More than a year later, we continue to reimagine ways to connect readers with authors living and working in Canada. We have encouraged virtual book club meetings and tried new and creative ways to bring people together, including our first “Book Tasting Event” co-hosted with The Soap Box Press. Authors Hannah Mary McKinnon, Victoria Hetherington, Cindy Aronson and Tamara Herman recommended food and drinks to pair with their books. They met with guests in private virtual rooms for this highly interactive experience.
As always, April showers brings May… books! A bunch of new titles are hitting the shelves this month! The exciting Lost Immunity (Daniel Kalla) and the romantic Letters Across the Sea (Genevieve Graham) are out now. New thrillers, You Will Remember Me (Hannah Mary McKinnon), and The Sister’s Tale (Beth Powning), are available on May 25, 2021.
My first novel The Work is about a woman who falls in love with the charismatic leader of a theatre group and stays with him for two decades, even though — at least on the surface of things — there’s not a lot in it for her. The question I get asked most often is whether it’s based on personal experience.
The answer is, yes and no.
Have I stayed fruitlessly loyal for years and years? Ooooooh yeah! And I wanted to get inside that experience in The Work. I have lived through a prolonged romantic obsession; I see these sorts of relationships around me all the time, but they’re not common in literature. They’re difficult to write about. I guess a short, self-destructive love affair provides a better story arc. Yet I’m fascinated with what makes a person stay and stay and stay … and stay. What is she getting out of it?
Rebecca, my protagonist, is competent — too competent at times — yet she falls prey to someone who manipulates and takes advantage of her. I tried to understand what, in her personality, might make her susceptible, but mostly I wanted to show that anyone is susceptible.
And what about the theatre group, SenseInSound, which functions on the borderline between therapy and self-expression, and has many cult-like qualities? I teach a form of movement (Feldenkrais Technique), which required a long, intensive training, and I’ve also participated in various of disciplines that unite body and mind. (And by the way, they’re almost always referred to as The Work.) In my PhD research I’m studying the history of physical culture in 19th and 20th century Europe, so I know the territory.
I have never had an experience where a leader or teacher abused their power — or not seriously — but I know it happens. And I absolutely see how it can. I drew from my own experiences then speculated … What if…? What if someone crossed the line right now?
But I didn’t want to make this aspect of the story cut-and-dried. I didn’t want to show a cult leader pulling people into his orbit and spitting them out as broken souls. People benefit from The Work, or at least, they find a way to present their experiences in a positive light. In the end, The Work is the main character in The Work. It’s beneficial in small doses, but when people entangle themselves with it too closely, it becomes harmful.
The theatre company spends a long time in process, continually reshaping its plays, building them, then tearing them down and rebuilding them again. These sections of my book almost wrote themselves, and I think that’s because I love process so much.
My fascination with process is the inspiration behind my reading series, Draft, which I founded in 2005 in the Leslieville area of Toronto. We invite both emerging and well-known authors to share their work-in-progress at the readings. Reading new work to a sympathetic audience can sometimes provide more ideas for revision than ten pages of comments. And for the audience, there’s something special about hearing work that is unfinished. It means that you are actually part of the author’s process. You’re part of the writing.
It took me a long time to write my novel — not because I was keeping some kind of noble distance until it was ready to be shared, but because I couldn’t seem to make The Work work. Of course I got impatient, because I kept running out of money and wanting to do other projects. From an artistic point of view, though, I enjoyed my long engagement with The Work. I prefer being in process to finishing a project. I could have kept on changing the book forever, but I knew it was time finally to polish it up and move on.
The Work is the first part of a trilogy, which moves backwards in time. It looks at The Work in different eras. One book takes place in England in the 1950s, and the other is divided between Berlin in the 1930s and 1980s California. These prequels show The Work not just in different, eras but in the hands of different practitioners, and they draw on the historical research I’ve been doing for my PhD. As a writer, I find this daunting project reassuring. It’s always good to know there’s plenty of Work on the horizon!
Maria is the author of The Work. Her first book, Outside the Box from McGill-Queen’s University Press, won the Alison Prentice Award for Women’s History. Her essays, fiction and poetry have appeared in many publications including The Literary Review of Canada, Descant and Musicworks, as well as in the anthologies, At the End of Life: True Stories About How We Die and The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood. She has made two radio series, Parent Care, and Remembering Polio for CBC Ideas.
From 1993 to 2010 she ran The Writing Space Press with Diana Kiesners. She was a member of the editorial board of Descant magazine from 1995 to 2001. In 2005, Maria founded the Draft Reading Series which specializes in unpublished work by emerging and established writers.
Hello, my name is Fiona, and I am a book club addict.
I am currently the member of two book clubs, but I have also been part of book clubs at work and review committees for work and book magazines. I started reading novels at age 6 (Enid Blyton) and have never stopped since. Full disclosure, I am an English teacher, drama junkie, teacher librarian and a member of the planning committee for a wonderful literary festival called the FOLD (Festival of Literary Diversity). I adore the printed word.
One of my greatest joys as a book club member and organizer has been actually meeting Canadian authors. Hearing in person the behind the scenes stories makes everything more vivid and alive.
The wonderful Ann Y.K. Choi was the first author to attend our book club, it was advice she received early in her career from fellow author, Terry Fallis. So, thanks to Ann, my book club met her in the spring of 2016 and Terry in the fall to discuss Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety and One Brother Shy respectively.
This past fall we also hosted Uzma Jalaluddin to talk about her romantic reworking of Pride and Prejudice called Ayesha At Last. It was yet another very successful meeting with fantastic conversations and insights. When organizing with an author I have reached out via Twitter for a contact email and have found authors surprisingly forthcoming. Our book club has met with authors at a restaurant and we cover their meal as a thank you for their visit, although Terry chose to meet us at one of our homes.
Canadian authors have so much to offer us. They can entertain and instruct while using art to hold up the proverbial mirror and let us see our strengths, weaknesses and follies. They deserve to be supported and promoted and book clubs, those gatherings of voracious readers and purchasers of books, are an ideal place to combine both of those passions. Please read and buy Canadian, and if an author is available to speak with your book club, take them up on it. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.