All posts by Kathy

Paradise & Elsewhere reviewed in Canadian Literature

From the Biblioasis blog:

We are pleased to announce that Kathy Page’s Paradise & Elsewhere, Catherine Chandler’s Glad and Sorry Seasons, and Cynthia Flood’s Red Girl Rat Boy have all been reviewed in Canadian Literature!

“The genius of [Page’s] book is the way magic seeps into the stories. It seems so inevitable. Somewhere deep in the ancient part of our brains, there must still be a grasp of the connectedness of all things, of the endless flux of creation and destruction.” –Amanda Leslie-Spinks, Canadian Literature

Read the full review here:

 Paradise and Elsewhere


The Malahat Review on Paradise & Elsewhere

We the Trees

Daniel Perry on  “We, the Trees.” Each reviewer seems to have a different favourite.

“….Uniting the stories’ themes of exchange, translation, and conversion with their steady attention to the natural world (and loss thereof), “We the Trees” stands among the best-achieved pieces in the collection, telling of a journalism professor’s encounter with Joshua, a strange student who is taking no courses other than hers, who never comes to class or follows assignment directions, and who decamps to the nearby forest to study a fungus said to be a network through which all the trees communicate. The mission costs the young man his life, but his final message—seemingly from the trees, through him—leaves the professor with the sudden realization that it will be her who has to convert this supernatural happening into a story the public can consume through the news media. The professor’s epiphany leads to the reader’s own, revealing the young man’s objective: to force humanity to see the destruction of the natural world from the trees’ perspective for once. The bridging of such divides in these stories can explain the collection’s title: in all cases, there is paradise, and then, an elsewhere. The conflict that arises when shaken out of the former gives these stories life—and, like the fables they resemble, profound meaning.”

Year of Adjectives

 a word or phrase naming an attribute, added to or grammatically related to a noun to modify or describe it.
Ursula Le Guin’s  Steering the Craft includes an exercise called Chastity, which involves stripping all adjectives and adverbs from one’s writing. It’s an exercise I often use when teaching: the point is not to suggest that there is anything essentially wrong with adjectives, but rather to abstain from them temporarily  so as turn attention to the other parts of the sentence, especially the verbs,  the muscles which drive it along. Adjectives  do  of course play a vital  role in many kinds of writing, including, for example, book reviews.
Paradise & Elsewhere was launched in the spring of 2014 and the response to it has been one of the most cheering aspects of the past year. From the start, this book found its readers and they rose to meet to one of its challenges: how on earth to describe a slim volume (128 pages) which offers a kind of history of the world, plunges the reader into the back rooms of the psyche, and refuses to commit to particular genre?  Even I had struggled with this. In the publisher’s “About Your Book” questionnaire, used to help with publicity and marketing,  I drew a complete blank when asked to compare it with other books.
But early signs were encouraging. Amy Bloom baptized  the book with a  sprinkle of adjectives that included compelling, moody, and shape-shifting; Barbara Gowdy added  vibrant, startlingly imaginative, wise, smart, and very funny and very humane.  Even so,  as publication loomed, I began to be anxious about the possibility of reviews.  There were two adjectives that I was especially  dreading, both perfectly fine words and applicable to the book, but which have  accrued an unfortunate undercurrent of dismissal of disapproval: different, and weird.  Different, when used alone, suggests  the quality of being uncommon, at variance with the normal,  which on this side of the Atlantic often seems  to have  a pejorative ring to it;  weird means supernatural or uncanny, but it also  has the connotation of something (or someone)  preposterous, hard to identify with,  or beyond the pale.
Neither word has been used (in print at least)  and the book’s very first reviewer,  Charlene Van Buekenhout, writing in the Winnipeg Star, erupted in a torrent of adjectives that included  intelligent, sharp, raw,  sexy, unsettling, to the point, disturbing, beautiful,  realist, feminist,  and apocalyptic.   Since then, reviewers of Paradise & Elsewhere have  been inventive, authentic, prolific and generous… As you’ll see if you read the selection at the end of this post, the past months have been studded with adjectives. Common themes emerge, but what I’ve found  both humbling is the sheer variety of words that have been used to describe the book and/or individual stories, and the lengths reviewers have gone to in order to find the right combination of words. My favourites?   Surprising, astounding, startling and extraordinary and unexpected,  because I did very much want these stories to take the reader to somewhere  new.  Beyond that, it’s impossible: Transcendent? Sexy? Expansive?  Wicked? Wise? Lush? I’m spoiled for choice and grateful  to all those who so far have taken the risk of  reading  Paradise & Elsewhere, to my editor John Metcalf and all  the clever, passionate, and dedicated people who work at Biblioasis,  the super-indie publisher who took the book on.  Thanks, too, to all those who have talked with me or emailed or blogged about the book. 
Description is one thing, action another. Now it is time to  move deeper into new work: something completely different. Here’s hoping that in the coming year to come we will all write, paint, dance, print, sculpt sing, speak and dream new things into the world.


Beautiful, daring,  giddy, startling, intricate,  fine, always intriguing,  often dazzling – and while neither comfortable nor flawless – immensely  fun to read... Dan Vyleta, choosing Paradise & Elsewhere as his favourite book of 2014 in The Walrus

Dark,  haunting,  truly original… Scotiabank Giller Prize Jury/CBC Best Books 2014

Lyrical, fabulist, sometimes brutally cautionary,  unexpected, erotic… Shawn Syms, Quill & Quire

Sensuous, verdant, lyrical, wicked, fresh, exuberant, impeccable,  perfectly timed and executed, startling, surprising, horrific…  Stephen W. Beattie, National Post 

Immersive,  eerie, mystery-laden, restless, memorably skewed, neither imitative nor derivative,  simultaneously exotic and recognizable Brett Josef Grubsic, Vancouver Sun

Tight, strange, nifty...  Margaret Atwood on twitter

Compelling, unexpected, memorable… Tobias Carol, Volume 1

Transcendent, nuanced, strange, expansive, intimate, remarkable… Dustin Kurtz, Music and Literature

Lush, mythic…  Kate Hargreaves, Cover to Cover in Quill and Quire

Expansive, amazing…   Leland Cheuk, The Rumpus

Mind-bending, startling, singular, unexpected, capricious, uncanny, boldy illuminating, elastic, extravagantly outlandish… Malcolm Forbes, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Deeply mysterious, astounding, perfect… Caroline Adderson interview with Kathy Page in The New Quarterly

Brilliant, smart, deep, moody, incendiary, wondrous… Literary Press Group, Full of Lit

Well-honed; there is not an image or a word wasted,  full of surprises Lynne Van Luven,  Coastal Spectator

Heartfelt, shape-shifting…  Barnes & Noble Review selection for their Long List, wherein the author was  described as “the Alice Munro of the supernatural.”

Beautiful, profound… Daniel Perry,  Malahat Review

As insightful as their older counterparts   Globe and Mail

Extraordinary, dislocating, dark, wonderful  Kim Forrester, Reading Matters

Thanks too to those who reviewed  the  new Biblioasis edition of my novel Alphabet,  which  earned starred reviews in Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and the Library Journal, and  its own collection of descriptors.






Double Review: Alphabet and Paradise & Elsewhere in The Rumpus


Leland Cheuk reviews both Alphabet and Paradise & Elsehwere in The Rumpus.



Studies have shown that reading literary fiction increases a reader’s ability to empathize. In her first books to be published in the U.S., Giller Prize-nominated British author Kathy Page puts that theory to a rigorous test. Would you like to spend 300 pages in the mind of a murderer? How about fourteen stories replete with the vengeful whispers from those vanquished by the injustices of globalization? In both the novel Alphabet and the story collection Paradise and Elsewhere, Page demonstrates that she is a master provocateur, unafraid to ask unpleasant questions about contemporary society, even if she risks being didactic.

Originally published in the UK and Canada in 2004, Alphabet is set in a high-security men’s penitentiary during the end of Margaret Thatcher’s reign. Simon Austen is serving a life sentence for strangling his girlfriend. Twenty-one and barely literate, he develops a hunger for learning in order to combat prison boredom. He learns to read and write. He completes courses that give him the equivalent of a high school education. He begins to answer newspaper ads under a false name from women seeking pen pals. To circumvent the prison censors, he purchases help from a fellow inmate using cigarettes and batteries. Page, who spent a year as a Writer-in-Residence in a men’s penitentiary, does not spare the reader from the cruel horror show that prison is intended to be. Eventually, Austen drops his false identities and sends out letters of increasing honesty. His foray into confessional correspondence can be read in a number of ways: as desperation, as self-education, and as a melancholy search for connection—just as it is for those who purchase newspaper ads and walk around free in the outside world.

Kathy Page

When his letters are discovered by the prison regime, they are so surprisingly articulate and intelligent that Simon is chosen to participate in a psychiatric program meant to help address his past, ameliorate his dysfunctional relationships with women, and prepare him, possibly, to one day be free. When Simon develops feelings for his psychiatrist Bernadette, the reader glimpses how far Simon’s emotional intelligence has come in one of his letters:

You are turning me inside out.

When I am with you I feel as if I could become the best of me that has been hidden for so long, and I burn with wanting to. I feel I could pass through an eye of a needle.

So how is the reader supposed to feel about Simon Austen, the murderer-cum-tortured-poet? Page thoroughly captures the voice of a man who has dissociated himself from his crime. She challenges the reader to forget and forgive the crime’s brutal nature and empathize with this bottled-up young man struggling to find the language to confront his disturbed psyche. Despite being repeatedly humiliated and victimized within the prison system, Simon doesn’t want to leave. After growing up in failed foster homes, prison is the best home Simon has ever had.

I could not help but feel deeply sympathetic to the narrator—a testament to Page’s skill. But the reading experience was harrowing. I’m interested to see what the reception to Alphabet will be in the US, where over half of the states have legalized some form of capital punishment. As a society, Americans have by and large accepted that the worst offenders in our legal system do not deserve rehabilitation—certainly not murderers of young women like Simon Austen. And yet the central question of Alphabet, both for society and for Simon himself, is whether he deserves to be rehabilitated.

In Paradise and Elsewhere, Page again asks the big questions, dramatizing interactions between modern societies and less developed ones to address issues of globalization, climate change, and feminism. The stories are very short. Many are under ten pages. They exist between genres, as Page leaps from realism to fable and back, often from page to page. The writing is totally distinct from Alphabet—a testament to Page’s range. In the 3-page gem “Lak-ha,” a family is dropped in the midst of a desert where an ancient tree stands. The wife dies of dehydration, her last tears wetting the wood, making it fibrous enough to braid into rope. A stranger arrives by sea and asks the starving widower for the rope’s price. In this amazing passage, Page hops from the mythic to the real, evoking the rise of civilizations:

Every year more strangers came by sea bringing food and goods in exchange for Hetlas rope.

This explains the name of our village, Lak-ha, which some say means in the old language, “The place where the bargain was struck.” Others say other things. They ask, did the woman know the purpose of her weeping? Who invented the Hetlas rope—the woman, the man, the stranger, Fate? But I say forget it. Come inside. We have everything now: television, internet, iPod, cellphone, denim jeans, Barbie doll, same as you.

Alphabet and Paradise and ElsewhereParadise and Elsewhere, likeAlphabet, is about society’s fraying ability to connect with people. In Alphabet, strangers try to connect via the written letter. But in Paradise and Elsewhere, people try to connect through money, through material goods, and through perceived power dynamics. In “Saving Grace,” a news crew travels to a rural town to film a famous soothsayer only to find that what she has to say is not what they want to hear.

“I do apologize. Your fame has travelled, so to speak. Can we please watch you work?” asked Libby, smiling as hard as she could. “We’ll pay,” she added.

“I know that. Stay as long as you like. That won’t be long. None of your plans will come to fruit, you’ll fail completely.” The woman’s baleful stare seemed to enfold them all like a thick, stifling blanket. “You think you’re lucky to live in the cities. You think it’s kinder there and people are more generous, but that’s only because they’ve got more. You’re stupid, and you’re deeply mean. You don’t like your friends drinking too much of your wine. You count up favours and drop people if they don’t pay you back. You’re jealous of your sister Phil.”

“Saving Grace,” like most of the stories in Page’s collection, wears its themes like loud clothes. Each story is a cage fight between the rural and the urban, the tourist and the touristed, the modern and the ancient. In today’s increasingly polarized society, Page’s ironic paradises, so dense with vital questions, will echo and leave you wondering how you measure up to Page’s expansive empathies. Are you like her characters: only able to empathize selectively with so much day-to-day injustice on the planet?


Same ABC, two designs: Kathy Page’s novel Alphabet in the USA and Canada

Alphabet, first published in the Uk in 2004 and in Canada in 2005, when it was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award, is now available in the US for the first time, and receiving great reviews, including stars from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly and the Library Journal.  It was a pick for the Indie Next List in December 2014:

Back in Canada, Biblioasis are including it as part of their new and ambitious reprint series, and so the book comes in two jackets: for the USA  an edgy one based on typewriter fonts (the main character, Simon, acquires typewriter early in the book),   and in Canada, one that suits the  overall  design for the reprint series.

Alphabet by Kathy PageAlphabet by Kathy Page, US jacket by Kate Hargreaves

Interview in Publishing Perspectives

Biblioasis are re-issuing Alphabet as part of their new reprint series. It will be available in print and e-book  and is all set to reach to a new  readership south of the border  this fall.  We wrestled briefly with how to present a book that is steeped in British slang, idiom, culture and history in the USA: should we”translate”  phrases  and words that might be unfamiliar, or  trust the reader to enjoy the difference and bridge the gaps?  We  chose trust, and so far the response has been very positive. Information has gone up in Publishing Perspectives, interviews and reviews are in the pipeline and the book can be pre-ordered online.

Interview in Publishing Perspectives

In 2004, years before Orange Is the New Black, Canada’s Kathy Page published, to great acclaim, her novel Alphabet, a ground-breaking look at prison and transgender issues. This fall, Biblioasis will be publishing the first American edition, a book that Kirkus Reviews recently called, “A moving novel about knowledge, self-awareness and the power of words, set in the purgatory of prison. This young man’s life demands our attention and refuses to let go … powerful … simply an epiphany.”

The author recently sat down for an interview with her publisher where she discussed the creation of the lead character, Simon Austen, writing transgender characters, and the possibility of change.

You once commented that it felt like you “spent the three years it took to complete Alphabet co-habiting with a dangerous man,” and over the course of the novel it becomes clear that you have both extraordinary sympathy and affection for him, as well as a (perhaps personal?) understanding of why the other characters in his life keep him at arm’s length. Were you ever tempted to walk away?

Simon’s ability to set alarm bells ringing and evoke profound sympathy at the same time – that combination of vulnerability, charm and dangerousness – is where the book began. It was the thread I followed all through the story, and the experience of ambivalence, of attraction and wariness or even revulsion, is what I hope to create for the reader. The book arose from a year I spent as Writer in Residence in a men’s penitentiary in the UK. The men I worked with were serious, violent offenders, and many of them were themselves the victims of child abuse, neglect and so on. One young man serving a life sentence told me that the that the penitentiary was actually the best place he had ever lived in. Since I was in a supportive role, providing an activity that helped the time to pass, those I worked with were often appreciative of my efforts with them. I could feel very sympathetic. But I had access to the records, too, and I chose to look at them (many of my colleagues in the education department preferred not to), so I could also be utterly horrified by the actions of that very same person I felt so sorry for. So it was not a matter of either or, but of both. I knew that already, in an intellectual way, but in the penitentiary, and in writing Alphabet, it was a matter of experiencing it, and in his case, of wanting him to come through, but knowing he might not. Now to answer your question simply, yes. I began the book not too long after my experience in the penitentiary, and I wrote the early material in the first person. This made me inhabit in a very intense way the more dangerous side of the character; it or he was too much for me, and that was one of the reasons I put the book aside. When I returned to it later I used a close third person which gives me and the reader a little more distance.

One of the key conflicts in Alphabet derives from Simon’s longing to connect with someone, and the ways in which that longing is misunderstood, mistrusted, deemed inappropriate, or outright rejected by the people in his life. To what degree is this conflict a universal one? What makes Simon’s case unique?

Well, the drive to connect does seem pretty much universal. But as the reader gradually learns, Simon has committed a horrific crime and it is quite possible that he could do the same again. He may have been unfairly rejected, but he’s also very manipulative. He may want to connect, yet he has much to learn. One section of the novel takes place in a therapeutic prison for sex offenders where the authorities blunderingly attempt to fix him.

It’s only been recently that the needs of trans persons, trans children, and particularly transgendered inmates have received attention—some good, some bad—within policy and health care debates. Some of this is attributable to the popularity of trans actor Laverne Cox in Orange is the New Black, and some from the controversy when, in January of 2014, a Massachusetts federal court of appeal mandated the reassignment surgery of convicted murderer Michelle Kosilek. Could you comment on the character of Charlotte (formerly Vic)? Where did she come from? Why was it important for the person who helps Simon through his intimacy issues to be transgendered?

I didn’t know, when I began the book, how it would end, though I sensed it would not be a walk in the sunset with everything tidily resolved. At one point I thought he would end up working in a laundromat. Charlotte came along when I was more than halfway through writing the third person version of the book. I came upon a newspaper report about someone in transition who was marooned in the hospital in a men’s penitentiary “for his own protection” while fighting a legal battle to be incarcerated with women. It seemed such an extraordinary thing, and a situation that demanded extreme courage and openness. I don’t want to romanticize trans people, but in my imagination at least there can seem to be an almost mythical quality to those who, with tremendous effort, cross gender boundaries and move from one life to another. Change, whether it’s possible at all, and if so, how much we can transform ourselves, has always fascinated me. So I was very curious as to what would happen when Simon woke up in his hospital bed with Victor in the process of becoming Charlotte in the bed opposite. It’s one of those encounters that comes at the right moment. Simon has struggled and suffered considerably by the time the two meet; he feels a connection with Charlotte because of what she is going through. She is open-minded, brutally honest and kind, at the same time, very fierce: that’s key. She would never be afraid of him. I felt and thought about it mostly in terms of character as I wrote, but in retrospect, I can see that perhaps what Charlotte does is allow him to reinvent his relationship with the “opposite” sex. Since it is not longer exactly or simply opposite, and it can be seen as a made thing, there is freedom for them to begin again, and make it their own.

The concept of change and transformation is important to this novel, yet often it seems as if both Simon and Charlotte, rather than changing in an essential way, instead alter the learned behaviors and/or physical traits that previously have inhibited their self-realization. How deep do their changes go? By the end ofAlphabet, do you see Simon and Charlotte as new people, or rather as people more free to be themselves? And if the latter, how does that complicate the way we think about prison, rehabilitation, and therapy?

This is a very interesting set of questions. I see both characters, but especially Simon, as just beginning to become what they might be. Nothing is certain. He might still regress or lapse; he could continue inching forwards and become an ordinary decent person who will always struggle with a terrible past, or even someone who does something extraordinary, a hero of some kind. In the end, I’m somewhat optimistic about him because the one quality that seems fundamental him is his desire to connect. I intend to write about him (and Charlotte) again. I was struck, when I worked in the penitentiary, by the sheer scale of the stated task: to take dangerous offenders in at one end of the system, and have them emerge decades later not worse, but better, and ready for reintegration into society. In practical terms this means dealing with traumatic childhood experiences, gaining an education of sorts, at the same time as unpicking and unlearning whole ways of being and thinking, and learning how to have relationships—all of this in an environment that’s both physically and psychically very challenging, actively hostile, even, to the kind of openness and trust required. So living up to the mission statement is very, very difficult. I wondered whether it was even possible and what it would be like to go through so much change. I wrote the book to imaginatively explore those questions. During my time “inside” I decided to give up smoking, something I had been meaning to do for a long time. I found it very difficult indeed. So I have great respect for those in prison systems, staff and inmates, who do try to bring about positive change.

You’ve spent time in a high-security men’s penitentiary, and spent considerable time thinking about Simon’s experience of incarceration. What does prison reveal about people that other settings and conditions may not? Do you think the way we think about incarceration has changed much since the late eighties, and if so, how?

What do we do with those who hurt us and why? The answers depend on where you live: Turkey or Sweden, for example. Even within the UK or USA institutions and regimes vary a great deal. Even in its milder forms, however, incarceration is something that will test a person’s resources to the utmost. In that sense it makes great drama. An inmate has to fight for survival and will discover how able (or not) she or he is to make something of what little is there. The senses are starved, relationships are limited and involuntary, it’s brutal, dangerous, depressing and tedious. Incarceration, while it keeps the offender off the street, tends also to be very destructive. For some, like Simon, it may sometimes also present an opportunity in terms of new learning. Simon is illiterate when he enters the system, and learning to read does open many doors for him: though again, given who he is, that’s a double-edged sword. On the whole people think very little about incarceration: it’s a matter of out of sight, out of mind. But when populations rise, or when there are clear inequalities in the way people end up behind bars, the issues and choices become harder to ignore. Given the enormous costs, human and economic, of locking people up, it’s clearly important to consider what we are trying to do with it, and how successful it is.

In a piece for Storyville you comment that, when you wrote a story called “The Kissing Disease” (Paradise & Elsewhere, 2014), you were thinking of HIV/AIDS. “That pandemic surfaced during my twenties,” you commented. “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.” How does the AIDS crisis of the 80s figure in Alphabet? What is it about that period you find so compelling?

Well this was a time of great struggle, ideological, political and religious too; the way we responded emotionally and in terms of public health to HIV AIDS was caught up in all that. In the UK, Thatcherism was in the ascendant. In many ways it felt like the end of civilization as we had known it. There were riots on the streets and in the prisons, too. At a time when we needed to act together, we were being told there was “no such thing as society,” but fortunately the department of Health and Social Security in the UK did not take up the mantra and the Don’t Die of Ignorance campaign with TV ads and posters reached pretty much everyone, including inmates in penitentiaries. AIDS is a huge issue behind bars, though it’s not a major theme of Alphabet; you get a sense of it as part of the eighties though, through the bits of news, posters and so on that make their way “inside.”

2014 will mark the first American publication of a prison novel that appeared in Canada and the UK in 2004, was written between 2001-2004, and draws on direct experience from the time you spent with inmates ten years prior to that. Do you think readers are more willing to approach this story in 2014 than they would have been in twenty years ago? If you were to approach Simon Austen’s story today, how do you think it would be different?

I think that people are more open thinking about the issues and questions at the heart of Alphabet than they used to be. On the other hand, I don’t think Simon’s story would be much different now, though Charlotte’s would be.

If you could choose one thing for your reader to take away fromAlphabet, what would it be?

A rich sense of complexity and possibility. One of the things that drove me wild when I worked with inmates was the way they used phrase “end of story.” It would be used to suggest what was to follow and its inevitability: a man caught his wife in bed with someone else, and so, “end of story,” beat her to a pulp. Or he opened the door to the arresting officer, fought, was overpowered and ended up inside, where nothing more would happen until he was released. I hated the phrase because it seemed to me that a) something else could have happened, and b) the story was never over. Even inside the penitentiary, a new story could begin, which is what Alphabet is about.

Paradise, Elsewhere, Alphabet: interview for Volume 1

You can read/see Tobias Carroll’s interview with Kathy Page for  Volume 1 bookstore in Brooklyn  here, on their excellent site:



“The stories in Kathy Page’s new collection Paradise & Elsewhere revel in discontinuity. Whether exploring the ruins of a fallen civilization, finding unexpected tension in the interactions between tourists and the residents of the place they’re visiting, or borrowing from folktales to illustrate a tense, wrenching relationship, Page’s fiction rarely goes where you might expect. I checked in with Page via email to learn more about the book, along with her recently-reissued novel Alphabet

“The Ancient Siddanese” is evocative of many things at once: both an ancient culture and the myriad ways that tourists can take in ancient cultures. Were you inspired by any particular spaces or societies as you wrote this, or was your aim to create something more impossible?

My father had an interest in archaeology, and a quirky sense of humor. He once included some Roman mosaic tiles stolen from a dig he had been part of in the paving in front of our garden shed, with the aim of confusing future archaeologists. But I think it was when travelling in Mexico that I first understood how the explanations concerning archaeological sites depend on the skill and the point of view of the interpreter. Deserts are elemental and extreme landscapes, very compelling, and of course desertification is something that has brought more than one civilization to an end. I’ve been to the Sahara, and other very dry places, but the desert in this story is imaginary. It’s in the future, as well as in the past, because climate change is part of this story: these are tourists right at the burnt-out end of human history, and that gives the narrator, who seeks to create her own understanding of the site, a very particular perspective.

Tourism also arises in “G’Ming.” When did you first realize that the state of being a tourist could inspire compelling fiction?

I do find tourism fascinating: the interpersonal relationships and transactions, the meeting of cultures… In England, where I grew up, lower cost air fares made holidaying in Europe possible in the late sixties. The “package tour” was born…The premise was that everything would be cheaper there and you could live like royalty, as well as see exotic things. I remember playing with local kids I couldn’t speak to, and wondering about their lives. Very soon it was a huge industry. Many of the stories in the book feature travelers of various kinds and look at what happens when they turn up uninvited, or with an agenda of some kind. It’s a huge question: how do we treat the stranger at our gate, or behave towards the local community we are moving through. How does all this change us?

The way that “We, the Trees” evolves over time, paralleling philosophical explorations with an air of menace, made for one of the collection’s most memorable experiences. Where did that juxtaposition come from?

I was fascinated by a recent research from the University of British Columbia, which shows that trees use a fungal network to communicate nutritional needs and to share nutrients. In the story, the idea is pushed a stage further, in that the trees, given the desperate situation they are in, begin to reach beyond their own community into ours. I combined that with the idea of self-sacrifice, and some of my observations of young people at the university where I teach. There’s a huge amount of political frustration about ecological issues.

“Low Tide” has echoes of a number of folk tales, but there’s also a sense of Gothic isolation there. How did you come to bring these two together?

The stories in this collection are instinctively written, more so than is normal for me. I find the starting point, get inside the story, and let the subconscious do the work of finding out where it goes. But looking back, yes, there is something very gothic about lighthouses: isolated towers in remote, storm-tossed and dramatic landscapes. I had wanted for a long time to set a story in a lighthouse. And I was very interested in the Selkie myth, which also calls for a watery setting. So it began with the land/seascape. The lighthouse and the rocks and the water allowed the woman, and then the story to emerge.

Your publisher also reissued your earlier novel Alphabet this year; do you see any points of comparison between it and this collection?

On the face of it, they’re quite different since Paradise & Elsewhere is in the fabulist tradition, and Alphabet is a grittily realistic contemporary novel. But I do see connections, quite a few. Alphabet may not be obviously mythological, but beneath the surface  it features an archetypical struggle: a man who has to face his (inner) demon. It’s a story about transformation: the slow progress Simon makes through the prison system and in his understanding and remaking of himself and also, of course, the other, more dramatic processes that another prisoner, Victor/Charlotte undergoes. I think there’s a gothic element to Alphabet, too: the closed world of the prison. Both books look at the question of how we understand and deal with the other, which as I mentioned, is one of my themes. And Alphabet was of course an exercise in entering into a reality very different to my own, just as the stories were.

Of the societies, philosophies, and cultures detailed in Paradise & Elsewhere, which was the most difficult to create?

I had such fun with this book – none of them were difficult to invent. But the subsistence sheep-framing community in “Lambing” was the hardest to spend time in: very harsh and patriarchal, and perhaps rather too real, in a way.

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Transcendent: Dustin Kurtz reviews Kathy Page’s Paradise & Elsewhere in Music and Literature

Paradise & Elsewhere by Kathy PageA long and very thoughtful review from  Dustin Kurtz which digs deeply into the stories in Paradise & Elsewhere and the impulses behind them. The first part is quoted, and a link to the rest follows:

‘Early in Paradise & Elsewhere, her latest short-story collection, Kathy Page places readers in an Edenic oasis of plenitude, communal and iridescent, populated by immortal women—a bubble about to be ruptured by a stumbling heat-stricken outsider. The women of this paradise discuss the intruder:

“Then again, how different was the traveller? . . . We had recognized her as human from the start. Differentness was not the point, some said. It led both ways. Rather, the issue was that she had come from elsewhere and so we did not know her story or intentions.”

Here Page has written a useful gloss of that story, itself called “Of Paradise,” and, indeed, the entire book. In these stories Page gives readers a literature of elsewhere, but one in which difference—or, as above, “differentness”—is not a truth laid bare. Oddity, the fantastic, the cruelty that accompanies them, is not the point. Instead it serves only to highlight a longing, across stories and characters, for a kind of transcendent understanding or (and they amount to the same thing) an escape.

The Canadian author Kathy Page has been compared by critics to Angela Carter, and it’s easy to understand why…

Paradise & Elsewhere by Kathy Page

Paradise & Elsewhere nominated for the Giller Prize

Of the longlist, the jury writes:

“We’re celebrating writers brave enough to change public discourse, generous with their empathy, offering deeply immersive experiences. Some delve into the sack of memory and retrieve the wisdom we need for our times, others turn the unfamiliar beloved. All are literary achievements we feel will touch and even transform you.”

From CBC Books:

Twelve Canadian writers are contending for what has undoubtedly become the richest fiction prize in Canada – the $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

In a major announcement from Montreal Tuesday morning, prize founder Jack Rabinovitch said that, beginning this year, the cash awards would double. The winner will now receive $100,000, up from $50,000, and the remaining finalists will receive $10,000, up from $5,000.

“Canadian storytellers deserve this recognition,” Rabinovitch said in a statement.

He established the prize in 1994 (then worth $25,000 for the winner) in honour of his late wife, literary editor Doris Giller.

“I can hardly imagine what Doris would say,” he added.

The 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlisted books are:

You can learn more about the longlisted books at CBC Books’ special Scotiabank Giller Prize page.

The jury described the longlisted writers as being “brave enough to change public discourse” and said they have contributed “literary achievements we feel will touch and even transform you.”

CBC News in Montreal was at the longlist reveal. You can watch a report in the video clip below.

Via the link:

media clip

MontreaFour Montreal authors have been chosen to be on this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize loThe shortlisted authors will be unveiled on Monday, Oct. 6. The winner will be revealed at the annual Scotiabank Giller Prize gala, which will air on CBC Television on Monday, Nov. 10 with host Jian Ghomeshi of CBC Radio’s Q.



Living in The Mansions

Carlton Mansions

I now live in a forest on an island near Vancouver.  But it has not always been so, and I’ve been meaning to post this piece about Carlton Mansions for over a year.   I understand that the residents are still fighting the council’s latest attempts to evict them from 387 Coldharbour Lane, where I spent some very formative years.

Living in The Mansions

Carlton Mansions, on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton: I lived there between circa 1980 and 1987, and I enjoyed telling people my address. There was the piquant contrast between the two names, one suggesting luxury, the other austerity, and an equally delicious contrast between the stately-sounding Mansions and the reality of the accommodation. The long, thin block of sixteen flats had been derelict and was at that time in the process of turning itself into a housing co-operative. The building, which stretches along the side of the railway line, so close that passengers can see into some of the flats, was riddled with rot and woodworm and had to be gutted. It had shuddering sash windows, a leaky flat roof, lead pipe-work and far too many cats. Those who lived there or wanted to had to put in the time to fix it up. We had to learn plumbing, brickwork, carpentry, window-glazing, plaster work or whatever was required at the time. Most of the materials we used were reclaimed from skips. Until others were installed, there here was just one a communal kitchen, supplied with cast-off vegetables collected at dawn every day from Covent Garden market. None of the hard work was a bad as the interminable house meetings, but the point was, you ended up with somewhere to live, and those, like me, who put up with the downsides of the place were people who either wanted or had to live out the box: artists, activists, and vulnerable people of various kinds.

The flat I ended up with was at the front, opposite the old steam laundry building, with huge windows looking out over the street and the market arcade on the other side. Despite the incessant traffic, the yelling and the music from the street, despite the way the passing trains rattled both windows and floor at least three times an hour, day and night, I felt instantly at home. I knew all my neighbours. If something went wrong, I had to fix it myself, but the affordable rent meant I could take time to work out what I was going to be and do. I’d graduated from university, and had not quite given up on my idea of being a painter. During my years in The Mansions I took up wood-carving as a hobby, but it turned out that what I mainly did there was write. I started out at an evening class at the City Lit, and just kept on at the end of it. Six of us women from the class continued to meet every two weeks, hosting in rotation. Again, there was a great deal of contrast: one lived in a vast converted warehouse flat with a grand piano, views over the Thames and original art on the walls, another in a tiny first-time buyer flat – but no one had as much space to herself, such extraordinary neighbours or such convenient and interesting food shops as I did. We ate, talked, read our work aloud. Over the course of a year or two I wrote my first novel, Back in the First Person, and then another, The Unborn Dreams of Clara Riley, both of which went on to be published by Virago Press. I became a writer. It’s still what I do. Writing of course rarely pays well. I wanted a job that didn’t drain my creativity, and since I had enjoyed the building work, I signed up for a four year apprenticeship in carpentry and joinery with Lambeth Council. One of a group of pioneering women in the trades, I emerged at the end of it with a certificate and a good job. By then, The Mansions had passed through the Brixton riots, weathered various other storms and, to a certain degree, matured. People painted their front doors, fixed up window boxes, and even swept the stairs. Some of us grew almost house-proud. Others not. Meetings continued to be tortuous: perhaps not surprising when you consider that the caste of characters included a man who wore rubber gloves on his feet, whom I shall never forget. There was an under-employed actress, a council employee, an art student, an ESL teacher. Right above me lived a wonderful puppet-maker who chipped away at blocks of wood into the small hours. Another tenant was a photographer whose sideline, chandeliers made of recycled glass, propelled her work into the pages of glossy magazines. It was a very good place to be and hardly anyone ever moved out. I did sometimes wonder if I’d ever be able to leave ­– but then, quite suddenly I did. I moved to Norwich to begin an MA in writing, and never returned.

I live in Canada now, teach at a university and continue to write. But for over twenty years I’ve kept in touch. The Mansions is still, as it ever was, both a haven and an eyesore, but now the housing co-op has been there long enough for it to have a history, too. The huge mural on the wall has become famous, and is commemorated with a plaque. Some of the tenants have lived there a quarter of a century or more. So I was a shocked and saddened to hear that Lambeth Council may be about to close The Mansions down and make everyone move on. I only hope they remember that communities like this, which allow the non-conformists, the vulnerable and the artists amongst us to carve out the shape of our lives and make a contribution to the whole are just as vital as all the other kinds of accommodation cities provide: I’ve absolutely no idea what would have become of me had I not lived in Carlton Mansions, on Coldharbour lane.

Gritty, illuminating, fascinating, moving, powerful: double thumbs from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly for Alphabet

From Kirkus

Publisher:Biblioasis Pages: 304 Price ( Paperback ): $16.95 Publication Date: October 14, 2014
ISBN ( Paperback ): 978-1-927428-93-1 Category: Fiction

Kirkus Star


by Kathy Page

Alphabet by Kathy Page, US jacket by Kate HargreavesA moving novel about knowledge, self-awareness and the power of words, set in the purgatory of prison. This young man’s life demands our attention and refuses to let go.

Simon Austen is serving life imprisonment for the murder of his girlfriend in a fit of uncontrollable rage. It’s Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s England, but he is lost in time, attending sessions with institutional psychiatrists who might be able to help him gain parole. He learns to read with the aid of a prison volunteer and writes letters for his fellow inmates to lawyers, mothers and lovers, considering it his job. He also writes his version of his life story, tattooing his body with the words others have called him in spite and hate: “ARROGANT,” “WEIRDO,” “BASTARD,” “COLD,” “MURDERER.” Then “COURAGEOUS,” inspired by Bernadette “Bernie” Nightingale, a counselor he fantasizes about and works with to enter an experimental program that may move his parole forward. Page writes fiercely, drawing a fine portrait of a man who lives daily, routinely, fragilely in an environment that can erupt in violence at any time. It does, in a powerful scene where Simon is gang-beaten, has bleach poured down his throat, and is sent to a hospital, where all we’ve learned about him is dramatically, but tenderly, unsettled. Vic is his roommate in the prison hospital and an unforgettable character as he transforms into Charlotte, disrupting Simon’s view of life’s predictability and moving him to a greater understanding. Charlotte is freed, figuratively and literally, but writes letters and visits Simon, giving him strength and a vision of life outside the cement and steel of incarceration and the confinement of his own history. The words that are inked over Simon’s body are simply prologue to the next chapter of his life. Page doesn’t sentimentalize the cruelty of life in a prison system but manages to transcend it through Simon, who writes his own story in tattoo ink and letters. This powerful novel is simply an epiphany.

Publisher’s Weekly, starred review:

Alphabet by Kathy Page, US jacket by Kate Hargreaves

Kirkus Star
A moving novel about knowledge, self-awareness and the power of words, set in the purgatory of prison. This young man’s life demands our attention and refuses to let go.
Simon Austen is serving life imprisonment for the murder of his girlfriend in a fit of uncontrollable rage. It’s Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s England, but he is lost in time, attending sessions with institutional psychiatrists who might be able to help him gain parole. He learns to read with the aid of a prison volunteer and writes letters for his fellow inmates to lawyers, mothers and lovers, considering it his job. He also writes his version of his life story, tattooing his body with the words others have called him in spite and hate: “ARROGANT,” “WEIRDO,” “BASTARD,” “COLD,” “MURDERER.” Then “COURAGEOUS,” inspired by Bernadette “Bernie” Nightingale, a counselor he fantasizes about and works with to enter an experimental program that may move his parole forward. Page writes fiercely, drawing a fine portrait of a man who lives daily, routinely, fragilely in an environment that can erupt in violence at any time. It does, in a powerful scene where Simon is gang-beaten, has bleach poured down his throat, and is sent to a hospital, where all we’ve learned about him is dramatically, but tenderly, unsettled. Vic is his roommate in the prison hospital and an unforgettable character as he transforms into Charlotte, disrupting Simon’s view of life’s predictability and moving him to a greater understanding. Charlotte is freed, figuratively and literally, but writes letters and visits Simon, giving him strength and a vision of life outside the cement and steel of incarceration and the confinement of his own history. The words that are inked over Simon’s body are simply prologue to the next chapter of his life. Page doesn’t sentimentalize the cruelty of life in a prison system but manages to transcend it through Simon, who writes his own story in tattoo ink and letters. This powerful novel is simply an epiphany.


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.”
Kathy Page
“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.

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.

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: 

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:

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.


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 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

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


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 civilized. 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.


Copyright © 1994, 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


“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

In the UK: W H Smith

In the USA:

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.


“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