I think the rest of the manuscript should unfold more easily.

As usual, I’m getting most of my writing done on weekends as I’m still working fulltime during the week. Sometimes I”ll get a few hours in on weeknights, but not very often. My aim has tended to be to write a 5,000 word chapter over the weekend. It hasn’t always been possible, but lately I’ve managed to come close. With six chapters behind me, I now feel the gathering momentum of the manuscript and it fuels my motivation to keep it going. I’m away in British Columbia in the first week of August for book-related appearances, and then in Nova Scotia for our family vacation. I’m hoping to get a big chunk of writing done then. In any event, I’ll keep you posted as the chapters pile up. December 1st is my contractual deadline to hand over the completed manuscript to McClelland & Stewart, so I’ll be hard at it straight through the fall. I have not intention of needing or seeking an extension! Fingers crossed, at least when they’re not burning up my laptop keyboard…