Archive for the ‘Speaking gigs’ Category

Seven years later…

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014


While it seems impossible that seven years have escaped since I created this blog, the date staring back at me on my iPhone must be right. It’s New Year’s Day, and time for the annual accounting of my literary blessings in the gift that was 2013. Here are at least some of the highlights that made 2013 such a great year in my writing life:

  • I squeezed in 137 speaking engagements, readings, talks, etc. in 2013, up from 121 last year. I really don’t know how I fit everything in but it would not be possible without the patience and forbearance of my wife and two sons. My travels took me all over the country including, Vancouver, Calgary, Whitehorse, Ottawa, Montreal, Banff, and every region of Ontario.
  • Work continues on the stage musical of The Best Laid Plans but there’s no word on when it might be finished, let alone staged. Stay tuned.
  • In June, I was shocked to be named the winner of the 2013 Libris Award for Author of the Year, presented by the Canadian Booksellers Association. I’ll be forever grateful.
  • Up and Down continued to sell well, and the second edition hit the U.S. market in late June.

It was quite a year. Looking ahead to 2014, I’m really focused on:

  • The Best Laid Plans TV miniseries on CBC starting in a few days;
  • starting to produce the chapter-by-chapter podcast edition of my fourth novel, No Relation (look for Chapter 1 in February);
  • the publication and launch of No Relation in May;
  • writing my fifth novel, Poles Apart (I hope to have it finished by the end of the summer (he says optimistically)).

My undying thanks to so many who have made 2013 such a banner year in my writing life. Here’s to a wonderful 2014 for us all.

Wow… still reeling…

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

This past Monday evening, I was emceeing the 2013 Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Awards at the Toronto Congress Centre. It was wonderful meeting, and having dinner with, the legend Alice Munro, and spending time with Will Ferguson, one of the nicest and funniest (he’s a three-time Leacock Medal winner) writers we have in this country. Much to my surprise, I was actually a finalist for the 2013 Author of the Year award alongside Alice Munro, Will Ferguson, and Nancy Richler.

I spent a good part of the night shuttling from backstage to the podium, introducing each award and the resepctive presenters. When it came time for the Author of the Year category, I was quite happily backstage as reigning CBA President, Mark Lefebvre (who writes as Mark Leslie), took the stage to rip open the envelope (yes, they actually do the whole “…and the winner is…” routine) and announce the lucky name. Fortunately, I was backstage at the time, fully expecting to hear one of the other stellar writers’ names called, when Mark distinctly read my name. It took me a moment to find my  jaw on the floor, it was quite dark backstage, before I wobbled back onto the stage. I thanked the many independent booksellers with whom I’d worked over the preceding five years, paid tribute to my wonderful publicist at Random House, Frances Bedford and my literary agent, Beverley Slopen, and offered my deep appreciation to my editor and friend, the incomparable Douglas Gibson. Finally, I just closed by saying that there had never been a more grateful recipient of this honour. Then gathering myself, I switched back into emcee mode with my knees still knocking, noted that we were “now returning to regularly scheduled programming,” and introduced the next award. Then I darted backstage to hyperventilate until I had to return to the microphone to welcome the next presenter and generally keep the trains running on time. Believe me, I was very thankful for the distraction of my emcee duties. As I said in my closing remarks, when I think back, years from now, on the 2013 CBA Libris Awards, I suspect I’ll remember very little about my duties as emcee.

Winning Author of the Year was indeed a shock. But the honour really should be shared with my patient and indulgent family. You see, I’ve done a lot of talks and readings in the last few years. There were 130 last year, and I seem to be on a higher pace this year. I truly believe that this is how you sell books in this country, and better the odds that you’ll get to write and publish a next novel. But it is not without sacrifice. I haven’t been there for as many family dinners and weekends as I would have liked. The load at home unavoidably shifts to the shoulders of my wife, and two sons. I’m very grateful that they have accommodated the demands of my writing life, on top of everything else that comes with having a family. None of this would have happened without their support. Somehow, I will try to make it up to them…

A wonderful story from my Orangeville gig

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

This past Sunday, I joined two other Leacock winners, Trevor Cole and Dan Needles, friends both, at Theatre Orangeville for an afternoon of laughs celebrating the legacy of Stephen Leacock. It was a wonderful afternoon before a soldout audience of nearly 300. At the book signing thereafter, a couple approached me and pulled out a photograph (below) of Norris “Cubby” Burke, age 93. He lives in the Eastern Townships of Quebec and served in the RCAF as a radio operator. He’s an avid follower of politics and public affairs. The couple with whom I spoke at the event are friends of Norris. Some time ago, they thought he’d enjoy my first novel, The Best Laid Plans and so they sent him a copy. It was so gratifying to learn that he loved the book so much, he carries it with him on his daily walks around the beautiful  village of Knowlton, where he lives. You can see it in the basket below.

But that’s not the whole story, lovely as it is so far. The kicker is that his late wife, Angeline Hango, won the third Leacock Medal for Humour back in 1949 for Truthfully Yours. I have a copy in my Leacock collection, and it is very funny. Apparently after this recognition, she never wrote again. It’s wonderful to have even a slight connection with the author of a Leacock Medal-winning book from more than 60 years ago.

Writing Update

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Just thought I’d bring you up to date on my progress in writing my fourth novel, tentatively called No Relation. Having started the manuscript in the first week of January, I’m very happy with what I’ve been able to write thus far. As of today, I’ve written nearly 30,000 words with drafts of Chapters 1-5 completed. I anticipate the novel will have 17 or 18 chapters, so it feels good to have a solid chunk in the can already. Of course, the wheels could fall off my writing at any time. In fact, they probably will now that I’ve crowed about how well it’s all going! All things being equal, it feels like I should be able to finish the manuscript sometime in the summer.

I’m still happily very busy with readings and talks on my third novel, Up and Down, so the trick is to keep my butt in the chair in the time I have leftover and sustain the pace of my writing. I aim to complete one 5,000 word (approximately) chapter each week. Then I’ll  start back at the beginning to edit.  I’ll keep you posted.

Six years later…

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Each year for the last six, I’ve been enumerating the blessings in my writing life in an annual blog post. This is it for 2012. I have much for which to be thankful.

  • Great progress was made on the CBC Television miniseries based on the first half of The Best Laid Plans. Scripts for all six episodes, penned by the star writing team of Susan Coyne and Jason Sherman, have now been submitted to CBC. As for what happens next, it’s always a bit of a mystery, but I gather that when CBC is happy with the scripts, we then move on to things like casting, location scouting, and eventually shooting. Still not sure about timing, but it all seems to be on track. Fingers crossed.
  • This past spring, we signed agreements with Touchstone Theatre in Vancouver setting the stage, so to speak, for them to develop The Best Laid Plans as a stage musical. They have engaged Governor General’s Award-winning playwright Vern Thiessen and accomplished composer Bryce Kulak. This will likely take a couple of years, but it’s a thrill to be a fly on the wall as this creative process unfolds.
  • In September, Up and Down hit bookstores. We had a wonderful launch at the Dora Keogh pub here in Toronto. It was a great relief to have the novel so well received by critics and readers alike.
  • The Canadian Booksellers Association Canadian Fiction Bestseller List for the week ending September 15th showed Up and Down at #3, The Best Laid Plans at #7, and The High Road at #14.
  • In October, I did a twelve-day western book tour to promote Up and Down, with stops in Victoria, Calgary, Turner Valley, Banff, Edmonton, and St. Albert. It was the first time I had ever spent twelve consecutive days as a writer, and it was great.
  • Just a few weeks ago, it was confirmed that in the fall of 2013, Random House will publish/distribute Up and Down in the United States.
  • Just last night, New Year’s Day, I finished the 45-page outline for my fourth novel, tentatively entitled No Relation. I’ll  be starting to write the manuscript later this week. If all goes well, it’ll be published in September 2014.

I hope your 2012 was as rewarding and interesting as mine. Thanks to all those readers, book club members, festival-goers, friends, family, and perfect strangers who have helped me along the way, and there were many. I am truly grateful.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2013. Now, time to get writing…

Heading to Winnipeg later in June…

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012


On June 18th, I head out to Winnipeg for a couple of events. The first night I’ll be doing an on-stage interview with a popular local CBC Radio host, Terry MacLeod at the famous McNally Robinson Grant Park flagship store. I’ve heard so much about this independent bookstore and look forward to a fun evening. I gave a talk and reading at the sadly now-gone McNally Robinson Toronto store a few years ago shortly before they unfortunately closed their doors. I hope my appearance had nothing to do with its demise shortly thereafter.

Then, on June 19th, I’ll be giving a public lecture as part of the annual conference of the Canadian Engineering Education Association at the University of Manitoba. This is the real reason for my trip to Winnipeg. I am an engineer who has never practiced professionally but who believes my engineering education informs nearly everything I do. So I’ll be prattling on about how my years studying engineering at McMaster have shaped the rest of my life, including my writing, even if I’ve never actually worked as an engineer. I wrote a piece about this for an engineering magazine that should give you a sense of what I’ll be talking about in Winnipeg. I encourage any and all to attend.


From one end of the country to the other…

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

My speaking/reading schedule has been quite intense of late and shows no sign of slackening as we head into the homestretch and the release of my third novel, Up and Down, in September. A week or so ago I started in Toronto on Monday, headed to Woodstock, New Brunswick on Tuesday, back to Toronto for Thursday, and then finished the week in Vancouver Island. Throw in a little fog and a wildcat walkout by baggage handlers and you’ve got the makings of one seriously busy week. Then this week, it was Brantford, Ontario for a great evening at their public library. Here’s a quick look back…


Woodstock Reads What Canada Reads

Last summer I was contacted by the board of the public library in Woodstock, New Brunswick. The Best Laid Plans had been chosen as their first town-wide reading program selection. They dubbed it Woodstock Reads What Canada Reads. I was thrilled and of course agreed to come out to Woodstock. Well, last week it was time to fly. My flight to New Brunswick was delayed early Tuesday morning by fog. I was to take off at 7:30 but wasn’t airborne until 11:30. This was quite unfortunate as it meant that the school visits I was to make in Woodstock had to be cancelled. I felt terrible about this as school buses were all arranged so that students from two schools could take part. Just my luck that a rare fog appearance in Toronto scuppered my school appearance in New Brunswick. I eventually made to New Brunswick’s first town where my hosts toured me through the beautifully restored Connell House, historical home to one of Woodstock’s founding fathers. I then had dinner in Woodstock’s beautiful L. P. Fisher Public Library, built in 1914, with the library’s board of directors. Lovely people and great food, too.

After dinner it was off to my talk and reading to an enthusiastic crowd waiting at the Best Western Hotel and Conference Centre. The local mayor and MP were both there to add a little lustre to the evening. We had a great time. My sincere thanks to Catherine Sutherland, Deputy Mayor, and her team for organizing a great event. I look forward to coming back to Woodstock sometime in the future. I managed to do a Skype video call with one of the student groups on Friday to try to make up for the fog-induced cancellation the previous week.


Words on the Water, Campbell River, Vancouver Island, BC


On Friday of last week, I boarded another plane, this time bound for Vancouver. It wasn’t the fog that delayed my takeoff but a wildcat walkout by baggage handlers at Toronto’s Pearson Airport. Instead of an 8:30 departure, we changed gates three times and lifted off the runway at 10:30ish. This meant that I missed my connection to Campbell River on Vancouver Island. Thankfully there was a later flight. I landed and made it to the hotel with an hour to spare before the opening of the Words on the Water festival. There were some wonderful writers at the festival. I met and spent some time with the very talented Gurjinder Basran whose first novel, Everything was Good-bye picked up a BC Book Prize among many other accolades and honours. My friend, Robert Wiersema was also there. He’s a wonderful writer and reviewer. I think he’s the funniest writer I know who seldom writes funny stuff in his books. It was great to hang out with him, as usual. As well, the funny, funny writer Susan Juby was also there talking about her hilarious novel, The Woefield Poultry Collective. The festival was very well attended and everyone, yours truly included, seemed to have a great time. For the Literary Cabaret on the Saturday night, Robert Wiersema and I read Robert Service’s amazing poem, The Cremation of Sam McGee. Lots of laughs. Thanks to Trevor McMonagle and his organizing crew for a memorable weekend in beautiful Campbell River.


Brantford Public Library Reading

This past Thursday, I was off to Brantford, Ontario for a talk and reading at the Brantford Public Library. Brantford will always have a special place in my heart. The day The Best Laid Plans won Canada Reads, I travelled to Brantford for an evening talk to a McMaster University Alumni group. I’ll never forget that day, or my trip to Brantford that night. Last week’s visit was just as memorable. Paula Thomlinson and her colleagues at the library had done a great job promoting the event so it was a packed room. It was nice to speak with former Liberal MPP and Brantford Mayor Dave Neumann whom I’d not seen for many years. I spoke, read, answered questions and signed books. Thanks Brantford!

My first virtual e-book signing…

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

This was kind of neat. Margaret Atwood has a stake in a company called iDolVine that has created software and a social networking site that allows authors  to meet virtually with book lovers, and then inscribe their ebook  remotely. I tried it out yesterday for an event organized by the bookstore at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, while I was sitting in my office here in Toronto. It all worked very well. A steady stream of customers (well it was steady for a few minutes!) sat down in the hotseat and pulled on the headset so we could chat for a few minutes through cyberspace. Then at what seemed like the appropriate moment, I inscribed the cover of my second novel, The High Road using a stylus and a tablet computer. Then I hit the “Send” button and the electronic image was sent to the customer’s email address. I’m told that when the system is fully developed, the inscribed cover of the novel will actually be embedded directly into the customer’s ebook stored in his/her online library, whether it’s with Kobo, Kindle,  iBooks, or other ebook services. Slick!

It’s shaping up to be a busy spring/summer…

Monday, January 30th, 2012


With my role as resident blogger for Canada Reads winding down, I’ve started to look ahead to what’s coming up for me on the book front in the next several months. It’s going to be a very hectic, but fun, time. I’m on the road a bit (Moncton, Vancouver Island, Winnipeg, Moose Jaw, and Ottawa), which is always a bit of challenge given that I work fulltime. It means that I use a few vacation days to make it all work. It also helps that my colleagues here at Thornley Fallis are very supportive and understanding. Anyway, here’s what the sched through to the end of the summer looks like, though it changes day-to-day as new gigs come in. To see it all, click here, or on the Appearances tab up on the upper-left side of this blog. With my third novel, Up and Down, being released by McClelland & Stewart on September 16th, the autumn is filling up, too!

Coming up…

  • Tuesday, January 31, 2012, 7:30 p.m.: A talk and reading at a book club in Richmond Hill, Ontario.
  • Thursday, February 9, 2012, 12:00 noon: A luncheon talk to the Ontario Bar Association, Toronto.
  • Monday, February 20, 2012, 7:00 p.m.: A talk and reading at a private book club in Toronto.
  • Monday, March 5, 2012, 4:00 p.m.: A talk to a CanLit class at Lakehead University that is studying The Best Laid Plans, Orillia, Ontario.
  • Tuesday, March 6, 2012, 7:00 p.m.: A talk and reading at a private book club in Toronto.
  • Thursday, March 15, 2012, 10:00 a.m.: A talk and reading at the Twin Lakes Probus Club in Orillia, Ontario.
  • Saturday, April 7, 2012, Time: TBD: A talk and reading at the Listowel Public Library, Listowel, Ontario.
  • Thursday, April 12, 2012, 7:00 p.m.: A talk, reading, and signing at the Taylor Branch of the Toronto Public Library.
  • Sunday, April 15, 2012, 1:00 p.m.: A reading and signing for the Writers & Friends, a fundraiser for Horizons of Friendship, Memorial Hall, Kingston City Hall, Kingston, Ontario.
  • Tuesday, April 17, 2012, 11:00 a.m.: A talk and reading at the Gateway Probus Club in Collingwood, Ontario.
  • Thursday, April 19, 2012, 7:00 p.m.: A talk and reading at the Tweed Public Library, Tweed, Ontario.
  • Friday, April 20, 2012, 1:30 p.m.: A talk and reading at a private book club in Bobcaygeon, Ontario.
  • Friday, April 20, 2012, 7:00 p.m.: A talk, reading, and signing at Dunsford United Church in Bobcaygeon, Ontario.
  • Thursday, April 26, 2012, 1:00 p.m.: Talks to students at College Avenue Secondary School, as part of Woodstock Reads in Woodstock, Ontario.
  • Friday, April 27 – Sunday April 29, 2012, Time TBC: Talks, readings, and signings at schools and other venues as part of the Frye Festival, Moncton, New Brunswick.
  • Thursday, May 3, 2012, 7:00 p.m.: A talk, reading, and signing in Dundas for the Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale Federal Liberal Association.
  • Wednesday, May 8, 2012, 10:00 a.m.: A talk, reading, and signing at the Probus Club of South Muskoka, Bracebridge, Ontario.
  • Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 7:00 p.m.: A talk and reading at a private book club in Toronto.
  • Monday, June 4, 2012, 10:00 a.m.: A talk, reading, and signing at the New Appleby Burlington Probus Club, Burlington, Ontario.
  • Wednesday, June 6, 2012, 7:00 p.m.: A talk, reading, and signing at the Innisfil Public Library, Cookstown, Ontario.
  • Wednesday, June 13, 2012, 2:00 p.m.: A talk, reading, and signing at a Women’s Probus Club in Collingwood, Ontario.
  • Thursday, June 14, 2012, 10:00 a.m.: A talk, reading, and signing at the Probus Club of Wasaga Beach, Wasaga Beach, Ontario.
  • Wednesday, June 20, 2012, 12:00 noon: A talk and reading at a book club at St. Christopher’s Church, Burlington, Ontario.
  • Thursday, July 5, 2012, 10:00 a.m.: A talk, reading, and signing at the Midland-Huronia Probus Club, Midland, Ontario.
  • Thursday, July 26, 2012, 12:00 noon: A talk and reading at a private book club in Scarborough, Ontario.

Phew… I’m tired… but no time to rest, the new novel and a busy autumn beckon…

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?