Toronto’s International Festival of Authors Returns with a Stellar Lineup of Celebrated and Emerging Authors!

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Toronto’s International Festival of Authors is proud to announce the authors participating in the 2017 festival!  The  IFOA takes place from October 19 to the 29th at the Harbourfront Center.  These eleven days are packed with readings, one-on-one interviews, thought-provoking panel discussions, special events and free book signings. Stay tuned for the full festival announcement on September 19th and tickets go on sale the same day.

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An Evening with Claire Cameron, Karen Russell and Helen Walsh

By Janet Somerville

Last Thursday, Emily M. Keeler, editor of Little Brother, hosted readings by Random House of Canada authors Claire Cameron, Karen Russell and Helen Walsh, which were followed by an open Q&A.

Recently longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, Claire Cameron read an early scene from The Bear, where a quick-Cameron, The Bearthinking father puts Anna (age 5) and Stick (age 2) in a large metal cooler when a black bear invades their campsite in Algonquin Park. Squished inside “Coleman,” Anna holds her teddy bear Gwen for comfort, and observes, “I see stars and the wind is not breathing…. Outside the bones go crack crack crack…. It smells like rotting leaves under the cottage or fish guts in the boat. Yuck.” In her five-year-old stream-of-consciousness narrative, the bear’s wet nose reminds Anna of the leather chair at her grandpa’s place, and the lemon polish his housekeeper uses to make it shine. That thought comforts her in the face of fear.

Russell, Vampires in the Lemon GroveKaren Russell, named a MacArthur Foundation Genius Fellow in fall 2013, applauded Cameron’s “shout out to lemons in The Bear,” and about her short fiction collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove, said, “It’s not even a metaphor. There are vampires in the lemon grove.” When she visited Sorrento, she saw “a tiny Italian grandfather with a lemon rind for teeth. He looked like a vampire on methadone.” Self-deprecating, warm and delightful Russell read from the titular story, in which the narrator explains, “Most people mistake me for a nonno with a tan that will not fade until I die and I never will.” In the lemon grove, Santa Francesca’s limonetta is the best on the planet, and the only drink that can touch his unquenchable thirst.

Helen Walsh, whose fourth novel, The Lemon Grove, was just recently published, claimed she still hadWalsh, The Lemon Grove not mastered the art of providing a précis, and was grateful to Emily M. Keeler for doing just that. It’s a contemporary tale of lust, set in Mallorca, told from the third-person limited point of view of Jenn, about the summer holiday she shares with her husband, Greg, her adolescent stepdaughter, Emma, and Emma’s 17-year-old boyfriend, Nate. Jenn finds herself “constantly adjusting to the weathervane of Emma’s moods,” and it is such tension between the two female characters that Walsh plays out so brilliantly.

During the open Q&A, each writer explained the challenges of and motivation behind their pieces. For Cameron, writing in the voice of a five-year-old meant the first draft was “more like acting.” She did not plot it out, but rather “threw obstacles in front of Anna.” And, before she began giving public readings from The Bear, she worked with a voice coach from Soulpepper Theatre, who had her “sing passages and work on my breathing… find new ways to be humiliated.” Russell “had fun playing with the vampire conventions.” Originally she was “thinking about an addiction story where bloodlust is undiminished, but blood won’t fix it. It is a difficult truth about desire.” Walsh needed “some light in my life. It’s in a different landscape for me, so the language evokes Mallorca.”

Spending time in the vibrant imaginations of all three writers was a heady antidote to the never-ending dreary cold of this Toronto winter.

 Follow Janet Somerville on twitter @janetsomerville.

Five Questions with… Claire Cameron

Claire Cameron, author of The Bear and an upcoming IFOA Weekly participant, answered our five questions.

Share this article via Facebook or Twitter for your chance to win two tickets to see Claire on March 13! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA. Good luck!

IFOA: The Bear is brilliantly told in the voice of your five-year-old protagonist, Anna. How did you manage to capture this perspective so convincingly?

Claire Cameron

Claire Cameron

Cameron: Writing the voice felt more like performing. I knew the character and the setting, Algonquin Park, so well that I could respond in an instinctual way to the obstacles I put in front of Anna. I’ve only recently become fluid enough in my writing to be able to do this.

It reminds me of watching others play the piano or guitar. If she practices for long enough, there comes a moment when a musician doesn’t have to think about the mechanics and can focus on conveying emotion. I wish I could do that with an instrument. For now, I’ll have to be content with the keyboard.

IFOA: You’re a collector of bear stories. What first sparked your interest in this animal?

Cameron: I worked in Algonquin Park, then as a treeplanter in Northern Ontario, and have spent time hiking and climbing out west, so I have seen a number of bears in the wild. They are amazing creatures that remind us of ourselves with their intelligence. But they also scare the heck out of us as we confront the idea that we may not be at the top of the food chain nor completely in control. I am fascinated by what this brings out in people. A bear story is often about much more than a bear.

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

Cameron: I write in the mornings only. I sometimes get stuck on one song and listen to it over and over in a loop. I try not to drink too much coffee. I wear reading glasses and wooly socks in the winter. Sometimes I aspire to not wear my PJs.

IFOA: What do you read for pleasure?

Cameron: I just finished The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and can’t stop thinking about it. I read a lot of literary fiction, but also survival and adventure stories. Last year, I re-read Moby Dick and then went on a huge reading kick about Nantucket whaling, which led me to sea stories like The Life Boat by Charlotte Rogan. I love Farley Mowat. The Road by Cormac McCarthy is where  literary meets adventure in a perfect fusion. It’s as close to a perfect book as I can imagine.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: The best part is…

Cameron: When you’ve licked all the icing off your fingers, eaten the middle fluffy part and only have the one forkful from the top outer edge left. Why is it always so good?

Claire Cameron‘s debut novel, The Line Painter, won the Northern Lit Award and was nominated for an Arthur Ellis Crime Writing Award for best first novel. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, National Post and The Millions. She will present her buzzed-about new novel, The Bear, alongside authors Karen Russell and Helen Walsh on March 13.