Five Questions with… David Bergen

David Bergen, author of Leaving Tomorrow and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to see David on November 2, as well as a copy of Leaving Tomorrow! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: In an interview with Mark Medley of the National Post, you said, “I always have a book that I use that somehow inspires my novels.” What book inspired Leaving Tomorrow?
Bergen, David

David Bergen: For this novel, there was no one specific book, though The Red and the Black and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man were humming in the background. And Ecclesiastes. And Flaubert.

IFOA: Leaving Tomorrow focuses on young Arthur finding his place in his family and the world. How did you go about creating such a psychologically compelling character?

Bergen: I try to figure out what the character is pushing against. That is my starting point, and usually that leads to other discoveries. Nothing is obvious, and usually the little moments are the ones in which the character reveals himself.

IFOA: What was it like having one of your novels (The Age of Hope) selected to be part of CBC’s Canada Reads in 2013?

Bergen: Strange. Canada Reads is geared towards discussions of “issues” or “relevance,” and certain novels are not inclined that way. That said, I was pleased to have attention paid to The Age of Hope. Good people at Canada Reads, and I got to meet Ron MacLean.Bergen, Leaving Tomorrow

IFOA: Do you have a writing regiment?

Bergen: When I am writing and lucky enough to be in the midst of a novel, I write five days a week, six hours a day, at my office in the Exchange in Winnipeg. I aim for five hundred words a day.

IFOA: What was the best piece of writing you read in the past year?

Bergen: Traveler of the Century by Andrés Neuman.

David Bergen is the award-winning author of eight novels, including The Time in Between, winner of the 2005 Scotiabank Giller Prize. See David on November 2 as he reads from his latest, Leaving Tomorrow, an emotionally powerful story about a hopeful young man who yearns for a larger life outside of his small town in Alberta.

A Boy and a Man

By Anthony De Sa

About a month ago, my 12-year-old son, Simon, came home from school with a new book he had selected from his school library. It was John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. He read the first few pages at school, and when he came home, he stole himself in his room to continue reading. I had never seen this behavior from him. My three sons have always been terrific readers—something I’m very grateful for—but Simon had never immersed himself in a book quite like this. He gobbled it up and a day later asked if I could bring him another book, one that dealt with the Holocaust or WWII.

Yesterday, I realized I was covering an Artist Talk for IFOA with Irish author John Boyne as the guest artist. He is the author of nine novels for adults and four for children, but I didn’t know this. I must admit, other than Boyne’s big hit, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which sold over 6 million copies worldwide and was recently made into a feature film, I knew little about him as a writer. What I learned from him deeply affected me as a writer, a teacher, a father, and it has remained with me still.

John Boyne is fascinated with “telling stories about people that never existed,” and writing for him is “an ‘active release’—part of my writing process.” That’s how any other author might answer the question posed about the creative process. But what made John’s response more interesting was his lack of distinction between the ways he treats a novel geared for a young reader and his other novels, those that are written for an adult audience. In fact, in his experience he sees the distinction between the two treatments as greatly diminished. The forms share the same process: “my process is simply to write the book I feel most passionately about.” It is incredibly refreshing for an author, working in both YA and literary fiction, to make such a candid admission. It speaks to him as person, first, and it resonated with me as a high school teacher, as a father of three young boys and as a writer, who at times feels the pressure to be everything to everyone. I think Steven Beattie, the moderator of the event, said it well when he suggested one of the reasons his books work so well with children, books that are often centered around difficult topics, like the Holocaust or gender and sexuality, is that he doesn’t condescend to children. Boyne recognizes how sensitive and smart his readers are; they understand things that adults are often too jaded to fully realize. More about this point later.

DSC04203The discussion then turned to religion, in particular, Catholicism. Now, most authors would shy away from questions of faith or ideology of a spiritual nature. These questions are always answered with the preamble, “Now this is just my belief,” or the apologetic, “I don’t want to offend anyone, but…” When Steven Beattie asked if he was Catholic, Boyne responded that he was not, and then went on to explain his personal stories, many of which could not be told fully because we simply did not have the time. “In Ireland the Catholic Church destroyed itself—they didn’t believe in their own tenets.” Although he recognized there were good people in the church now, the kind of young boys who had been groomed to become priests in Ireland didn’t have the opportunity to develop and mature fully. It is no wonder there were so many issues of abuse. This will be the focus of his upcoming adult novel, The History of Loneliness (February 3, 2015 from Doubleday Canada). It has taken Boyne 15 years and 12 novels to write about his home country of Ireland, but he has done so now in what many say is his most powerful novel to date, a novel about blind dogma and moral courage, and about the dark places where the two can meet.

Pressed further, Boyne went on to say, “Even in silence, there is criminality.” He didn’t hold back. There was nothing “safe” about what Boyne said. It was unflinching—a word reviewers use far too often and badly—and honest.

So I asked my son Simon, what he liked most about The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Here’s what I got. First response: “I don’t know.” Typical. I thought about what Boyne said, how he tries to get children to think, tries to get them to read and move them. He said, “I write about the most extreme violent event in the world, without the violence.” Using this as my springboard, I asked Simon how he felt about the violence in the novel, and this is what he said: “I liked it because he [the author] didn’t hide anything. He just wrote it like it was.” It’s real life. It’s what John Boyne wants to write about, and for me and my 12-year-old son, it doesn’t get better than that.

Anthony De Sa grew up in Toronto’s Portuguese community. His critically acclaimed debut, Barnacle Love, was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and a Toronto Book Award. His most recent novel, Kicking the Sky, was also a finalist for a Toronto Book Award and a national bestseller. He attended the Humber School for Writers and currently heads a high school English department and creative writing programme. De Sa is also an IFOA Delegate.

Five Questions with… George Fetherling

George Fetherling, author of Travels by Night and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to see George on November 2! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: You’re presenting the 20th anniversary edition of your memoir Travels by Night at IFOA. How does it feel to revisit a memoir 20 years later?Fetherling, George

George Fetherling: Re-reading (and expanding and revising) the text was an odd experience for someone in his mid-60s looking back at what he wrote in his mid-40s about his first 21 years. I’m glad I wrote it when I did, because I scarcely recognize the narrator today except in some matters of diction. So the effect is a little like shaking hands with one’s ghost.

IFOA: How has the Canadian publishing industry changed since your early involvement in it?

Fetherling: Pretty well everything about Canadian publishing has changed in my time, sometimes for the better, but mostly not. On the plus side, the industry is certainly much more cosmopolitan and diverse than it used to be. But is it any more stable? Old publishers are always folding up, shutting down or being sold off as new and unexpected ones spring up and graduate from small- to middle-sized.

IFOA: Your literary output is extraordinary. Which of your own projects are you most fond of?

Fetherling: Travels by Night is my best-known book, I guess, but two others that people seem to like are the novel Walt Whitman’s Secret (already made into a play in the US, with a Canadian production now in the works) and The Sylvia Hotel Poems. My own favourite of my books—but no one else’s evidently—is my biography of the late George Woodcock.

Fetherling, Travels by NightIFOA: What project is next for you?

Fetherling: I’ve been working on a novel, a kind of noir, because after all I was raised noir. It will probably be called The Carpenter from Montreal.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I often wonder…

Fetherling: I often wonder how I have survived against the odds—and how long I might continue to do so.

George Fetherling is a prolific poet, novelist, cultural commentator and memoirist. He presents the expanded 20th anniversary edition of his memoir Travels by Night, which discusses literary life in the 1960s. On November 2, he discusses writing and real-life inspiration alongside four other authors.

Connecting at IFOA 35

By Ania Szado

At IFOA 35, several industry folk have been invited to participate as Delegates. We’ve promised to attend events and contribute our thoughts via discussion, social media, blogging and so on.

Julie Joosten at the IFOA 35 Poet Summit

Poet Julie Joosten at the IFOA 35 Poet Summit

Me, I think of it as making connections. I’m not talking about networking, though that’s almost inevitable at a festival that brings together so many industry peeps, both on stage and off. The connections I’m referring to are the unexpected kind. The ones that remind you that being a writer need not be isolating or lonely. The ones that come of being open to possibilities. Serendipitous encounters that prove that—as in the pursuit of writing—the first and most important act is to show up.

Sometimes the click comes when tossing 140 characters into the Twittersphere. In the dark of the Studio Theatre yesterday, thumbing away, I broke into a grin at seeing the #IFOA35 hashtagged tweets of Delegates and pals Anthony De Sa (@antiole) and Amanda Leduc (@AmandaLeduc) pop up in my feed. I couldn’t spot the tweeters in the audience, but the real-time awareness of our shared enthusiasm for author John Boyne‘s forthright, thoughtful comments on writing and religion added a certain energy to the experience—the zing of connectivity.

Jacob Scheier at the IFOA 35 Poet Summit

Jacob Scheier at the IFOA 35 Poet Summit

One hour later, one step beyond. As Mary Ito introduced a half dozen amazing poets, I posted a plea: “Tweeting as an #IFOA35 Delegate…with a raging toothache. Take me outa my pain, poets! Root canal is Monday.” From somewhere in the room, blogger Vicki Zeigler (@bookgaga) picked up the signal, sending condolences—which alerted me to the chance to retweet her play-by-play while my nerve endings went into high buzz.

And then, suddenly, I was okay. The poets’ voices took hold of me. Their bold, beautiful, mesmerizing words sent me out of myself, made me forget about pain, made me think about possibilities—for writing, for living, for learning. Sitting in the dark, ears alert and thumbs poised, I savoured the gifts I’d been given: a kaleidoscope glimpse into other worlds and other minds. Inspiration. The pain-busting thrill of connection.

In 2014, CBC called Ania Szado one of “Ten Canadian Women You Need to Read.” Her short fiction has been nominated for the Journey Prize and the National Magazine Awards, and her bestselling novel Studio Saint-Ex has received international acclaim. Szado’s debut novel, Beginning of Was, was regionally shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Szado is an IFOA Delegate.

Five Questions with… Rudy Wiebe

Rudy Wiebe, author of Come Back and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to see Rudy on November 2, as well as a copy of Come Back! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Your website says that you have “always held to the fundamentals of plot, character and, above all, story.” Can you elaborate?

Rudy Wiebe: To be utterly simplistic, all human stories involve some achieving, some overcoming of something: that is, some conflict. Plot, the action sequence of that conflict, and character, the determiner and performer of that action, make up (!) the story. Obviously, a book could be written on this matter—and many have been.

© J.D. Sloan

© J.D. Sloan

IFOA: What role does spirituality play in Come Back, a novel concerned with loss and death?

Wiebe: Come Back is a story of death and memory and family. As such, matters of the human spirit play a more significant role than physical or material facts, important as the latter always are in life. The hope, the faith, the love within human spirituality are the realities that become most powerful in the lives of the novel’s characters, though they cannot, of course, experience these realities fully. At least not yet.

IFOA: Name one book that has made a lasting impression on you.

Wiebe: One (of many) would be The Fairytales of the Brothers Grimm. In my earliest grades in school, I read so many simple versions of these stories (“The Wolf and the Seven Kids,” “The Fisherman and his Wife,” “Snow White,” etc.) that when I was studying in Germany I bought the complete 1819 collection, and discovered more marvellous tales like  “The Singing Bone,” “The Messengers of Death” and many others (there are over 200). From their ultra realism to their musical magic, reading them in their original German helped me understand better that, somehow—who knows how—song and story are the foundations of human life.

Wiebe, Come BackIFOA: Finish this sentence: I write best when I…

Wiebe: …Face a specific writing problem, have considered it and gone on to do other things and return to it again, as for the first time; and then, words will find an order in my head and/or on paper that evokes a clear image of what created the problem in the first place.

IFOA: How has your writing changed over time?

Wiebe: This question is undoubtedlyly better answered by perceptive readers. As for me, I would hope my stories have grown more gently insightful, more wide-ranging in their subject matter, and, above all, more entertaining and convincing—better yet, intriguing—in their believability.

Rudy Wiebe is a novelist, short story writer and essayist. He has been the recipient of many awards, including the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and the RBC Taylor Prize. Wiebe is also an Officer of the Order of Canada. See him in a round table discussion on November 2 as writers discuss real-life inspirations and the directions these inspirations have led them in.

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