Five Questions with… Marjorie Celona

© Sherri Barber

Marjorie Celona will read from her debut novel, Y, and participate in an IFOA round table discussion called Basic Instinct: Style vs. Content.

IFOA: What was your favourite book as a child?

Celona: The Ant and Bee books by Angela Banner, particularly the ones featuring ‘Kind Dog.’

IFOA: You grew up in Victoria, where Y is set, but you wrote the book while living in upstate New York. Does putting distance between you and the place you’re writing about make things easier, or more difficult?

Celona: People sometimes ask whether I write at home, or in a coffee shop, or at the beach. And whether my surroundings matter—and whether I need to be in a beautiful space. I have to say that none of these things matter when I write. There was a certain similarity to the landscape, believe it or not, in the woods of central New York State and Vancouver Island, and this was at times helpful, but, really, I’d be lying if I said that where I am has any kind of bearing on what I write.  

IFOA: What time of day do you usually write, and why?

Celona: For the most part, it doesn’t matter—if I’m working on something, I can work on it any time. When I wrote Y, I wrote every other day, sometimes all day.

IFOA: Who are you most excited to see at the Festival?

Celona: Alice Munro.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: If I could change one thing…

Celona: . . . about what? If it were up to me, I’d change something about everything.

For more about Celona and her appearance at IFOA, visit readings.org.

Five Questions with… Kristel Thornell

Kristel Thornell will share her debut novel, Night Street, in a reading October 23 and a round table discussion October 27.

© Joi Ong

IFOA: You used to live in Canada. What’s your favourite Canadian pastime?

Thornell: I lived in Fredericton, New Brunswick, in an apartment overlooking the St. John River. Back then it was watching the river from my windows and long walks, especially in the fall. These days I most often visit Toronto and Montreal, where I love to wander aimlessly and to eat my way through the tantalizing mix of cultures.

IFOA: Night Street is about an Australian landscape painter, Clarice Beckett. What do painters and writers have in common?

Thornell: A lot, I think. In my experience, they seem to share a compulsion to observe, to catch resonant impressions and preserve, shape, communicate and revere them. Perhaps, too, an attraction to intense, transporting experiences.

IFOA: Writers of historical fiction take fact and render it fictional. How do you fictionalize history while maintaining a sense of historical accuracy?

Thornell: It’s tricky. I try to develop a guiding sense of a period, any and every way I can – through fiction and non-fiction, archival material, art, music, food, clothing, and my own experiments with making a voice that seems to belong to it. I aim to see and feel that time as fully as possible, as a vivid three-dimensional space, and then to let my characters move freely there.

IFOA: If you could have lunch with any author, dead or alive, who would you choose and why?

Thornell: Virginia Woolf. I’m a fan. And I imagine it would have been interesting – entertaining or unsettling or both – to be in the company of a mind so sharp and curious.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: One day I will…

Thornell: Write a novel (some sort of mystery involving a translator?) set on a Scottish island. This will require a lengthy stay on such an island, a lot of walking, fireside reading, pots of tea and oatcakes. For research.

IFOA: Bonus question: This year’s International Festival of Authors in one word..

Thornell: Alluring.

For more about Kristel Thornell and her appearance at IFOA, click here.

Five questions with… Liam Card

Author and screenwriter Liam Card will share Exit Papers from Paradise at IFOA.

IFOA: What are you reading right now?

Card: I just finished Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard. The novel was exceptional. Yet another example of how unfairly talented the late Kurt Vonnegut was. I’m a few pages into Chuck Palahniuk’s new novel, Pygmy. I love his work as well, but this one is proving to be a little bit difficult to get into. We’ll see how it goes.

IFOA: You used to be a track and field star. What do runners and writers have in common?

Card: To begin with, they both have a tremendous amount of tenacity. When pain and frustration levels are high and the prospect of giving up seems outrageously appealing, runners and writers forge ahead and endure what is required to reach the finish line. Secondly, they both have a heaping tablespoon of focusthe ability to tune out the myriad of distractions, and the ability zero in on specific tasks, and seeing those tasks through. In track and field and in writing, in sport and in the arts, I believe these two factors to be as important as any amount of talent.

IFOA: You have written screenplays and now a novel. What’s one thing you prefer about the experience of writing a novel?

Card: Writing a novel is a dream, compared to writing a screenplay. Hands down…for me, anyway. Screenplays are highly formulaic, and certain events must take place at certain page points in your screenplay in order to follow the “tried and true” Hollywood formula of cinematic storytelling. That is all well and good, but I find it claustrophobic in contrast to writing a novel.  With a novel, the bones of good storytelling still apply. However, you have more runway to tell your tale. Simply put, a novel comes without such rigid guidelines, and there is freedom in that. After writing my screenplay, the novel was therapeutic.

IFOA: And one thing you prefer about the experience of writing a screenplay?

Card: A screenplay is a piece of art that undergoes major influence from several key people, at several points along the filmmaking assembly line. The writer gets notes from the producer. Then, the writer gets notes from the director. Then, the writer gets notes from financiers. Then, the writer gets notes from Distributors. THEN, the writer gets notes from the lead actors. So, a screenplay is a very collaborative process, which can be really interesting. That is, unless your vision for the screenplay differs drastically from one of the key people listed above. Then, it is a nightmare. Yes, I did experience a few of those along the way. But that level of collaboration was exciting…minus the nightmare conversations.

Moreover, with a screenplay there is also the magic in the sense that it will become a film. And I love films. My Dad and I have always watched films together and have bonded over several great works of art in the world of film. So, when writing a screenplay, there is something magical about the fact that someone will sit down with their father or mother or sister or brother or significant other or partner or wife or husband… or even their girlfriend or boyfriend du jour. It doesn’t matter. Just the thought of two people (or a large group of people) enjoying something artistic together at the same time is special and it makes the headaches of writing a screenplay entirely motivating.

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

Card: … are successful with your passions, but it does matter if you are proud of your attempts. NOTE: I didn’t used to believe this. When I was running track at a very high level, I couldn’t understand how or why people would train, practice, and work so insanely hard just to come fifth, or tenth, or twentieth, or last. Why bother? My association with hard work and pain was for nothing more than winning.

However, as my track coach Earl Farrell used to say, “life and the sport of track and field are incredibly humbling if you play them long enough.” As my Achilles became wracked with chronic tendonitis before the trials for the Sydney Olympics, and as my hamstring tore years later, I no longer occupied the top spot (or even the podium for that matter). I was no longer a track star or champion. Then, it clicked. My passion, in an instant, became entirely about the friendships, the process, and the ability to put yourself out there and have fun while doing it.

IFOA: Bonus question: This year’s International Festival of Authors in one word…

Card: Booktastic.  (You didn’t say I couldn’t make up a word).

Card will participate in two IFOA events: a round table October 27 and a reading October 28.

Five questions with… debut novelist Grace O’Connell

© Derek Wuenschirs

Grace O’Connell, author of Magnified World, will participate in an October 21 round table called Novelists for a New Age. She will also travel to Picton for IFOA Ontario.

IFOA: If you could meet any writer, living or dead, who would it be?

O’Connell: It’s tempting to say Fitzgerald or Hemingway, just because you know you’d have a night to remember, but I think I’d rather skip the hangover and pick the amazing Alice Munro. I’d ask her to teach me how to bake bread and write perfect stories.

IFOA: What do you and your Magnified World protagonist Maggie have in common? In what ways are you different?

O’Connell: Maggie is more selfless than I am and more patient, but she’s also more impulsive. We both live in our own heads too much. We’re both sneaky. We both like to wander the streets of Toronto on warm nights.

IFOA: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?

O’Connell: Probably working in a library, daydreaming too much. I’d like to see kids discovering books they love for the first time. And I’d like being there when the library was closed and empty and quiet.

IFOA: Describe Toronto’s literary scene in three words.

O’Connell: Bright. Brilliant. Boozy.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I wish I could…

O’Connell: Make someone laugh and cry on the same page. And fly. And cut my own hair.

IFOA: Bonus question: This year’s International Festival of Authors in one word…

O’Connell: Ferocious (it’s my favourite word, and I think it applies).

For more about O’Connell and her appearance at IFOA, click here.

Around the World via an Eight-foot Table

By Beatrice MacNeil

I am standing behind my eight-foot table at the Sydney Terminal in Cape Breton, where I have been selling my books to the cruise ship passengers for nearly a decade. My first destination is to Tasmania, on the rim of eastern Australia.

© Katheryn Gordon

A grandmother bought four copies of my children’s book The Cat that Ate the Moon.  She tells me something about each grandchild as I sign each book. “I’m all the way from Tasmania,” she says. “You’ve no doubt heard of us, surrounded by those growling, ugly devils. They can be quite annoying little creatures, but you would really love the country if you’d come for a visit.” I ask her to keep my books safe from the clenches of the devils as she walks away.

A young woman from New York picks up a copy of the children’s book. She is quite amused by the pictures. They have been done in cross-stitch by a gifted artist on the island. “My father will put this book in his museum,” she says. “He collects children’s books with unusual sketches. The museum is in a large university in Pennsylvania. You will see it on the shelf when you visit.”

An older couple from Northern Ireland purchase a copy of my novel Where White Horses Gallop. Based on the outbreak of the Second World War, it portrays our own Cape Breton Highlanders, with fictional characters, to relate the horrors of man-to-man conflict. The man tells me in a soft Irish brogue that he is quite familiar with wars. “Technology will advance this world, but it can do nothing for human nature,” he says. I look into a pair of old eyes that are fading with grief. His wife asks if I’ve ever been to Ireland. “No,” I reply. “But it’s next to Rome on my wish list.” She taps me gently on the hand and wishes me a safe journey to Ireland. “You’ll love it dear, it’s as green and quiet as a grave these days.”

A middle-aged man stops by and reads passages from my first novel Butterflies Dance in the Dark, set in an Acadian village with three young children being reared by their single mother. The Mother Superior at the school is as tough as a boiled owl. He pauses and puts the book down and walks off without a word. A short time later he is at the table reading from another chapter. Again he slinks away. On his third visit, he nods politely and asks in a quiet voice where had I studied psychology. “On my knees in the confession box, I got my degree in Latin, French and English,” I reply. He is quite interested.  He is a psychologist from South Africa who teaches at a university. “You would make an interesting guest in one of my classes.”

It occurs to me that the gas tank in my RAV was blinking on empty when I arrived at the terminal this morning. Thankfully, I’ve earned enough in sales to fill it for the drive home.

I marvel how far my books can travel to destinations that I, myself, may never get to see.

Beatrice MacNeil will share her new novel, The Box of the Dead, in a round table on Saturday, October 27 and a reading October 28.

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