Five Questions with… Hugh Brewster

Hugh Brewster, author of From Vimy to Victory: Canada’s Fight to Finish in World War I and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to receive two tickets to see Hugh on November 1, as well as a copy of From Vimy to Victory! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Did you always know you wanted to be a historical writer, or were you interested in other genres?

Brewster, HughHugh Brewster: Historical fiction was my favorite reading as a child and I’ve always had a passion for the past. Before becoming a full-time writer I had a long career as an editor and book producer, but even then the titles I worked on mostly had historical themes. It wasn’t until I began writing full time about a decade ago that I realized writing about history was what I’d always wanted to do.

IFOA: How do you tailor historical writing to different reading levels?

Brewster: “Finding the story in history” is one of my mottoes. I think if you can create a narrative arc with engaging characters, you can convey a lot of historical information to even quite young children. I’ve had seven year olds tell me about the dimensions of the Titanic and correctly pronounce the long names of their favourite dinosaurs.

IFOA: Explain the inspiration for your historical concert performance, Canada, Fall In!

Brewster, From Vimy to VictoryBrewster: In 2007, I adapted my book Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose as a play with some charming Victorian songs. It occurred to me that this could make a good concert performance, and I pitched the idea over dinner one night to choral conductor Noel Edison. Noel is the artistic director of the Elora Festival, and in July 2010, we did a performance of Carnation, Lily there with a screen show, some Shaw Festival actors and the Elora Festival Singers. It worked very well and Noel immediately said, “What can you do for us next year?” I’ve done a different concert performance each summer since. For 2014, a show commemorating the centennial of World War I seemed an obvious choice. I began researching Canadian music of the period and was surprised by how much there was. The jaunty recruiting song “Canada, Fall In” provided the title. The show had a very powerful impact on Elora Festival audiences, and I trust will do so again on November 1 at IFOA.

IFOA: What do you enjoy most about reading to a live audience?

Brewster: How much you learn. Young audiences, in particular, let you know immediately when you’ve lost them. So I refine my presentations constantly. And I do the same for adults—you soon learn what works ––even though they may not fidget quite so quickly.

IFOA: Are you working on any new projects?

Brewster: I have two plays in need of revising, a museum show I’m guest curating for 2016 and a number of book ideas on the simmer.

Hugh Brewster is an acclaimed war historian and the author of several award-winning works of fiction and non-fiction for younger readers. On November 1, catch his unforgettable concert performance that tells the story of Canadians in WWI through their own letters and diaries.

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.

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.