We asked Alison Pick five questions about taking a break between books and how Strangers with The Same Dream allowed her to explore the bond of motherhood. You can find her at IFOA 2017.
By Amanda Leduc
Here’s a bookish no-brainer: when the IFOA gets in touch with you and asks if you’d like to come to their Festival in exchange for attending some events and writing a wee blog post about some of said events, you do it. You do it especially if you’ve been reading books since before you really understood what words were all about. (Picture a two-year-old Amanda, book open on her lap, making up the story and “reading” as she goes. That book was a doorway even back then, even when I hardly knew what it meant.)
Most readers think that books are magical, and I am no exception. As I’ve gotten older and ventured out as a writer myself, I’ve discovered that peeking behind the pages—as it were—of a book and hearing what the author has to say about their process can be every bit as magical as letting that book world take you away. And so: a weekend of author events? A chance to mingle with the literary luminaries themselves? Yes, please! Where do I sign up?
This weekend, I heard the Irish novelist John Boyne discuss the role that the Catholic Church abuse scandals played in his latest book, and watched him talk about how the interviews that he conducted for his novel increased his empathy for villains and victims alike. I watched him speak passionately about how he refuses to “write down” to his younger readers. I’m trying to get them to think, he said. I’m trying to get them to move.
At another panel, I watched Marianne Ihlen—the muse behind Leonard Cohen’s “So Long, Marianne”—be gracious and gently funny about her time with the poet. What does a muse do, she was asked. Her reply? Well, she keeps the house. She had us all in giggles.
In another room, another discussion, another panel filled with writers, I watched people grapple with the question of how to plot a novel. How to understand words on that deepest of levels. How to wrestle them together. The consensus of this particular panel was that no one knows, really, how to wrestle words together at any given time. It just happens.
The message: sometimes, no matter how long you’ve been doing this, reading and writing and making your way around, things still keep their magic.
I watched Alison Pick and Shelly Oria tease apart the question of how their respective Jewish heritages have shaped their works. I watched Adam Sol, Matthew Thomas and Russell Wangersky talk about how teaching has influenced both their writing and the way that they approach books.
Every talk brought me something new—some different insight, some other side of the writing process. They were all talks about books, and yet they managed to talk about so much more than books at the same time. As a reader, as a writer, as someone who just loves stories no matter how they’re told, I can say that every moment of my first Festival weekend was like holding that long-ago book in my lap and stepping into a new world all over again. People telling stories. People telling life.
There’s a whole week of the Festival to go yet. I can’t wait to see what stories we’ll uncover next.
Amanda Leduc holds a Master’s degree in writing from the University of St. Andrews and has had her short stories, essays and articles published in Canada, the USA and the UK. She is one of the co-creators of Bare It For Books, a calendar that features nearly nude Canadian authors and is being sold to benefit PEN Canada. Leduc is also an IFOA Delegate.
IFOA: Tell us a bit about your memoir, Between Gods.
Alison Pick: For some reason I find it difficult to summarize, so here’s this from the Toronto Star: “When Toronto poet and novelist Alison Pick was a teenager, she discovered that her paternal grandparents, who escaped Czechoslovakia just before the Second World War, were Jewish. In her early 30s, Pick—engaged to be married but struggling with a crippling depression—began an exploration of roots that eventually led to a decision to reclaim her identity as a Jew. Pick’s story of real life—the undeniable fates of the dead, and the hard-won hope of the living—illuminates her powerful new memoir, Between Gods.”
IFOA: Did you have any reservations about publishing personal or intimate material?
Pick: Yes. The act of writing a memoir was not as different from the act of writing a novel as I’d thought, but the audience issues that accompany each are hugely different. I’m nervous but hopeful. I’ll keep you posted!
Pick: I’m a writer who adores the act of writing (no writer’s block here, although of course I have other challenges). The genres are different, but the beginning stages of each—the generative stages—are equally satisfying.
IFOA: What was your favourite piece of writing you read in the past year?
Pick: “The Israel Taboo,” an article by Joseph Rosen that ran in The Walrus, was smart and succinct and helped me understand my own complex reaction to what has been happening in the Middle East. And in terms of a book, it would have to be Cartwheel by Jennifer DuBois.
IFOA: Which author are you most excited to see at this year’s Festival?
Pick: Do I have to choose one? There are so many great writers I’m dying to see. Joseph Kertes, for example. And Shelly Oria (who I’m so excited to be presenting with). But if I REALLY have to choose just one I’d say Marilynne Robinson.
Alison Pick, an author and poet, will take part in the Koffler panel, which explores the navigation of multiple cultures and faiths. She’ll her moving and unforgettable memoir, Between Gods, which explores family secrets and the rediscovered past.