By Sheniz Janmohamed
When I was a kid, I used to visit my local library almost every week. I filled my book bag to the brim and looked forward to reading new stories every night. Although I’m much older and more jaded now, there is still a sense of wonder and joy that takes over me when I walk into a library.
Stepping into a library knowing that you’re going to listen to authors read from books contained in that very library—well, there’s nothing more ‘meta’ than that. After years of organizing IFOA Markham, this was the first year I listened, observed and participated as an audience member. This was the first time it was held in the presence of thousands of books. It felt right. The library was transformed—a place that I would never dare eat in (for fear of ruining a book) was lined with long tables stacked with food—from samosas to falafel to gelato. Anyone knows that the way to a writer’s heart is good food (or is that just the way to my heart?). Authors Giles Blunt, Owen Sheers and Nino Ricci circulated in the crowd of readers, chatting with young writers, librarians and community members. In fact, they were so engrossed in getting to know the Markham community that one of the event organizers had to come back a few times to escort them backstage—proof that they felt at home in our hometown.
The evening began with a ceremony acknowledging the achievements of young writers in Markham. The mayor of Markham, Frank Scarpitti, presented awards to up-and-coming teen writers who participated in the Markham Teen Arts Council’s “Word Up!” Contest. I found this to be an apt beginning for a Lit On Tour event, as it reminded us of the talent we have within our own community, and it gave young writers something tangible to aspire to.
Giles Blunt was first to read—donning the voice of an old monk, he transported us to the monastery where his latest novel, The Hesitation Cut, is located. A line that stayed with me included this one: “his robe flapping around him like a personal storm.”
Owen Sheers illuminated his reading with insights into the process of writing the book, including this gem: “When does a confession become a selfish, not an altruistic act?”
Nino Ricci closed the night with haunting passages from Sleep, describing autumn in all its glory, “…the trees flame up like an apocalypse in their autumn colours.”
After their readings, the authors were gracious enough to take questions from audience members. A young writer asked for advice on becoming a better writer. Owen Sheers had three words for her, “read, read, read”. He also pointed out that he began his writing career by entering literary competitions. Another question arose about the development of book titles and how they were chosen. Nino Ricci wanted to change his original title, but his publisher opted to keep it, whereas Owen Sheers was told to change his title but fought to keep it. They all spoke about tricking themselves into writing, or as Sheers put it, “writing from the corner of my eye.” The authors spoke about the challenge of getting stuck halfway through a novel, and how they push through the writing process. Giles Blunt confessed that after writing 100 pages of The Hesitation Cut, he couldn’t write anymore. He decided to write it longhand, as it allowed him to focus on writing first and editing later. Ricci echoed this sentiment, “Writing longhand allows for editing after not during the writing process. It allows one to release the editorial impulse.”
The conversation was lively, and the authors were genuinely surprised when the Markham Arts Council handed them gifts at the end of the night (another way to a writer’s heart: free gifts). It was an inspiring, heartwarming celebration of writing and reading and a full circle for me—the little girl who loved visiting her hometown library is still alive and well.
Sheniz Janmohamed is an author, artist educator and spoken word artist. She has performed nationally and internationally for over 10 years and has been featured at various venues, including the Jaipur Literature Festival, TedxYouth@Toronto and the Aga Khan Museum. She is also the author of two collections of poetry: Bleeding Light and Firesmoke. Sheniz facilitates creative writing workshops for writers of all ages and has recently completed her Arts Education certification at The Royal Conservatory in Toronto.