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.
Collections tackle ‘alternate reality,’ novelists’ faults
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.
At 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.
She’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.
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…”
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?
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
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 Alphabet, Paradise & 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 is up for a CBC Bookie award in the short fiction category. Voting is open until Feb 23rd: http://www.cbc.ca/books/bookies2015/
This collection has been on some great lists, including the long list for the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Dan Vyleta selected Paradise & Elsewhere as his book of the year in the Walrus “Short List.”
“The whole of Kathy Page’s beautiful, daring collection can be read as an invitation to seek out new points of view….It makes for giddy reading: each story’s opening paragraph and unlabelled door that may lead anywhere at all… Attempts at communication across lines of gender, wealth and even species; sudden changes in points of view and their implied reshuffling of certainties — despite the book’s many shifts in genre, protagonist and setting, the collection has a startling coherence… The result is a collection that while neither flawless nor comfortable, is always intriguing, often dazzling– and for all the bleakness it unearths — immensely fun to read.” Dan Vyleta
Read the whole review here: http://thewalrus.ca/the-short-list/
The same issue of the Walrus also includes, along with the above-mentioned review, a link to the last and perhaps most poetic story in Paradise & Elsewhere, My Fees, and a short story of mine, Red Dog (one of the more regular, realistic kind).
It’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.
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:
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.
Thanks to Carole Miles (no relation to the character!) for the picture.
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.
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
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.
14th June, 2013: Workout for the Novel, day workshop at Writers’ Centre Norwich
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…
This piece, published in Carte Blanche, centres on a day out with two nonagenarians: one of the last excursions my parents and I took together. http://carte-blanche.org/the-perfect-day/
Great review for In the Flesh in the Globe, good illustrations, PDF here: flesh globe review
- 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 the USA: Amazon.com
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.
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.
20th June has been proclaimed International Short Story Day – by whom, I’m not quite sure, but the thinking is good: this is the shortest night or shortest day of the year, depending on your hemisphere. UK publisher Comma Press, who emailed me about the day and the celebrations planned, is a passionate champion of the form, which sadly is less than popular with more commercial publishers.
I’m not sure why that is, because the short story really does have it all. It fuses poetry and narrative, can be plot, character or language driven, suspenseful, meditative, funny, sad or all of them at once. In return for fifteen minutes of your best attention, it will crack open a single moment, or offer up an entire life. You can listen to it in its entirety, or absorb it from the page in a single sitting, then carry it whole in your heart.
From the writing point of view, too, short stories come highly recommended. You don’t have to plan. It’s possible to begin with an image, a line, a snatch of dialogue, a character, a feeling – and find the story it belongs to. And the turnaround is so much faster: a novel might take a year or more to draft, but you can have a story down in week, or even a day, then put it aside to read and revise in some slack time three or six months hence. It’s possible to perfect it, and on the way, you can share it easily, ask for an opinion: no-one minds test-reading a few thousand words, and if it ends up in your bottom drawer, that’s all right, too.
Short fiction was once very commercial, and it may be so again. But meanwhile, let’s celebrate. There are so many wonderful short stories: Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Lap Dog”, of course. “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver. Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber,” “Where Are You Going, Where have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates, Italo Calvino’s “The Spiral”. A contemporary short story I recently read and loved was Caroline Adderson’s “Poppycock”, published in the Canadian journal TNQ. The one I loved before that was from the same magazine: “Dialogues of Departure”, by Stephen Heighton. I could go on, and on… But do you have an all time favourite? What is the last short story you read and loved?
Or is it a while since you read or listened to short fiction? If you have fifteen minutes to spare, Comma Press offers some wonderful author readings posted in celebration of International Short Story Day. Long may it continue.
Telegraph-Journal, New Brunswick, Saturday May 5th, 2012
In this collection, 20 essayists explore complicated relationships with their bodies. Each writer focuses on a different part of the body and, in so doing, intimately reveals what’s inside and behind it.
The narratives are deeply personal. Sue Thomas rolls her gall- stones around in her hand as she thinks about her pancreas. Stephen Gauer explores organ donation through his own experience of donating a kidney to his granddaughter. In his meditation on skin, Taiaiake Alfred writes of his place in a racist hierarchy. Caroline Adderson considers the centrality of hair to our sense of ourselves, painfully illustrated by her visit to Auschwitz and its room of full of stolen hair.
This collection is not for the squeamish. Margaret Thompson’s reflection on the ear is clever and visceral with a description of someone with a beetle in his ear who “tried to flush the insect out with melted butter.” Trevor Cole’s Eyes is put together perfectly, every word where it should be, as when he describes his young allergic eyes: “The whites were a sickly yellow and bulging out grotesquely, surrounding the irises like rising bread dough.” Eww.
A story about the vagina is written by a man (André Alexis), while Merilyn Simonds writes of the penis, and this switch is an editorial choice that not all readers will agree with. This reader would have liked to read a woman’s perspective on her vagina, as in Lynne Van Luven’s funny and honest account of her conflicted relationship with her breasts.
In all, this collection is a thorough and provocative look at the body, broken down into its messy, beautiful and complicated parts.”
Rebecca Higgins for the Telegraph-Journal
Buy In the Flesh:
In the USA: Amazon.com
“…powerful, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, and, more often than not, deeply moving.” Globe & Mail review by Carrie Snyder
“The collection, published by Brindle & Glass, is anecdotal and educational, witty and at times heart-breaking. Its finely crafted writing serves to underline the strange truths of how we inhabit and make sense of our forms, which are created both by nature and culture….” Review in the Gulf Islands Driftwood
“A thorough and provocative look at the body, broken down into its messy, beautiful and complicated parts….” Review in the Telegrpah-Journal
“An amazing approach to memoir through the lens of the miracles of the body…” Story Circle review
Buy In the Flesh:
In the UK: W H Smith
In the USA: Amazon.com
29th April, 2:30 PM at the Yoga Den, 1311 Gladstone Ave, Victoria, BC.
Readers include Dede Crane, Kathy Page, Taiaiake Alfred, Margaret Thompson, Julian Gunn and Lynne Van Luven.
Salt Spring Island
6th May, 7 PM in Artspring Theatre, 100 Jackson Avenue, Ganges. Sponsored by Salt Spring Books. Readers include Brian Brett, Margaret Thompson, Lynne Van Luven, Richard Steel, and Julian Gunn.
All welcome. Free. Please visit our Facebook page:
IN THE FLESH is an intelligent, witty, and provocative look at how we think about—and live within—our bodies. The editors and writers in this collection describe, in many voices, what human bodies feel now. Each author’s candid essay focuses on one part of the body, and explores its function, its meanings, and the role it has played in his or her life.
With original essays by Caroline Adderson, André Alexis, Taiaiake Alfred, Brian Brett, Trevor Cole, Dede Crane, Lorna Crozier, Candace Fertile, Stephen Gauer, Julian Gunn, Heather Kuttai, Susan Olding, Kathy Page, Kate Pullinger, Merilyn Simonds, Richard Steel, Madeleine Thien, Sue Thomas, Margaret Thompson, and Lynne Van Luven.
Buy In the Flesh:
In the UK: W H Smith
In the USA: Amazon.com
In the Flesh: Twenty Writers Explore the Body. The idea for a book of writing about the body first came to me over ten years ago, and I worked for a while on it with my friend Sue Thomas. It went through various metamorphoses, lay dormant for a while and then, in collaboration with another friend, Lynne Van Luven, it was distilled into its current form and taken up by Brindle & Glass.
Each writer was invited to choose (or, in some cases, gently steered towards!) a particular body part and asked to write a candid personal essay exploring that part and their relationship with it. The assumption was that writers had to possess (or have possessed) a particular part in order to write about it. However, we abandoned this rule in the case of two very significant parts, as you will see below.
The twenty essays that resulted from our invitations are fascinating and utterly distinctive in content and tone. Witty, sad, quirky, passionate: each one reads beautifully alone; put together, they create a fascinating, multi-dimensional portrait of the human body and our experience of living within it.
Buy In the Flesh:
In the USA: Amazon.com
Here’s the contents page: Continue reading In the Flesh
This article about emigration, gardening and family, was first published in Aqua Magazine, p28 on. Click to read it in the turning pages magazine format with original illustrations. The text is below.
What I am planting, how it grows
In one of those windy, sunny days when the light and sound levels are in constant flux, as if an exuberant toddler were in charge of the effects, I crouch over my rows of carrot seedlings, thinning them to a centimetre apart and knowing full well that I will have to do the job twice more before things are right. Every year I try and fail to sow them thinly enough. The seedlings are tiny, the first ferny carrot-leaves just appearing, their white stems fragile as hairs. I keep the plucked ones in my free hand to dispose of safely, since crushed foliage of any kind can attract the carrot fly. It’s tedious, finicky work. And at this time of day I should actually be working on my new novel, and I want to, I really, really do – yet here I am squatting in the vegetable patch, an inane smile spreading across my face.
In the bed behind me are rows of huge lettuces with crinkled deep red and green leaves protecting tender green hearts. To my right, onions, to the left, two kinds of potatoes and three kinds of beans, rhubarb, beets, peas; over by the house, flowerbeds: all of them thriving under current wet then sunny conditions. There’s a greenhouse full of tomato plants over by the rocky knoll, and of course, in between all these areas of cultivation lie vast tracts of weed and wildflower, and round about it, the encircling trees. The whole place hums with growth. What is it with gardening? Why do I love my lettuces so much? Because I do: I love the crinkled gleaming look of them when they are thriving (this variety, Yugoslav Butterhead is as gorgeous as any flower), and I love the almost–sweet, wild taste and the soft yet very definite texture of a just-picked leaf. Naturally, it delights me to be able to avoid the pesticides and the supermarket, to feed my family and friends with what I have grown. And gardening is certainly easier, mentally speaking, than writing books… There’s all that, of course, and yet there is more, too.
To use a gardening metaphor, my family and I transplanted ourselves here from England about ten years ago. Language, climate, and values were in may ways similar, so we didn’t go into transplant shock on arrival, but I have come to realise that while there may be romance and excitement to a voluntary move such as ours, it is also a brutal thing. Even though emigration is softer, less absolute than it used to be before there were planes, phones, the internet and so on, leaving one’s country to make a home in another is a rupture – one that deepens, rather than lessens over time. I miss not only my family – especially, now, my father – and not just certain loved or archetypical land and city-scapes, but also unexpected things such as newspapers and radio programmes, accents, trains and train journeys, certain bushes and shrubs, clothes that don’t shrink, and the relatively high quality of supermarket-baked bread… Emigration disconnects you from the physical locations of your past, and also from the future that would have flowed from that past, had you not left, and so even though Canada, and in particular this convoluted, rocky island, has been kind to me, I sometimes yearn (impossibly) to return.
So, I dispose of my carrot thinnings and then return to the garden to tug out the chickweed and dandelions that have started to grow between the garlic plants. This forest soil, sandy and acidic is not what garlic wants. It takes at least five years of adding compost and manure to darken and develop real fertility. But the summer light and warmth are wonderful, and if, as we do, you collect and store the winter’s abundant rainwater, it will take you right through the dry summer months. The garlic is already tall and as I reach between the stems, the sun warms my back and somewhere out of sight an eagle sings – a strange fluting noise quite incongruous with the bird.
The eagle and its call are emblematic of the West Coast, and I think one of the things I am doing here in the garden is joining myself, literally and symbolically, to a new land. The hours I spend out here working are also hours spent listening to the birds, the rustle of the deer and the wind in the trees. I observe the sky and the way the light shifts and changes, the weather, the quality of the air: I experience the same patch of land, many different ways. I’m learning it and at the same time becoming part of it.
Yet the thing about gardening is that I have done it all my life, and so, despite this garden being so very definitely on the Pacific Rim, a new place for me, five thousand miles away from where I was born, tending it reconnects me to my past. When I am in the garden I am me, now, working with raised beds and fish compost, dealing with tent caterpillars in my fruit trees, sowing peas called Cascadia and beans called Gold Rush; I am also a young woman with an allotment patch in London, the owner of a window box and then of a thin, shade-free hundred foot slice in Norwich, of a shady square, of a rubble-ridden rectangle in Tooting Bec – I’m all of those, but most of all, but I’m a child, being shown by my father how to weed properly and how far apart to plant the peas.
There was a magnolia tree in the front of the house I grew up in, and Dahlias, plagued by earwigs, grew to one side of the path that led to the front door. Most of the garden was at the back, and it included both a tree-house built in a pussy-willow tree, and a swing set close by a laburnum, the flowers and pods of which I was frequently reminded not to eat. There was a peach tree on the south facing wall of the house, a hazelnut, and several apple varieties. A bed of azaleas and rhododendrons (which grow wild here) was treated annually to maintain the correct PH. Behind that was a mysterious, key-shaped area surrounded in an ancient yew hedge that had been part of the grounds of the manor house on which the subdivision was built.
The vegetable garden ran down the left side, from the kitchen to the swing, and was my father’s domain: the plants in workmanlike rows, the soil turned each spring. Before meals, my sisters and I would be sent out to pick. We were taught how to do that properly: how to find the runner beans amongst the foliage, and take them before they got tough; how to feel the pea pods and judge what was inside, to turn potatoes without spoiling too many with the fork, to rub the soil away from the tops of the carrots so as to make sure they were worth pulling, and judge the ripeness of fruit. One of the best things was picking a peach, cupping it in your hand and turning gently until it came free.
My mother was in charge of storage: we wrapped lettuce or chard (which had to be picked or it would bolt) in damp newspaper before we put it in the salad drawer, and kept roots cool in a mini-cellar by the back door. Apples and pears were wrapped in newspaper and stored in boxes in the garage. Convenience food was increasingly available, but we had none of it.
My father commuted daily to his office job. My parents came from the inner city and grew up with untended, postage-stamp sized gardens, and none of our neighbours grew food. But it was what we did, and it’s what I do now. There’s no peach tree here, but I’ve shown my children (and my husband) many of the things I was taught.
The wind picks up. The broad beans, which here we call fava, need staking – that’s what I’ll do next, and before I go in I’ll pick rhubarb and some salad greens: lettuce, spinach, rocket – which here is called arugula.
My parents tended that first garden for over fifty years, their second, for less than ten. My mother’s gone, my father no longer digs and hoes. But I call and tell him week by week, what I am planting, how it grows.
It’s because of you, I tell him, that I’m on my knees in the dirt.
I think that’s as it should be, he says.
The Find is one of ten titles short-listed for the 2011 Relit Award (Novel):
Storylines: a Workshop with Kathy Page
How does an idea become a fully-fledged short story, novel or non-fiction narrative? We’ll experiment with new ways to find and develop story ideas, and then begin to create the story itself. This workshop is an opportunity to start fresh work, to develop something you have had in mind for a while, or even to sidestep a block.
The workshop will be held 8th & 9th October 2011, from 10 – 4 each day in the author’s home on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, and is suitable for all levels of experience.
Max class size: 12
Cost: $190 includes tea and coffee; students bring their own lunches.
For further information about Kathy Page’s books and courses, please explore www.kathypage.info
To register, or for further information about this workshop, email: email@example.com
A day’s prospecting leads palaeontologist Anna Silowski to make an extraordinary discovery in a remote part of British Columbia. At the same time, the tensions below the surface of her successful career are exposed. Pushed towards breakdown, she finds herself unexpectedly dependent on high-school drop out Scott Macleod, and recruits him to help on the excavation of her find. Scott the excavation itself teeters on the edge of disaster. The Find is a compelling story about discovery, inheritance and fate, and a moving exploration of the possibilities that hide within a seemingly impossible relationship.
“Kathy Page is one of our most daring writers. Once again she delivers a riveting, superbly paced novel of great complexity. Like a palaeontologist herself, she chisels away at the layers of a story that initially reads as a thriller, meticulously and precisely laying bare the tender love story underneath. If you don’t know Page’s work yet, she’s a find.” Caroline Adderson, winner of the 2006 Marion Engel Award, author of Pleased to Meet You, Sitting Practice and A History of Forgetting.
“Kathy Page reminds us what a novel can do that almost nothing else can: take elements as different as dinosaur hunting, landclaims, inherited disease, and abuse of power, and link them with grace and necessity. Above all, this is a love story of the rarest kind: one with something new to say.” Fred Stenson, Giller-nominated, award-winning author of eight novels, including The Trade & The Great Karoo.
Playing with genre is a feature of Page’s writing. Of Alphabet, she said: “Most crime stories are full of suspense, and end with the criminal being caught and incarcerated. Alphabet is about what happens after the sentence – no crimes, no chases – and I wanted it to be just as gripping.” In The Find she has combined an adventure story with a novel of ideas, and created something new: “What is the ‘real’ story here?” she asks. “Some readers may prefer one or the other aspect of the book, or think they do – and then be drawn into unexpected territory. For me, it’s a story about discovery, and all that means.”
“The Find offers the best of all worlds: descriptions that draw you in without distracting from the story, realistic characters who face difficult choices, and a complex plot that keeps you turning the pages until the very end—with the added bonus that it’s published on one of the greenest types of text paper available…” Full review at:
“The clash of conflicting desires, subterfuge, uncomfortable triangling and a profound difference in values with regard to the past, all keep us turning the pages… And the abundance of information about pterosaurs, archeology, native political struggles, academic rivalry, alcoholism and Huntington’s disease is woven into the story seamlessly, only adding to the pleasure of its satisfying, un-clichéd conclusion.” The Globe & Mail review of The Find
Today 200 bloggers take a stand to support books printed in an eco-friendly manner by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using eco- friendly paper, we hope to raise the awareness of book buyers and encourage everyone to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books…
A great review that does not give the story away: