The many faces of IFOA

How quiet the office seems now, a few weeks post-IFOA—such a contrast from the blur of famous faces and inspiring conversations. The Festival was a huge success thanks to the authors and their publishers, the hardworking staff and volunteers, our partners and sponsors and, of course, all of the book lovers who came down to the Harbourfront Centre to soak it all in.

We’re still sifting through the photos taken during the Festival, but in the meantime here are a few.

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Thanks also to our fabulous bloggers and everyone who followed the Festival from afar! We’re on to planning IFOA 2013…

– Nicole

Saul: Novels have the best form out there

By Iain Reid

The first question Mark Kingwell asked John Ralston Saul at the Fleck Dance Theatre on Sunday afternoon was: “Why fiction now?”

John Ralston Saul with Mark Kingwell at IFOA 2012 © readings.org

The two writers, familiar to one another and seemingly at ease, were alone on stage. Saul, who has returned to fiction with his novel, Dark Diversions, replied he’s always considered himself a novelist first and an essayist second. He believes fact-based work typically doesn’t last the way fiction or poetry does. Ideas for him are like characters. “Novels have the best form out there,” he said.

The crowd learned this book was 20 years in the making. Saul shared stories of his early days of writing. It was in France where he wrote his first novel at 29. The novel was attacked by certain papers. He was troubled at first but began to find this extreme reaction fun and necessary. “Part of being a writer is being under attack,” he said.

For this book Saul used a first-person narrator, a form, he told Kingwell, he typically avoids. He explained he usually finds first person narration to be a thin veil for the actual writer. “This narrator doesn’t want to be the subject. The subject is what he’s stumbling upon.”

Their discussion touched on the style of the book, the twists and misunderstandings throughout. Kingwell added, “I think there’s also a lot about agency.”

Saul reiterated this was an interview and not a reading but did spontaneously read a few lines from the book. He picked a section to highlight its humour. It seemed his only concern for the event was that it might be too serious. After all, “the book is a dark comedy,” he said.

“It’s a very funny book,” replied Kingwell.

As it had in previous events, the topic of originality and how each writer is influenced by earlier works and authors came up. “There are all these tentacles attached to you as a writer,” he said.

As Kingwell wrapped up the session he made a reference to Gogol and his relevance to Saul’s own work. Saul looked at him for a moment across the coffee table between them. “You’re good,” he said.

John Ralston Saul will appear in a reading and discussion at IFOA Windsor on October 26.

Five Questions with… Arno Kopecky

Don’t miss Arno Kopecky at IFOA in the Ben McNally Travellers Series on Sunday, October 21.

IFOA: Who are you most excited to see at the Festival?

Kopecky: Junot Diaz – the pulchritude! Maybe John Ralston Saul.

IFOA: You’ve just written, sold, edited, published and launched your first book. What’s been the biggest surprise along the way?

Kopecky: That I still can’t levitate.

IFOA: You’re a world traveller. Where do you plan to go next?

Kopecky: Was going to try Pluto, but I’m not sure it’s still considered a world or just a frozen ball of gas.

IFOA: Tell us about one book that changed your life.

Kopecky: Voltaire’s Bastards, by John Ralston Saul. It opened my eyes to a lot of things, not least the tyranny of reason and the troubling historical lesson (for democracy) offered by the citizens of Renaissance Paris, who had to be forced against their will to exchange open sewers for indoor plumbing.

But the book’s greatest impact on my life happened after I gave it to my dad to read. He, a conservative Iowan corn farmer by birth and a professor of chemistry by training, i.e. a reserved man all his life, began displaying radical tendencies of the left wing persuasion. He wrapped his arm in a black bandana before going to parties, for instance, to represent the dead in Iraq. His behavior eventually got him excommunicated from the farm of his brother (a Republican), and it took years of back-door diplomacy to bring the family together again.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: It helps if you…

Kopecky:…can swim.

IFOA: Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word:

Kopecky: Novel.