Canadian novelist, Rohan O’Grady, dies at 91 is a headline you will not read in any Canadian newspaper. June Skinner, who wrote under that pen name, has never received the recognition her work deserves. She never thought of herself as either a pioneering Canadian novelist or as a unique woman of letters, but she was both. She began publishing when Canadian novels were thin on the ground, and the publishers who picked her up were not in Toronto but in London and New York. From 1961 to 1981 she wrote in complete isolation, living a quiet life as a wife and mother in West Vancouver.
This podcast is based on a scene in my novel, Motet.
Warning–this is a dark scene from the darkest of my novels. Some listeners might find it disturbing.
The scene opens in a loft on Queen Street in Toronto in 1977. My voice is probably too mature to be playing a character who hasn’t turned forty yet, but none the less, I am playing Steven Beuhl. Many readers have told me that they want to hear the voice of the author, so if it’s the author you want, you’ve got him! The amazing young Vancouver actress, Ranae Miller, is playing the punk rocker, Annie Epoxy.
If I were writing Motet now, Annie Epoxy would have a far bigger role in it. Reading the book again for the first time after twenty years, I found her a fascinating, complex, and utterly admirable character who deserves far more stage time than I originally gave her. When I was choosing a scene to dramatize, I knew I had to put her in it. Continue reading →
Literature is analysis after the event. Doris Lessing from The Golden Notebook.
To say that Doris Lessing had a huge impact on me as both a person and a writer is a monumental understatement.
I first read Lessing in 1970. For two years I had poured all of my energy into the American antiwar movement. At the time I read The Golden Notebook the New Left was exploding into fiery fragments. It was a time of bombs going off on campuses, of the Weatherman faction of SDS at the height of its insanity, of paranoia, of bone-grinding fear, of bleak nihilism. For two years I had not read fiction. I remembered the writers I used to love, felt a nostalgia for a lost time when an innocent sweetness had been possible, but in 1970, it was not possible to admire John Updike for his elegant prose. Then, suddenly, there was Lessing in all of her fury and intensity: WAKE UP, this is serious, this is BLOODY serious, this MEANS SOMETHING. Continue reading →
As the video opens, we are in a locker room. The men walking in know each other and exchange greetings as they strip down to their workout gear. This is an athletic group of guys with well-toned bodies; they range in age from their twenties up to one venerable gent who’s fairly long in the tooth. They enter the gym through a door clearly labeled “Herrar”—Men—and find, to our surprise if not to theirs, that a young girl is in charge of their class. Her striped sweatsuit makes it impossible to pinpoint her age, but she could be as young as twelve. She immediately begins directing them in a series of supple movements that would be more appropriate for girls her age than for this collection of mature males. They do their best to follow her.
When my younger daughter moved out on her own, she left a copy of her music library on our kitchen computer. For years I hadn’t listened seriously to anything recorded later than the 80s, but I wanted to know what mattered to her and to other kids her age—especially to girls—so I started listening to her music. I found some great artists who were brand new to me—Cat Power, Postal Service, Iron and Wine, Metric, Sufjan Stevens, Tegan and Sara, Portishead. I also found hours of electronica, much of it unlabeled. I dimly sensed a change blowing in the cultural wind, so I wandered onto the net in search of something I knew I wouldn’t be able to identify until I’d found it. I wanted to experience a connection with what was going on right now as intensely as I’d felt when I first heard Bob Dylan in 1963.
Because I was going to interview John K. Samson, the Artist in Residence at UBC’s Creative Writing Program, I spent several weeks playing his CDs in my car stereo and then finished off my immersion in his music by listening in bed with my eyes shut. Before that I wasn’t very familiar with his work. I knew him, of course, as the lead singer for the Weakerthans, and a tune or two of his had floated by me on CBC Radio 3. Several friends had praised his work, telling me that there was no one anywhere quite like him. The more I listened, the more I realized that I was encountering a powerfully accomplished artist who was, indeed, like no one else. If you give John’s songs your full attention, they wind themselves deep into your psyche in a way that tells you they plan to stick around for a while.
When our Creative Writing Program at UBC began offering a course in Graphic Fiction, I decided that it was about time for me to learn something about it. Several colleagues recommended that I begin by reading Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, and that was excellent advice. Then I read a dozen or so Canadian and American graphic novels—enough to become genuinely excited by sequential art. Japanese comics seemed to be on everybody’s mind, so I thought that I should take a quick look at them too. It’s three years later, and I’m still looking—still deeply immersed in the world of manga. Much of what I’ve been reading is shōjo—that is, comics written for girls. That has struck some of my friends and colleagues as a bit odd, so I want to take some time here to try to explain my fascination.