I feel like I should mark the moment somehow. Today, my third book and first novel, GIRL RUNNER, is officially published here in Canada. Dreaming of this day as a teenager in high school, plotting and hoping to become a real writer, what did I imagine it would be like? Feel like? I no longer know. There is excitement, but it is muted with a weight I probably wouldn’t have guessed, as a teenager. There is satisfaction, joy, even, but tempered by perspective, by years of struggle, by a kind of wondering at my own persistence and determination, and I don’t mean that in a self-flattering way — I mean, I wonder at my ridiculous, stubborn refusal to give up this singular dream, even when it made absolutely no sense, financially or practically or even artistically. I had to write a lot of very bad prose on my way to learning how to write like I wanted to be able to write.
I’m thinking this morning of writers I have admired. How I loved L.M. Montgomery’s stories of orphaned girls, soaked though they may have been in sentimental romance. I didn’t want to grow up to discover that Montgomery’s own life had been unhappy. I wanted her as happy as her heroines, as plucky, as daring, as beloved. There can be such a distance between what a writer puts onto the page and her own life. We may write what we wish to have been or done, we may write to seek forgiveness for a wrong or to seek peace, we may write to escape, because the imagination is powerful enough to carry us somewhere else, somewhere better, for awhile.
I’m not sure where I fit into this, exactly, as a writer and a human being.
I was thinking today that my ever-present theme is the connection between past and present, and how the past leaves its imprints on the present. I have an interest in history (thanks, Dad!). But it isn’t the interest of an historian, who tries to piece together from available evidence the most factually accurate narrative. It’s the interest of a story-teller, who needs facts only as stones tossed into a wide lake, so she can see the ripples spreading out across the disturbed surface of what only seems to be.
I’m going hifalutin’ this morning, I see.
I wonder how L.M. Montgomery felt when her first book was published? And her next, and her third? How did she feel when Anne of Green Gables became so beloved that the author herself was subsumed by her invented character? Isn’t it strange how these characters we create can come to seem more real than us? That is a possibility I’m considering this morning, as I think about Aganetha Smart, the girl runner in my book, and Juliet, of my JULIET STORIES, and the man with the hair hat, from my first collection HAIR HAT. I don’t know quite how to express this idea, but it seems those characters are more real, more knowable, more plausible than I myself could possibly be. I’m human, after all. I’ve done all kinds of things that make little sense, or don’t fit neatly into a plot or storyline. I’m contradictory. Sometimes I’m selfish, sometimes generous, sometimes oblivious, sometimes keenly attuned to the needs of others, sometimes a good friend, and no doubt, sometimes not. I’m trying, like we are all.
But my characters, they’re there, fully formed, on the page, comprehensible. Complete in a way I’ll never be.
Tonight, I’m going to the launch party for GIRL RUNNER here in Waterloo. It’s a party for the book, for the character of Aggie and all that she is, all of her accomplishments, and the richness of her life. I’m going to celebrate her existence. How she came to me, and came through me, is a mystery I’ll never know or be able to explain. This is not something I could have imagined, as an aspiring writer in high school — how separate from my creation I would feel. How grateful. How small. How glad.
I sponsored the two older kids’ rep soccer teams this season by “buying a sleeve.” We decided to add “A NOVEL” to the title GIRL RUNNER, thinking that a team of 13-year-old boys might not appreciate having to wear that label during games.
This was our dining-room table, Monday afternoon. Two sets of page proofs, one galley, one sharp red pencil, and one mother announcing to all who entered after school, “There will be no eating or drinking on or near this table until I AM DONE!”
I am done.
All may eat and drink here again.
Last night’s reading at DVLB was really fun. I even indulged in a scotch, thanks to the kindness of a friend who treated. Imbibe ye scotches while ye may. Life’s too short not to enjoy the pleasures that arrive. Even if that happens to be on a Tuesday night and you’re running the next morning. And so I did. (And I ran this morning too: Run ye many kilometres while ye may.)
No scotches tonight, however. I’ll be driving to and from Hamilton, where I’m reading at Bryan Price Bookseller, 7pm, with other M Word contributors. (Note to self: look up directions!)
Tomorrow I’ll be at the Anansi offices working on publicity plans for Girl Runner. (Note to self: more directions! Look up!)
Can you read the above? I can’t. File this under Strange Opportunities that Arrive via the Internet. Last month I was contacted by an editor at Unitas, a Chinese-language literary magazine in Taiwan, who wanted to interview me for a special issue they were planning on Alice Munro. (They’d found and loved my review of Alice Munro’s Dear Love in the National Post.) I agreed. And this month, two copies of the beautifully produced magazine arrived in my mailbox, in an envelope covered in fancy stamps. Sometimes the world seems very very small.
I’ve never met Alice Munro, and can’t imagine what I would say to her if we were to meet. It’s an entirely one-sided relationship based purely on my reading of her stories over many years. I’m immersed in MY LIFE IN MIDDLEMARCH right now, a truly wonderful book that combines biography with memoir, and in some way I feel like my relationship with Alice Munro is similar to Rebecca Mead’s with George Eliot; but Mead has the benefit of distance and I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable exploring Alice Munro’s life and work in quite the same way, given that she’s still living, and that our worlds literally overlap in time and space. It wouldn’t be historical exploration. There’s a freedom to digging back into the past, way back. I’m aiming to do it now, in my next novel. Nothing can be perfectly recovered from the deep past, and so one may imagine quite freely.
Yet I’m so admiring and relishing this memoir/biography mash-up on George Eliot — I would do it, if I could figure out my relationship with non-fiction, a form I’m still learning. I’m thinking out loud here, brainstorming as I type. Perhaps not the best way to compose a blog post on which one is about to press “publish.” But if I could figure out how, yes, I would write about Alice Munro.
I think the NMA nomination was especially thrilling (and perhaps seductive) because it was earned for “personal journalism,” aka non-fiction. It’s a form that interests me more and more, that I find myself devouring more and more, and that I want to learn how to master.
run, Kevin, run
This week has been run, Carrie, run. Next up we have shine, Carrie, shine, as I’ve got a variety of upcoming work-related events and appearances.
Tonight, I’m visiting a friend’s book club to talk about The Juliet Stories.
On Tuesday, I’ll be at DVLB in uptown Waterloo @ 7PM as a “special guest” (that’s what the invite says) at the book launch for new story collections from Greg Bechtel and Tom Cho. I think I’m going to read a Juliet story I haven’t before.
On Wednesday, I’ll be in Hamilton at Bryan Prince Bookseller @ 7PM with The M Word’s editor Kerry Clare, and others. I’ll be reading from my essay in The M Word, but of course.
On Thursday, I’m headed to Toronto to meet with my publicist at Anansi to make plans for launch of Girl Runner here in Canada (Sept. 6th).
On Saturday, I’ve been invited to be a guest bookseller at Words Worth Books in uptown Waterloo. Words Worth is celebrating its 30th year in the business. (!!) I’ll be there around 11AM, if you want to drop by. (Apparently, working the cash register is not a requirement, for which we can all be truly grateful. I hope no one ever asks me to work as a guest waitress. Or guest latte-maker. Both jobs which I tried and at which I failed spectacularly. I would make a pretty decent guest stable-girl, or guest copy-editor, or guest babysitter, however.)
Finally, yesterday I found out that an essay of mine, “Delivery,” which was published last year in The New Quarterly, and also in the anthology How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting, has been nominated for a National Magazine Award. The New Quarterly has invited me to be their guest at the gala, which happens in June. The word gala kind of paralyzes me, I confess. But I’ve never been nominated before, and I would like to go and be a fly on the wall. Maybe in a nice dress? Maybe not. We’ll see.
I think that covers it for now in the shine, Carrie, shine category. But it’s more than enough to keep me running.
Change. When you make art on the driveway in winter, here is what happens to it over the course of several months.
I would like to speak today about the idea of being, at least in part, a public person. I wonder how others do it. How do you manage to travel, to run to appointments, to make presentations, and dress professionally, and be brushed and unwrinkled and fresh smelling? How do you exercise and eat well and keep a sharp eye on your children’s needs, both physical and emotional? How do you clean your house and yard and fold laundry and cook food from scratch, and lovingly tuck your children in at night, and read them bedtime stories? How do you go to the soccer practices and piano lessons and swim lessons and travel tournaments and meets? How do you teach classes and welcome students and read essays and comment and mentor and remain open and flexible and funny and never bitter? How do you host meals and go to parties and celebrate birthdays and be a good partner? How do you meditate and feed your spirit and do yoga and stay fit and healthy of body and of mind? How do you continue to make art that is worthy of being called art?
I know I set the bar high, and I know it’s me doing the setting of the bar. We all have our (tragic) flaws. Mine may be that I want to do it all, big and small.
I want art on the driveway. I want books in translation. I want to run fast. I want singing. I want fun. I want to braid hair and apply bandaids and hold hands and honour all the stories. I want deep still quiet reflection. I want to stir. I want to comfort. I want invention.
And I’m sitting here in my office with the dogs, slumped on my stool rather than walking on my treadmill, with eyes at half mast and emails unanswered, wondering how exactly to do all of this. Because I really don’t know.
advance reading copy, i.e. not for sale, still needs to be proofread, but looks awfully book-like
And then this arrives in the mail. Seeming to say: well, you’ve done something you wanted to do, woman. Now, enjoy it for a moment. So I sit on the radiator (because I’m cold because it’s still winter, this spring), and I read the first chapter out loud to myself (and the dogs).
It’s hard to go wrong, when photographing a city like London. Nath and I walked to Westminster from the rebuilt Globe theatre on Wednesday evening, before I left.
Crossing Westminster Bridge, this was the view behind us (above), with the sun shining, as if it never rained in London — which it almost never did while I was there; I had a running joke with my UK publisher Lisa Highton that she’d arranged the weather especially for my stay.
And this was the view from the banks of the Thames as we approached Westminster. On the walkway beside the river were crowds of people, some of them tourists, some commuting home from work on foot or bicycle, and a surprising number of runners, many of them training while wearing backpacks, dodging the crowds while trying to keep up a quick pace. It looked moderately hellish, frankly, although in theory I can see the appeal of running along the river. I much preferred my morning runs in Greenwich Park, with green grass everywhere and buds on trees, and the wafting perfume of the flower gardens in the air. (No photos, however, as I was running.)
The queue was enormous, so it’s a good thing I hadn’t planned to go on the Eye, although it looked much more tempting up close. Each of those pods holds 25 people. Essentially, it’s a giant money-generating machine.
Earlier in the evening, Nath and her kids and I met at the recreated Globe Theatre and went on the tour. It was as if I’d planned it: tickets for the last tour of the day were half price. You know I love a bargain.
Tate museum, with bird
I’m going in reverse, I see, though I’m not sure how that’s happened. Perhaps it’s because, after my 20-or-so hours in transit yesterday, I’m more tired than expected, so exhausted, in fact, that it feels like I’ve entered a kind of fugue state. I have no idea if anything I’m writing here is comprehensible, but I sense this will be a longer post than usual. Brace yourselves. I’d arrived early, Bankside, to meet Nath and kids, so I popped in at the Tate, which is beside the Globe theatre. At that point in my day, I was pretty foot-sore and had lugged my laptop all over London and the Tate seemed enormous, so I stood for awhile before this painting by Dorothea Tanning, an artist I’d never heard of before; I was strangely transfixed by it — it’s quite large, and it seemed almost to move or transform, as if it held figures emerging before my eyes.
views from the Millennium Bridge
I’d come here on my own by the underground; it took me a couple of days to become oriented to the system of overlapping lines and trains, but I had no trouble finding my way around. If I lived in London, I would never drive.
spring, outside the Victoria & Albert museum
Earlier in the afternoon, I went to the V&A, mainly to visit the gift shop for a specific souvenir for Child-Who-Shall-Remain-Nameless, and also to look at clothing and household items from the Renaissance.
That final day in London was crammed to max, but mostly I spent my time here, at the British Library.
inside the BL
It’s a new building (built within the last 20 years), and it’s bustling and vibrant. The individual Reading Rooms are packed, yet quiet, and in order to protect the valuable and rare material that can be accessed by anyone with a Reader Card (like me!), people are only allowed to bring in a limited number of items, which one carries into the reading room in a large plastic bag, provided by the library. Pencils only. No drinks, no edibles of any kind. Laptops permitted only in certain areas. I discovered on the first day the importance of arriving early, finding a desk, and staking it out for the rest of the day.
train, before and after arrival at the Charlton station
On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I commuted to the BL by train and tube.
escalator inside London Bridge underground station
I have a fear of heights. It took me the better part of the week to conquer the fear and be able to ride the escalator without clutching the handrail with a death grip, and literally going weak in the knees. Miraculously, I trained myself out of my fear by the end of the stay. Breathing exercises. For serious.
I have no photos from the parties I went to on Monday evening. It rained, but I brought along a little umbrella that fit into my satchel. I did not wear a dress, but tried to look suitably glamourous. This was achieved with mascara, earrings, and my gold shiny top, three things I never wear under ordinary circumstances. I like to go unadorned most of the time, so that when I dress up the difference is measurable; start with a low bar, that’s my advice.
On Sunday, I rode the train and tube for the first time all by myself, and met my agent and my US publisher for lunch. Afterwards, Nath met up with us, and we went to the National Portrait Gallery, which is right behind me in the photo above. Having been once, I would go again, and again. I will never tire of faces.
Tower of London, foreground, by the river
Saturday, Nath and I walked all around the old city of London. We walked at least 8 kilometres, according to Nath’s calculations. All of the old buildings are surrounded by new ones. Transposing oneself back in time requires imagination, but that’s fine by me. I’ve got plenty of imagination.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Take for example, St. Paul’s Cathedral. This building is really really old. But it’s still not as old as the St. Paul’s Cathedral that existed during the time period I’ve been researching (1530-1660). That St. Paul’s Cathedral burned down in the Great Fire of 1666 (which destroyed two-thirds of the city of London). The “new” Cathedral was built in the same location, but not to the same design.
Nath knocking on the door of St. Paul’s Cathedral (as instructed by her photographer)
creepy cherub detail on St. Paul’s Cathedral
with Lisa Highton, at the Two Roads office
I take a lot of things for granted that I know I shouldn’t. For example, when I arrived in London on Friday morning, I went directly to the offices of my London publisher, where I was welcomed with open arms by Lisa Highton and her crew, and Nath and I were fed sandwiches and fruit followed by a sumptuous cake. I’m not saying I took that welcome for granted, exactly, more that I just find myself rolling with these things as they come. I never quite expected to be where I am, but it is where I am, and so I try my best to be here without questioning it or worrying over the transience of the experience. That’s what travelling is like, too. You roll with what comes at you. You have to, really. And so, jet-lagged and sleep-deprived, I welcomed the welcome at Two Roads, as you can see from the photo above. And later that same day, with a short nap to bolster me, I welcomed the welcome of dinner out with my fabulous Canadian publisher, Anansi, who were in town for the London Book Fair.
Friday evening, street in Charlton, looking rather Dickensian here
I welcomed the welcome of my friends, too, who hosted me so generously in their home, and who accompanied me around London, and got me oriented. I wouldn’t have gone to London at all if they hadn’t been there — I couldn’t have imagined taking the leap on my own. And that’s what it comes down to, really, the leap of the imagination, which is the first step to any adventure.
one way to clean up the toys in the back yard, left out since the fall: cover them with snow
I was doing so well with my plan to visit FB only during portions of the day devoted to waiting in the car or standing on the sidelines, as happens virtually every day. In fact, I did so well that FB got in touch to tell me what I was missing, to which I said, haha FB, you are only confirming that my goal has been achieved!
I was doing so well until this morning, when I did a bit of work on my FB author page. If you feel so inclined, please *like* it. I will use the page for promotional purposes so as not to clog up my personal page with self-cheerleading, which can get a bit tedious. I don’t want to lose friends.
Anyway, this morning. This morning, I had news to post on my author page, so I visited FB and instantly got sucked into the vortex of liking, making witty/supportive comments, clicking on links, and, I must confess, looking at photos of Leonardo DiCaprio (hardly on purpose, I swear!). Therefore, I recommit to climbing back on the wagon henceforth.
Here is my news: we’ve had offers for Girl Runner from Catalan and Poland. Catalan and Poland! That means Girl Runner has sold in 11 territories, and will be translated into eight languages (German, French, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Dutch, Polish, and Catalan). I’m told that the publishers will send me copies of the translated book, which in my imagination I’ve already lined up on my office bookshelf to gaze at in wonder. Will they all have different covers? Will the title be changed in translation?
I’ve received comments back from my US editor, and the news is good. The work that remains is minimal. I expect to have a finished manuscript to deliver (to all of these publishers!) within the week.
Oh, and we’re getting a gas stove in the living-room! It won’t be installed for a few weeks, but I have a funny feeling we’ll still get use out of it this winter. Yesterday, I was tossing shovelfuls of snow onto banks already so high that I was lifting the shovel to shoulder height. There’s nowhere to go with this stuff! When I came outside for my run, at a very early hour this morning, I discovered that in the night the snow ploughs had gone by and thoughtfully undone all of yesterday evening’s work, filling in the nicely cleared sidewalk and driveway with heavy, rock-hard street snow. In a rage (and in my running shoes), I grabbed my shovel right there and then and cleared the sidewalk again, tossing the snow on the street-side banks, because there was nowhere else to go. It was like human v car, with car obviously winning. Have we noticed how much we privilege cars over humans in our culture?
Then I went for my run, slipping and sliding and tripping, and generally wondering whether it was worth it to expend such an effort for a pace so ridiculously slow. Is this even running? I asked myself. Could 5 kilometres under such conditions perhaps count for 10? How the heck could I begin to train for a marathon under these circumstances? (As I’m not training for a marathon, this was a purely theoretical question, but now that I mention it again, it makes me want to!)
there’s a boy in that bed
Albus is home sick for the fourth day in a row, but I’m sensing his imminent return to school. Every day he ate noodle soup for lunch, and we sat together reading the newspaper. Today’s conversation centred around the new book deals, and what I might want to write next.
“You should write Girl Swimmer. And then Girl Cyclist. And then Girl Triathlete!”
“Well … it’s not really a sequel kind of a book.”
“You could write a prequel! Girl Before Runner.”
“Before Girl Runner?”
“Girl Before Runner.”
“Girl Before Runner. I like it.”
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