“The best way to get to know a country and its people is through its literature.”
– Geoffrey Taylor, Director, International Festival of Authors
For the sixth year, the International Festival of Authors pays tribute to the art of literary translation. This year’s IFOA celebrates the importance of making literature available in multiple languages and platforms and analyzes the effects this has on readers across the globe.
Readings, round tables and interviews comprised of authors from Catalonia, Denmark, Israel, Italy, Japan, Poland, Portugal, Singapore and more round out this special and diverse programme.
Reading SATURDAY, OCTOBER 24, 12PM – BRIGANTINE ROOM
Giuseppe Catozzella, Flavia Company, Mitsuyo Kakuta, Matt Lennox, Jacinto Lucas Pires, Eric Reinhardt. Host: Jessica Moore
Reportage: Turkey SATURDAY, OCTOBER 24, 12PM – STUDIO THEATRE Witold Szablowski. Interviewer: Bert Archer
When I was 26, I signed up for my first creative writing class. By that point in my life, I’d grown frustrated with my lack of discipline when it came to my writing. I had a need to write, but it was too easy to let life get in the way. To talk myself out of it, especially since I was working full time. I was lacking an outlet. A space that encouraged and validated my creativity. I thought that a writing class might give me the structure and stamina I needed.
I remember walking down the hallway towards the classroom. I heard the voices of other people coming from the room. And I did something I never expected myself to do.
I turned around and walked away.
Sure, I was nervous. Walking into a room full of strangers is never easy. And walking into a room full of strangers and sharing your writing adds a whole other layer to it. But I was more than nervous.
I was afraid.
Of what, I couldn’t say for certain. Maybe that the other people wouldn’t like my writing. Or that I wouldn’t connect with anyone in the class. Maybe I wasn’t that talented. Or that I’d come to the realization that, at the end of the day, writing was silly. Impractical. A waste of my time.
Looking back, all these years later, I think what really frightened me was that my writing, something that I clung to desperately to get me through the days, had no value.
We’re living in an age that puts a lot of emphasis on the rewards of publishing. There are more options available to aspiring writers than ever before. There’s nothing stopping anyone from going out and publishing their work and having the ego stroke of a book on the shelf.
But what often gets overlooked is the value of writing, regardless of whether the work ever gets published. We don’t always stop to consider the benefit of putting words on the page. How it’s intrinsically good for us to be creative. It takes a specific kind of bravery to take time out of our busy lives and give our creativity the chance to breathe. To allow our stories to take shape, even if those stories never make it past a few strangers gathered around a table.
Although I’ve moved from student to teacher, I still remember what it felt like to walk down that hallway. The vulnerability and uncertainty. And yes, the fear. And while I can’t promise students that they’ll get published after taking my course, what I can offer is a space where creativity—and a writer’s need to write—is respected, encouraged and recognized.
I ended up turning back before I reached the end of the hallway. I took a deep breath and walked into that classroom. I never looked back. It was one of the smartest—and most valuable—decisions I’ve made when it came to my writing. I gave myself the chance.
Whether it’s in my writing course or someone else’s, I hope you give yourself the same chance, too. Your creativity deserves it.
Brian Francis’ most recent novel, Natural Order, was selected by the Toronto Star, Kobo and Georgia Straight as a Best Book of 2011. His first novel, Fruit, was a 2009 Canada Reads finalist and was named one of Amazon’s “100 Canadian Books to Read in a Lifetime.” He is a regular contributor to CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter and writes a monthly advice column, The Agony Editor, for Quill & Quire magazine.
Join him for his upcoming six-week course, Becoming a Better Writer, which is designed for emerging and recreational writers who want to take their creative writing to the next level, or simply find the inspiration to get back to writing on a regular basis.
Crystal artist, designer and photographer Mark Raynes Roberts answered our five questions! His author portraits will be projected at Harbourfront Centre during the International Festival of Authors this fall (October 22 to November 1, 2015). Be sure to check them out, along with his engraved crystal sculptures exhibit, which is on at the Gardiner MuseumOctober 26 through November 11!
IFOA: What first attracted you to glass engraving?
Mark Raynes Robert: I grew up in England, always wanting to be an artist, and so, for practical reasons, I initially trained as a goldsmith at the prestigious Birmingham School of Jewellery & Silversmithing. It was during this time that I was taught engraving by Ronald Pennell, who is considered one of the world’s top glass engravers, and so my love affair with the medium of crystal began. It’s an art and skill that requires many years of training. I was enraptured from the very beginning by the way the images I created could reflect, reveal or distort depending on the angle you viewed the crystal from. Unlike painting or bronze sculpture, working with prismatic optical crystal creates a fifth dimension that no other medium does. The two ancient engraving techniques I employ (intaglio and stippling) create the potential for both a carved three-dimensional impression, as well as a delicate stippled “mezzotint” effect upon the surface. The narrative messages of all my engraved art combine and reflect the dark and light, which is why black-and-white photography has also played an important role in my creative art.
IFOA: How has your style and technique changed over the years?
Raynes Roberts: I had a traditional training in England in which drawing was an integral part of learning to design, and I know this helped me in building a strong foundation for my craft. Over the past 33 years, I have experimented with various styles in my work and feel this has been an important evolution as an artist. In my view, it has only been in the last few years that I feel I have truly found my own voice as an artist, which is very exciting, as I still have a lot of passion for my work. I think this has come from my willingness to experiment, which in turn has built confidence when working with material that’s very expensive.
IFOA: On your website, you describe the refractive qualities of crystal as “dreamscapes of our collective conscience.” Can you elaborate on this?
Raynes Roberts: Not many people are aware, but it is crystal, a man-made material (invented in 1675) that continues to change our technological world through the use of prismatic light and fibre optics. So, in many ways, it is the perfect canvas for me to interpret the human condition through my narrative engravings. As I alluded to earlier, the refractive properties of the material provide a unique way to convey an alchemy that no other material can. With my ILLUMINATION project, there is also an obvious connection to early photography where photographic slides were made of glass. The ILLUMINATION crystal art sculptures reverse this process by visually presenting an interpretation of the authors’ words of beauty written about light and illumination.
IFOA: What inspired the ILLUMINATION: Portraits of Canadian Literature + Authors? Can we expect to see another artist series (musicians, dancers) in the future?
Raynes Roberts: In the fall of 2013, my wife Sarah Hampson and I traveled to London, England, as I had been invited to exhibit my crystal art in a gallery in Mayfair. During our stay, I was asked by The Globe and Mail if I would like to photograph the British authors, to accompany Sarah’s interview columns. This enjoyable experience of photographing each author in their home environments appealed to me, and so I began to think about photographing Canadian authors when I returned home. I had no idea how long the ILLUMINATION project would take, or how many authors I would end up photographing. But the basis of the idea was to celebrate the literary treasury and to be as “inclusive” as possible of both emerging and established writers. I would like to thank the Writers Trust of Canada, and the many publishers, agents and publicists who helped me reach out to the literary community. Charles Foran, who had won the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-fiction, which I create, was the first author I photographed for ILLUMINATION, and Michael Ondaatje was the last author. The project has been a “labour of love” and in a way is my gift to Canada, which will turn 150 in 2017. I greatly appreciate all of the warm support I have received from the participating authors and hope the exhibition resonates with Canadians across the country, because we do have an amazing wealth of writers who I felt needed to be illuminated. Somehow, I managed to travel over 20,000 kilometres and take over 22,500 photographs in the process, and as you can probably imagine, I have no plans for a similar project in the near future.
IFOA: When you are not working on your art, how do you like to spend your time?
Raynes Roberts: Together with my wife as we search for beauty in some form or another.
Mark Raynes Roberts is a multimedia artist who celebrates the literary treasury of Canada through glass engraving and the photographic lens. You can view Mark’s work at both Harbourfront Centre and the Gardiner Museum this October.
On April 1st, IFOA and the Couchiching Institute presented the inaugural event in Book(re)marks, a free public event series featuring authors of non-fiction whose works are of social, political or cultural importance. Canadian author and essayist John Ralston Saul discussed his latest book, The Comeback, with interviewer Pam Palmater. The event was a great success! Check out a few photos below.
From the IFOA vaults, a round table from 2007 with Giller Prize-winning author Will Ferguson, bestselling crime writer Peter Robinson, 2015 RBC Taylor Prize nominee M.G. Vassanji and Governor General Award-winning author Richard B. Wright. They discuss what they’re reading in a panel entitled “Creative Catalysts.” Canadian writer Randy Boyagoda moderates.