David Bergen

David Bergen was first brought to my attention during the 2005 Scotia Bank Giller Prize award for best fiction which he ultimately won (and now he is nominated again this year).

novelistThe Giller was not the first writing award he won. All of his novels have been widely praised. He has five novels published. The Giller winning novel is The Time In Between (2005), a story about a family struggling with the effects of war decades later. A brother and sister travel from B.C.’s Fraser Valley to Vietnam in search of their father who’s travelled his own journey to answer to his past. It’s a wonderful story of family, culture and the conflict of past and present.

This year’s nominated novel The Retreat is in the running. It tells the love story between a young white girl and a native boy “during the summer of the Ojibway occupation of Anicinabe Park in Kenora,” Ontario. It has been described as both astonishing and heartbreaking.

The Case of Lena S. (2002) was a Governor General Award finalist. A Year of Lesser (1996) was a New York Times Notable Book. He’s written a collection of shorts under the title of Sitting Opposite My Brother (1993).

Bergen grew up in a small Mennonite community in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Prior to working as writer he was a teacher. He still teaches creative writing as such prestigious institutions as Humber College in Toronto.

This piece was originally posted on 9/18/2008 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Orange Prize for Fiction

The Orange Prize for Fiction celebrates the literary talent of women authors who produce the best full-length novels in English that are published for the first time in the United Kingdom. This prize is also one of the few prizes to be judged exclusively by women.

This literary award is fairly young having only been formed in 1996. Winners are announced annually in June with a prize award of 30,000 pounds (equivalent to $60,345 US) and a bronze figurine affectionately called “Bessie”. This is one of my favorite awards because it’s for and by women. And even though it is a UK award, the winners are global. Long and short list nominees have come from America, Britain, Australia, and Tahiti; just to give you an idea of the diversity involved.

Choosing the best writer for the award is a three step process. First in March a long list is created and released to the public with approximately twenty potential winners, then in April a short list with six potential winners and in June the final winner is announced at an awards ceremony in the United Kingdom. In 2005 a new award was added, the Orange Award for New Writers, in honor of the Orange Prize’s 10th anniversary. This new award also has its short list announced in April and final winner in June.

Notable previous winners include Andrea Levy (Small Island), Valerie Martin (Property), Ann Patchett (Bel Canto), Carol Shields (Larry’s Party) and Zadie Smith (On Beauty). A complete winners list can be found in the Orange Prize Reading List in the related links below.

Update 2014: Orange is no longer a sponsor of this fiction prize. The new sponsor is Bailey’s. Learn more about the Bailey’s Prize from the official website.

I, Richard Audio Book Review

Elizabeth George is best known for her psychological crime novels. She has 15 books published. This is her first short story collection.

The review of I, Richard was first published at 1/5/2008 at Literary Fiction BellaOnline. The full review of this audio book can now be read at SquidLit.

David Gilmour

“I write crap all the time.” ~David Gilmour

That’s the comment that stood out for me when I watched David Gilmour in a interview for a Canadian television series for writers called Writer’s Confessions. For someone as successful as Gilmour to admit he writes crap really takes the pressure off those writers out there struggling to complete their first draft.

Before I knew Gilmour as a writer I knew him for his television commentary and criticism on CBC’s The Journal and his talk show Gilmour on the Arts. He has a familiar and calming voice with a warm and humorous personality attached. He has six novels published and in 2005 he won the Governor General Award for Literature for A Perfect Night to Go to China, a story about how one family is changed forever when a six year child goes missing because of the father’s negligence.

The 58 years young author, who resides in Toronto, Ontario with his wife and children, has an interesting rearing perspective not tried by many parents. His son came to him when he was 15 and explained his strong desire to quit school. And instead of having a battle about the importance of education he told his son he could take a year off as long as he committed to watching three movies a week with him. It seems like a strange method from someone who graduated from of Upper Canada College and the University of Toronto, but the son agreed to it and father and son probably have a better relationship than most parents do with their children at that age. Gilmour’s thinking was that his son was going to do it no matter what he said so he might as well try to encourage some kind of education during that time. It was such an interesting experience for both of them that Gilmour even wrote a book about it, The Film Club.

David Gilmour is just one of the many entertaining and interesting Canadian novelists worth reading.

David Gilmour’s Novels:

Back on Tuesday, 1986
How Boys See Girls, 1991
An Affair with the Moon, 1993
Lost Between Houses, 1999
Sparrow Nights, 2001
A Perfect Night to Go to China, 2005
The Film Club, 2007

This piece was originally posted on 12/16/2007 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Governor General’s Literary Award

This is an important award for me. First, I’m Canadian and second because I feel Canadian authors are often neglected in the world of literature. Sure there are a few commonwealth awards we can enter but great authors are often overlooked for their contemporaries. The Governor General (GG) is the one award besides the Giller Prize whose main focus is Canadian Literature only. Canada has an eclectic array of authors both new and seasoned who contribute greatly to the literary world but a lot of writers get lost behind country borders or the success of authors like Margaret Atwood.

When the Giller Prize for fiction was awarded I knew who the winner was within a few hours; a news bulletin from India of all places. I then did a search of the internet and found beautiful photos of the evening all ready showing up on other newswires. This morning, the Governor General Awards for Literary prowess were distributed and today I’ve had an awful time trying to find out who the winner for fiction was. Apparently I was poking around the GG site as they were updating it. Still, I find this a shame that this literary award is getting so little attention compared to the Giller. Is it because the Scotiabank backed the Giller this year that it received so much attention? But doesn’t the Governor General back the Governor General awards? Why isn’t this award as important for CTV, CBS or whatever network coverage?

The GG awards are also given in nonfiction, poetry, drama, children’s literature and translation. The cash prize is $15,000 ($25,000 for the anniversary year) compared to the Giller’s $40,000. In relationship to some of the international awards both of these are peanuts but at least the Giller’s prize amount enables a new writer to continue to work at his/her craft for another year. In the GG the publisher even gets a monetary award; $3,000. Runners up or finalists receive $1,000.

The BMO Financial Group (www4.bmo.com) has been the sponsor of the Governor General’s Literary Awards since 1988. You would think being a financial group they could offer a substantial award for the winners. But without it the Canada Council of the Arts could not promote the finalists and winners to bookstores, schools, libraries and public events across Canada. Too bad there isn’t a little money to go toward some international promotion.

Previous winners include the likes of Joseph Boyden, Golda Fried, Charlotte Gill, David Gilmour and Kathy Page. There is a reading list in the related links below.

Learn more about the Governor General’s Literary Award from the official website.

This piece was originally posted on 12/10/2007 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

The Opening Line

Novels, on average, have about 300 pages. At 250 words a page that would make a 75,000 word novel. Regardless of the abundance of words, it’s the first few pages that determine a reader’s interest in a story and whether they will continue to follow the author’s creative world until conclusion. The opening line pulls you in, hopefully piquing your interest.

In our daily reading we don’t give much thought to the opening line. They can be short dialogue, “Brother to a Prince and fellow to a beggar if he be found worthy.” or a luxurious description, “The studio was filled with the rich odor of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.” It can offer hints of things to come, introduce an idea or sum up the whole book. Regretfully it is often overlooked as we delve in, quickly reading over the first few pages to determine the essence and worth of further reading.

Some of the best opening lines obviously come from the classics. This simple opening line in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” sums up the social politics for the characters of this era as well as laying the groundwork for many of the storylines.

I’ve often heard Charles Dicken’s opening line from A Tale of Two Cities quoted and misquoted, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” Instantly we know there is a division of time and knowledge; which later reflects on the two main characters.

Here’s a game for you: Grab a novel off your book shelf right now (maybe something you’ve recently read) and open it up to the first line. Read it. Think about what the author is trying to say? How it relates to what you’ve already read. Did the author give you a clue in the first line? What importance does this first line have to the whole novel? What if this first line never existed?

For the next book you read, instead of whisking through that first line or paragraph give it a little of your time. Read it a few times. Take in what the author is attempting to say with those few words. If first impressions make any difference then don’t ignore them. It doesn’t necessarily make or break a book but there is a reason behind why the author chose those particular words to start with out of the 75,000 possible words he or she wrote.

The Opening Line was first published 1/22/2007 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Book Buzz Book Club

The Toronto Public Library has an online book club for adult readers called Book Buzz. Every month a new book is featured. You can read interviews with author and reviews about the book and afterwards join in on discussions in their book forum. If you live, work or go to school in the Metropolitan Toronto area and have a TPL card, you can also place a hold for the book online. But this is the only function of the club not available to everyone.

Book Buzz is run by the Book Buzz Librarian Sheila Dalton or B.B. Buzzword as she’s known online. It is an “active club with over 200 members” and membership is open to anyone anywhere with computer access. They boast having members as far away as England and France. And are always on the lookout for more interested readers.

The group is still experimenting with their genres at the moment having only been online for nine months. They have covered “literary fiction, Canadian fiction, travel/adventurer, mystery, speculative fiction and modern novels”. The main page also features an introduction for the following month’s book.

Deciding on which book to feature may be determined on a vote with the moderator suggesting five books or sometimes the library will choose depending on ideas expressed by members and title availability.

Besides reading and forum discussions they have live author chats and contests for free books. If you join any discussions about books be sure you’ve read the book as there are no spoiler warnings. It’s assumed whoever visits a specific thread has done the required reading.

To become a member all you need to do is create a username (like JaneAusten100) and a password. When joining online groups, privacy is often a concern for people. Sheila insists the group is very private. “Only their screen names show on the club, and we never sell or give out email addresses.”

Visit Book Buzz.

The Mercy of Thin Air Review

Amy Richmond and Scott Duncan buy an antique bookcase for their home in Baton Rouge from the Washington’s; along with it comes a little book on “Family Limitations” and the ghost of Raziela Nolan or Razi as she was known to her…

The review for this book was published at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline in 10/24/2006. The full review of The Mercy of the Thin Air can be read at SquidLit.

M. J. Hyland – Author Interview

Even though her first short story was published when she was seventeen Maria Hyland didn’t follow the writing bug until after she went through the trouble of becoming a lawyer. Recently recognized on the Man Booker Prize for Fiction shortlist (Carry Me Down), this London born, Australian educated author of two novels, lives a rather simple life. When I asked her about an official website she explained she didn’t even own a car! She currently resides in Rome on a scholarship with plans to return to Manchester in February 2007. Gee, I wish my life was that simple. Please enjoy getting to know M. J. Hyland.

Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?

Maria-Hyland-AuthorMaria Hyland: I knew I would write from an early age. My first short-story was published in my final year of high-school and my first job was in journalism. I was a poor journalist. The facts made me sleepy. I preferred a world more like Kafka’s or Gogol’s; the only kind of headline I wanted to read, or write, was, ‘Man wakes to discover he is a cockroach’ or ‘Man finds his own nose in a hot, bread roll.’

Moe: What inspires you?

Maria Hyland: Many things inspire me, especially great films. Most recently I was inspired by the film, Darling, directed by John Schlesinger, starring two of the finest actors of all time: Dirk Bogarde and Julie Christie. Great films inspire me to write vividly and they remind me of the importance of character-specific detail.

Moe: Every writer has a method that works for them. Most of them vary like the wind while some seem to follow a pattern similar to other writers. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Maria Hyland: My writing routine is strict and rarely changes. I write for six hours a day, six days a week and, after I’ve written, I read, eat and, at night, I often watch a film. Before I sleep, I read and write some more. If my writing is going well, the novel and its characters are the first thing on my mind when I wake. I am boring.

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Maria Hyland: I begin my novels with an idea and a character. Once I have an idea and the coat-hanger on which to hang the character’s coat, I concoct a few organizing themes or fictional pre-occupations; motifs, recurring images and an underlying mood; a few vital things that will inform the fictional dream and the novel’s atmosphere. It took me three years each to write How the Light Gets In and Carry Me Down. I don’t go out much.

Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

Maria Hyland: I don’t plan heavily. I don’t map the book. I certainly don’t know how a book will end. I don’t want to know too much in advance. I want to be surprised, allow for the maximum number of sudden but logical shifts, and, in this important way, I hope the reader will be as surprised as I am. I am afraid of writing a predictable book.

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?

Maria Hyland: I don’t research until the end. I write the book first. I make it all up first; tell the fictional story I want to tell. I don’t want the invention of a story to be encumbered by facts. I concoct a fictional world first and, much later, check-in with the boring world of facts. For Carry Me Down I called upon the help of my aunt Pauline in Dublin (for the Ballymun setting) and my cousin Anne McCarry in Wexford (for the Gorey setting). But this fact-checking and concern with historical and geographical accuracy didn’t occur until very late in the process; in the final six months.

Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?

Maria Hyland: I have never suffered from writer’s block. I don’t know what it is. I sometimes procrastinate, but within a few days of not writing, I feel murderous and sick.

Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?

Maria Hyland: I hope, above all else, that when somebody reads one of my books, that they might think I have told a good story well.

Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?

Maria Hyland: Three things I have learned? ONE: Never write with an audience in mind: thinking about an audience is likely to make your writing self-conscious and stiff. TWO: Never write in a hurry to get published. THREE: Never read bad fiction; it’s more contagious than the common cold.

Moe: How do you handle fan mail? What kinds of things do fans write to you about?

Maria Hyland: I rarely receive fan mail but I like it when I do and always send a hand-written note in reply.

Moe: What’s your latest book about? Where did you get the idea and how did you let the idea evolve?

Maria Hyland: Carry Me Down, my latest book, is about lies and lie detection; it’s also about fascism of thought, madness, the desire for fame at any cost and, if I say any more, I’ll give the ending away.

Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?

Maria Hyland: I like reading great books: serious, strange, dark, bent, mad, vivid and atmospheric books. I often like books about madness. I like books with a strong and unforgettable atmosphere. I could read Kafka every day and not read another author and I’d probably be quite content. Just me and the cockroach and a cup of milky tea.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Maria Hyland: When I’m not writing, I read, watch films, eat and listen to music. I also smoke, drink, walk and talk. I fantasize about meeting dead musicians.

Moe: New writers are always trying to gleam advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Maria Hyland: Suggestions for new writers? Don’t write with an audience in mind. Don’t be in a hurry to get published. Don’t read bad fiction.

Carry-Me-Down-Book-CoverMoe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Maria Hyland: If I wasn’t a writer I’d be a dead musician or a French film-maker.

Moe: What is your favourite word?

Maria Hyland: My favourite word is MERDE. Spoken in either French or Italian. In both cases, there’s a wonderful internal rhyme with the word, WORD.

My interview with Maria Hyland was originally published 10/16/2006 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Read Maria Hyland on Carry Me Down.

Kiran Desai Wins Man Booker

Is it me, or are more younger people being recognized as great writers sooner? Last night at an awards dinner for the Man Booker Prize for fiction the youngest winner to ever win was announced. Kiran Desai is a 35 year old woman born in India and educated in England and the US. She has two books published and this was her first nomination for the Booker. Kiran’s other book Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard was widely praised.

The-Inheritance-of-Loss-Book-CoverKiran seems to have followed in her mother’s writing footsteps. Anita Desai was shortlisted for Clear Light of Day (1980), In Custody (1984), and Fasting, Feasting (1999), but has never one. This must be a big kudos for the family.

It has been six years since a woman has won this coveted prize. Twelve other women have won it in total. Kiran joins the likes of Margaret Atwood, Susanna Roy, Pat Barker, A. S. Byatt, Penelope Lively, Keri Hulme, Anita Brookner, Penelope Fitzgerald, Iris Murdoch, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Nadine Gordimer and Bernice Rubens.

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction has been a prestigious award for writers since 1969. It strives to reward writers and increase public awareness of contemporary fiction. The prize is awarded to the best original novel by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland.

Kiran Desai will receive $50,000 and world wide recognition of her writing. All six short listed authors will receive $2,500 and a specially bound edition of their book. All participants, especially the winner will experience increased sales. Last year’s winner, The Sea (Banville), has had sales rocket to “almost a quarter of a million” dollars and the publisher boasts an increase in the sales of previous titles.

The Inheritance of Loss (Hamish Hamilton) is described by one of the judges (Hermione Lee) as “a magnificent novel of humane breadth and wisdom, comic tenderness and powerful political acuteness”. It follows the life of a retired judge in the north-eastern Himalayas as he tries to adjust to the new stage of his life and the interruptions of his budding granddaughter during political turmoil.

Other books/authors who were on the short list include:

  • Kate Grenville, The Secret River
  • M. J. Hyland, Carry Me Down
  • Hisham Matar, In the Country of Men
  • Edward St Aubyn, Mother’s Milk
  • Sarah Waters, The Night Watch

The Inheritance of Loss is available from Amazon.com.
The Inheritance of Loss is available from Amazon.ca.

This pieces was originally published on 10/11/2006 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.