Adam Foulds’s DREAM SEQUENCE is “a nightmare so precise, and often beautiful, that one comes to prefer it, in some ways, to dull reality,” says John Wray.

Announcing the April 30 publication of

D R E A M   S E Q U E N C E

by Adam Foulds, the Man Booker-shortlisted author of The Quickening Maze.

Henry Banks, star of the UK’s most popular television series, has higher aspirations, ones befitting of his talent: a serious film career, beginning with a role in a brilliant Spanish director’s next movie. To make the jump to the big screen, he’ll have to remake himself in more than one way. But as he runs his morning miles and scrutinizes his changing physique in the mirror, he doesn’t know that he’s not alone in his obsession: Kristin, an unstable American fan, has her own lofty ambitions. Dream Sequence is a moving depiction of psychological damage and the unsettling consequences of fame.

The London Times writes, “Everyone loves a good page-turner full of aspirational scene-setting, but few literary novelists dare to try it . . . [Dream Sequence] is a sexy, celeby drama . . . just like The Great Gatsby, this novel billows around you like a queasy dream, its grand scenery and awful characters combining to take us out of the real world and into another, oddly shimmering version of it.” Metro News calls Dream Sequence a “livewire exploration of sex and power.”

David Bezmozgis, author of the Giller-shortlisted The Free World, says, “Adam Foulds is one of the best fiction writers working today. Dream Sequence possesses all the hallmarks of his previous books—emotional acuity, beautiful prose—and also a seductive plot and an ingenious structure. It’s a great novel. I read it practically in one sitting.” And in a starred review, Publishers Weekly describes it as “an outstanding and unyielding exploration of celebrity, fame, and all its attendant obsessions . . . Foulds’s novel is fun, smart, and tense, part psychological drama about media-driven obsession and part razor-sharp social critique.”

Can’t wait to read Dream Sequence? Here to tide you over is a Biblioasis interview with Adam Foulds:

For those who are coming to your work for the first time, can you tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I’m a poet and novelist, originally from London in the UK. Dream Sequence is my fourth novel. I’ve also published a long poem set in Kenya during the end of British rule. I like language and intensity of perception. There are many writers and types of writing I enjoy but nothing gives me as much pleasure as the first writers I was passionate about as a teenager: James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, D.H. Lawrence, Saul Bellow. Their work is alert, musical, meaningful, fresh in its word choices at every moment. That’s what I strive for.

You once said Dream Sequence was about “the pathology of destiny.” Can you speak a little more on that?

Both main characters have a strong sense of destiny and the future in different ways. For Henry, the actor, he has an image of success, a driving ambition, an underlying intuition that after certain achievements everything will be alright, that drives him relentlessly forwards. His destiny is the fulfillment of his desires which he almost but can’t quite see will never be fulfilled because there will always be more to desire. Kristin’s sense of destiny is more mystical, more centered, more magical: she believes that she and Henry are meant to be together, having had an experience with him that she thinks bound them together and revealed this truth. Both of them are therefore extreme cases of kinds of thinking about destiny an the future that we are all prone to: that of ambition and the deferrals of unsatisfied desire, and that of the magical thinking that certain things are meant to be, that the universe wants something for us.

You’re from England but you live here in Canada now. What brought you to this country?

Marriage. Improvisation. Montreal. Toronto.

Both characters in their own way have their obsessions—Kristin is obviously obsessed with Henry, but Henry wants his big movie parts and to get famous beyond recognition. Is there a way in which they’re alike at all in their desires?

They both need their desires fulfilled in order for the world to make sense or feel worthwhile. They are alike in that and not too different from the rest of us also.

I was struck by the intensity in Kristin’s immovable obsession—it’s so extreme but it’s also quiet, in some ways. Funny thought: If Henry was, actually, interested in having a relationship with her, do you think it would work out?

That’s an interesting question and one I hadn’t thought about. I think that for Henry to be interested in her so much in him would need to change that all kinds of other possibilities would open up. As it is, Kristin does not suit his desired self-image or sense of entitlement.

What are you reading right now?

Plenty. Mandelstam’s prose. Deborah Eisenberg’s short stories. Celine’s Journey To The End of the Night. Sue Prideaux’s new biography of Nietzsche, I Am Dynamite. Too much news.

We can hardly contain our excitement about DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT by Lucy Ellmann

Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport will appear on September 10, and we absolutely cannot wait. We love this book so much. We’d try to explain why, but really . . . just see for yourself:

 

 

 

When you are all sinew, struggle and solitude, your young – being soft, plump, vulnerable – may remind you of prey. The damp furry closeness in the crowded den sometimes gave her an over-warm sensation akin to nausea, or boredom. Snaking her long limbs as far as space permitted, she longed to be out on her winding path, ranging wide in search of deer. In her dreams she slaughtered whole herds. She sought that first firm clasp on a stag’s neck, the swift parting of its hide, her mouth filling at last with what was hot and wet and necessary.

For all of life is really recoil and leap, leap and recoil.

Alertness was her new mode, but the cubs’ easy slumber was contagious. To be woken, biffed in the face by the paw of a sleeping kitten. She was always briefly astounded, on waking, by their continued presence. They troubled her, they were so needy: if she died, they would die too, and soon. And she would forget them. But for now, she belonged to them. They were not so much a conscious concern as the whole purpose of her being – lives engendered by her body, created inside her and released through pain and panting upon the world. She had borne them, and now she fed them with her milk. They were part of her still.

For the first week they were sprawling, crawling mush to her, demanding gentleness, forbearance, cleanups. The air shook with the vibrations of her purr. She learnt to maneuver her way round their wriggling forms with all kinds of fancy new steps. The more they squirmed, the more adroitly she had to dodge them.

She never left them for more than half an hour. The mere thought of the kittens bleating and scrabbling around back in the den diminished her resolve, made her less surefooted, ruined her joy in the kill. She went hungry, even sank to eating snowshoe hares that ventured near the den. And, once, a disappointing goosander, all feather, feet, beak and bone.

Her infant cubs, drifting back to sleep midway across each other’s backs, never knew how long she was gone, or how far from them she roamed. She might still be inside the den somewhere, just an inch out of reach. In hope, they dragged themselves over to the wall like legless seal pups, their short stubby tails nothing like the muscly ropes they would later become. Little more than mush, they toured the den in slow circles, chirping enticingly, feeling out for any sign of her, just the tip of her giant paw or long whiskers. Longing for her warmth, her tongue, her strong sleek rump, they sought her with determination, for they too were hunters, and brave. Too brave to despair.

*

The fact that the raccoons are now banging an empty yoghurt carton around on the driveway, the fact that in the early morning stillness it sounds like gunshots, the fact that, even in fog, with ice on the road and snow banks blocking their vision, people are already zooming around our corner, the site of many a minor accident, the fact that a guy in a pickup once accidentally skidded into our garage, and next time it could be our house, or a child, Wake Up Picture Day, dicamba, Kleenex, the fact that a pickup truck killed Dilly, the fact that she’d successfully dodged cars for three whole years, the fact that she knew all about cars, but during that time the traffic grew, the fact that it’s crazee now, the fact that after Dilly got killed, the kids painted a big warning sign with a big black cat on it and stuck it right by the fence, but nobody notices it, the fact that they’re all going too fast to see it,  When the cat died we had catnip tea , the fact that failure to yield causes one in five accidents in Ohio, the fact that car crashes are up twenty percent since 2009, haw tree, buckeye, black walnut, hickory, butternut, the fact that Stacy’s old enough to handle the road but the other kids aren’t, the fact that a little boy was killed in his bed just the other day by a skidding car crashing into his house, Ben asleep, the fact that there are two cardinals right now in the lilac tree, brown sugar, the fact that eleven percent of Americans carry on driving when the fuel-tank-empty light comes on, the fact that, boy, you’d think it’d be more like eighty percent, Ronny, chicken feed, the fact that there are macrophages, the fact that I dreamt I flew all the way to India to get a teaspoon of cinnamon but when I got home I realized I needed flaked almonds too, security, holding pattern, go figure, not in my backyard, the fact that we have to do our taxes and try to remember every little bit of income and expenditure, the fact that there was more of the latter than the former, Family Dollar, Baker’s IGA, password, username, “Your card is now active and ready to use,” the fact that not only do we have to calculate our income and expenditure but we gotta figure out how to get more money, and keep on getting money till we’re dead, Medicare For All, the fact that by the time Leo’s old enough to get Social Security it probably won’t even cover the price of a ham sandwich, much less a bottle of wine, the fact that we’re in for a wineless old age, oi veh, OJ, the fact that Leo has to go to Philly tomorrow and I’m not so good on my own, the fact that Ben knows so much for such a little kid, maybe too much, the fact that he says drugs work on a molecular level that can be assessed using logarithms and Schild Curves, but I just pop ’em and leave the rest to chance, breakfast, alarm clock, laundry, Spinbrush, the fact that we have to have a cocktail party and I don’t know what to wear, the fact that the only fun part is deciding on the canapés, cocktails, cock-a-doodle-do, cock, oh my word, the fact that words just pop into my head like that, dear me, the fact that I’ve got to get the dough going for the cinnamon rolls, the fact that at least we’re not having any more dinner parties, the fact that I put my foot down there,  Your feet’s too big , feat of strength, footloose and fancy-free, the fact that our parties are always a big flop anyway because the kids come down in the middle in their onesies and kill all conversation with cuteness, the fact that they look like polar bear cubs and they know it, the fact that sometimes they end up serving the drinks too, the fact that I don’t know what Prof Pranump would make of that, especially since she’s teetotal, tea, Triscuits, Ritz crackers, Saltines, Fritos, Doritos, Frito-Lay, Planters peanuts, Blue Diamond smoked almonds, Prohibition, Some Like It Hot, the fact that soon polar bears and walruses will have nowhere to go, because the polar ice is melting, cheese and pineapple on sticks, cheddar cheese logs, school bus, ground cardamom, dried cherries, zest, the fact that walruses can swim for four hundred miles, sure, but not forever, for Pete’s sake, the fact that animals don’t pride themselves on irrationality the way we do, the fact that, according to Ben, half the mammals on the planet will disappear by 2050, two hundred species a day or something like that, the fact that Ben says everybody on earth will soon be starving or suffocating or dying of SARS or Ebola or H5N1, the fact that H5N1 only has to mutate a few more times and we’re all goners, so maybe it was all for nothing, human achievement, but before that happens, we still have to do our taxes, and Leo needs to fix the garage door, the fact that it keeps sticking, missing button, bathroom grouting, the fact that Stacy would probably approve of a global pandemic, as long as it included us, her nearest and dearest, the fact that I don’t know why we released our poor little terrapins into the pond at Northwestern, the fact that we thought they’d be happy there, free, the fact that nobody ever told us they were tropical terrapins, the fact that we actually thought they’d like swimming free, in that freezing cold pond, the fact that I saw a dead dog with rabies there once, near the pond, so theoretically our turtles could have gotten rabies first, before they froze to death, the fact that we weren’t much good as pet owners, I guess, the bumblebee at Bread Loaf, the fact that what we liked best was going to the Big Building, where Daddy worked, because sometimes you got a free pencil, the fact that we loved climbing on the big painted rock outside, the fact that there was this great big boulder right in front of the building, the fact that I don’t know if somebody dragged the thing there or it was just there when they built the university and they couldn’t get rid of it, the fact that the paint was interestingly chipped and you could see how many layers it had, blue, red, white, yellow, green, Chris Rock, the fact that I think they painted it a new color every year or so, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the fact that Mozart had a starling, the fact that female starlings sing too, not just male starlings, murmurations, Ohio Blue Tip matches, phone call, a big ask, the fact that I don’t know where my cellphone is, the fact that I never know where it is, the fact that cellphones are always trying to escape their owners, the fact that there are earthquakes and tornadoes and tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, the fact that where did I see that red velvet cushion with gold trim, Gillian’s tall bird with sequins, felt and sequins, Christmastime, alone with Mommy in their bedroom at twilight, twi-night double header, sidewinder, sidecar, sidelines, left field, the fact that Stacy never mentions Frank, well, not to me anyway, Rex the Walkie-Talkie Robot Man, the fact that I don’t think she misses him at all, Reader’s Digest, Hardee’s on 2nd Street, Arby’s, Hy-Vee, Mommy and Daddy’s bedroom in the late afternoon, the fact that I always liked sequins on felt, the fact that I don’t think Stacy minds having a stepdad at all, the fact that these days most kids have half brothers and sisters, so they must be pretty used to it, the fact that all in all we’re really just a normal Joy, Pledge, Crest, Tide, Dove, Woolite, Palmolive, Clorox, Rolaids, Pepto-Bismol, Alka-Seltzer, Desitin, Advil, Aleve, Tylenol, Anacin, Bayer, Excedrin, Vitamin C, Kleenex, Kotex, Tampax, Altoid, Barbazol, Almay, Revlon, Cetaphil, Right Guard, Old Spice, Gillette, Q-Tip, Johnson & Johnson, Vaseline, Listerine, Head ’n’ Shoulders, Tylenol, Bayer, Anacin, Safe Owl, Eagle Brand, Jolly Green Giant, Land O’ Lakes, Lucerne, Sealtest, Clover, Blue Bonnet, Half ’n’ Half, Snyder, VanCamp, Wish-Bone, French’s, Skyline, Empress, Gerber, Nabisco, Heinz, Kraft, Quaker Oats, Sunkist, Purina, Vlasic, Oreos, Shredded Wheat, Arm & Hammer, Jell-O, Pez, Sara Lee, Chock Full o’ Nuts, Libby, Pepperidge Farm, Fleischmann’s, Morton, General Mills, King Arthur, Bell’s, Reese’s Pieces kind of household like everybody else, “Houston, we got a problem” . . .

Mark Bourrie Challenges Us to Retire the Word “Explorer” from the Lexicon

 

The first English-language biography in nearly a century of Pierre-Esprit Radisson—pirate, cannibal, and co-founder of the Hudson’s Bay Company—is set to appear at a bookstore near you on April 2, 2019.

Radisson’s story complicates all of our settled ideas about the European conquest of North America. This “eager hustler with no known scruples” was the Forrest Gump of the seventeenth century. A Mohawk raiding party into present-day Indiana? Radisson was there. London’s Great Plague and Great Fire? There. A shipwreck on the reefs of Venezuela? There. The courts of Charles I and Louis XIV? He was there, too.

So how does a co-founder of the longest-lived corporation in North America, a “free man in a time when they were rare,” die penniless in London? Drawing directly from Radisson’s journals, Mark Bourrie paints a vivid picture of the class and national tensions that gripped the globe tightly even as colonial ownership of specific territories shifted with the seasons. Bush Runner brings Radisson to life: a man adopted as a teenager into a Mohawk family before his ocean-crossing adulthood, a peddler of goods and not of worldview, more trading partner than colonizer, “a brave man who must have been a tremendous dinner companion—as long as you weren’t on the menu.”

In spinning this true adventure yarn—complete with piracy, espionage, double-crosses, and the consumption of human flesh—Bourrie offers a fresh perspective on the world in which Radisson lived, the world in which his legacy both does and does not live on.

To get some insight into Radisson’s story and what it means for us in the twenty-first century, we sat down for an interview with Bush Runner author Mark Bourrie.

For those who are coming to your work for the first time, can you tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I’m a lawyer, a journalist and an author with a PhD in Canadian History. I usually write about very depressing things: politics, propaganda, law. My book on Stephen Harper’s media control was a great seller but a depressing thing to write, and, probably, to read. I suppose my next book will also be very serious and frightening.

What inspired you to write a book about Radisson?

About fifteen years ago, I looked Radisson up in an encyclopedia. I’m not sure why. I knew Radisson and his brother-in-law Groselliers had been fur traders in New France and had defected to the English. They had opened Hudson Bay to the fur trade. Everyone who stayed awake in high school knows that. But then I saw Radisson had lived among the Mohawks, had escaped through New Amsterdam (New York City), had lived among the Sioux. All that seemed interesting enough. But then I saw he was in London in 1665. That was the Great Plague. And stuck there during the Great Fire of 1666, when the whole city burned down. And had defected back to the French, been marooned with pirates in the Caribbean, and then double-betrayed the French. This was quite a life.

When I signed with Biblioasis to do the book, I thought it was a book we needed now, as a break from all the troubling modern political non-fiction. Radisson lived in a whole other universe. He lived a life that no one could live now. He had adventures, saw amazing things, and had a huge personality. He was also completely untrustworthy, and would eat you or your dog if he thought he needed to.

What was it like to work with Radisson’s newly-opened journals? Did you discover anything about his life or his era that particularly surprised you?

Many of Radisson’s writings were found a century ago, but new material was found recently by a member of his family who had special access to the royal archives at Windsor Castle. I have read a lot of autobiography from this period, and Radisson’s is special. First, he wrote most of it in English. Radisson had a genius for languages. The next thing that stood out—partly because I came across it early, and partly because it’s timely now and unusual for the time—was Radisson’s admiration for Indigenous people, especially the Mohawks who adopted him. Radisson saw them as equals and many of them as family. Third was the often-humorous brutal honesty about himself. Radisson admits to some very sleazy things, including cannibalism. That’s in a memoir meant only for King Charles II’s eyes. I wondered what kind of man who is looking to do business with a king of England admits to eating people? There are parts of his writing that are self-serving and sections that are, to be charitable, exaggerations. But he wrote about himself in a way that I’ve never seen in the literature of that time. I think I got to know him very well. It was like living with a bratty teenager.

What do you think 21st century readers can learn from Radisson’s experiences?

Take risks. Have fun. Keep yourself open to new opportunities. Be candid about yourself. Sue people if you must. Stay off social media. (Radisson never had a Twitter account). If you do all those things, someone might name a hotel chain after you for no apparent reason and strangers might write books about you..

What will readers really get from this book? A story that reads like a TV series or movie trilogy.

What are you reading right now?

I have decided to cleanse my palate of modern political writing and the books I have read on law and politics, and have gone back into my library to read first-rate writing. I am re-reading Dispatches by Michael Herr and just sent away for Disturber of the Peace, William Manchester’s biography of H.L. Mencken. I also want to re-read Olive Dickason’s The Law of Nations and the New World. Olive was a Metis scholar and a friend, and I would like to see if her ideas on law and colonization still hold up.

Raves for Mia Couto’s RAIN AND OTHER STORIES

 

Critics are loving Eric M B Becker’s English translation of Mia Couto’s Rain and Other Stories. The New York Times included Rain and Other Stories in a sneak-peek list of titles from around the world.

Published in the aftermath of Mozambique’s bloody civil war, Mia Couto’s third collection seeks out the places violence could not reach, the places where, the author writes, “every man is the same: pretending he’s here, dreaming of going away, and plotting his return.” Shifting masterfully between forms—creation tale to meditation, playful comedy to magical twist—these stories grapple with questions of what’s been lost and what can be reclaimed, what future exists for a country that broke the yoke of colonialism only to descend into internecine war, what is Mozambican and what is Mozambique. Following fishermen and fortune-tellers, widows and drunks, and one errant hippopotamus, this new translation of stories by the Man Booker-listed author of Confession of the Lioness rediscovers possibility and what it means to be reborn.

Vanity Fair writes, “[Couto] has been creating his own utterly original take on African life for decades now, rich and lyrical works immersed in the soil and mind-set of rural Mozambique…These literary fragments are dreamy but hopeful responses to Mozambique’s violent past, magical tales that find solace in the wisdom of rivers and trees, fishermen and fortune tellers, children and blind men. An assortment of transcendent sketches, fables, and creation tales, Couto’s stories are rooted yet timeless, both whimsical and deeply spiritual—essential qualities of the work of the masterful Mozambican author.”

The Winnipeg Free Press found Rain “Magnificent…The wonder of the collection, indeed its grip on the reader, is that such seemingly disparate tales come together to ultimately present how the land is remade…Nearly each sentence is astonishing in this riveting, challenging collection.”

In a starred review, Library Journal calls Rain “Stellar…offers fable-like gems capturing lives hurt and heroic, damaging and enduring…At a low point, Blind Estrelinho “remained on the side of the road, like a balled-up handkerchief soaked with sadness,” and such language stuns throughout. A woman deserted by her husband, a problem child rushing to rescue her father—these are some of Couto’s poignant stories. VERDICT: Highly recommended.”

Kirkus Reviews reports that Rain “Convey[s] a sense of profound loss flecked with a measure of optimism about life after the bloodshed is over. An impressionistic flash-fiction trek through the wreckage of war,” while Words Without Borders says Rain “encompasses everything from unlikely confessionals to dreamlike forays outside of realism; it’s a concise and wide-ranging demonstration of Couto’s authorial range.”

Booklist raves, “Wide ranging in theme, mood, and genre…[Couto’s] descriptions of landscapes and people have the power and mystery of the best style of folklore. The strength of his characters, whether he’s portraying an old math professor exploring love, a cross-dressing neighbor, or a businessman creating a happy communal space as a gift to God‚ is most apparent in how with few words their varied lives become relatable. Becker’s translation conveys Couto’s precise use of language to capture the innately elusive nature of human experience.” Shelf Awareness praises Rain‘s “stunning imagery,” which “draws power from unexpected comparisons…Playful and poignant, Rain and Other Stories cements Couto’s reputation as one of the finest writers in the Portuguese language, and proves Becker’s talent as a discerning and perceptive translator.” 

Foreword Reviews muses, “Even the nothingness of linguistic voids are used to their best advantage. When an ideal word or phrase fails to exist in the English language, this void becomes a laboratory where words are cajoled into serving functions not normally within their job descriptions. The blind man, upon suffering the loss of the companion who did so much more than merely tend to him, experiences an overwhelming sensation of being ‘dis-tended to’…Were the phrase ‘all that remained was absence’ to be embedded in any other collection, it might signify grief or hopelessness, but in Mia Couto’s Rain, translated from Portuguese by Eric M. B. Becker, it promises the opposite.”

Arkansas International describes how “A Chekhovian subtly is achieved, even when their realism turns to the magical…What’s most successful about this collection are the ways in which Couto repeatedly asks unanswerable questions, piquing reader curiosity… answers manifest through subtext, and the effect is both chilling and tragic. In this collection, Mia Couto, via Eric M. B. Becker’s aesthetically rich translation, packs an emotional resonance in each story—despite brevity, many only reaching five pages—that lingers with readers long after putting the book down.”

Blogger Joseph Shreiber notes that “The roots and spirits of these tales seem to run deep into the very bedrock of the earth. They are uniquely Mozambican and yet timeless…[Couto] has an uncanny ability to create miniature worlds peopled with wonderful characters, images and happenings…simply enchanting.”

If we weren’t already in love with Rain and Other Stories, these reviews would have us running to our nearest bookstore to scoop up a copy!

 

We’re HIRING! Full-time internship!

Biblioasis is Looking for a Full-Time Intern!

Have you ever wanted to learn more about publishing but assumed you would have to go to Toronto or New York or London to do so? Have you turned down unpaid internships because you can’t afford to work for free?  Do you want the opportunity to learn about publishing at one of the best independent publishing houses in the country?

Biblioasis, through the assistance of the OBPO (Ontario Book Publishers Organization) and Ontario Creates, is offering a 12 week full-time paid publishing internship as an introduction to independent publishing in Canada.  The successful candidate will learn about key aspects of the publishing process, from production and bibliodata management to publicity and marketing, including copy-writing, author tour management, social media and review protocols.

No past experience in publishing or the book industry is required. The successful candidate will have a love for books and reading, the ability to work both independently and on a team, and a keen mind open to new tasks and experiences.

The position pays a flat stipend of $6,000 over a 12-week period. Full-time hours in the Biblioasis offices in Windsor will be required.

Applicants who self-identify as being from a diverse background – including but not limited to ancestry, culture, ethnicity, gender identity, gender expression, language, physical and intellectual ability, race, religion (creed), sex, sexual orientation and socio-economic status – are encouraged to apply.

If you’re interested in applying, please submit your resume and cover letter to Vanessa Stauffer at vstauffer@biblioasis.com by March 18.

TCMG ARCs

An Interview with Cecil Foster

Happy New Year from all of us at Biblioasis! It’s been a whirlwind couple of months, beginning with Kathy Page’s Rogers Writer’s Trust Fiction Prize win for Dear Evelyn and continuing up to this very second as we prepare for the publication of our 2019 titles. We’re also doing some organizing around the Bibliomanse and steadfastly refusing to discard any books, whether they spark joy or not.

And speaking of organizing: we’re eagerly awaiting February 5 and the Canadian publication of our first 2019 title: Cecil Foster’s They Call Me George: The Untold Story of Black Train Porters and the Birth of Modern CanadaFoster’s history documents the struggles, both individual and collective, of Black Canadians against the racist policies of their employers and their country. It was their actions, Foster argues, that laid the groundwork for the multicultural nation we know today. Incorporating the author’s own interviews with former porters and outlining the rarely-discussed institutional racism of early Canadian immigration and employment policies, They Call Me George is an indispensable read for the 21st century.

We sat down at our keyboards last month to ask Cecil a few questions about his new book.

A Biblioasis Interview with Cecil Foster, author of They Call Me George

For those who are coming to your work for the first time, can you tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

Born in Barbados, I came to Canada in 1979, eventually became a leading business reporter especially on transportation, where I became fascinated by the narrative of how Canada was built by the railways, how confederation was a promise to link Canada sea-to-sea by railway, how Canada was held together by a thin ribbon of steel. But who manned those railways? Little was ever written about them, except maybe by Stephen Leacock about the smiling darkies, as he called them. As a Black man it was with pride that I dug deeper to discover the role of Black men—including West Indians—in the making of Canada, as well as the great odds they had to overcome to make Canada the much admired multicultural country it is today.

What drove you to write a book about the porters?

I was always trying to work the porters into my writing on the Black experience in Canada, in both fiction and non-fiction. Then came the opportunity to write a book on the untold stories of Canada as part as the federal government’s initiative to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary and I jumped at the chance when Biblioasis came calling.

You did an incredible amount of research for this book. Is there any one particular porter or story that has stuck with you?

At the back of my mind, and always present in my research, was my friend Billy Downey of Halifax. He was a genuinely pioneering Canadian, who worked on the railway and eventually ended up as a supervisor. When I spent a year in Halifax, every Saturday I would have lunch with Billy and two other friends, and I would hear all those wonderful stories of being Black and working on the ‘roads. I dedicate the book to Billy’s memory. Other than that, undoubtedly the other standout was Stanley Grizzle. Not only was he a leading activist but he had the good foresight to be a hoarder—whereby he kept everything, every piece of paper or clippings, which are now the rich treasure trove I found in the Canadian Archives.

Why is it that we haven’t heard much previously about the porters’ activism and what they did for this country?

We haven’t heard much because this story undermines the popular impressions of a) Canada and Black people, and b) how Canada became multicultural.

Many Canadians conveniently want to forget that Canada was a White Man’s country and helped pioneered worldwide apartheid and integration. Or they recall the stories of the Underground Railroad and African slaves escaping from the U.S. to freedom in Canada—but they do not linger on how Canada tried to repel Black immigration and often forced Black people to leave. When they look at Canada today, they cannot believe that this country once limited immigration from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) to 350 annually and often did not even meet this quota.

The story of how Canada became multicultural is often told as a fight between English and French Canadians for domination. This book argues differently: it states that multiculturalism resulted from pressures by people of colour to make Canada non-white, to dismantle Canada as a White Man’s country, and to make it a place in which all types of people can find social justice.

These are not positions that are popular in the Canadian mainstream, let alone taught as official Canadian history and as part of the development of ideas and policies in Canada.

Did anything particularly surprise you in your research?

I was surprised by how easily racist discourse was accepted as part of the national debate even into the 1960s, as can be found in Hansard, the official reports of Parliament, and in national newspapers and journals. And many of those who today talk about Canadian prime minister Laurier’s sunny ways and Laurier’s belief that the 20th century would belong to Canada might do a double-take when considering the racist and white supremacist context in which Laurier—and so many other prime ministers—were talking. On the other hand two prime ministers—John Diefenbaker and Pierre Elliott Trudeau—stand out as the makers of the new Canada, having refuted much that they inherited from prior Canadian leaders.

What are you reading right now?

I have Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black on my bookstand and hope I can get to it before my summer break.

 

 

 

 

DEAR EVELYN by Kathy Page wins 2018 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize!

On Wednesday, November 7, 2018, it was announced that Dear Evelyn by Kathy Page has been awarded the 2018 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.

Prize jurists Ann Y.K. Choi, Mireille Silcoff, and Robert Wiersma said in their citation: “Kathy Page’s Dear Evelyn tells the tender and unsettling story of working-class Londoner Harry Miles and the ambitious Evelyn Hill who fall in love as the world around them goes to war. What initially begins as a familiar wartime love story morphs into a startling tale of time’s impact on love and family, as well as one’s complex search for personal meaning and truth. By integrating themes that are universally understood by readers and skillfully crafting endearing characters that surprise and delight, Page has created a poignant literary work of art. The result is a timeless page-turning masterpiece.”

“I couldn’t be happier for Kathy tonight,” said Dan Wells of Biblioasis, publisher of Dear Evelyn. “She’s long been one of our best writers and it means so much that the Writers’ Trust jury has acknowledged this wonderful, deeply personal look at how love can change us, then change us again.”

Born between the wars on a working-class London street, Harry Miles wins a scholarship and a chance to escape his station, but discovers instead that poetry is what offers him real direction. While searching for more of it he meets Evelyn Hill on the steps of Battersea Library. The two fall in love as the world prepares once again for war, but their capacity to care for each other over the ensuing decades becomes increasingly tested. Twisting and startling, harrowing and deeply tender, Dear Evelyn explores how two very different people come together to shape and reshape each other over a lifetime. It is a compelling and unconventional love story that will leave its mark on any reader who has ever loved.

Kathy Page is the author of ten previous books, two of which, Paradise & Elsewhere (2014) and The Two of Us (2016), were nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Other works include Alphabet, a Governor General’s Award finalist in 2005, and The Story of My Face, long-listed for the Orange Prize in 2002, and Frankie Styne and the Silver Man. Born in the UK, she moved to Salt Spring Island with her family in 2001, and now divides her time between writing and teaching at Vancouver Island University.

 

A Biblioasis Interview with Patrick Brode, author of Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder

We’re delighted by this week’s arrival of beloved local author Patrick Brode’s Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder. Brode’s latest tells a story that’s familiar to many Windsorites and guaranteed to captivate anyone who’s interested in the history of the Prohibition era. We sat down with Pat to find out more about the true story behind this local lore.

For those who might not be familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about yourself as a writer and a historian?

I have been writing legal history since the 1970s. My publications so far consist of biographies and studies of unique issues such as sexual “seduction” and its consequences in Canada. Many of my writings have been case studies, which have focused on specific cases. For example, I have written on the 1860 extradition trial of the escaped slave John Anderson, the 1895 murder trial of a black woman, Clara Ford in Toronto, and the prosecution of a serial killer of homosexuals in Windsor Ontario in 1947.

Babe Trumble’s murder is a well-known story in the Windsor region. What drew you to write about this particular case for a national—and international—audience?

What makes the murder of the saloonkeeper Babe Trumble by a Methodist clergyman so compelling was the way in which it so captured the opposing forces of the Prohibition era. That a religious figure would shoot down and kill a man who had the nerve to sell alcohol became the high water mark of religious zealotry in Canada. It became a turning point in which the public began to question the validity of morality by government force.

I was struck by the extent of Toronto media coverage of this case, and the ways in which Toronto was so at odds with the Border Cities region over the alcohol issue. Can you talk a little bit about that dynamic? 

All major Toronto newspapers sent reporters to Windsor to cover the early rum running events. Their coverage was inevitably sensational with accounts of running gun battles, and bloody confrontations between police and bootleggers along the shore of the Detroit River. It made for exciting copy, and the Toronto public loved it. Part of it was vicarious thrills. The Windsor area was often referred to as the “Essex Frontier” as if it was the Wild West. It was portrayed as a dangerous place where everyone carried a gun and was ready to use it.  The Toronto reading public was entertained by but safely removed from this mini-war going on 300 kilometers away.

The Windsor region has always been intertwined with that of our American neighbours across the river in Detroit. How was the Detroit region affected by the hullabaloo recounted in Dying For a Drink?

 Throughout this incident, the role of Detroit as the great magnet for Canadian booze is central. Both cities had nothing but disdain for the prevailing liquor laws and intended to defy those laws for their mutual benefit. The almost overnight growth of the cross-border smuggling trade was a business phenomenon that made millionaires out of cab drivers. But to prohibition true believers, such as the Reverend Spracklin, this was a defiance of morality which had the force of law. It had to be stopped.

Today, Windsor seems fondly proud of its rum-running past, almost part of our civic heritage. Has it always been that way?

 There was almost a romantic “Robin Hood” feel to the period. Ordinary people were rising up to resist a law that had little popular support. It is one of the few instances where so many people in a Canadian city openly broke the law. For that reason, the “Rumrunner era” continues to resonate. The descendants of bootleggers proudly display relicts of their family’s past and tours celebrate the persons and sites of the era.

The Prohibition era has an extensive mythology—you’re very careful to ground your work in facts and not legends. Are there any persistent myths you come across while working in that era’s history?

 That one of the many who broke the law was shot down and killed for his defiance shocked Windsor. It was a further measure of the times that in most of the rest of the Ontario the respectable classes thought he got what he deserved.

In many ways the incident has been embellished since 1920. It has been romanticized to suggest that the killing was the result of an ongoing feud. It has also been suggested that the Reverend Spracklin was a Canadian “Eliot Ness.” Neither view has any substance and detracts from the real facts that brought them together in a tragic, spontaneous clash.

What are you working on next?

 I’m working on a further legal history on the war crimes committed against Canadian servicemen at the end of World War II and the resulting courts martial.

 

 

In Memoriam: David Helwig, 1938-2018

We are saddened by the loss of David Helwig, who passed away October 16 at the age of 80. The author of 25 books of fiction, seventeen poetry collections, and four nonfiction books, David was a Member of the Order of Canada and former poet laureate of Prince Edward Island. David’s books with Biblioasis include Saltsea, About Love, and this year’s reissue of The Stand-In.

Full House
(for Will, Luke, Elli)

In a park of mighty trees
sun and mist nourish green
that is more than itself;
a bird calls sibling sibling

as the dangerous one
draws cards to a pair
and turns up three of a kind,
deals them into a world

where eyes, lips, fingers find
so much to be unknown,
the regular beat of sleep,
the belly’s soft remindings,

learnings of flesh and mind
in the sweeping soft salt tide;
three lives two handfuls long
sing daily counterpoint

where each house is a full house;
by the church the colour of flesh
in the park of hidden rivers
a bird cries thriving, thriving.

—David Helwig

A Biblioasis Interview with K.D. Miller, author of Late Breaking

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K.D. Miller’s Late Breaking, a collection of stories inspired by the work of Alex Colville, hit shelves last week, and early reports demonstrate that readers are as captivated as your humble Biblioblogger by this brilliant new book from the author of Rogers Writers’ Trust finalist All Saints. We sat down with K.D. to learn more about its inspiration, as well as its relationship to her other work.

In Ottawa? K.D. is the featured reader at The Short Reading Series on Sunday, October 14. Join us downtown at The Gallery Bar at The Lieutenant’s Pump on Elgin Street at 4 pm!

Biblioasis: For those not already familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing?

K.D. Miller: I have published seven books (including Late Breaking) –five collections of short stories, a novel and a collection of personal essays. My short story collections are linked – whether by theme or through recurring characters and situations. I like this form very much, as it gives me the freedom to revisit a personality or circumstance and see it from a very different angle. My novel, Brown Dwarf, had a similarly loose structure – the narrative point of view shifted back and forth from first to third, and the time frame from present to past. My collection of essays, Holy Writ, explored a favourite theme of mine – the link between creativity and spirituality. Right now I’m at work on a new book of essays that goes further in that direction. Recently I’ve started to publish single poems in literary journals, and my essay “The Death of Me” has been accepted for the summer issue of The New Quarterly as part of their Falling in Love With Poetry series. It describes how I came to poetry late in life and rather reluctantly, and includes four of my poems.

Though retired, I still write in the early morning, as I did for decades before leaving for work. I’m at my desk by 6 am at the very latest, and those couple of hours with my coffee and the view out my window are the best of the day.

B: Each story in Late Breaking is based on a painting of Alex Colville’s. Can you tell us a bit about what drew you to his work, and what inspired the idea of a book collection like this?

KDM: I had always liked the work of Alex Colville – his precise delineation, his almost-invisible brushwork, and above all the eerie, chill-down-the-spine effect of many of his paintings. (That black horse galloping toward the oncoming train captures perfectly what I’m talking about.) His paintings are extremely evocative. Many of his subjects either have their heads turned sharply away from the viewer or are looking the viewer disconcertingly straight in the eye. And you can take that kind of thing any way you like – as a challenge, as a cry for help, whatever. Even in his less disturbing paintings, nothing is entirely peaceful or at rest. You get the feeling that something memorable has just happened, or is just about to happen.

In 2014, the AGO mounted a major exhibit of Colville’s work, finding in it fascinating parallels with the Coen brothers’ films and the writing of Alice Munro. As I roamed from painting to painting, the phrase “the Colville stories” kept repeating in my mind like a mantra. I felt inspired – almost driven – to use those paintings as visual writing prompts. Their layers of possibility, their disturbing ambiguity left me convinced that I could pull stories out of them for the rest of my life. I actually felt blessed.

B: How does the collection relate (or not relate) to your last book All Saints?

KDM: All Saints is linked together by recurring characters who in one way or another find themselves inside a small, struggling urban church – the titular All Saints. When I started writing Late Breaking, I did not intend to have recurring characters. I had thought that the linkage would be one more of atmosphere, theme, imagery, etc. But then it occurred to me that the protagonist of one story simply must have been the long-time friend of the protagonist of another. And a minor character here was the neighbour or colleague of another minor character over there … And so on. The characters, in their way, let me in on a community that gradually formed under my hand.

There are other similarities too. Given my own interest in spirituality, it is not too surprising that one character in Late Breaking is an Anglican priest, and another the son of a United Church minister. Both books also deal with death as a significant theme – its mystery, and the way we do everything in our power to pretend it isn’t there waiting for us.

I think All Saints is a more closely-packed collection than Late Breaking. While I was writing the latter, I went further afield – both in terms of technique and setting. Fewer of the Late Breaking characters are dug out of myself, and more of them are people who, you might say, came to visit and let me get to know them.

In both cases, however, I became extremely fond of the community I greeted at my desk each morning, and missed them terribly once the books were finished.

B: The eponymous story “Late Breaking” juxtaposes both very funny CanLit satire with a heartbreaking story of loss, centered around a fiction writer named Jill Macklin. I’m wondering if you can tell us more about that character?

KDM: Well, I won’t pretend that there isn’t a big dollop of Jill in me and me in her. We’re about the same age, we both had day-jobs for many years that supported our fiction-writing on the side, and we both had the experience of being up for an award and nursing a broken heart at the same time.

That said, I want to emphasize that my own award-nomination experience was very different from Jill’s. The one she is up for – the Olympia Featherstone Award For Fiction – is purely a creature of the imagination, as is its rather crass competitor – the Biggar Prize. I wanted to put Jill smack in between two unrealities – a pedestal and a ditch, you might say – and give her a chance to find her way back to her true self.

One other thing that I hope the title story does is remind the reader that the elder heart can still break. It is as tender, brave and vulnerable as it ever was. Falling in love is as exhilarating for someone in their sixties as it is for someone in their twenties; and the failure of that love hurts them just as much, too.

In fact, if there is one thing I hope the collection Late Breaking can achieve, it is this understanding that our hearts stay young and open, right up until the end.

B: What are you reading right now?

KDM: Well, I just finished Philip Kerr’s Prussian Blue (I love murder mysteries!) and have just started May Sarton’s The House by the Sea – the journal she kept in the 1970s while living in a big old farm house on the coast of Maine. She is a marvelous diarist, and is just about my age at time of writing. Many years ago, I wrote two sentences which I have not been able to do anything with: “Old women belong by the sea. They have earned their place with the rocks and the foam.” May Sarton’s book is bringing those sentences back to me, like a mantra. Maybe it’s time to put them into an essay. Or a story. Or a poem.