Five Questions with… Anakana Schofield

Anakana Schofield, author of the debut novel Malarky, will appear in a second IFOA event on Saturday, October 27.

IFOA: You’ve just written, sold, edited, published and launched your first novel. What’s been the biggest surprise along the way?

Schofield: The incredible response to it! Malarky was selected as a Summer 2012 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick. The day I found out I bought a packet of Mrs. Vickies salt and vinegar chips to celebrate with my son. I have been receiving lovely messages from readers many of whom identified with Our Woman in Malarky.

IFOA: What does the word “malarky” mean to you? (Is it fair to ask you to try to sum it up?)

Schofield: Perfectly fair! I think of the word malarky as carry on or behaviour. Technically it means nonsense. My mother used to say stop that malarky!

Now the word malarky also means thanks a million Joe Biden for putting the word on the lips of America and stumping for my novel. Behind every vice president is a Canadian episodic novel.

IFOA: When and where do you prefer to read?

Schofield: I have summer reading rituals and winter reading rituals (see my accompanying blog on this topic). In summer I love reading on Grandma’s deck but I can be found reading all year round, supine on my south facing couch, watching the rain. I also like to walk and read. For meteorological reasons this is less challenging on print ink during the summer. Although this summer plenty print was dripped upon during June.

IFOA: If you could time travel, where and when would you go, and why?

Schofield: I would go inside my son’s computer screen at 6:40 am yesterday and surprise him. I would pop up in one of those Minecraft interfaces with a sign that read “For the 45th time have you brushed your teeth and for the Love of Snoopy put your bloody socks on.”

IFOA: Finish this sentence: It doesn’t really matter if…

Schofield: …you leave the house without your socks on unless you are worried about wet feet.

IFOA: Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word:

Schofield: Remix.

For more about Schofield at IFOA, click here.

Five Questions with… Benjamin Wood

Benjamin Wood, author of The Bellwether Revivals, appears at IFOA on Saturday, October 27. He will also travel to Orillia with IFOA Ontario.

© Mark Pringle

IFOA: What was your favourite book as a child?

Wood: As a very young child it was a tie between Dirty Beasts by Roald Dahl and Stanley Bagshaw and the Short-sighted Football Trainer by Bob Wilson. As an early teenager: The Thief of Always by Clive Barker.

IFOA:If you could have lunch with one author, dead or alive, who would it be—and why?

Wood: I’m going to say Paul Auster, because reading his novel City of Glass made me want to be a fiction writer, and I’d just like to thank him for that. Plus, I don’t think I could keep up with the drinking pace of Richard Yates or John Cheever. And I’d be much too in awe of Shirley Jackson or Carson McCullers to chew my food properly.

IFOA:You have a musical background, and music plays a prominent role in The Bellwether Revivals. What is your favourite instrument, and why?

Wood: The guitar is the only instrument I truly understand, so I’ll choose that. If I’m allowed to be picky, though, it would be an acoustic guitar in a DADF#AD tuning. Then I’d feel completely at home.

IFOA:You teach creative writing at Birkbeck, University of London. What’s one thing your students have taught you lately?

Wood: In today’s Intro to Fiction class we were discussing scene building in relation to ZZ Packer’s short story “The Ant of the Self.” It’s an exercise in scrutinising exactly what is on the page, line by line, seeing how Packer shapes and layers each scene through a confluence of differing techniques. We dismantle the first two pages quite forensically in order to understand how the author has assembled them. Then we sit back and marvel at the rest of the story’s magic.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I write best when…

Wood:  I have a whole scene to tinker with from the day before. (The best part of writing, in my experience, is not the furious application of new words to the page, but the daily refining of ideas already committed.)

IFOA: Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word:

Wood: Essential.

For more about Wood, click here.

The Super Bowl of book clubs

© Maayan Ziv

By Ayesha Chatterjee

Words and waterfalls. Already I’m mixing them up. Why code is poetry and poetry, code. I had my first IFOA reading in Markham on Tuesday evening and as we drove up from Toronto, Marjorie Celona and Bert Archer and I talked about a jigsaw puzzle of things that in my mind are now blended in with the memory of the colours of the trees along the Don Valley Parkway, vivid even in the grey of the autumn afternoon.

I felt like a star that night, like J-Lo, with my own personal assistant, a charming young high school student named Ivy who had thought of everything, even an extra pen for me to sign with.  I don’t think I will ever get used to reading in public, always surprised and humbled by the audience’s kindness, the small conversations afterwards, the exchanges of commonalities.

And then Niagara yesterday: the white force of water drenching us all with its indifferent power. The photographs I took of the Horseshoe Falls from the Maid of the Mist look strangely alien, as though I’d taken them on a distant planet with everyone dressed in blue spacesuits. In almost all of them, a seagull circles, smoothly curved, the opposite of the thing with feathers that Dickinson wrote of.

We were introduced by the Mayor of Markham on Tuesday night, who said that the IFOA  was the Super Bowl of book clubs. I rather like that. I’ve never thought of myself as a football player before.

Click here for more about Chatterjee’s IFOA events.

Style vs. Content: an energetic debate

By Corina Milic

Four authors sat down for a round table discussion on Basic Instinct: Style vs. Content, Wednesday night as part of the Toronto edition of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference.

The event may have been tamer than its 1962 counterpart (authors almost came to fisticuffs during that controversial meeting), but there was heated debate, intelligent questions and even a few audience F-bombs.


Susan G. Cole, books editor at NOW Magazine, hosted the chat with Marjorie Celona, Rebecca Lee, Anakana Schofield and Leanne Shapton.

The conversation meandered through each author’s writing process, the concept of style vs. content, style as content (reminding this audience member of fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan) and whether to use first person or third person narration.

Rebecca Lee uses first person throughout Bobcat and Other Stories, her debut short story collection. Lee said each character had a bit of her in them. “It’s like turning up the volume on yourself and that becomes your character.”

Marjorie Celona chose a double narrative for her debut novel Y, which is about a girl abandoned at birth. One storyline is told in first person, the other in third. “At one point the I key on my keyboard stopped working. First person can be limiting.”

But the real disagreements didn’t begin until Cole asked,

“Can style ever get in the way?”

Celona argued overly stylized writing can block a story’s emotion. She said she doesn’t want “the writer to be louder than the story.”

Anakana Schofield, the panel’s Irish-accented firecracker, was “horrified” at the argument, saying, “I find story is a dead end. I’m interested in language.”

Cole suggested in Schofield’s novel, Malarky, the style is the content. It was 10 years in the making and is about a grief-stricken rural Irish woman. Schofield said she specifically used stylized, fragmented language to “represent the discombobulation of grief.”

The debate evolved into the importance of story vs. language, which Leanne Shapton likened to the difference between illustration and art.

Shapton came to the round table from a unique perspective: she is an artist and an author. Her memoir, Swimming Studies, is about her experiences training for the Olympics and includes whole chapters told with photos and illustrations.

An energetic audience weighed in. Is there something gendered about the way authors use style and content? What is content? To which Lee answered with the best quote of the night: “What can writing do that other forms can’t? It can collapse experience into meaning.” Anyone can tell a story! And, doesn’t style, not narrative, define great literature?

“Shouldn’t we have both?” argued Celona.

Celona’s novel is about a girl who finds out she was abandoned at the YMCA as a baby and is looking for her birth mother. “It sounds like a bad made-for-TV movie,” she laughed. “Style is what elevates it above that.”

Learn more about Milic’s attempts to read every book in her home on her blog. Visit for more IFOA events.

Five Questions with… Susan Swan

© Joy von Tiedermann

Susan Swan will participate in an IFOA round table discussion entitled Reading Like a Writer on October 28. She will also travel to Midland and Parry Sound with IFOA Ontario.

IFOA: You brought Mary “Mouse” Bradford from The Wives of Bath back in your latest novel, The Western Light. When you finished writing The Wives of Bath, did you know there was more to her story you wanted to tell?

Swan: The editor Gordon Lish once told me I hadn’t finished with my father after he read The Wives of Bath. And he was right. I wanted to write a story about the mystery of goodness. Are you good if you give your life to the community and ignore your family? What is a hero anyway? My father was a hero in the small town where I grew up. Next to the minister, he was the town’s most important citizen. He was also one of the most compassionate men I’ve ever met and yet I can’t remember having a real one to one conversation with him, or knowing where to place my need for him when other people’s needs of him were often a matter of life or death.

So that led me back to Mouse, my favourite alter ego. She’s wise and she’s vulnerable and she finds a dubious father substitute when her own father is too busy to pay attention to her. By the way, you don’t need to have read The Wives of Bath to understand The Western Light.

IFOA: You’re participating in a round table discussion about reading. As a writer, how do you choose which books to read?

Swan: I follow my nose. My interest in a non-fiction subject like women writing about their fathers has directed me to memoirs like Swing Low by Miriam Toews and The Shadow Man by Mary Gordon and I also read as much of the current literary fiction that I can get my hands on. I just finished The Purchase by Linda Spalding, a masterfully told tale about slavery, and yes, goodness. What is it? And can good people do terrible things? The answer seems to be yes.

IFOA: Tell us about one book you read that changed your life.

Swan: There isn’t enough room here for the answer to that one. But early fiction by writers like Margaret Atwood, Graeme Gibson, Marian Engel and Timothy Findley was a revelation when I was young because these wonderful books said my own experience and landscape were suitable subjects for literature. And yes, they were permission giving too since I wanted to be a writer.

IFOA: What’s your idea of a perfect day?

Swan: A morning of writing, cross country skiing in the afternoon and a glass of excellent Pinot Noir by the fire with my loved ones.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: What surprises me the most…

Swan: …is the recent and extensive research by the Canadian Women in the Literary Arts. It has changed the way I think of literary life in our country. Women writers get only about a third of the reviews in most of our major magazines and newspapers books. Imagine. In the literary land that produced Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields and Alice Munro. I was inspired by CWILA to do some research of my own and found that only a third of our literary prizes go to women writers. Only 34 per cent of the winners for both the Giller and the English speaking Governor General’s Award for fiction have been women.

In some awards, the percentage figure for awards going to women writers is as low as eight or 20 per cent. For instance, in the case of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, only five women out of 66 have won that prize. Only three women out of 15 people have won the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction. The critical neglect of women’s writing affects not only women’s careers but their livelihood as writers.

IFOA: Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word:

Swan: A bonanza.

For more about Swan’s appearance at IFOA, visit and
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