Friday, July 29, 2016

Artist John Hall is Travelling Light with a spectacular retrospective

Here we see Canadian artist John Hall at work in his Mexico studio in 1989. I fell in love with his work, and then met the man, a few years later. For years, Hall shuttled back and forth between San Miguel de Allende and Calgary, six months each. These days, the artist is based in Kelowna, B.C., though his reach is international. You can read all about it in a dazzling new retrospective called John Hall: Travelling Light. The book includes insightful essays by Liz Wylie and Alexandra Haeseker. But what makes it great is the spectacular work. See for yourself.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Whirling away to the Northwest Passage, Halifax, and Port Dover

We're gearing up to go voyaging Into the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada, departing from Greenland on August 26. Above, we see the three musketeers who figure in Passage, the docudrama based on my book Fatal Passage. Two of them -- Inuit leader Tagak Curley and myself -- will sail aboard the Ocean Endeavour. The third, Orkney-based historian Tom Muir, won't make it this time . . . but he did just get back from rambling around Iceland, and we have our fingers crossed for AC's next voyage around Scotland. Meanwhile, Tagak and I will join an A-list gathering of staffers that includes Cam Gillies, culturalist David Pelly, photographer Dennis Minty, filmmaker John Houston, seabird biologist Mark Mallory, archaeologist Robert McGhee, and (are you ready for this?) Juno-winning musician Susan Aglukark.
Before that voyage happens, starting in fact on July 31, Our Hero will spend two weeks in Halifax, serving as a mentor in the MFA program in Creative Nonfiction at King's College -- the only such program of its kind in Canada. Our writer-in-residence this year is the peerless Charlotte Gray, whose biography of Alexander Graham Bell, Reluctant Genius, is in development as a TV mini-series.
A couple of weeks after he returns from the Arctic, on September 30, Ken will travel west from The Six (as the hip and the handsome now refer to T.O.) to entertain at the annual gala of the Norfolk Historical Society. He'll talk about Chasing Canada's History at the Port Dover Lighthouse Theatre. You know you want to be there!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Narrative nonfiction is what's happening at U of T summer school . . . .


 In recent weeks, I purchased two books written by emerging writers who had passed through one of my University of Toronto workshops. And I had long since collected The Monks and Me by yet one more: Mary Paterson. I would like to say that all of these publications are down to me. But I don't dare. People would call me out. Put it this way: at least I didn't get in the way! And here we are again, scarcely more than one month from starting (July 11) my one-week intensive course in narrative nonfiction (aka creative nonfiction) at the U of T summer writing school. A number of folks have already registered, wisely bent on securing the $50 discount offered for early-bird registration. 

As you can see, I do ask for submissions (up to 1,500 words) so we can hit the ground running. Below, we find a nutshell description and an image of the official "me." Dr. Jekyll. We do have a good time. And I do believe that this workshop can move you forward. Click here for Course Details. And come on down!
Meanwhile, here's that nutshell description: Anyone looking for today's most exciting writing should check out Narrative Non-Fiction, an emerging genre in which writers apply literary techniques to factual narrative. This course will orient writers within the genre, which includes both personal streams (memoir, autobiography, travelogue) and impersonal ones (true-crime writing, biography, historical narrative, immersion reporting). The workshop focuses on craft, and will include lectures, discussions, exercises, and workshopping student writing.
You have to register before submitting material.  Please submit a story--maximum 1,500 words: scs.writing@utoronto.ca  Note:  these pieces will be uploaded so that students can read each other's work before the start of the course.
Required Textbook: The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism by Kevin Kerrane and Ben Yagoda, ISBN-13: 978-0684846309--available at the U of T Bookstore.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Ken and Sheena's Excellent Adventure in the Scottish Highlands





  • In Perth, we had dinner at the Hightower Hotel with my long-lost, DNA-found cousin Jim McGugan.
  • In Sutherland, we visited Dunrobin Castle, the most politically incorrect edifice in Britain.
  • In Helmsdale, by about an hour, we missed coincidentally encountering our Orcadian pal, historian Tom Muir . . . and so failed to meet his new wife!
  • We almost got killed when, on a narrow two-lane road, with a rock wall on our side, the driver of an oncoming camper-van decided to pass a group of cyclists and swung out into our lane. I managed to slow just enough . . . .
  • At a bank machine in Stornoway, while withdrawing funds, we encountered Toronto writer Heather Birrell, who is sojourning on the Isle of Lewis. 
  • While staying at Fort William, we made our way to the top of a mountain in the Nevis Range. All right, all right: we rode a gondola
  • At Waterstone’s Books in Oban, in a section called Recommended Reading, we came upon five copies of Fatal Passage. This was after we found two copies at a bookstore in Portree. Hats off to Bantam Books for keeping the work alive after fifteen years -- and to my agent, Beverley Slopen, for bringing that team aboard.
  • In Helensburgh, we visited a National Trust property, Carisbrooke House, and got inside an addition created by William Fraser, Sheena’s architect grandfather.
  • Along the way, somehow, we amassed an unconscionable pile of obscure books.
  • As to how it all fits together, well, that will emerge in due course.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Celebrating Farley Mowat at his boat-roofed house

Farley Boat Roof House


To kilt up or go Arctic. That's the dilemma I face. It's prompted by the moving of the Farley Mowat boat-roofed house in Port Hope. Come October, an international crew of professional stone-wallers will arrive in that town, 100 km east of Toronto. They will dismantle and then reassemble the boat house, placing it at a new location near the Port Hope Public Library. You can read all about this adventure by clicking here. And while you're clicking around, you might want to check out this definitive piece (ahem) on the legacy of Farley Mowat. Anyway, in Port Hope, after the hard work comes the fun.
I am delighted to report that on Saturday October 8, I will be one of five authors -- including Claire Mowat -- who will celebrate Mowat with readings at the Port Hope Library. You see how this is coming full circle? I can't help but think of Farley responding to fancy public occasions in the Big City by whirling around shameless in his kilt. No, nothing like that is going to happen in Port Hope. Farley Mowat was one of a kind. But the question is: do I gesture towards the pride Mowat took in his Scottish heritage? Or do I, instead, give a nod to the Arctic, which also formed such a large part of who he was? Perhaps by donning tuque and shades? Fortunately, I have a few months to contemplate this question . . . and, perhaps, to receive input from others.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

U of T summer course in narrative nonfiction . . . .


In the past couple of weeks, I have purchased two books written by folks who passed through one of my University of Toronto workshops. I would like to say that these publications are down to me. But I don't dare. People would call me out. Put it this way: at least I didn't get in the way! And here we are again, two months from starting (July 11) my one-week intensive course in narrative nonfiction (aka creative nonfiction) at the U of T summer writing school. A number of folks have already registered, wisely bent on securing the $50 discount offered for early-bird registration. 

As you can see, I do ask for submissions (up to 1,500 words) so we can hit the ground running. Below, we find a nutshell description and an image of the official "me." Dr. Jekyll. We do have a good time. And I do believe that this workshop can move you forward. Click here for Course Details.

Meanwhile, here's that nutshell description: Anyone looking for today's most exciting writing should check out Narrative Non-Fiction, an emerging genre in which writers apply literary techniques to factual narrative. This course will orient writers within the genre, which includes both personal streams (memoir, autobiography, travelogue) and impersonal ones (true-crime writing, biography, historical narrative, immersion reporting). The workshop focuses on craft, and will include lectures, discussions, exercises, and workshopping student writing.
 
You have to register before submitting material.  Please submit a story--maximum 1,500 words: scs.writing@utoronto.ca  Note:  these pieces will be uploaded so that students can read each other's work before the start of the course.
Required Textbook: The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism by Kevin Kerrane and Ben Yagoda, ISBN-13: 978-0684846309--available at the U of T Bookstore.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

At last we hear the ringing voice of an ex-Montrealer

At last we hear the voice and see the vision of  a Montreal expatriate! Film-maker John Walker, who earned well-deserved kudos with his docudrama Passage, has worked magic again with Quebec My Country Mon Pays. Down through the decades, we have heard countless francophones and many an "anglo" speaking to the outside world from within Quebec. We have heard numerous Ontarians and western Canadians sounding off on the "Quebec problem." We have heard from immigrants who have recently taken up residence in Montreal. But the complex, haunted perspective of the ex-Montrealer? The individual of Scottish and Irish ancestry, say, who has been abridged and demonized as "English" and driven out of the home where his ancestors have lived for a couple of hundred years? That is someone we have not yet heard from -- not on a major scale. Walker has stepped into and filled that void. How did he get the legendary Denys Arcand to articulate the prevailing Quebecois attitude so openly? And that is just one of the triumphs. While telling a personal story, and a political one, Walker moves between French and English. He moves across classes and from city to country. He takes us across generations and highlights recurring challenges. He evokes the past through wonderful old photos and clips. In the present, he rides us into Montreal on the train, and visits the historic church at St. Eustache (look right). He even goes to Scotland for the recent referendum. Walker's ambitious film may prove controversial. This much is certain: it will resonate with ex-Montrealers, and yes, we are legion. [Quebec My Country shows again at HotDocs on May 3 and May 8.]