All posts by Kathy

A mind-bending collection of stories about transformation and adaptation

Minneapolis StarTribune review of Paradise & Elsewhere

BOOK REVIEW: A mind-bending collection of stories about transformation and adaptation, full of startling ideas, capricious characters and uncanny goings-on.

“Paradise Elsewhere,” stories by Kathy Page.

Readers can only take so much of happy lives and promised lands in fiction. We are a cruel bunch who revel in Schadenfreude: Characters must suffer to be believable, their hopes and loves challenged and hard-won. Kathy Page, a British-born but now Canada-based writer, knows this, and has delighted readers with strange, unsettling novels where outsiders struggle to get their bearings in hostile environments.

“Paradise & Elsewhere” (Biblioasis, 160 pages, $15.95) sees Page doing what she does best, but in miniature. Her second collection of short stories, 14 in all, gravitates more toward “elsewhere,” the far side of paradise. In her author’s note, Page describes her tales as being an exploration into “the hinterland between realism and myth,” her worlds’ alternative realities “in which readers can both lose and find themselves.” Even if we end up more lost than found, it all makes for a singular reading experience.

Many stories take travelers to off-the-beaten-track locations. In “The Ancient Siddannese,” a guide shows tourists around the ruins of Sidda, a city built by the blind. In “G’Ming” and “Lak-ha,” Page impresses with her treatment of landscape and language, constructing the former while dismantling the latter. And in “Of Paradise” and “Saving Grace,” new arrivals to remote towns risk losing everything they possess.

Other stories come across as tall tales, extravagantly outlandish, such as “Low Tide,” where a female sea creature emerges from the water, sloughs off her sleek skin and goes to live in a lighthouse with a man who claims to be her husband. We learn to suspend disbelief and simply go with Page’s flow. Along with these tales of the unexplained are several tales of the unexpected: “We, the Trees,” “Lambing” and “I Like to Look” beguile us with their oddities, then knock us sideways with their endings.

The deeper we immerse ourselves in Page’s fantasies, the more disoriented we become. On the few occasions that she allows us secure footing by switching to conventional characters doing conventional things, we appreciate the purchase but soon yearn to fall back down the rabbit hole to be flummoxed all over again by otter-like women, sisters with Medusa stares and twins called Right and Left. Some stories conjure up a magic that makes us think of past fabulists such as Angela Carter and Italo Calvino. Those stories that restructure language and subvert accepted norms are reminiscent of present practitioners like Ben Marcus. Indeed, Page’s story “The Kissing Disease,” about a deadly kissing virus, comes from a similar mold as Marcus’ “The Flame Alphabet,” a novel in which children’s speech is toxic.

“Language stretches between us,” Page tells us at one point, “a new country, vast, intricate, ours.” In another story we hear that windowpanes have been “faulted so that the whole world can seem drunken-strange.” “Paradise & Elsewhere” is composed of such elastic language and distorted reflections, each story boldly illuminating as it playfully confounds.

Malcolm Forbes has written for the Times Literary Supplement, the Economist and the Daily Beast. Born in Edinburgh, he lives in Berlin.

Paradise & Elsewhere in Upcoming4me

Paradise and Elsewhere  comes out in the USA this month. Here in Upcoming4me  is an article about the background to the book, and how one  the stories, “Low Tide,” was inspired by a trip to Oregon.

For years, I carried the idea of a new short story collection in the back of my mind, yet did nothing about it. Procrastination? Of course, but in my defense, short stories are far harder to administer than novels are. Scattered in the filing system, they lurk in various degrees of completeness: published, unpublished, in progress, embryonic, forgotten; some are crying to be sent somewhere, and others for help, which may include radical surgery or even dismemberment prior to use elsewhere. Add to this that agents and publishers tend to discourage the production of short fiction, and you’ll see that it’s easy to let a year, or three, or five go by, and so I did, until a friend of mine pointed me in the direction of Biblioasis, a dynamic indie publisher described in the Canadian trade press as “the gold standard for short fiction.”

Encouraged, I gathered my stories together and began to arrange them. There were two kinds of writing: the regular realistic, contemporary kind of story, and something else rather hard to describe – stories that have a mythical, magical, uncanny, futuristic or fable-like, quality. I liked both kinds, but had to admit that they did not mix particularly well. Belatedly, it dawned on me that I had two collections, not one.

It was exciting to put the two books together at once, and especially so to see the many ways the fabulist stories in Paradise & Elsewhere connected with and amplified each other. For example, there are recurrent motifs and themes: travel, trade, money and sex: what happens when a stranger arrives at the gate, or on the shore. What are we looking for when we make journeys? What kind of relationships do we create? In one story, a group of media people venture out of the city in pursuit of a story – a journey which only one of them will, barely, survive. In others, travelers return home after many years, arrive at a desert oasis, or visit the relics of ancient civilizations. The stories began to talk.

I sent both books to John Metcalf, the editor at Biblioasis. Within a week he made contact to acquire the realistic collection. I asked about Paradise & Elsewhere, but he hadn’t  read it. Three months later, we began editing The Two of Us and he still had not. When pressed, John admitted that he had a prejudice against non-realistic writing, and said that he tried to discourage his authors from taking that path. Still, I begged, since I already had taken it, would he not take a look? Dreading both the read and the letter he would have to write to me, John agreed to at least run his eyes over the MS.

“Actually,” he told me two days later, “I like them very much. I think we should do them first.”

Asked for an adjective to describe my writing  process, I’d have to pick slow, which may not  at first sound attractive, yet has hidden depths and merits: consider slow, as opposed to fast food. Years sometimes pass between the idea for a story or a novel and its first draft, and although occasionally a story comes out almost whole, others demand numerous drafts and then insist on lying dormant before I can finish them.

Not surprisingly, given its themes, many of the stories in Paradise and Elsewhere originate in journeys I’ve made for personal or professional reasons. I don’t travel frequently, but when I do, it has a powerful and lasting effect on me. I look carefully and think about  what I find abroad, and so you could say that I am a hybrid of the two sisters (one stay at home, one traveler) in my story “I Like to Look.”

One story, “Low Tide,” was written in 2013, but has its origins in a journey that took place five years earlier when we attended a family  wedding in California, and took the opportunity return slowly home to British Columbia using the coast  road. On one of our many stops we visited the lighthouse at Cape Blanco in Oregon.  I have always liked lighthouses­ – the isolation, the potential for drama – and Cape Blanco is a particularly beautiful example, with its shell-like spiral staircase and, at the top, a multi-faceted Fresnel lens. It was a bright but windy day with good views of the wild coast there and I did not want to leave. The lens in particular fascinated me. That evening, I recorded the visit in my notebook, adding that at some point I must write about a lighthouse, and the idea promptly drifted out of consciousness until John Metcalf and I began to edit Paradise & Elsewhere. Two of the stories were, he felt, weaker than the rest and he suggested that I replace them. Although this was hard to hear, I knew that if I accepted his praise, then I should also listen to his more critical thoughts. I was nervous, though, about writing to order, but soon realized I had plenty of ideas slowly maturing in the back of my head.

Every story arises from a variety of elements and comes together through a kind of alchemy.  In the case of “Low Tide,” I began with a feeling that the book, which features several stories set in deserts,  needed water. This led me to an image of a beach at low tide,  and to the selkie stories from Orkney. I’ve heard these tales since childhood and there are many variations, but the essence of the story is that a woman (or it can be a man)  emerges from a seal’s skin and is taken my a human lover, who hides her pelt so she cannot return to the sea. The selkie cares for her human lover, but still yearns for her own kind. I was interested in the idea of a seal-woman who actively sought out her transformation, as opposed to being caught. From there I found my way back to the lighthouse and its keeper, who would be her lover.

Much of “Low Tide” takes place inside the lighthouse and it was a huge pleasure to write about one at last (not exactly Cape Blanco, but close) and to include the Fresnel lens: “A glass beehive, he called it, though also, I thought, it could be a gigantic insect eye.  In daytime, the lens glittered and took on the colours of the sea and sky; at night its many planes glowed, so that it appeared  to hover in the room: a hallucinatory  vessel, a ship that might have travelled from beyond the moon.”

Each story has its story, and this slim book contains many years of work: the ingredients have matured, then been combined, refined and distilled.  I have come to accept that the process is long, as with making wine, fine cabinetry, a garden or any number of worthwhile things. It’s pointless to yearn for speed. On the whole it works best for me when experience is slowly mulled over, absorbed and almost forgotten, then later retrieved and combined with other unexpected ingredients to make something new. I certainly do procrastinate, but in the end (which naturally takes a good long time to reach) that seems to be a good thing.


The Kissing Disease on Storyville

Kathy Page’s story, “The Kissing Disease” features this week on Storyville, who e-publish one story each week from the best story collections published by commercial and independent presses. What a great idea!  To quote form their information “Storyville was launched to  change the way you interact with the world of literature through your iPad, iPhone, and Kindle.”  Below is some background to “The Kissing Disease.”
THIS WEEK’S STORY
PARADISE AND ELSEWHERE
Kathy Page
Biblioasis
“The Kissing Disease”“The Kissing Disease” is from Kathy Page’s collection, Paradise & Elsewhere (Biblioasis, 2014).  Page is the author of seven novels, including The Story of My Face, nominated for the Orange Prize in 2002 and; Alphabet, which was nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction and scheduled for American release Fall 2104.  She is a British writer living in Canada.

Page said this about her story: Well, who doesn’t like to kiss? I’ll admit it cheers me to see other people kissing, too. At high school we called mono the kissing disease, but when I wrote this story I was thinking more of HIV/AIDS. That pandemic surfaced during my twenties. Everyone lost someone. There was a before, and an ongoing after. It was terrible time, but there were eventually some positive consequences: increased honesty and more open public discourse about sex, for example. It was that aspect, the silver lining, that I had in mind.

The story begins with Gary arguing with the radio. My roots are in England, and for decades BBC Radio 4 was the background to my life. No ads, little music, just wonderful voices. Between the drama, poetry and news, panels of experts and pundits would discuss in intricate (sometimes exhaustive) detail the controversies of the day. My family and I frequently joined in and I still sometimes listen online. Gary’s position as the story opens is so vehement that it implies his eventual willingness to enjoy what he thought repugnant. That’s the seed from which the story grew.

Men and masculinity interest me a great deal, as does the way in which, generally speaking, we deal with otherness by separation, as if it was contagious — which brings me right back to disease. Bodies — our relationship with them, the ways in which they may betray or overtake us or be dramatically transformed — are a preoccupation of mine. One of the protagonists in my novel Alphabet is in transition between genders; The Find centres on a woman’s struggles with the onset of Huntington’s disease, and there lies yet another of my many preoccupations: identity. How much can we change and still remain who we are? At what point do we become someone else?

Kathy Page on the Blog Tour

Arnon Grunberg, from Writers at WorkWe writers may not always admit it, but we love to know how other writers work, and, if my experience at readings is anything to go by, it’s something  readers find fascinating, too. Why should this be?  On the face of it a person sitting, standing (or even walking) at a desk, either typing or staring into space is not a promising subject, but perhaps that is just it: What is really going on?  Can it possibly be as dull and peculiar as it sounds?  No. The devil is in the detail: routine, word-count, early start, midnight oil, inspiration, perspiration, planing, free-fall, cork-lined room, cafe,  music, no music, same music every time…  There are indeed many ways of getting those words on the page.  So  when Barbara Lambert, author of The Whirling Girl,  invited me to participate in this blog tour,  which asks two writers a week to  answer four questions about the way they work,  and then nominate two more writers to answer the same questions, I said yes. My responses are below.

Next up on the tour are Susan Juby and Marilyn Bowering, two multi-talented writers,  both colleagues of mine at Vancouver Island University (though Marilyn  has just left to write full time).

What are you working on?

Battersea Reference libraryI have a story collection, The Two of Us,  forthcoming with Biblioasis in 2015 and a set of linked stories, The Other Man, forthcoming in 2016, so I’m busy with both of those. I’m writing new work at the same time as  researching  for stories-to-be (there’s a historical element to the linked stories)  and revising pieces that are already drafted.  I enjoy having all these different tasks to turn to, and writing stories fits better with  the fragmented nature of the time currently available to me than would a novel. All the same, I do  miss my novel, and write to it in my note book. We’ll get back together eventually, and I know from experience (see the last question below) that the time away is likely to be beneficial.

How does your work differ from other work in its genre?  

Paradise & Elsewhere by Kathy Page thmbThe first thing to say is that I write in a variety of genres, and that in itself may be distinctive. In terms of the short story, this year’s collection,  Paradise & Elsewhere is unique in the way it blends myth and fable with contemporary concerns  and solid, believable settings.  I don’t see anything else quite like it. However, the next two collections will  be completely different from it and to each other.  As a (literary) novelist,  I’ve written contemporary realism, but also speculative and historical fiction.   There’s definitely a dark, thriller-ish edge to my last three novels. These are serious books  about very complex characters and they and the issues they face are what interest me,  but at the same time I do have a natural drive to build suspense, and end up with a book that hovers on the border between literary novel and psychological thriller. Perhaps what pulls all this together is that I’ve always been very interested in power, the way  it flows between people, and how the flow or balance can unexpectedly change.  Many of my stories and novels feature some kind of radical transformation. At the same time, story-telling itself  fascinates me and consciously or  unconsciously,  I often tap into the archetypical and mythical, which I  think can add resonance to a basically realist narrative.

 Why do you write what you do?

Madge PageI write what I do because it interests me emotionally, intellectually and, in terms of how to shape the particular piece, aesthetically. As to why I’m interested in what I’m interested in, I can only (and affectionately) blame my family. I’ve been thinking about this for a book John Metcalf is compiling called Writers Talk. There was a great deal of conflict in my family, which includes some dramatic, complex characters. I’ve always credited them, and my mother in particular, for the lessons they unknowingly taught me about writing dialogue; I realize now that  they are also in some way behind the  characters and the kinds of storylines I’m drawn to. It’s because of my family and how it made me that I have an affection for difficult characters,  an openness to the messy, imperfect qualities of human life, and an understanding of the potential in conflict. 

 

How does your writing process work?

Kathy Page in gardenIn a word: slowly. I have ideas and then put them to the back of my mind for years before setting to work, or start to work on something and then realize I’m not ready or have backed myself into a corner so  then  put the project aside for years.  The first half of my novel Alphabet,  eventually a GG finalist, sat in a drawer for almost a decade; it was only when packing to move to Canada that I rediscovered it, saw what it needed and completed it.  A short story I recently wrote for Paradise & Elsewhere has its origins in a visit  to a lighthouse made five years previously, though in that instance the writing itself was relatively swift. The collection itself took years to put together, and many of the stories have been through multiple revisions. Sometimes I’m impatient with myself and send work out too soon, and I always regret it.  Sometimes I wish I wrote quickly and more, but it is fruitless to  argue the way things are, and after all, many worthwhile things, such as wine and gardens, do take a long time to make. As for the rest of it, mornings are best, routine is good, and I can’t work to music, though sometimes Debussy will put me in the right mood.

 Also this week: Janie Chang, author of Three Souls. She is passing the baton to Théodora Armstrong and Kathryn Para 

Next up on my side:

 Marilyn Bowering

A multiple award-winning  poet, playwright,  novelist (To All Appearances a Lady, Cat’s Pilgrimage, What it Takes to be Human) , and songwriter, Marilyn Bowering  recently adapted her collection of poems about Marilyn Munro, Anyone Can See I love You, into an opera, Marilyn Forever, which  premiered to great reviews in Victoria. Soul Mouth,  a collection of poems,  came out in 212.

 Susan Juby

I am jealous of Susan Juby  a) because she makes such great use of humour in all her work and b) because is one of the most industrious and disciplined  and productive writers I know.  She too works in more than one genre. Her  teen sci-fi novel Bright’s Light was shortlisted for a Sunburst Award. Her most recent and very funny adult novel, The Woefield Poultry Collective,  earned rave reviews.

 

Other stops on the tour:

Matilda Magtree 

Alice Zorn

Pearl Pirie

Julie Paul

Sarah Milan

Steve McOrmond

Susan Gillis

Jason Heroux

Barbara Lambert

Cover to Cover

Paradise & Elsewhere by Kathy Page thmb “When I started working on this cover, the word that kept coming up to describe Kathy Page’s collection was “lush.” The characters and narratives seem to exist in an almost mythic place, outside of an identifiable time  . I knew I needed a strong image to reflect this book….”

June’s  Cover to Cover  in Quill and Quire is a  fascinating article from Biblioasis designer Kate Hargreaves outlining  her process for the jacket design of Paradise & Elsewhere.

Paradise & Elsewhere by Kathy Page

Travel, Trade, Money and Sex: stories as moody and incendiary as Angela Carter’s, but as wondrous as One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Full of Lit reviews Paradise & Elsewhere:

“Amy Bloom called Paradise & Elsewhere a “moody, shape-shifting, provocative” collection, and that’s a good place to start. Imagine stories as moody and incendiary as Angela Carter’s, but as wondrous as One Hundred Years of Solitude. This collection is a departure for Page, whose previous works (includingAlphabet and The Story of My Face) were much more realistic: Paradise & Elsewhere is more like a book of myths for worlds that might have been. The people and places we visit are just to the left of reality. There are stories of journeys, travellers, pilgrims, and strangers; there are stories about how we relate to the world, how we acquire wisdom, and how we gain or lose power; and—as there are in many fairy tales, way deep down—there are stories about how we reconcile ourselves to death. There are themes of globalism, and feminism too. Her work shows the influence of Borges, Marquez, Calvino, Barthes, Cixous, Jung. You open the book and the thought emerges almost like a smell: here, you think, is someone who reads smart and reads deep.

“Of Paradise” demonstrates many of Kathy Page’s strengths. You’ll notice it’s extremely short—the printed version runs only ten pages—and written almost entirely in the second person plural, which is extremely rare. The speaker of the story is one member of a collectivity of women, who were once (we assume) the inhabitants of an ancient village. A desert village that prides itself on the beauty of its skin-painting, its bowl-work, the grains it harvests, that sort of thing. Over the course of the story we see the narrative shift back and forth between a time when all was peaceful, and the not-quite-so-peaceful present: a stranger’s arrival disrupts their (unreflexive? previously unchallenged?) sense of unity. They experience sexual conflict, their values shift, they grow uncomfortable with one another. In other words, within ten pages Kathy Page gives us the fall from grace in miniature, without falling back on names, allusions, or religious doctrines. Everything you need to know about this civilization can be seen in how the narrator uses words like we, I, she. It’s brilliant. And the conclusion—which we WON’T give away—is one heck of a surprise.”

The Globe & Mail included today’s featured short story collection, Paradise & Elsewhere by Kathy Page (Biblioasis), as one of their “best in new small press books” earlier in the spring and we’d have to agree. “Of Paradise,” included in our Short Story Month anthology Full of Lit, will give the reader an excellent feel for the collection as a whole. Keep reading to find out more from Kathy Page and Biblioasis!

Visit the LPG/Full of Lit site  to read Paradise & Elsewhere and purchase the taster  anthlogy  of the season’s short fiction in which it features. http://lpg.ca/SSM/PE

We asked the author… Kathy Page

Tell us what your collection is about in 140 characters or less.
Travel, trade, money and sex: what happens when a stranger arrives at the gate. Or on the shore.

Do you have a favourite story in your collection?
I think it has to be “Low Tide,”  the newest story in the book. This story was inspired by the Scottish selkie myth, but takes the idea a stage or two further. I really enjoyed writing it because it was one of those times when the character, in this case the narrator too, was in the driving seat and pushed the story along. I just had to let it happen. It was also a great pleasure to write about lighthouses, which have always fascinated me, and to include the albatrosses and their wonderful courtship dance.

One that gave you more trouble than the others?
Most of my stories go through many drafts and I don’t really see this as trouble because I enjoy playing with them. But “Clients,” a slightly futuristic take on the way we trade parts of ourselves to each other, was an obstinate piece. I kept looking at it and feeling there was something not right. It was only when putting  the manuscript together to send to Biblioasis that I realized that the problem was in the voice of the narrator. Once I understood, it was easy to fix.

Did you consciously decide to be a short story writer — or did the format choose you?
The story chooses. It chooses you and it tells you what it is. Some ideas feel like story ideas, and some feel like novel ideas (I’m a novelist, too). It’s normally pretty clear from the outset, and you can’t force one to become the other. But perhaps you can make yourself more open to one or the other.

Who is your favourite short story writer and why?
One? I have at least forty favourites! But how about the four Cs: Carver, Ray; Carter, Angela; Calvino, Italo and Chekhov, Anton.

Carter and Carver are polar opposites: he grittily realistic and pared down; she, playful and baroque. Calvino’s range is extraordinary and his most wonderful story, “The Spiral,” is told from the point of view of a mollusk, yet still makes me cry. All-seeing Chekhov sees us warts and all and never judges. I was going to say he stays with the human, but that’s not true: for example, there’s a wonderful story called “Gusev,” at the end of which the narrator seems to slip into the point of view of a shoal of fish, and then of the ocean itself.

What makes short stories so different (besides the obvious) than other writing formats?
From both the writer’s and the readers’ points of view, there’s an amazing opportunity to take risks and explore possibilities, without investing years (as writer) or days (as reader) in the process. Another wonderful thing is that because a short story is taken in whole, at one sitting, it may be understood structurally and remembered very clearly afterwards. It’s perhaps more like a poem than it is like a novel.

What would be the title of your memoir, if you were ever to write one?
I promise not to. But if forced, I quite like What If?

Kathy Page is the author of seven novels, including Alphabet (a Governor General’s Award finalist in 2005), The Story of My Face (longlisted for the Orange Prize in 2002), and The Find (shorlisted for the ReLit Award in 2011), as well as many short stories, previously collected in As In Music. She recently co-edited In the Flesh (Brindle & Glass, 2012), a collection of personal essays about the human body, and has written for television and radio. Born in the UK, Kathy has lived on Salt Spring Island since 2001. Alphabet will be reissued by Biblioasis in Fall 2014.

*

We asked the publisher… Biblioasis

Biblioasis prides itself on publishing more short story collections than just about anyone out there, so when we say we think this is one of the best collections we’ve seen in a long time, that’s saying a lot. We love short stories because there’s so much room for playfulness—in voice, structure, point of view, the compression and expansion of time, in dialogue. You can pack them full of emotion or load them up with philosophy and not worry about reader burnout. You can read one on the subway to work or read another on lunch break, which is how they were read originally, when the form really started to flourish in nineteenth-century newspapers and magazines. When a good short story is in my hands it can be as therapeutic as a weekend at the cottage or a trip to the park.

Otherwise? We believe that the short story is the genre in which Canadian literature has made its most indelible contribution to world literary culture, and we’re proud to foster the authors who are trying to take that contribution to the next level. We love the way Kathy Page incorporates the beauty of European and Latin American magic realism with a grounded (if-not-gritty) North American approach to the big questions: death, love, sex, power. She’s got a poet’s ability to compress significant details into small phrases, and her intellect is phenomenal. Most of the time it feels like you’ll never be quick enough to catch her mind at work.

–Tara Murphy, Publicity

Biblioasis is a literary press based in Windsor, Ontario, committed to publishing the best poetry, fiction and non-fiction in beautifully crafted editions.

*****

Thank you to Kathy & Tara for answering our questions! Get your copy of Full of Lit, including Kathy’s story “Of Paradise” by clicking the buy button below. Get caught up on all of our Short Story Month coverage here.

Launch in Windsor

Please join Anansi and Biblioasis as we launch two exciting new literary fiction titles @ Biblioasis Bookstore!
Governor General’s and Orange Prize nominee Kathy Page will be launching her new collection Paradise & Elsewhere (Biblioasis 2014), a book of dark fables and magical realism. Reminiscent of the darker work of Angela Carter and the fabulism of Borges, it notches a new path through the wild, lush, half-fantastic and half-real terrain of fairy-tale and myth. Nadia Bozak will be launching El Niño (Anansi, 2014), her new novel inspired by J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy. It tracks the survival of one woman and a young, undocumented migrant as they journey through the no-man’s-land of a remote southwestern desert. Join us as we celebrate the release of these two exciting, adventurous new books: it’s not to be missed!
Paradise & Elsewhere event in Windsor
Paradise & Elsewhere event in Windsor

Paradise & Elsewhere in Toronto May 27th and 28th 2014

Upcoming  Toronto: two Eh-list  library readings.  I will be reading at the Barbara Frum  library on the 27th May  and North York on the 28th May. Both events are free and  run 7:00 p.m. – 8:15 p.m.

Paradise & Elsewhere by Kathy Page“In these mythical, magical stories Kathy Page parts company with traditional wisdom to blaze a new trail through the wild, lush, half-fantastic and half-real terrain of origin stories. Page is the author of seven previous novels, many stories and has written for Television and radio. Join us for an evening with this complex and intriguing writer.”

“This vibrant, startlingly imaginative collection reminded me—as few collections have done in recent years—of both where stories come from, and why we need to tell them.  Kathy Page is a massive talent:  wise, smart, very funny and very humane.” Barbara Gowdy

Here’s the latest review  in the  National Post

Mural in Toronto

I’ll  talk a little about the ideas behind the book, read from  Low Tide,  which features a seal-woman, a lighthouse keeper and an albatross, and also from the title story,  Of Paradise.  The last time  I was in the city I snapped this mural, which makes me feel that TO is the perfect city for this book…

 

 

Paradise & Elsewhere in the National Post, Stephen W. Beattie

Strange,  beguiling… sensuous, verdant… wicked.. surprising and perfectly executed: a great review of Kathy Page’s Paradise & Elsewhere from Stephen W. Beattie, special to the National Post.

http://arts.nationalpost.com/2014/05/09/shortcuts-circus-and-paradise-elsewhere/

Paradise & Elsewhere by Kathy Page“I like to look,” says the narrator of one of Kathy Page’s strange, beguiling new stories. “In trains, buses, gardens, at films, even those in languages I don’t understand, on pavements and curbstones, in mirrors and water there’s much to see and I look. I look at faces, the folds around eyes, the sculpture of flesh that grows with time to reflect habits of thought and feeling, the many textures and colours of skin.” As this passage indicates, Page’s narrator is no mere voyeur; she is an active participant in the observations she indulges, a careful recorder of detail and nuance. The practice of looking “isn’t only a passive pleasure, a drinking in,” she assures us. “Looking can be hard.”

It is difficult not to read this as a gloss on what a writer does: A writer is an observer, a watcher, the one on the periphery collecting and cataloguing and compiling people, objects and events into structured and coherent units. The writer’s individual personality shows through in what she sees, without question, but also, and equally importantly, in how she sees.

Kathy Page and Claire Battershill see very differently, though their respective visions are not entirely devoid of commonalities. Page is a more oblique observer: Her fiction is sensuous and verdant, grafting lyrical prose onto stories and situations that appear almost as myths or legends. Battershill, by contrast, is more direct, her prose less adorned, her subjects less self-consciously idiosyncratic. There is strangeness in Battershill’s stories, although the stories themselves are less rococo, more grounded in a reliably familiar world.

“Sensation,” one of the early stories in Battershill’s debut collection, Circus (McClelland & Stewart, 207 pp; $22), has an identifiably uncanny aspect to it. On her 16th birthday, Annie’s father gives her a blue tent, which they set up in the family living room. The tent becomes a minor cause célèbre when word starts circulating throughout the neighbourhood that spending time inside its folds results in a kind of spiritual euphoria. What begins as a father-and-daughter bonding experience becomes a collective fascination (not to say delusion) on the part of the people who line up outside Annie’s house for a chance to spend a few minutes inside the tent.

Battershill wisely leaves the provenance of the tent’s spiritual nature unspecified; is there something inherently mystical in the tent itself, or do the figures from the neighbourhood succumb to the power of suggestion as a means of convincing themselves they have had a transcendent experience? This indirection is typical of Battershill’s best work here; the story “Brothers” — about a family who buys a property without realizing that they are also adopting two aging siblings, one blind and one deaf, who have worked the land as shepherds for most of their lives and have no intention of vacating — is similarly open-ended.

Despite a certain eccentric quality, “Brothers” is fairly straightforward in its approach, as is the opener, “A Gentle Luxury,” about a lonely man who gives himself a deadline of 31 days to find love on the Internet, and the closer, about a woman named Edna, who takes her husband to New York City for a blissful child-free vacation, only to return alone after the husband dies unexpectedly. “A Gentle Luxury” is arguably the most obvious story in the collection; it telegraphs its situation and never takes off in any unexpected direction. “Quite Everyday Looking” is better in this regard, fracturing its chronology and shuttling between the husband and wife touring the Big Apple and the new widow sitting in the airport waiting room, watching another family’s interactions while waiting for her plane home.

Like Page’s anonymous protagonist, Edna in “Quite Everyday Looking” is an observer, but her process of observation is freighted with melancholy. Page’s story, by contrast, is not melancholic, but wicked. After being subjected to a steady stream of her loud-mouthed sister’s bravado and narcissistic self-regard, the quietly observant narrator gets her revenge in a moment of reversal that is typical of the movement of many of the stories in Paradise & Elsewhere(Biblioasis, 160 pp; $18.95).

Unlike Battershill, who for the most part cleaves to recognizable characters and settings, Page presents her readers with frankly extravagant scenarios: an archaeological tour of an Earth that has become little more than a dried-out husk; the shores of a bay where a lighthouse keeper takes in a transformed sea creature he insists is his lost wife; a paradisaical oasis in the middle of a desert where the lives of the natives are disrupted by the arrival of a parched and desperate stranger. That story, “Of Paradise,” contains another moment of reversal, perfectly timed and executed, and so surprising it forces its reader to reconsider everything that has gone before. It also highlights one of Page’s repeated tropes: the insertion of an outsider or tourist into a foreign environment.

The use of an interloper is handy as a surrogate for the reader, a means of making the uncanny acceptable. Page recalls Angela Carter in these stories, employing fable and myth, along with Gothic elements and moments of horror, to jar her reader out of a settled complacency. The climax of the brief tale “Lambing” is among the most startling in recent memory; it is all the more horrific for the matter-of-fact mode in which Page presents it. Likewise the journalism professor’s dreadful wilderness discovery in “We, the Trees,” a story that involves a grotesque inversion of the “back to nature” ethos.

Throughout Paradise & Elsewhere, Page exhibits an impeccable control over the diverse voices and milieus she creates, something Battershill occasionally struggles with. The stories in Circus frequently go on too long, and the sparse linguistic style sometimes bleeds over into cliché. (The observation in “Two-Man Luge,” for example, that participants in competitive sports feel both the rush of victory and the anguish of defeat likely goes without saying.) A couple of Page’s stories (“Clients” and “My Fees”) seem, by contrast, a bit too wilfully obscure and underdeveloped. At their best, however, both authors provide ways of seeing the world and its inhabitants that feel fresh and exuberant. “I like to look,” says Page’s narrator. And, yes, so do we.

Shortcuts appears monthly.

Paradise & Elsewhere in the Globe’s “best in new small press books.”

Paradise & Elsewhere by Kathy PageParadise and Elsewhereby Kathy Page, Biblioasis, 160 pages, $18.95

In one of Paradise and Elsewhere’s later stories a woman looks through a window of wartime glass “faulted so that the whole world seem[ed] drunken-strange.” The view through the warped and bubbled pane is an apt description for how these stories work: In each we think we know where we are, only to encounter a pop or shift. The intensely familiar and the strikingly odd combine here to form a reading experience similar to that of fable. Indeed, though Paradise is set in modern times, here we cover similar ground as that of Greek myth or Grimm’s fairy tales: the invention of birth and death, transformations from one species to another, children potentially eaten, the problem of what to do with travellers and other outsiders. Providing too much detail would spoil the fun, but rest assured these contemporary tales are as insightful as their older counterparts.

Read the Globe review online

“Immersive, mystery-laden tales” Paradise & Elsewhere in the Vancouver Sun

Collections tackle ‘alternate reality,’ novelists’ faults

By Brett Josef Grubisic, Special to The Sun

Read online

What can be gleaned from the following characters picked more or less at random from 22 stories: a domesticated mermaid, an exceptionally vain genius, a student literally consumed by tree roots, a fatuous British Columbian dandy on a hunt circa 1905, a civilization built by a race of blind people, a neurotic international jury for the “best novel of all time?”

If nothing else, the evidence points to a pair of restless authors — Kathy Page in Paradise & Elsewhere and C.P. Boyko in Novelists — drawn to experimentation with content, form, and tone, and who are (a reader could surmise) rebelling against a literary orthodoxy that holds up stalwart realism as the true writer’s best and only friend. Bah humbug, they might be saying.

Kathy Page readingAt the tail-end of the marvellous Paradise & Elsewhere transplanted Englander and current Salt Spring Island resident Page writes that she aimed to “create an alternate reality in which readers can both lose and find themselves.” She easily meets her goal. Across 14 stories Page, touching on science fiction, fable, and the fantastic (via the Twilight Zone), creates memorably skewed stories.

While it’s possible to discern the atmospherics of Poe and Lovecraft (along with smidgens of John Wyndham, Doris Lessing during her Canopus in Argos: Archives phase and Shirley Jackson’s creepy final novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle), Page is neither imitative nor derivative. She’s obviously comfortable with exotic tales that don’t fall into preordained categories and which unfold in ways equally unpredictable and strange. Set in remote habitats in unnamed countries or in historical eras removed from our own, moreover, they’re simultaneously exotic and, in glimmers, recognizable.

In Lak-ha and Of Paradise, and The Ancient Siddannese, for example, Page builds immersive and mystery-laden tales around lost or wholly imaginary civilizations, exploring what may or may not be their true nature as well as what possibly led to their downfall.

Paradise & Elsewhere by Kathy PageShe’s also got a sweet-tooth for the macabre. We, the Trees, an eerie environmental parable, echoes Lambing, a dark fable about an impoverished mother solving dire circumstances in a remote Scottish village with ample bloodshed. I Like to Look anatomizes the long-standing antipathy between two sisters with grisly results. And in Saving Grace, a jaded TV crew visits a clairvoyant in a dystopian English village. Things don’t end well.

Within the oddball logic of the stories, though, the macabre endings seem perfectly reasonable.

And, thanks to Page’s willingness to stretch her own boundaries, the grim setting doesn’t always involve hair-raising chills.

A contagious disease spread through oral contact results in Mutating Identity Syndrome in The Kissing Disease, but two lads discover a homoerotic solution to the problem; and in Low Tide a mermaid escapes captivity and marriage to a deceitful lighthouse keep in order to seek out true love.

Comparatively, the exaggerated, often grotesque portraiture of Novelists is funnier and meaner. Mirthful, sly and intermittently caustic, it’s also a story collection that cannot help but appeal to a specific demographic since all eight stories dwell on assorted authors whose overabundant flaws (narcissism, hubris and a general blindness to their own shortcomings) are compounded by an overall lack of redeeming features. And Vancouver-based Boyko doesn’t neglect himself in the mix, composing his own lengthy blurb on the book’s jacket that’s anything but modest: “fiercely intelligent, vastly unique … a shrewd observer of the psyche and astute physician of the soul operating at the very pinnacle of his powers.”

Spread over geographic locations and historical eras, the stories nonetheless find a commonality with their (easy) targets. In The Prize Jury there’s Professor Brownhoffer, a legend in his own mind whose only novel is so obscure he has never seen a copy in print. He’s almost outdone by hilarious and infantile Victorian narcissist Malcolm Gawfler in The Word Genius and self-absorbed Paddy Gercheszky (in a story that, of course, features his name alone), an author who wanders from one party to the next so that he can hear himself regale audience with fascinating stories.

 

(Gercheszky’s ex-wife didn’t see through the facade until too late: “It was as if she’d married a carnival, or fallen in love with a movie — something thrilling and larger than life that could not, by its very nature, take notice of her.”) Both characters make Oscar Wilde comes across as the soul of self-effacement.

The same is true of The Hunting Party, wherein Lance Chitdin, raised by his Romantic mother to be a literary artiste (despite no evidence whatsoever that he could write), agrees to go on a trip to B.C.’s wild Cariboo to “put some sap in his britches.” He insists on 17 trunks for luggage.

Masculine vanity finds its match with female writers hamstrung by their note-taking dedication to their craft.

June Cotton in Sympathetic and Katherine Sutledge in The Language Barrier wind up in undesirable circumstances because a devotion to documentary research and an acute sense of their own exceptional artistry fail to help them discern a foolishness that’s plain to everyone else.

Markedly less riotous, The Door in the Wall follows the intersecting paths of Laurel Peggery and Lionel Pugg, authors with greater familiar with rejection slips than publications. Boyko handles them as comic figures, it’s true, but in stripping away some of risible traits visible in Gercheszky and co., we warm to them in ways that’s impossible for the other figures in the collection.

C.P. Boyko and Kathy Page will launch their latest collections at a free event in the Founder’s Lounge, at The Cultch, 1895 Venables St. on April 29 at 7 p.m.

 

Paradise & Elsewhere in the Winnipeg Review

The first reaction to Paradise & Elsewhere: thanks to Charlene Van Buekenhout for a great review, and  for the care she takes not to spoil readers’ experiences of the stories by  giving away too much.

“…realistic, feminist, apocalyptic, fairytale, cautionary tale, origin story, mystery. She’s got it all, and she is unapologetic about delivering the goods. Author Kathy Page gifts us this incredible collection marking a departure in style for her. She has no trouble fitting in, as though she’d been writing like this for centuries…”

 “Page holds the story in her hand and is able to turn it, like a diamond, so we can see all of the sides…  beautiful intelligent writing that is sharp, raw and to the point.”
Full text:
Reviewed by Charlene Van Buekenhout

A book about imagined lives, imagined world circumstances, with outcomes imagined using some of our own realities to create clear connections to our own times? I know what you’re thinking: really original — “imagined” worlds? That’s what writers do, right? Well, not like Kathy Page does.

All at once the stories in this collection are realistic, feminist, apocalyptic, fairytale, cautionary tale, origin story, mystery. She’s got it all, and she is unapologetic about delivering the goods. Author Kathy Page gifts us this incredible collection marking a departure in style for her. She has no trouble fitting in, as though she’d been writing like this for centuries.

Yes, centuries. One of the major themes in this book is beginnings. The beginning of a civilization, the beginning of Man (after Woman), or the beginning of the end of the world, or of a relationship. Many of the stories have an ancient feel to them, like parables without lessons. Change, too, is a constant theme throughout, like perpetual Spring (if it ever arrives). So even though the stories deliver some dire news, there is always a little hope buried in there to feel out and hold close, to carry through the journey of the book.  In The Ancient Siddanese, Page seems to tell us what she has intended:

I feel how in these last hot days and years the world is full of parables, prefiguration and correspondence.  Even half-truths or outright lies hide lessons and examples, and somewhere, beneath one of these dry stones, curled like a bug, is hope.

The first few stories, G’Ming, Lak-ha, and The Ancient Siddanese rely on imagined locations to force us to engage in the story without the layer of real circumstance, economy, politics or history of a real world place. These ancient or underdeveloped places are then fast forwarded to our present technology, greedy, convenience driven, self-destructive times, contrasting sparseness, necessity, and inconvenience with their opposites. Saving Grace is near the end of the collection, but its apocalyptic feel, complete with a desolate future landscape and jaded humans, fits in with these first three. This one involves the media in pursuit of “The Truth. Here. Cheap, Plus free gift!” It highlights the great themes of sensationalism, greed, and destructive curiosity. Plus, free gift, right?

Paradise & Elsewhere, upcoming events

Paradise & Elsewhere by Kathy PageParadise & Elsewhere is out of the box! Upcoming events include:

29th April: Long Story Short at The Cultch, 1895 Venables Street, Vancouver, 7pm.

Join short story writers C.P. Boyko and Kathy Page as they launch their latest collections. Kathy Page, nominee for the Governor General’s Award and the Orange Prize, presents what Barbara Gowdy calls a “vibrant, startlingly imaginative collection” in Paradise and Elsewhere, while the Journey Prize-winning C.P. Boyko (Novelists, 2014) will have you rolling in the aisles with what Russell Banks calls “proudly, gloriously, gleefully old-fashioned” literary satire. Hosted by Cynthia Flood, recently shortlisted for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, “Long Story Short” will be an evening showcasing the work of two of the finest writers in the genre. Free event with bar (drinks not free).

1st May: Salt Spring Island Public Library, 7pm  Salt Spring Launch of Paradise & Elsewhere with Kathy Page, free.

May  26: Biblioasis,  1520 Wyandotte St. East,  Windsor,  7 p.m. Kathy Page reading with Nadia Bozak

 27  May: Barbara Frum library, Toronto, 7 pm Eh-List reading with Kathy Page,  free. 

28 May: North York Central library, Toronto, 7pm Eh-list reading with Kathy Page, free.

Books will be available at all events!

Paradise & Elsewhere event in Windsor
Paradise & Elsewhere event in Windsor

            

 

 

Paradise & Elsewhere

Paradise & Elsewhere

Stories by Kathy Page

Biblioasis, April 2014

“The rubble of an ancient civilization. A village in a valley from which no one comes or goes. A forest of mother-trees, whispering to each other through their roots; a lakeside lighthouse where a girl slips into human skin as lightly as an otter into water; a desert settlement where there was no conflict, before she came; or the town of Wantwick, ruled by a soothsayer, where tourists lose everything they have. These are the places where things begin… New from the author of The Story of My Face and AlphabetParadise & Elsewhere is a collection of dark fables at once familiar and entirely strange; join the Orange Prize-nominated Kathy Page as she notches a new path the through wild, lush, half-fantastic and half-real terrain of fairy tale and myth.”

“Kathy Page embraces and illuminates the unknown, the creepy, the odd, the other and the rest of us. Her  unforgettable prose is moody, shape-shifting, provocative and always as compelling as a strong light at the end of a road you hesitate to walk down…but will.”  Amy Bloom

“This vibrant, startlingly imaginative collection reminded me–as few collections have done in recent years–of both where stories come from, and why we need to tell them. Kathy Page is a massive talent: wise, smart, very funny and very humane.” Barbara Gowdy

Paradise & Elsewhere by Kathy Page front jacket

Paradise & Elsewhere by Kathy Page back jacket

Paradise & Elsewhere and lists

Paradise & Elsewhere is up for a CBC Bookie award in the short fiction category. Voting is open  until Feb 23rd: http://www.cbc.ca/books/bookies2015/ 

This collection has been on some great lists, including the long list  for the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Dan Vyleta selected Paradise & Elsewhere as his book of the year in the Walrus  “Short List.”

“The whole of Kathy Page’s beautiful, daring collection can be read as an invitation to seek out new points of view….It makes for giddy reading: each story’s  opening paragraph and unlabelled door  that may lead anywhere at all… Attempts at communication across lines of gender, wealth and even species; sudden changes in points of view and their implied reshuffling of certainties — despite the book’s many shifts in genre, protagonist and setting, the collection has a startling coherence… The result is a collection that while neither flawless nor comfortable, is always intriguing, often dazzling– and for all the bleakness it  unearths — immensely fun to read.” Dan Vyleta

Read the  whole review here: http://thewalrus.ca/the-short-list/

The same  issue of the Walrus also includes, along with the above-mentioned review,  a link to the last and perhaps most poetic story in Paradise & Elsewhere,  My Fees, and   a short story of mine, Red Dog (one of the more regular, realistic kind).

Walrus December 2014

 

Writing Workshops with Kathy Page

 

Presentation at Invisible ThreadsKathy is an interested and generous teacher. She can see people’s individual strengths and she can step you around obstacles in the creative process in a very skilled way. You leave one of her courses with a lot of confidence and a sense of direction in your own work.
” Short Fiction participant

I enjoy teaching, and over many years have developed a range of workshops and courses, ranging from day or weekend workshops to ongoing university courses, some of which I offer online. At the heart of all my teaching, is the writing exercise or experiment. Most of my exercises are original to my courses, or carefully adapted to them, and – as well as being exciting and enjoyeable – these exercises enable participants to come face to face with a writing challenge, and quickly discover how to meet it. I prefer to work with a small group (and, if possible, in a gorgeous setting!).

I have facilitated workshops for many arts organisations, universities, community centres and writing schools, including Banff Centre for the Arts, Continue reading Writing Workshops with Kathy Page

Reading in Real Time

CNQ88It’s out! The current bright red issue of Canadian Notes & Queries celebrates the work of John Metcalf, writer, critic and editor extraordinaire. Tucked in amongst appreciations of John from Kim Jernigan, Clark Blaise, Caroline Adderson and many others, is a short story of mine, “G’Ming,” from the collection Paradise & Elsewhere, forthcoming with Biblioasis in 2014, and, of course, edited by Mr Metcalf. So I’ll add my voice to the chorus: Working with John is an extraordinary experience, not just because of the blend of encouragement and astute literary advice he dispenses (advice which ranges from scrapping entire stories to moving commas or setting off on a week-long hunt for a satisfactory synonym), but also because it involves going back in time. John does not use the internet and conducts business according to the stately rhythms of Canada Post, with the occasional phone call when clarification is urgent. There are normally about two weeks between sending him revisions and receiving a his considered response in a letter as much as ten pages long, handwritten on thick, creamy paper, with accompanying photocopies from the text, relevant articles and so on, all interspersed with news, opinion and more general discussion.

At first the delay frustrated me, but now I’m converted. Each of us can forget the book a little between readings, and that helps to keep  it fresh. More importantly, this is reading in real time,  part of another person’s existence. The letters make me palpably aware of the book as part of both of our lives. My work is being carefully read, by a man I’ve not yet met who lives halfway across this vast country, and he wants it to be its very best… Knowing this is a powerful thing.

http://notesandqueries.ca/

Biblioasis

It’s done! I’ve  just sent the final edit of the text of my  collection of short stories, Paradise & Elsewhere,  to Biblioasis. Years of work go into a book; sending it out ushers in a delicious cocktail of  emotions, which may include (but is not limited to) satisfaction, lassitude, excitement, euphoria, anxiety, and exhaustion. The net effect could be summed up as a feeling of deliverance:  I’m free, now, to explore something new.

I’m delighted that Paradise & Elsewhere  has found a home with small but beautiful Biblioasis  (Such a lovely name! And so appropriate to this book!) of whom a  Quill & Quire reviewer recently wrote: “If there is a gold standard for Canadian short  fiction in the new millennium, it is probably set by Biblioasis. The press has been at the forefront, season after season, of producing collections by some of the finest practitioners of the form, both veterans and newcomers.”

Biblioasis is a small team of exceptional people absolutely committed to the books they produce. In this instance they have been brave enough to take on a set of stories pitched somewhere between myth and realism and verging on impossible to define or describe.  The collection spans human time from its origins to its later days: in the beginning, there may  have been a garden, an oasis­ – or perhaps an island. And there was sex, money,  and a bargain of some kind, though between whom and how and exactly what  was done, why, and what the consequences have been: you’ll have to read the book to find out.  It comes out in the spring of 2014, which is not so very long to wait.

 

Huacachina, Peru, by Luca Galuzzi g

 Biblioasis

Biblioasis catalogue Spring 2014

Desperate Glory

The New Quarterly is one of my favourite literary magazines and  I’m delighted  they’ve included  “Desperate Glory” in the forthcoming  winter issue,   TNQ 128.  Set in 1933, “Desperate Glory” is one of a series of stories which feature my character Harry Miles; this time he is  a boy confronted for the first time with poetry, death, love, loss and the like.  Earlier this year I spent time researching for these stories, several of which are set in London, and was able to visit the  school that inspired this story, Emanuel School in Battersea.   Halfway  down the stairs and towards the end of the visit, I had the strangest feeling of  being simultaneously in an imaginary/historical version of the school, where boys  sat at wooden desks and fought out their differences in the cloakroom, and in the actual co-educational institution it is today, with huge art rooms and  all the benefits of modern technology. The story had become real. Here’s how it begins:

School windowDesperate Glory

He had a window seat, at the front. Morning sun fell across his desk, picking out its fine coating of chalk dust, the marks  of his fingers. Stray tendrils of Virginia creeper, a deep scarlet, framed the wooden sash window,  the  top  arch of  which was   made from four pieces, the careful joints just visible through white paint. He could see the railway lines running to Clapham Junction,  the sports fields, fence, trees and buildings beyond. To his right sat Gorsely, behind him, Fitzgerald. He  had a close-up view of their new teacher, Mr Whitehorse: of the gravelly texture of his skin and the jagged white line that ran from his cheekbone to the corner of his lip.
“Miles,” Whitehorse said as he marked Harry  present, “Do you know what your name signifies?”

 

The title, of course, comes from Wilfrid Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est.

 

Emanuel School

Thanks to Carole Miles (no relation to the character!)  for the picture.

 

 

WRITING LIVES: memoir, creative nonfiction, fiction – a weekend workshop with Vicky Grut and novelist Kathy Page

Vicky Grut has been a friend and colleague of mine for almost as long as I’ve been writing. We first met when I was living at Carlton Mansions in Brixton, and later lived next door to each other. She’s a wonderful teacher and writer , and even though we live thousands of miles apart we  still occasionally  exchange work for a critique  and appreciate each other’s eagle-eyes.

Writing Lives is  fun,  practical weekend workshop for anyone seeking a fresh approach to writing from real experience – their own or other people’s. Over the course of the two days, using a mix of writing exercises, feedback and focused discussion, we will experiment with story-telling techniques, pace, theme and characterization, as well as exploring different ways of structuring material. We’ll also help you decide whether the story you want to tell would work best as fiction or non-fiction. Sunday morning will be set aside for a writing exercise inspired by a specific London location. We  reconvene in the afternoon to hear the resulting pieces of writing, give feedback and share final thoughts. The group is limited to 12 participants, and the  central London venue, near Blackfriars, is close to trains, busses and tube.

Workshop times: Saturday 15th: 10.30am – 5pm. Sunday 16th: morning for writing; 2pm – 4.30pm for the final session.

Course Fee: £150 includes a booklet of course materials, tea/coffee and a sandwich lunch on Saturday 15th. Book here.

 

 

Short, Sharp, Sweet on Saturdays in April

Salt Spring Island Public LiubraryI’m  very excited about the upcoming short story season at Salt Spring Island Public Library,  and delighted, but also  somewhat nervous at the prospect of reading alongside Caroline Adderson, who is a  mistress of the form.  There will be two excellent readers a night,  reading an entire story each,  on  four Saturdays in April.  Details below.

Short, Sharp, Sweet: a Celebration of the Short Story

The Salt Spring Island Public Library in conjunction with Salt Spring Books and funded by The Writer’s Union of Canada National Public Readings Program under the Canada Council for the Arts presents “Short, Sharp, Sweet: a Celebration of the Short Story.”  This second in a series of literary events will be held in the Library Program Room on Saturday evenings in April at 7:00 p.m.

The island is privileged to host this prestigious group of authors and short fiction writers from Salt Spring, Victoria and Vancouver.

April 06: Gillian Campbell, John Vigna

Gillian Campbell is a resident of Salt Spring Island and short fiction writer who has published in numerous literary journals including Grain Magazine, Creekstones: Words & Images, The New Quarterly and The Antigonish Review.   She has a masters in library science and for many years has worked as a children’s librarian.  Her first novel “The Apple House” was published last year and is set in 1970s Quebec.

John Vigna was born in Calgary and studied at UBC.   Vigna is the author of the short story collection “Bullhead” and his work is also found in a number of literary publications including Event, The Dalhousie Review and “Cabin Fever: the Best New Canadian Non-Fiction”. He is the recipient of the Dave Greber Award for Freelance Writers, and a winner of the sub-Terrain Lush Triumphant fiction contest.  Vigna lives in Vancouver and teaches at Douglas College and the University of the Fraser Valley.

April 13: Kathy Page, Caroline Adderson

Kathy Page has published seven novels including “The Story of My Face”, which was short-listed for the Orange Prize in 2002, “Alphabet”, a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2005, and “The Find,” short-listed for the Relit Novel Award in 2011. Page’s story “The Second Spring after Liberation” was awarded the Bridport Prize for Short Fiction in 1994 and her short fiction has been anthologized, translated and broadcast on BBC Radio. Early stories are collected in “As in Music,” and Page is currently working on a collection of linked stories. Originally from London, Page now makes her home on Salt Spring Island.

Caroline Adderson was born in Edmonton and studied at UBC. She is the author of three novels, the latest of which, “The Sky is Falling” was short listed for the Commonwealth Writers Prize and long-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin award. Her two short fiction collections “Bad Imaginings” and “Pleased to Meet You” were listed for the Governor General’s and Giller Prizes respectively. The winner of two Ethel Wilson Fiction Prizes, three CBC Literary Awards, and the 2006 Marian Engel Award for mid-career achievement, Adderson now lives in Vancouver.

April 20: John Gould, Shaena Lambert

John Gould is the author of the novel “Seven Good Reasons Not to Be Good” and of two collections of very short stories. His short story collection “Kilter: 55 Fictions” was a finalist for the Giller Prize and a Globe and Mail Best Book. His fiction has appeared in literary periodicals across Canada, and has been adapted for short films. Gould has written freelance nonfiction, and as an arts administrator he created and coordinated writing programs for the BC Festival of the Arts and the Victoria School of Writing. Gould currently teaches in the Department of Writing at the University of Victoria, where he also serves on the editorial board of the Malahat Review.

Shaena Lambert is a well-recognized novelist and short story writer.  Her first book of stories, “The Falling Woman”, was a Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year, and her first novel, “Radiance, was a finalist for the Rogers Writer’s Trust Fiction Prize in 2007 and the Ethel Wilson Prize in 2008. Lambert’s stories have been chosen three years running for “Best Canadian Stories”.  Lambert was born and raised in Vancouver and studied creative writing at the UBC.  She teaches writing through the Vancouver Manuscript Intensive and at Simon Fraser University. Her book of stories “Oh, My Darling” will be published by Harper Collins Canada this fall.

April 27: Bill Gaston, Dede Gaston

Bill Gaston is a Canadian novelist, playwright and short story writer.  He currently teaches at the University of Victoria. The author of thirteen books, Gaston won a CBC Literary Award for Fiction in 1999 and in 2003 was the inaugural recipient of the Timothy Findley Prize for a Canadian writer in mid-career. His short fiction collections are “Deep Cove Stories”, “North of Jesus’ Beans”, the critically acclaimed “Sex Is Red”, “Mount Appetite (nominated for the Giller Prize and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize) and “Gargoyles (shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award and winner of the Victoria Butler Prize and Relit Award).  His latest novel, “The World, has been shortlisted for the 2013 Ethel Wilson Prize.

Dede Crane-Gaston, a ballet dancer by profession, was in her early forties when she began writing, and has been publishing ever since.  Crane’s first book, “Sympathy”, was shortlisted for the Victoria Butler Book Prize and her first published story, “Seers”, was shortlisted for the CBC Literary Award. Dede is the author of the acclaimed short story collection “The Cult of Quick Repair”, and the YA novels “Poster Boy” and “The 25 Pains of Kennedy Baines”. She lives, writes and teaches in Victoria. Dede’s new book “Every Happy Family”, a novel in stories will be published April 1st.

For more information, please contact: Karen Hudson, Librarian

Salt Spring Island Public Library

250-537-4666, ext. 225

khudson@saltspringlibrary.com

http://saltspring.bclibrary.ca/

Writing Workshops with Kathy Page in 2013

I’m looking forward  very much to workshops in Scotland, Norwich and London all taking place in June 2013.  I’m delighted to be co-tutoring with Marilyn Bowering at Moniack Mhor, and with Vicky Grut in London. 

Moniack Mhor3-8 June 2013:  Work in Progress, with Kathy Page and Marilyn Bowering, an Arvon residential course at Moniack Mhor, Scotland 

http://www.arvonfoundation.org/fiction-work-in-progress

 

writers centre norwich14th June,  2013: Workout for the Novel,  day workshop at Writers’ Centre Norwich

 

 

 

London Writng Workshop

15 + 16 JUNE 2013:  WRITING LIVES: memoir, creative nonfiction, fiction  a weekend workshop with Vicky Grut and Kathy Page

Venues and self-organized groups are very welcome to be in touch regarding  workshops and courses in 2013/2014.  I have to protect my writing time this year, and  while I will have some time for mentoring/MS consultancy, I don’t plan to offer my online or face to face  workshops unless the venue, registration etc. is already organized, leaving me with just the fun part to do… 

Workshops, Mentoring and Manuscript Consultancy

Mentoring & Manuscript Consultancy

Workshops & Courses

When I began to teach fiction writing in the UK there was a still a lingering prejudice against doing so. Shakespeare and Dickens had never signed up for creative writing courses and so, the argument went, why do we need them now? Isn’t writing a matter of talent – you’ve either got it or you haven’t?

Many great writers have also never been anywhere near a creative writing course; however, all of us, whatever our natural facility, do one way or another, have to learn how to write (and we have to keep on learning, because every book is different).

Mostly, we write alone.  It’s a solitary process. But all writers, even the great ones, depend on some kind of feedback in order to develop their talents and skills. Published writers have editors, agents and other writers to advise them; emerging writers often make use of writers’ workshops, manuscript evaluation or mentoring with established authors. By working with a professional writer, they can obtain an informed and detailed response to a specific project from someone who is an expert in all aspects of the craft. This can move the work forward dramatically and  improve the attention a manuscript receives if/when it is sent to an agent or publisher.We learn to write by reading,  and by writing and rewriting and testing the results on our own ear, but also on readers –  trusted friends, an agent, or editor – and then, eventually, on some kind of wider public.

Workshops, courses and one on one mentoring relationships are all popular now. None of them are essential to becoming a writer, and they may indeed be anathema to someone who has an intensely private relationship with their work. But for many, participating in this kind of learning can be intensely stimulating and supportive. The writer still has to learn for him or herself, but the focus given by a workshop or manuscript consultation can save a writer time by bringing his or her attention to issues that might take much longer to identify when working in a vacuum. Naturally, teaching writing is a very sensitive business. It should attend not only to matters of craft and technique but also, just as much, to the process of writing itself.

 

The courses and workshops I offer are very much hands-on.  You work hard!  I  use writing exercises  so that students  learn by doing, rather than by being told what to do, and people generally go away from my workshops with new ideas,  greater confidence and a deeper understanding of the writing craft.

“The course was fabulous. I didn’t really know how to approach writing my book, what key pieces I needed to think through. Now I am in a totally different place, and ready to sit down and start writing. I found all of the weekly exercises very useful, as well as the order in which the exercises were given. Each one oriented me to key pieces of writing my book. I really appreciated your direction each week on what kind of feedback to provide to my group members. Your input was very directed and specific, and I felt either confirmed my instincts or provided me with a very effective lens from which to view my book.” – Karen Clark, BC.

 

I have twenty years’ of experience teaching fiction writing in workshop and academic settings, along with experience as a publisher’s reader in the UK, and as a fiction editor in Canada, and  an MA in Creative writing. Two recent novels, Alphabet and The Story of My Face, were listed for major literary awards.  I’m happy to  tailor workshops to suit particular needs or topic.  Depending on my  other commitments, I  can also offer offer manuscript consultancy, or mentoring: honest, practical and sensitive feedback on fiction or creative non-fiction manuscripts and project ideas, along with more general advice about writing and the writing life.

“Kathy never fails to understand exactly what I’m trying to do with my writing. She manages to explain in a clear and informative way exactly why and how it isn’t working (and also when it is) which leaves me armed and motivated to continue after every feedback session. Kathy critiques in such an open and positive way that I feel I’m working with an ally on my novel as opposed to a less personal tutor. I love being able to talk about my characters with somebody who knows them as well as I do. Top this with great value for money; I can’t imagine how I could have a better mentoring relationship than this.” Jackie Buxton, UK.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Pike’s Heart

In the late afternoon, our pale blue boat slipped away from the bleached wooden jetty. Pekka rowed; Markku picked in slow motion through the jumble of fishing gear. No one in the Ålands uses outboards unless they have to and the absence of human noise is one of the special virtues of the place. You can hear only the birds, the wind in the pine and birch trees, the oars as they dip into the water.

Tuija and I sat on the jetty and watched the boat slip into a narrow channel of deepish water marked by sticks planted in the fine soft mud below. It wove its way between several islands, some no bigger than the boat itself, others half a mile or so in length, and then entered the narrow corridor that passes through the middle of a reed bed. No doubt Pekka and Markku would be disturbing the oily and agile water rats, sending them skeltering to their muddy burrows in the reeds’ matted roots. The whispering reeds, which rise to six or seven feet, cast the water in rich green shadow and the boat’s blue deepened from eggshell to aquamarine. It became more difficult to see, and then, as the passage turned slightly to the left, disappeared from sight.

We walked back over the rocks, too hot now for bare feet. The wooden sauna hut cast a welcome strip of shadow.

“We just have to wait, now,” said Tuija contentedly. “If you go off, make plenty of noise because I saw snakes this morning.” She closed her eyes, signalling her desire to enjoy solitude; something every Finn understands. Finland is a relatively empty country, but having so much space seems only to create the appetite for yet more, especially in summer. Life in the almost antiseptically clean cities is highly civilised. The freezing, lightless winters necessitate hermetically draught-proofed buildings: layer on layer of concrete, glass, trapped air and insulation between each person and the world. But here, in summer, the horizon stretches away creating an almost limitless sense of space. The light is intense, very white, and the days are long. At midnight the sky is dusky: by three a.m. it is light again.

We have been on the island for over a fortnight now, spending the hours between breakfast and supper respectfully apart; one with the binoculars, another with a book, someone else in the boat.
Only the largest of the hundreds of Åland Islands have names; this one does not. Like many of the others it is owned by a fisherman. The only sign of modernity is the solar panels on our cabin roof. None of the nearby islands are inhabited by human beings, though plenty of birds set up home.

Opposite, a pair of swans have nested. The nest, about a foot high, is as neat as a wicker basket. The swan sits, statuesque, winding her head watchfully through the whole 360 degrees while her mate swims in shallows thick with tiny fish. Our fish, when it arrives two or three hours later is a three kilo pike, muddy green. It has a bony, tapered head and a huge, sulking jaw.

“Go on,” Pekka says to me, “open its mouth!” I’ve never seen a mouth so full of teeth. There are double rows around the edges of the jaw, and then six or seven other rows crossing the roof of the mouth in orderly lines. The teeth are triangular, pointed, hard as bone and sharp as needles. The pike, Pekka tells me, grows new teeth all through its life: as one gets worn down, so another sprouts beside it. Some of them move in their sockets, making it almost impossible for prey to escape.

As if performing a ceremony, we pass the pike from hand to hand and everyone examines it. It still has the sheen of life about it, a green gleam.

“Pike are monsters,” Tuija says, weighing it in her hand. They are the epitome of greediness, she explains. They can eat prey their own size in a single protracted gulp. They are solitary creatures and lurk like death itself in dark places, waiting… the really big ones, which live in the depths of inland lakes can drag you by the line out of your boat or take hold of your leg as you swim after sauna and pull you under. Which is believable: even in death this one looks dangerous. It seems fitting to eat them.

Pekka hesitates with the knife poised where the gullet meets the head. Then he slips the point in, opening the fish from head to tail. The innards tumble cleanly out, bar at the ends, where he has to saw and grapple. The teeth, which continue right into the throat, draw blood on his hands.

“Something else you must see.” Pekka picks through the glistening pile of marbled guts and roe. And there it is, a brilliant pure red blob, perhaps an inch and a half long: the pike’s heart, the engine that drives a killing machine. Pekka clears a space. The heart jerks to one side and then another, unconstrained by the organs normally packed around it.

“See?” Pekka says, “Even though we caught it hours ago!” And as we watch, the pike’s heart seems to twitch even harder, as if it was an entire creature trying to pull itself towards the edge of the hot stone, over it, and back into the sea. When it does fall still, Pekka touches it softly with the edge of his knife and it begins again. Markku rinses the fish and begins to fillet it. You have to admire his skill, but I do tend to admire the pike’s heart more. On and on it goes, despite being separated from its owner, excavated from the cool dark interior of the pike and laid in full midsummer sun on a dry hot stone.

The fish smoker is an old oil drum burnt clean. Pekka and I fill the bottom few inches with chips of alder, then set the fillets of pike on a rack, which we suspend above the wood chips. We seal the drum with a thick, well fitting lid. Smoking is indirect: we set the drum on stones above a small fire of birch logs. It will take about half an hour, or maybe an hour, depending on how much the breeze disturbs the fire. The others are carrying the table and chairs up to the highest point of the island, a flat plateau of pinkish rock which gives uninterrupted views all round. Beer and wine have been retrieved from the cool spot under the jetty. This is to be our last meal on the island and we have been preparing for it, very slowly, all day. Afterwards we will have our last sauna in the wooden hut by the sea, and in the morning we’ll climb into the pale blue boat and leave the place behind for another year.

So at last we sit on our rocky plateau and eat the pike with potatoes and dill. The once fearsome flesh breaks moistly into soft, greenish grey flakes, tasting, beneath the smoking, of pondwater. The sea is, as they say here, greased: flat and shining. On the pinkish grey rock, a succession of yellow and green stripes mark the progressively diminished water levels of recent years. The Gulf of Bothnia: frozen in winter, calm, warm and slightly salty in summer: and perfect for boiling potatoes. We have some salad, a dessert of yellow berries beaten into quark, coffee.

At ten o’clock the sun is still high and golden. Now and then the others lapse into Finnish: it’s a slow language with big flat vowels and a heavy stress right at the beginning of every word, like a heartbeat. And as I watch, a blackheaded gull swoops down over the jetty, seizes something from the stones and rises back into the air. The pike’s heart, I realise, is in the gull’s stomach now. I imagine it beating on, even there.

Pike

Copyright © 1992, 2004 Kathy Page

Winner of the Traveller Writing Award 1994

Manuscript Consultancy

Manuscript Consultancy

(Closed for 2018)

Depending on other commitments, I can sometimes  read a manuscript, or part of it, and provide a written report , along with detailed notes and editing suggestions on the manuscript or Word file.  Comments from writers I have worked with below. Please use the contact form  for further information

Recommendations

“I enjoyed working with Kathy — a great mentor. Her incredible sense of story and her ability to recognize the heart of a narrative helped me distill my material into work that I am proud of. Kathy transformed the revision process into something dynamic and exciting.” Michelle Glennie, Canada.

“Kathy is a gem – prepared to defend a point, but creative enough to work round an author’s vision. I recommend her highly.” Keith Lord, USA.
 Keith Lord’s fiction has appeared in Duck & Herring and Dark Sky. He has completed a novel, Bank Street.

“Kathy manages to be both enlightening and inspiring. She has a wonderful ability to go right to the heart of serious weaknesses in a piece of writing without being distracted by more superficial flaws, which, once you correct the underlying problem, will often disappear. She has a fine sense of structure and an excellent ‘bullshit detector’—an invaluable skill. I’d be lost without her feedback.” Vicky Grut, UK.  Vicky’s short fiction has been published in many collections including two volumes of the British Council anthology New Writing 13 (Picador) and NW14 (Granta), and Waving at the Gardener (Bloomsbury). Awards for short fiction include the Asham and Ian St James prizes in 1999 and the Chapter One International Short story prize . Her novel is with a literary agent.

“Two years ago when I started writing I told myself that I was doing it for myself.  A release, I thought, the same way a girl writes in her diary: Dear Diary, I heart heart Steve, or Dear Diary, I hate my life. Writing was talking to a friend. I would get advice from my parents in Vancouver, my aunt in Halifax, my friend in Montana, and all my friends at home.  Is it horrible?  I would ask.  You can be honest. Everything they told me was contradictory and inconsistent.  Except for my mum, to her everything was beautiful. Adorable.  Prodigious. What I needed was one person I trusted and respected.  One editor that could be honest and tactful, professional and open minded.  Because writing is so subjective three opinions was already too many. Kathy Page became that person.  I let others read my work, but it is Kathy that I listen to. She never tries to change my style, (if I might be lucky enough to have a style), but rather encourages and shapes what I want to write. She encouraged me to enter the CBC Literary Awards, a contest I was not ready for, and with her help I was shortlisted twice.
When the magazine I wrote for replaced me with a new columnist, she believed I would find a better magazine.  Which I did. It is because of Kathy that I feel as though I can write not just for myself, but for the world.  Writing is something that should be created, loved, and then thrown into the hands of strangers to stand on its own.  Thank you, Kathy.” Tik Maynard, Canada. Read Tik in The Chronicle of The Horse.

“Kathy never fails to understand exactly what I’m trying to do with my writing. She manages to explain in a clear and informative way exactly why and how it isn’t working (and also when it is) which leaves me armed and motivated to continue after every feedback session. Kathy critiques in such an open and positive way that I feel I’m working with an ally on my novel as opposed to a less personal tutor. I love being able to talk about my characters with somebody who knows them as well as I do. Top this with great value for money; I can’t imagine how I could have a better mentoring relationship than this.” Jackie Buxton, UK.

“Thank you again for doing this. I can’t tell you how helpful this process is for me, on more than one level. Your comments are clear and helpful. I’ve really appreciated how you get past the superficial things right to the bones of my stories. That’s exactly the help I need – thank you. And of course for critiquing things on the surface too, where it’s needed.” Rachel Muller, Canada. Rachel Muller’s short fiction has been published by Hitchcock Magazine, and her young adult novels When the Curtain Rises, Ten Thumb Sam and The Solstice Cup are published by Orca Press.

“Kathy Page’s questions open doors of discovery, making it possible to explore, invent, and create, in ways the solitary process rarely invites. Without her fine eye for line editing, ear for dialogue, and deep understanding of the importance of story, I would not have had the courage to experiment with points of view and structure. Her deep commitment to my writing made it impossible for me to give up. She is a mentor without an ego, whose criticisms, generous in detail and scope, make one want to strive for greatness.”
  Renate Mohr, Canada. Renate’s short fiction has appeared in The Antigonish Review and Room of One’s Own.

“I’ve relied on Kathy Page’s analytical and critical judgement for many years now. She manages to be both enlightening and inspiring. She has a wonderful ability to go right to the heart of serious weaknesses in a piece of writing without being distracted by more superficial flaws, which, once you correct the underlying problem, will often disappear. She has a fine sense of structure and an excellent “bullshit detector”—an invaluable skill. I’d be lost without her feedback.” Vicky Grut, UK. Vicky Grut’s short stories have appeared in magazines and collections including Random Factor (Pulp Books, 1997), Reshape Whilst Damp (Serpent’s Tail, 2000), Valentine’s Day: Stories of Revenge (Duckworth, 2000) and Volumes 13 and 14 of the British Council’s anthology New Writing. Awards for short fiction include the Asham and Ian St James prizes in 1999 and the Chapter One International Short story prize in 2006. Her novel is with a literary agent.

A very old picture! Working one-on-one at the computer with a young novelist. Photo by Barbara Machin.

Go to Workshops & Courses

 

Globe review of In the Flesh

Great review for In the Flesh in the Globe,  good illustrations, PDF here: flesh globe review

 

Text only:

  •  In the Flesh
  • Twenty Writers Explore the Body
  • Author Kathy Page, Lynne Van Luven
  • Genre nonFiction
  • Publisher Brindle & Glass
  • Pages 231
  • Price $24.95

The body: We can’t live without it.

It is as wondrous as it is terrifying, as ridiculous as it is sacred, as familiar as it is ever-changing. Our relationship with our bodies could not be more intimate, and yet most of its everyday, ordinary functions remain deeply mysterious to us. We feel in control of our bodies, until suddenly we don’t.

In their anthology, In the Flesh, Kathy Page and Lynne Van Luven gather together personal meditations on the body. “We had desperately wanted to create an enormous, encyclopedic book that encompassed even the toenail and the appendix,” write the editors, who took their original inspiration from Klaus Theweleit’s observation in his book Male Fantasies: “Historians have never been interested in what has really happened to human bodies – what bodies have felt.”

What do bodies feel? Though we are made in common, each of our bodies constituted of matching parts, it is a question infinitely complicated by the uniqueness of individual experience. In the end, Page and Van Luven settle on 20 essays by 20 diverse writers, each addressing a different body part.

From hair to heart to hands, from breasts to blood to brain, the essays deliver personality along with tidbits of information. “The average human head holds 120,000 strands of hair,” writes Caroline Adderson, but she knows that the real emotion is contained in the particularities of her own experiences: “A heart-shaped chocolate box, paisley-patterned in hot pink. Very 1970s.” The reader cannot wait to lift the lid: “Three long, coppery brown hanks, each secured by an ordinary elastic. … Even now, decades later, the smell of Clairol Herbal Essence is heady.

These essays are at their best when the body part is fleshed out in story. Memorable images linger. Dede Crane writes about her feet bloodied in pointe shoes. Stephen Gauer stares at an image on a computer screen: “My kidneys looked beautiful.” In Susan Olding’s essay on blood, her alcoholic, dying father asks her to open the curtain around his hospital bed: “How tempting to read this as a metaphor – to see it as a sign that he had finally found a way to loosen his tourniquet of shame.”

Olding makes creative use of the many blood images that inhabit our vocabulary, but not every essayist is so skilled. Tedious to read, though compelling to reflect on, are the lists that crop up in many of these essays – of words related to the body part under scrutiny. It seems as if our language is composed of the body itself, though not all parts command respect. Words related to the penis and the breasts are mainly euphemisms for the parts themselves, while other parts are so woven into our language we don’t even notice. Can you give me a hand with this? Don’t get your back up. No, really, I don’t mind.

The most brilliant essay in the book skillfully combines facts, narrative and the language of the body. Lorna Crozier’s poetical meditation on the brain contains images that shock and wordplay that delights, and finishes with a story you won’t forget. Its depth and imagination reveal the weaknesses in a few of the other offerings, those that feel more purpose-written than necessary.

Nevertheless, the book’s overall effect is powerful, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, and, more often than not, deeply moving. We humans are vain, we decorate our bodies and we strive to alter them with diet and exercise and cosmetics. There’s poignancy in this effort. Our bodies, after all, are not made to last. This is the simple fact of life, the pact we enter into quite unwittingly at birth. There is no life without death.

Despite this – or perhaps because of it – the pleasure we take from our bodies, and in them, can feel utterly transcendent. Effortless as breathing. Try capturing that in a history book.

Carrie Snyder’s second book, The Juliet Stories, was published in March. As a runner and a mother, she is all too aware of her body’s limitations. She lives in Waterloo, Ont., and blogs as Obscure CanLit Mama.

Buy In the Flesh:

In Canada:  Munro’s Books     Amazon.ca

In the UK: W H Smith Amazon.co.uk

In the USA:  Amazon.com

West Coast Literary Portraits

I’ll admit I don’t normally enjoy having my picture taken, but being in this book, in which portraits and  literary extracts sit side by side,  has been a pleasure.

It began with a morning spent in the garden talking with Barry Peterson about books and ideas whilst leaning against various trees. This followed by an eventing spent choosing a maximum of 150 words to represent myself with: a throughly entertaining exercise. And now,  gorgeous pictures taken the old-fashioned, physical way, gathered together in a book that’s expertly designed and made. Excellent company, and a reading coming up.

Continue reading West Coast Literary Portraits

AT THE MIKE ~ The World of Fiction


AT THE MIKE ~ The World of Fiction
Join authors Sophie B. Watson, Gillian Campbell, and Kathy Page for an evening discussion on the art and challenges of storytelling.

Tuesday, September 18
7:00 PM
Cadboro Bay Books
3840B Cadboro Bay Road
Victoria, BC
Drop by for an evening packed with great stories and conversation. Everyone welcome. Free admission. http://www.facebook.com/events/396818183706245/

Waterscapes

“Fiction depends for its life on place…” Eudora Welty, The Eye of the Story

Two new novels  arrived in the mail yesterday, Rook, by Jane Rusbridge, published by Bloomsbury, UK, and The Apple House,  by Gillian Campbell, published by a small but wonderful BC publisher, Brindle & Glass.  Both books are fresh from the press, yet also familiar since I read them in early draft form, and edited The Apple House last year. So I have a sense, to varying degrees, what each book contains, yet at the same time, I know that they have changed – a great deal, in the case of Rook –  since I last saw them.  Wanting to read the real books, as opposed to the work in progress or the MS, to see how it finally turned out, is a very powerful hook, and even though I’m half way through reading Hilary Mantel’s  Bring Up the Bodies (At last! It’s wonderful!),  I was unable to resist a brief exploratory  diversion,  and equally unable to  limit myself to dipping into just one of these new novels.

I might not have noticed it had the books not arrived together and forced me to read them in concert, but what hits me right away is that both writers  have  set their stories in watery places which are evoked with exquisite, sensuous detail. Continue reading Waterscapes

To Make Much of Time

TNQ  (The New Quarterly)  publishes stories and poems by wonderful contemporary such as Caroline Adderson, Patricia Young, Steven Heighton and Mark Anthony Jarman; it  was recently shortlisted for no less than five National Magazine Awards. The editors put each illustrated issue together in a beautifully produced book that does not fall apart when you open it, and chose an intriguing title that both connects  and enriches the contents. So  I’m delighted that my story, “To Make Much of Time” appears in the current issue, 123,  The Time of Your Life, along with an essay, “Going Backwards”, that touches on the tricky business of writing fiction inspired by one’s own relatives and family history.

The story is one of a story sequence in progress which centres on the emotional life of one Harry Miles, born in 1919, and at the same time looks at what poetry does, not in a literary sense, but in terms of its influence on the way we live and think about our lives.  Each  story connects in some way with a particular poem or poet.  The story in TNQ,  “To Make Much of  Time” refers to a poem by Robert Herrick (1591-1764), “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time”.  The poem begins: Gather ye rosebuds while you may…  and goes on to warn:

That age is best which is the first,

   When youth and blood are warmer;

But being spent, the worse, and worst

   Times still succeed the former.

Continue reading To Make Much of Time

International Short Story Day

20th June has been proclaimed International Short Story Day – by whom, I’m not quite sure, but the thinking is good: this is  the shortest night or shortest day of the year, depending on your hemisphere. UK publisher Comma Press,  who emailed  me about the day and the celebrations planned, is a passionate champion of the form,  which sadly is less than popular with more commercial publishers.

I’m not sure why that is, because the short story really does have it  all. It fuses poetry and narrative,  can be plot, character or language driven, suspenseful, meditative, funny, sad or all of them at once.  In return for fifteen minutes of your best attention, it  will crack  open a single moment, or offer up an entire life.  You can listen to it in its entirety, or absorb it from the page in a single sitting, then carry it whole in your heart.

From the writing point of view, too,  short stories  come highly recommended.  You don’t have to plan. It’s possible to begin with an image, a line, a snatch of dialogue, a character, a feeling – and find the story it belongs to.  And  the turnaround is so much faster: a novel might take a year or more to draft, but you can have a  story down in week, or even a day,  then put it aside  to read and revise in some slack time three or six  months  hence. It’s possible to   perfect it, and on the way,   you can share it easily, ask for an opinion:  no-one minds test-reading a few thousand words, and if it ends up in your bottom drawer, that’s  all right, too.

Short fiction was once very commercial, and it may be so again. But meanwhile, let’s celebrate. There are so  many wonderful short stories:  Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Lap Dog”, of course. “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver. Angela Carter’s  “The Bloody Chamber,”  “Where Are You Going, Where have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates, Italo Calvino’s “The Spiral”.  A contemporary short story I recently read and loved  was  Caroline Adderson’s “Poppycock”, published in the Canadian journal TNQ. The one I loved before that was from the same magazine: “Dialogues of Departure”, by Stephen Heighton.  I could go on, and on… But do you have an all time favourite?  What is the last short story you read and loved?

Or is it a while since you read or listened to short fiction?  If you have  fifteen minutes to spare, Comma Press  offers some wonderful  author readings posted in celebration of International Short Story Day. Long may it continue.

 

 

In the Flesh

Telegraph-Journal Review of In the Flesh

Telegraph-Journal, New Brunswick, Saturday May 5th, 2012

In the Flesh“In the Flesh, edited by Kathy Page and Lynne Van Luven,  Brindle and Glass, 240 pp

In this collection, 20 essayists explore complicated relationships with their bodies. Each writer focuses on a different part of the body and, in so doing, intimately reveals what’s inside and behind it.

The narratives are deeply personal. Sue Thomas rolls her gall- stones around in her hand as she thinks about her pancreas. Stephen Gauer explores organ donation through his own experience of donating a kidney to his granddaughter. In his meditation on skin, Taiaiake Alfred writes of his place in a racist hierarchy. Caroline Adderson considers the centrality of hair to our sense of ourselves, painfully illustrated by her visit to Auschwitz and its room of full of stolen hair.

This collection is not for the squeamish. Margaret Thompson’s reflection on the ear is clever and visceral with a description of someone with a beetle in his ear who “tried to flush the insect out with melted butter.” Trevor Cole’s Eyes is put together perfectly, every word where it should be, as when he describes his young allergic eyes: “The whites were a sickly yellow and bulging out grotesquely, surrounding the irises like rising bread dough.” Eww.

A story about the vagina is written by a man (André Alexis), while Merilyn Simonds writes of the penis, and this switch is an editorial choice that not all readers will agree with. This reader would have liked to read a woman’s perspective on her vagina, as in Lynne Van Luven’s funny and honest account of her conflicted relationship with her breasts.

In all, this collection is a thorough and provocative look at the body, broken down into its messy, beautiful and complicated parts.”

Rebecca Higgins for the Telegraph-Journal

Buy In the Flesh:

In Canada:  Munro’s Books     Amazon.ca

In the UK:  Amazon.co.uk  W H Smith

In the USA:  Amazon.com

In the Flesh

In the Flesh on Air & Elsewhere

In the FleshLink to CBC North by Northwest  interview  about In the Flesh with Sheryl Mackay, Kathy Page, Lynne Van Luven and Juliann Gunn

“…powerful, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, and, more often than not, deeply moving.”    Globe & Mail  review by Carrie Snyder

“The collection, published by Brindle & Glass, is anecdotal and educational, witty and at times heart-breaking. Its finely crafted writing serves to underline the strange truths of how we inhabit and make sense of our forms, which are created both by nature and culture….” Review in the Gulf Islands Driftwood

“A thorough and provocative look at the body, broken down into its messy, beautiful and complicated parts….” Review in the Telegrpah-Journal

“An amazing approach to memoir through the lens of the miracles of the body…” Story Circle review

Lynne Van Luven introduces the book on Youtube

 

Buy In the Flesh:

In Canada:  Munro’s Books     Amazon.ca

In the UK: W H Smith

In the USA:  Amazon.com

Bodies everywhere…

Language begins in and with the  body, and much work has gone into naming all of its many parts, and describing their function and malfunction.  But what  do we have to say or write about our physical selves, about the complicated way we experience of our bodies? Love them, hate them, can’t escape them…  Body and Soul, which focuses on narratives about illness and healing, came out  at the end of last year, and includes The Right Thing to Say, a short story of mine about genetic testing. You’ll find it here.

In the Flesh: Twenty Writers Explore the Body,  co-edited by Kathy Page and Lynne van Luven, came out in April 2012  and is  available as a trade paperback and e-book.   I’m biased, of course, but this is a fascinating book and it was  a huge amount of fun to put together.   Each author’s essay focuses on one part of the body, and explores its function, its meanings, and the role it has played in that person’s life.   We think of writers as cerebral types, but here they confront the suff they are made from  with candour, insight and wit.

We are doing events for In the Flesh at the moment, and just  as happened when Lynne and I were compiling the book, everywhere I look there seems to be a reference of some kind to the body, or a new and startling  image of it.

Visual representation of the body may well have begun  with a hand print on a cave wall; thousands of years of sculpture and mark-making  and a hundred and  sixty years of photography  ensued. Now we have not only Antony Gormley, but the likes of Orlan and Damian Hirst,  who use the body and its products  to make their art…  Recently,  I stumbled across the work of Spencer Tunick, who, ironically given that his second name suggests an item of clothing, creates installations in which thousands of naked people take up similar positions or stances  in a land or city-scape, and are photographed. Participants tavel the world to be part of these works and speak of a sense of liberation and  a powerful feeling of being connected with others,  and also part of something much larger than themselves.  As for the spectacle viewed from outside, what to make of it? Why are all the people pink? Does Tunick mean us to think of  the gas chambers?   How is it to be him, dressed, directing everyone?

 

Buy In the Flesh:

In Canada:  Munro’s Books     Amazon.ca

In the UK: W H Smith

In the USA:  Amazon.com

 

In the Flesh launches: 29 April in Victoria and 6th May on Salt Spring Island

Victoria

29th April, 2:30 PM at the Yoga Den, 1311 Gladstone Ave, Victoria, BC.

Readers include Dede Crane, Kathy Page,  Taiaiake Alfred,  Margaret Thompson, Julian Gunn and Lynne Van Luven.

Salt Spring Island

6th May, 7 PM in Artspring Theatre, 100 Jackson Avenue, Ganges. Sponsored by Salt Spring Books.  Readers include Brian Brett, Margaret Thompson, Lynne Van Luven, Richard Steel,  and Julian Gunn.

All welcome. Free. Please visit our Facebook page:

http://www.facebook.com/InTheFleshTwentyWritersExploreTheBody

IN THE FLESH is an intelligent, witty, and provocative look at how we think about—and live within—our bodies. The editors and writers in this collection describe, in many voices, what human bodies feel now. Each author’s candid essay focuses on one part of the body, and explores its function, its meanings, and the role it has played in his or her life.

With original essays by Caroline Adderson, André Alexis, Taiaiake Alfred, Brian Brett, Trevor Cole, Dede Crane, Lorna Crozier, Candace Fertile, Stephen Gauer, Julian Gunn, Heather Kuttai, Susan Olding, Kathy Page, Kate Pullinger, Merilyn Simonds, Richard Steel, Madeleine Thien, Sue Thomas, Margaret Thompson, and Lynne Van Luven.

 

Buy In the Flesh:

In Canada:  Munro’s Books     Amazon.ca

In the UK: W H Smith

In the USA:  Amazon.com

In the Flesh

 In the Flesh: Twenty Writers Explore the Body.  The idea for a book of writing about the body first came to me over ten years ago, and I worked for a while on it with my friend Sue Thomas. It went through various metamorphoses, lay dormant for a while and then, in collaboration with another friend, Lynne Van Luven, it was distilled into its current form and taken up by Brindle & Glass.

Each writer was invited to choose (or, in some cases, gently steered towards!)  a particular body part and asked to write a candid personal essay exploring that part and their relationship with it. The assumption was that writers  had to possess (or have possessed) a particular part in order to write about it. However, we abandoned this rule in the case of two very significant parts, as you will see below.

The twenty essays that resulted from our invitations are fascinating and utterly distinctive in content and tone.  Witty, sad, quirky, passionate: each one reads beautifully alone; put together, they create a fascinating, multi-dimensional portrait of the human body and our experience of living within it.

 

Buy In the Flesh:

In Canada:  Munro’s Books     Amazon.ca

In the UK:   Amazon for paperback and Kindle   W H Smith

In the USA:  Amazon.com

Reviews & Comment

Here’s the contents page: Continue reading In the Flesh

How it Grows (memoir)

This article about emigration, gardening and family, was first published in Aqua Magazine, p28 on.   Click to  read it in the turning pages magazine format  with original illustrations. The text is below.

What I am planting, how it grows

In one of those windy, sunny days when  the light and sound levels are in constant flux, as if an exuberant  toddler  were  in charge of the effects, I crouch over my rows of carrot seedlings, thinning them to  a centimetre apart and knowing full well that I will have to do the job twice more before things are right. Every year I try and fail to sow them thinly enough. The seedlings are tiny, the first ferny carrot-leaves just appearing, their white stems fragile as hairs. I keep the plucked ones in my free hand to dispose of safely, since crushed foliage of any kind can attract the carrot fly.  It’s tedious, finicky work.  And at this time of day I should actually be working on my new novel, and I want to, I really,  really do – yet here I am squatting in the vegetable patch, an inane smile  spreading across my face.

In the bed behind me are rows of  huge lettuces with crinkled deep red and green leaves protecting tender green hearts.  To my right, onions, to the left, two kinds of potatoes and three kinds of beans,  rhubarb, beets, peas; over by the house, flowerbeds: all of them thriving under current wet then sunny conditions.   There’s a greenhouse  full of tomato plants over by the rocky knoll, and of course,  in between all these areas of cultivation lie vast  tracts of weed and wildflower, and round about it, the encircling trees.  The whole place hums with growth. What is it with gardening? Why do I love my lettuces so much?   Because I do: I love the crinkled gleaming look of them when they are thriving (this variety, Yugoslav Butterhead is as gorgeous as any flower), and I love the almost–sweet, wild taste and the soft yet very definite texture  of a just-picked leaf. Naturally, it delights me to be able to  avoid the pesticides and the supermarket, to feed my family and friends with what I have grown.  And gardening is certainly easier, mentally speaking,  than writing books… There’s all that,  of course, and yet there is more, too.

To use a gardening metaphor, my family and I transplanted ourselves here from England about ten years ago. Language, climate,  and values were in may ways similar,  so we didn’t  go into transplant shock on arrival, but I have come to realise that while there may be romance and excitement  to a voluntary move such as ours, it is also a brutal thing. Even though emigration  is  softer, less absolute than it used to be before there were planes, phones, the internet and so on, leaving one’s country to make a home in another is  a rupture – one that deepens, rather than lessens over time. I miss not only my family –  especially, now, my father –  and not just certain loved or archetypical land and city-scapes,  but  also unexpected things such as newspapers and  radio programmes, accents, trains and train journeys, certain bushes and shrubs,  clothes that don’t shrink, and the relatively high quality of  supermarket-baked bread…  Emigration disconnects you from the physical  locations of your past, and also from the future that would have flowed from that past, had you not left, and so even though Canada, and in particular this convoluted, rocky island,  has been kind to me,  I  sometimes  yearn (impossibly) to return.

So, I  dispose of my carrot thinnings and  then return to the garden to  tug out the chickweed and dandelions that have started to grow  between the garlic plants. This forest soil, sandy and acidic is not what garlic wants.  It takes at least five years of adding compost and manure to  darken and develop real fertility. But the summer light and warmth are wonderful,  and if, as we do, you collect and store the winter’s abundant  rainwater,  it will take you right  through the dry  summer months.   The garlic is already tall and as  I reach between the stems, the sun warms my back and somewhere out of sight an eagle sings – a   strange fluting noise quite incongruous with the bird.

The eagle and its call are emblematic of   the West Coast, and I think one of the things I am doing here in the garden is joining myself, literally and symbolically, to a new  land. The hours I spend  out here working are also hours spent listening to the birds, the rustle of the deer  and the wind in the trees. I  observe the sky and the way the light shifts and changes, the weather, the quality of the air: I experience the same patch of land, many different ways.  I’m learning it and at the same time becoming part of it.

Yet the thing about gardening is that I have done it all my life, and so, despite this garden being so very definitely on the Pacific Rim, a new place for me, five thousand miles away from where I was born, tending  it reconnects me to my past.  When I am in the garden I am me, now,  working with raised beds and fish compost, dealing with tent caterpillars in my fruit trees,  sowing  peas called Cascadia and  beans called Gold Rush;  I am also a young woman with an allotment patch in London, the owner of a window box and then of a thin, shade-free  hundred foot slice in Norwich,  of a shady square, of a rubble-ridden rectangle in Tooting Bec  –  I’m all of those, but most  of all, but I’m  a child,  being shown by my father how to weed properly and how far apart to plant  the  peas.

There was a magnolia tree in the front of the house I grew up in, and Dahlias, plagued by earwigs,   grew to one side of the path that led to the front door.  Most of the garden was at the back, and it included both a  tree-house built  in a pussy-willow tree, and a swing  set close by a laburnum, the flowers and pods of which I was frequently reminded not to eat.   There was a peach tree on the south facing wall of the house, a  hazelnut, and several apple varieties.   A bed of azaleas and rhododendrons (which grow wild here) was treated annually to maintain the correct PH. Behind that  was a mysterious, key-shaped area surrounded in an ancient yew hedge that  had been  part of the grounds of the manor house on which the subdivision was built.

The vegetable garden ran down the  left side, from the kitchen to the  swing, and was my father’s domain:  the plants in  workmanlike rows, the soil  turned each spring. Before meals, my sisters and I would be sent out to pick. We were taught how to do that properly: how to  find the runner beans amongst the foliage, and take them before they got tough;  how to feel the pea pods and judge what was inside,  to turn potatoes without spoiling too many with the fork,  to rub the soil away from the tops of the carrots so as to make sure they were worth pulling,  and judge the ripeness of fruit. One of the best things was picking a  peach,  cupping it in your hand and  turning gently until it  came free.

My mother was in charge of storage: we wrapped lettuce or chard (which had to be picked or it would bolt) in damp newspaper  before we put it in the  salad drawer, and kept roots cool  in a  mini-cellar by the back door.  Apples and pears were wrapped in newspaper and stored in boxes in the garage. Convenience food was  increasingly available, but we had none of it.

My father commuted daily to his office job. My parents came from the inner city and grew up with untended, postage-stamp sized gardens, and none of our neighbours grew food. But it was what we did, and it’s what I do now. There’s no peach tree here, but I’ve shown my children (and my husband) many of the things I was taught.

The  wind  picks up. The  broad beans, which here we call fava, need staking – that’s what I’ll do next, and before I go in  I’ll pick rhubarb and some salad greens: lettuce, spinach, rocket – which here is called arugula.

My parents tended that first garden for over fifty years, their second, for less than ten. My  mother’s gone, my father no longer digs and hoes. But I call and  tell him week by week, what I am planting, how it grows.

It’s because of you, I tell him, that I’m on my knees in the dirt.

I think that’s as it should be, he says.

 

Book jacket of The Find, novel by Kathy Page

The Find

book jacket of The FIND, a novel by Kathy Page

 

A  day’s prospecting leads palaeontologist Anna Silowski to make an extraordinary discovery in a remote part of British Columbia. At the same time, the tensions below the surface of her successful career are exposed. Pushed towards breakdown, she finds herself unexpectedly dependent on high-school drop out Scott Macleod, and recruits him to help on the excavation of her find. Scott the excavation itself teeters on the edge of disaster. The Find is a compelling story about discovery, inheritance and fate, and a moving exploration of the possibilities that hide within a seemingly impossible relationship.

Purchase The Find from Munro’s Books

 

“Kathy Page is one of our most daring writers.  Once again she delivers a riveting, superbly paced novel of great complexity.  Like a palaeontologist herself, she chisels away at the layers of a story that initially reads as a thriller, meticulously and precisely laying bare the tender love story underneath.  If you don’t know Page’s work yet, she’s a find.”  Caroline Adderson, winner of the 2006 Marion Engel Award, author of Pleased to Meet You, Sitting Practice and A History of Forgetting.

“Kathy Page reminds us what a novel can do that almost nothing else can: take elements as different as dinosaur hunting, landclaims,  inherited disease, and abuse of power, and link them with grace and  necessity. Above all, this is a love story of the rarest kind: one with something new to say.” Fred Stenson, Giller-nominated, award-winning author of eight novels, including The Trade & The Great Karoo.

Playing with genre is a feature of Page’s writing. Of Alphabet, she said: “Most crime stories are full of suspense, and end with the criminal being caught and incarcerated. Alphabet is about what happens after the sentence – no crimes, no chases – and I wanted it to be just as gripping.”   In The Find she has combined an adventure story  with a novel of ideas, and created something new:  “What is the ‘real’ story here?” she asks. “Some readers may prefer one or the other aspect of the book, or think they do – and then be drawn into unexpected territory.  For me, it’s a story about discovery, and all that means.”

The Find offers the best of all worlds: descriptions that draw you in without distracting from the story, realistic characters who face difficult choices, and a complex plot that keeps you turning the pages until the very end—with the added bonus that it’s published on one of the greenest types of text paper available…” Full review at:

http://shereadsandreads.blogspot.com/2010/11/green-books-campaign-review-find-by.html

“The clash of conflicting desires, subterfuge, uncomfortable triangling and a profound difference in values with regard to the past, all keep us turning the pages… And the abundance of information about pterosaurs, archeology, native political struggles, academic rivalry, alcoholism and Huntington’s disease is woven into the story seamlessly, only adding to the pleasure of its satisfying, un-clichéd conclusion.” The Globe & Mail review of The Find

 

Continue reading The Find

Vanished: a thousand words for my mum (memoir)

In the “bio” section of this site,  written way-back-when, I begin by suggesting that  that my desire to write springs from “my father’s love of books and my mother’s habit of exaggeration.”  It’s true that these were both huge influences.  I remember Dad, on his birthday, giving me Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and how my desperation to unlock the words it contained (combined with my big sister’s patience) drove me to learn how to read, well before school even began. Later on, I  used to go and meet my father when he reutrned  from work at the end of the day.  Looking downhill towards the railway station, I could see the other men, smartly buttoned up,  stride homewards, their briefcases clutched rigidly in one hand, their eyes looking forward to their destinations. Dad, his coat or jacket open, was always right at the back of the group, increasingly left behind as the main group surged up the hill.  He did not stride, but ambled towards me, the book he had been reading on the train still open in his right hand, still reading as he walked. It was almost a shame to greet him. On holidays, the pari of us haunted second hand bookstands, and shared the same books: thrillers, sea stories, classics. I remember sitting up way past my bedtime while Dad wrote out the titles of books he thought I’d enjoy.

I could say much more about my father here, but my mother died recently, and,  as is the way when someone is lost, I have been thinking  a great deal about her and how she shaped my life, and especially my writing life. What I described as her habit of exaggeration was a wonderful thing.  She never wrote (other than letters) but she had a writer’s instincts. She knew how to make a story better by knocking out the distractions and upping the ante, and she knew how to make you notice her words, which were rarely bland, but often suggested a story, a drama of some kind. If one of us was late for a meal, we had vanished, or absconded.  It never merely rained – there would be a tempest or a deluge.  These words came aloud in your mouth and in your mind.

As well as modeling this vital skill, my mother continually encouraged us (and in turn, our children) to imagine and pretend. Looking at the family photographs  and slides my mother kept is a powerful reminder of this apprenticeship in the extended kind of pretending that I undertake as a novelist.  I was encouraged to talk to statues, animals and imaginary beings of many kinds, and sometimes she would join in this too.  My friends and I dressed up, made houses in trees, on the coal bunker  and under the table, and for the duration of the story we took our meals in role. We were allowed to play out our fantasies until they finally bored us or turned into something new. I think Mum encouraged imagination because she enjoyed it herself. What would it be like to have musical genius in the family? To fly first class?  To live in a mansion?

Occasionally, her generosity backfired on her, for all this exercise to my imagination made me quite a good liar, too. I convinced her of the existence of a school play, for which she duly made my costume and  in which she believed until the day of the performance was upon us, and later,  as a teenager, I set off with a backpack saying  I was going to volunteer on an archaeological dig (and did, briefly, appear at the site), but spent the rest of the week in a tent with my boyfriend.

My mother  was my first reader, and always appreciative; her suggestions for improvements were often excellent. She was a good typist and keen to add a professional touch, and also prepared to push me into action when she saw the need.

When school sent around a flyer encouraging all pupils  to enter a national children’s writing competition sponsored by Barclay’s Bank, she was determined that I should try. The brief for the contest was to write a short story set in a bank.

“You should do this,” she told me. “Nothing to lose. Look at the money you could win!”  In principle, I was willing. The year before, there had been a story contest sponsored by  The Royal Missions to Seamen, for a science fiction story. I had enjoyed  writing  my brooding piece about Cody, an astronaut who  slipped out of the spacecraft and launched  himself into outer space (and certain death) in order to experience something I called  Freedom. J.G. Ballard had picked my story, and signed his book Vermillion Sands for me… Yet  science fiction was one thing and banks were quite another: set in a bank?

Had I been more politically aware, I might have come up with something to do with Apartheid, given that Barclays was, at the time, heavily criticised for trading in South Africa. As it was, the only potential I could see was in bank–robbery, which everyone would do.

“Have you started it yet?’” Mum asked a few days later; she had a fair bit of time on her hands with just the one rather self-sufficient child to look after.

“Banks are so boring,”  I told her – and  as the words slipped out,  a  story came to me: two  male bank employees,  one in London, one in a place I rather vaguely called Africa,  both bored,  bored, bored.  A memo comes around, offering the opportunity to exchange posts.  Both bored employees jump at the chance, only to discover, once they have made the break and taken over each other’s lives that they are bored, bored, bored, the food is dreadful and they miss their friends!  I got it down as quickly as I could, and handed the scrawled sheets to Mum.

‘They won’t like this,” she said, “I mean, suppose you were them!” All the same, she typed it out at 70 wpm and, to give the bank credit where it is due, some months later a congratulatory letter and a cheque arrived. Really, my career has never been so simple or so successful since…

Mum’s own work life as a secretary at the BBC had ended when she fell pregnant for the first time and was therefore automatically dismissed, as per normal in the 1940s.  She enjoyed all her girls’ careers, and took great pleasure in my book reviews, appearances at literary festivals and so on, especially if international travel and decent hotels were involved. Until the last decade of her life she was too busy to be a great reader of books, but she read each of mine, and congratulated me on it in detail, often surprising me by what she saw in it. My most recent book  came out only a few months before her death and after it, when I let myself into the suddenly empty house, the book was still on display on her hall table.

We tend to simplify and idealize the dead, and perhaps in doing so we do both them and ourselves a disservice. So I will say here that it was not all dressing up in a sunlit garden. My mother was a powerful woman, a vivid, magnetic personality, and also a fighter, not at all inclined to doubt. There were periods of difficulty and conflict in our relationship, though fortunately we eventually got to the point where we could joke about them. As a writer, I thank Mum for the difficult times, too.  An unintended gift, they taught me  some of the most important things I know: how complex and contradictory we all are,  how anger can be a kind of caring. How hard we cling to each other. How vital struggle is to any story, and how deeply we yearn for its resolution.

Now, she has vanished.

Memoir & Other Writing

This section is still in progress.  In the posts to follow  you’ll find examples of memoir,  creative non-fiction, humour, travel writing and so on, along with (eventually) information about scripts and my earlier novels, Back in the First Person, The Unborn Dreams of Clara Riley & Island Paradise.

But why not start here with   It can happen to anyone fed

a humourous essay  about the need to go beyond A Room of One’s Own, as re-published by the BC Federation of Writers.

Why fiction?

What’s the point of fiction? Why make things up?

Throughout history, some people (and Plato was certainly one of them) have distrusted fiction. Periodically, and often when in the grip of a repressive government or ideology, a whole culture seems to go through a phase of feeling that way. If it didn’t really happen, the argument goes, it’s not a fact.  And  if it is not a fact, it must be  the opposite:  a lie or an illusion,  and  therefore of no value and quite possibly harmful, should you start to believe in it, or use it to distract yourself from reality.

Too much pure entertainment or outright escapism may be unhealthy, but in my opinion there’s nothing essentially wrong with it , though that’s  not what I want to talk about right now.  I think that fiction is one of the most useful things we have, precisely because  it’s fabricated.  One of the many things  all good stories (real-life or made-up or in  between)  do  is prompt us to think and imagine beyond our actual experiences and the choices we have made.  When I engage with other lives, situations and choices—including imaginary ones—I expand my understanding and I often find myself thinking  with greater clarity and passion and excitement  about my own life.  I become more aware; I make comparisons and connections, stretch my sense of what is possible both out there in the wider world,  and for me in particular.  I may even find myself striving  to make  more satisfying choices, to  engage more with who and what is around me, to express myself more completely, or aim higher – in short, to write a better story for myself. The desire to see some kind of satisfying shape in one’s life is a basic and powerful one.

But don’t we have enough real-life stories to satisfy us,  reality being  so much stranger than fiction, after all?   Continue reading Why fiction?

Short Fiction by Kathy Page

Kathy Page’s short fiction has been widely anthologized,  translated and broadcast on BBC Radio.  A new collection, Paradise & Elsewhere will be published by Biblioasis  in April 2014.

paradise and elsewhere by kathy page

“The rubble of an ancient civilization. A village in a valley from which no one comes or goes. A forest of mother-trees, whispering to each other through their roots; a lakeside lighthouse where a girl slips into human skin as lightly as an otter into water; a desert settlement where there was no conflict, before she came; or the town of Wantwick, ruled by a soothsayer, where tourists loose everything they have. These are the places where things begin… New from the author of The Story of My Face and AlphabetParadise & Elsewhere is a collection of dark fables at once familiar and entirely strange; join the Orange Prize-nominated Kathy Page as she notches a new path the through wild, lush, half-fantastic and half-real terrain of fairy tale and myth.”

“Kathy Page embraces and illuminates the unknown, the creepy, the odd, the other and the rest of us. Her  unforgettable prose is moody, shape-shifting, provocative and always as compelling as a strong light at the end of a road you hesitate to walk down…but will.”  Amy Bloom

“This vibrant, startlingly imaginative collection reminded me–as few collections have done in recent years–of both where stories come from, and why we need to tell them. Kathy Page is a massive talent: wise, smart, very funny and very humane.” Barbara Gowdy

Early stories are collected in As in Music.  Her story The Second Spring After Liberation was awarded the Bridport Prize for short fiction in 1994.

As in Music

By turns poignant and bizarre, shot through with unexpected humour, but also provocative and disturbing, these stories negotiate a skillful path through the border territory between realism and fantasy. In “Just Dial This Number,” Madeline, anger personified, fights a losing battle against the onset of love; in “The Silver Man,” a teenage mother struggles to come to terms with her baby son. A haunting and eloquent collection of short stories, which confirms Kathy Page’s power and versatility as a storyteller.

Published by Methuen, UK.

‘A collection of writings which, through a sophisticated cast of lost souls, studies the meaning of love, civilization, sex battles and kissing. Funny, poignant and bizarre by turn.’ New Woman

‘Accomplished and imaginative stories….show that Page can be every bit as good as Ballard.The Guardian

‘Page has a rare insight into those moments when characters confront the shape and meaning of their lives. The writing is sparse, often bleak, but always poetic and provocative.’ The New Statesman

Page’s style is scalpel sharp.‘
 The Observer

Other stories by Kathy Page can be found in:

Canadian Notes and Queries, 2013

The New Quarterly, 2012, 2013

Ars Medica, Fall 2009

Great Expectations, eds.Crane & Moore, House of Anansi 2008

Gas and Air, eds. Dawson & Daly,
 Bloomsbury, 2002.

10 British Women Writers,  ed Barbara Puschmann-Nalenz,
Reclam, 2000.

Signals, ed. Jane Rye,
London Magazine Editions, 1999.

Cheatin’ Heart, eds. Longinotto & Rosenthal, 
Serpent’s Tail, 1999.

Wild Ways, eds. Margo Daly & Jill Dawson
, Sceptre, 1998.

New Writing Six, eds. A.S Byatt & Peter Porter,
 Vintage, 1997

The Bridport Prize Anthology, 1996

New Writing Five, ed. Christopher Hope and Peter Porter,
Vintage, 1996.

Back Rubs, ed. Alison Cambell et al,
Serpent’s Tail, 1996.

Class Work, ed. Malcolm Bradbury, 
Heinemann, 1995.

The Bridport Prize Anthology, 1994

Outsiders, ed. Michel Blackburn,
Sunk Island, 1994.

The Wild Woman Reader, ed. Sue Thomas,
 Overlook, 1994.

Best Short Stories 1993, eds. Giles Gordon & David Hughes,
 Heinemann, 1993.

New Writing Two, eds. Malcolm Bradbury & Andrew Motion,
Minerva, 1993.

The Minerva Anthology of C20 Women’s Writing, ed. Judy Cooke
Minerva, 1992

Frankie Styne & the Silver Man

 Here’s the original UK jacket for Frankie Styne and the Silver Man.  Biblioasis will be publishing this novel in Canada and the US in 2015/2016.

Frankie Styne, the successful author of a series of gruesome killer novels,  has lived  at 125 Onley Street for many years. Meticulous and obsessive, he lives a life of isolation, managing to keep both future and past at bay.

Next door, live Liz Meredith and her new baby, Jim. Liz has been told by her social worker Mrs Purvis that Jim has a rare disorder, and will never be like other children. But Mrs Purvis can’t see, as Liz can, that Jim already knows things no ordinary person could. Besides, Liz doesn’t want any help from the social services or from Tom and Alice, the couple at number 129. She wants to be left in peace so that she can imagine her way out of how things are.

When Frank’s solitary anonymity is threatened, he hatches a real-life plot which, as he begins to enact it, unexpectedly changes not only his own life, but also those of Liz and Jim. Sifting through our collective nightmares, Kathy Page has written a novel that is powerful, humorous, tragic and thoroughly surprising.

Published by Methuen UK, in 1990.

 “Page’s imaginative powers are electric. She has the ability to analyse the often nightmarish qualities of the human psyche and as a result, Frankie Styne is a taut examination of the complex emotional ties that bind, the methods we employ to distance ourselves, and our ambiguous powers of imagination. She is at once poignant and provocative, stomach-churningly distasteful and yet compulsively readable.”  Time Out

“Frankie Styne & the Silver Man resists being put down for the night.. I read 
on, captivated and creeped-out. But this being Kathy Page, I always trusted 
I was heading away from a nightmare, towards a happier place. This is 
Felicia’s Journey, with a big dollop of hope.” Caroline Adderson, Giller-listed author of Pleased to Meet You & winner of the Marion Engel Award.

“Fresh and engaging. Her writing is crisp and her insights into human behavior are acute.” Lynne Van Luven, Monday Magazine

“Great story. Great writing too. You render down the monstrous, gently fold the abnormal into an embrace and make it human… fantastic!” Helen Heffernan

“Each  character in the book is horrific, but each in a different way. I was even afraid of the baby! Was absolutely certain that a truly gruesome ending was in story but couldn’t put it down anyway. Ending was perfect. It’s a keeper. Will read again.” Barb Egerter