A Whirlwind Weekend

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.

_TB11245In 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.

Five Questions with… Amanda Leduc

Amanda Leduc, author of The Miracles of Ordinary Men and a participant in this year’s International Festival of Authors, answered our five questions.

Share this article via Facebook or Twitter for your chance to win two tickets to see Amanda on November 3! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA or use #IFOA2013. Good luck!

IFOA: What was the inspiration for your debut novel, The Miracles of Ordinary Men?Amanda Leduc

Amanda Leduc: Miracles came about as a result of two short stories—one that I’d written at 16 and subsequently workshopped, a few years later, during my undergraduate years at the University of Victoria, and another one that I wrote during my time at the University of St. Andrews, when I was doing postgraduate work in creative writing.

The first story concerned a man who was visited by an angel—a thin, bald angel who seemed just as unsure of its place in the world as my main character. I was fascinated by the idea that perhaps even angels don’t always know what’s in store for them, and the story that I wrote in Scotland continued to explore this theme. I switched perspectives around and started to write about a man who transformed into that thin, strange, entirely un-angelic figure. And then Lilah and Timothy popped up as significant characters in the storyline, and things just grew from there. By the time I was halfway through my Masters degree, I was pretty sure I had a novel on my hands. It just took a few more years to get it down.

IFOA: Author Angie Abdou called Miracles “a brave book.” Sex and faith can be intimidating subjects to tackle—especially for a first-time novelist. Did you ever feel like you’d bitten off more than you could chew?

Leduc: All of the time! There were so many moments during the writing of Miracles when I was convinced that I was far too small for the book—not smart enough, not worldly enough and so on. Sometimes I still feel that way. I think the only way that I managed to finish the novel at all was by reminding myself that these things—God, sex and death—are so huge that all you can do is shape an attempt at understanding them. You’re never going to get all of the answers, and at some point you just have to make peace with that.

Likewise, there came a time in the writing of the book when I realized that asking the questions about these big things was what interested me most about the whole process. That’s when things became a little easier—once I realized that the questions I was posing were more important to me than finding all the answers.

IFOA: Do you have any rituals associated with your writing?

Leduc: Tea! Tea is a big ritual. I always have a cup (or an entire teapot) close by when I sit down to my computer. And I generally start my mornings by writing by hand, then move to the computer after half an hour or so of pen-and-paper time.

I like to write in the mornings, usually starting around nine o’clock and working through until one in the afternoon or so. I try to save my afternoons for emails/blogging/other computer business—key word being try!

IFOA: What are you reading right now?

Leduc: I’m about a quarter of the way through Night Film by Marisha Pessl, and really enjoying it. And next up on my TBR pile is Pilgrimage, the debut novel by Edmonton-based author Diana Davidson.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: It’s hard to believe, but…

Leduc: …I actually have a book out in the world with my name on it! My five-year-old self (who wrote, “I want to be an AUTHOR”, in her school notebook) would be very pleased.

Amanda Leduc 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. She will discuss tackling faith and religion in her fiction alongside authors Hari Kunzru and Mary Swan on November 3.

Five Questions with… Bare it For Books

For those who haven’t heard, Amanda Leduc and Allegra Young began work on the Bare It For Books project after a series of tweets in 2012, which led to a conversation about putting together a calendar of authors posing tastefully in the almost-nude. Following the tweets the two came together in real time and the calendar was born.

IFOA is delighted to support this initiative so we sat down with both Amanda and Allegra and asked them our five questions.

IFOA: I suppose the most obvious question is why. Why bare it for books?

Bare It For Books: We’ve probably mentioned this ad nauseam at this point, but Bare It For Books originally came out of a tweet that Amanda sent into Internetland back in July of 2012. That tweet, in turn, came out of a sudden little thought: we have fireman and model calendars galore, but when’s the last time you saw an author posing in the almost-nude? Wouldn’t that be fun, if enough people were game for it? Allegra was game.

And then, of course, as we came together and started brainstorming about where we could take the campaign, we began to realize that there was a lot of potential in the idea. As so many people have noticed, authors bare themselves on the page every day. So we thought: how could we use a fun project like this to more fully explore that experience? And how does that connect to the mandate of our 2014 charity of choice, PEN Canada, i.e. the fight for freedom of expression? We think there’s a lot of potential in a fun project like this to look closely at these kinds of questions.

IFOA: How did you recruit your 12 brave models?

Bare It For Books: The power of the cold call! (Or cold email, in this case.) We amassed a list of Canadian authors that we loved and admired, and then set about contacting them all. We figured we’d have a better chance of recruiting 12 models if we tried to cast a wide net, and that’s more or less exactly what happened. People started emailing us almost immediately and offering to be part of the campaign. The response that we got was very nearly overwhelming, and so positive! It was lovely to hear.

From that initial response, we then set about curating a list for 2014. We had more than 12 authors to choose from, but we wanted to make sure that the calendar showcased a wide variety of talent – authors working in different mediums, both male and female, from across the country. We’re really proud of our 2014 list and just as proud of the line-up that we’re already working on for 2015! (Hint: it’s pretty awesome.)

IFOA: What do you hope to achieve?

Bare It For Books: First and foremost, we hope that the Bare It For Books calendar can provide some additional exposure (no pun intended) for our showcased authors. We’re diehard CanLit fans and more than happy to spread the love – there’s a wealth of literary talent in this country and we’re pleased to be in a position to shine a light on some of these names. The 2014 calendar includes a mix of both well and lesser-known authors, and it’s our hope that we can extend the reach of CanLit beyond the booklover and into the everyday!

But we also hope that the calendar, being as it is a nearly-nude project, can spark discussions in our literary community about censorship, expression in art, and how lucky we are as Canadians to be able to exercise this expression on a regular basis.

IFOA: You two did a promo photo together. What was that like?

Bare It For Books

Promo shot for Bare It For Books with Amanda Leduc and Allegra Young © Shelagh Howard

Bare It For Books: So much fun. Our Toronto-based photographer is Shelagh Howard, who did our shoot, and with the help of her business partner, Carole Tothe, we had a great time. It was very relaxed and hilarious and professional all at the same time. There was a moment when we looked at each other before we doffed our fluffy white bathrobes and thought, “Well, there’s no going back now!”

IFOA: Finish this sentence: The Internet is…

Bare It For Books: The greatest, most dangerous rabbit hole you’ll ever fall into.

Interested in donating to help make the Bare It For Books calendar become a reality? Donate to their indiegogo campaign here. Hurry, there’s one day left! For more information on the project including a list of this year’s participants visit bareitforbooks.ca.