Around the World via an Eight-foot Table

By Beatrice MacNeil

I am standing behind my eight-foot table at the Sydney Terminal in Cape Breton, where I have been selling my books to the cruise ship passengers for nearly a decade. My first destination is to Tasmania, on the rim of eastern Australia.

© Katheryn Gordon

A grandmother bought four copies of my children’s book The Cat that Ate the Moon.  She tells me something about each grandchild as I sign each book. “I’m all the way from Tasmania,” she says. “You’ve no doubt heard of us, surrounded by those growling, ugly devils. They can be quite annoying little creatures, but you would really love the country if you’d come for a visit.” I ask her to keep my books safe from the clenches of the devils as she walks away.

A young woman from New York picks up a copy of the children’s book. She is quite amused by the pictures. They have been done in cross-stitch by a gifted artist on the island. “My father will put this book in his museum,” she says. “He collects children’s books with unusual sketches. The museum is in a large university in Pennsylvania. You will see it on the shelf when you visit.”

An older couple from Northern Ireland purchase a copy of my novel Where White Horses Gallop. Based on the outbreak of the Second World War, it portrays our own Cape Breton Highlanders, with fictional characters, to relate the horrors of man-to-man conflict. The man tells me in a soft Irish brogue that he is quite familiar with wars. “Technology will advance this world, but it can do nothing for human nature,” he says. I look into a pair of old eyes that are fading with grief. His wife asks if I’ve ever been to Ireland. “No,” I reply. “But it’s next to Rome on my wish list.” She taps me gently on the hand and wishes me a safe journey to Ireland. “You’ll love it dear, it’s as green and quiet as a grave these days.”

A middle-aged man stops by and reads passages from my first novel Butterflies Dance in the Dark, set in an Acadian village with three young children being reared by their single mother. The Mother Superior at the school is as tough as a boiled owl. He pauses and puts the book down and walks off without a word. A short time later he is at the table reading from another chapter. Again he slinks away. On his third visit, he nods politely and asks in a quiet voice where had I studied psychology. “On my knees in the confession box, I got my degree in Latin, French and English,” I reply. He is quite interested.  He is a psychologist from South Africa who teaches at a university. “You would make an interesting guest in one of my classes.”

It occurs to me that the gas tank in my RAV was blinking on empty when I arrived at the terminal this morning. Thankfully, I’ve earned enough in sales to fill it for the drive home.

I marvel how far my books can travel to destinations that I, myself, may never get to see.

Beatrice MacNeil will share her new novel, The Box of the Dead, in a round table on Saturday, October 27 and a reading October 28.

Emma Donoghue on writing, reading and love letters to elephants

© Nina Subin

The multi-talented Emma Donoghue, author of the bestselling Room, joined us for a Twitter chat with HarperCollins Canada this morning. Our favourite quote? On how long it took her to research her new short story collection, Astray, which spans four centuries:

“A decade and a half. I’m like your crazy aunt who never throws anything away.”

But she said a lot of other amazing things, too. If you missed the chat, here are some highlights:

[#Astraychat with Emma Donoghue” on Storify]

Welcome to the 33rd annual International Festival of Authors

By Jennifer Asselin
Team IFOA

Late nights and good reads. This is what the International Festival of Authors (IFOA) comes down to for me. After months of preparation, the 2012 IFOA is almost upon us and it is my pleasure to welcome you to our brand new blog. With social media and different online entities becoming so prevalent in the publishing world it’s no secret the IFOA needed to enter this market as well. There was a time, a few years ago, when a Festival blog did exist featuring content from one writer (now an award-winning author) sharing his experiences throughout the 11-day Festival. From there the Globe and Mail took the reins and became the Festival’s official bloggers. That brings us to today, when we felt the need to pick up where the previous blog left off and help bring you, the audience, a unique perspective on the Festival.

Throughout the next few weeks leading up to the Toronto Festival (a literary Festival known for bringing together the world’s best writers of contemporary literature to take part in a plethora of events including readings, interviews and round table discussions) you can expect to find a little bit of everything on the blog. From features like “Five Questions with…” to photos of past Festivals to participants’ own guest posts to entries from our Festival bloggers who will post about their own thoughts and experiences of attending events from October 18 to 28.

So please, bookmark the blog and keep checking back for new content. You can also visit readings.org for a full schedule of events and author bios, and of course, follow us on Twitter @IFOA. Be sure to use the hashtag #IFOA when discussing this year’s Festival.

With just four weeks to go before the Festival, take the time to get acquainted with all 190 participants. I have a feeling this is going to be a Festival to remember.

Happy reading,
Jennifer

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