Monthly Archives: December 2014

BWS 07.01.15: Andrea Thompson

Andrea Thompson

Andrea Thompson has been writing and performing poetry across the country for the past 20 years, and currently teaches Spoken Word through OCADU’s Continuing Studies department. She is the author of the collection Eating the Seed, co-editor of the anthology Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out, and has recently released her debut novel, Over Our Heads. She dropped by the blog this week to tell us about learning to write fiction.

From Spoken Word Artist to Novelist: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore.

Publishing a novel was, for me, an epic journey. I began my first attempt about ten years ago by posting an innocently optimistic yellow sticky note above my desk, reminding me: trust the process. Fast-forward one year, and there I was, surrounded by piles of paper, with said sticky note crumpled up at the bottom of the recycling bin. And while the piles of paper I was left with looked like a manuscript, they were, in fact, only a few scenes. They were written in the past tense, in the present tense, and from various points of view–the same scenes written over and over as I changed my mind again and again. Slowly, I came to the painful conclusion: I had no idea what I was doing. I was in over my head.

So I decided to go back to school. At first I was thinking about the writing program at Humber College, but instead I chose to apply to the Creative Writing MFA program at the University of Guelph. It was my birthday when I found a message in my in-box from program coordinator Catherine Bush. I was in.

What followed was two years of learning to write fiction–a process that taught me to be kinder to my earlier budding-novelist self. Fiction was hard! During the first year of the program, I worked with Jeanette Lynes, who helped me craft the first draft by offering an incredible amount of patience and encouragement. In the second year, I began the manuscript as my thesis and began working with my advisor, Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, who taught me the nuts and bolts of constructing a story arc (among many other things).

When I began to work with Kathryn, the manuscript was a mess. To my mind, it was beyond repair, so at our first meeting, I suggested I throw everything out and start again. But Kathryn reassured me. “Everything is in there,” she insisted. “Everything you need to bring the story together is already there.” Incredibly, she was telling me the same thing I had told myself almost a decade before: trust the process. So I got to work. I read about William S. Burroroughs using what he called the “cut up” method, and decided to give it a try. I got out the tape and scissors, and turned my office into a replica of the movie set for A Beautiful Mind. The insanity of editing had begun.

Two years later, with the assistance of Elizabeth Greene, who talked me out from under the bed when I had once again given up, and Lucianna Ricutelli, Inanna’s Editor in Chief, whose abilities verge on the supernatural, the book was finally born.

The transition from short form to long form writing is like learning to run a marathon after a lifetime of sprinting; like a long-term relationship after a series of one-night-stands. The learning curve has been steep, but the rewards have been worth it. The story is finally out of my body. I’ve learned how to write a novel, and more importantly, to trust myself and the intuition that prompted me to put that sticky note above my desk all those years ago. I had come full circle, and like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, realized I had what I needed all along.

Andrea Thompson visits the Brockton Writers Series Wednesday, January 7, 2015—full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC)—along with Andrew J. Borkowski, Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Lee Maracle. The event begins with a special guest talk by Jack Illingworth, Literary Officer at the Ontario Arts Council, about applying for the writing grants the organization provides.

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BWS 07.01.15: Andrew J. Borkowski

Borkowski

Andrew J. Borkowski’s short story collection Copernicus Avenue, set in Toronto’s post-war Polish community, won the 2012 Toronto Book Award and was shortlisted for the 2012 Danuta Gleed Literary Award for short fiction. His journalism has appeared in the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Forum, Quill & Quire, TV Guide, and the Los Angeles Times. He sent us this dispatch from a strange land familiar to many writers: the time between books.

From the Corner of Copernicus and Sweeney

My upcoming gig at the Brockton Writers’ Series finds me at an interesting juncture in my writing career. For the past three years, I’ve been dining out on Copernicus Avenue, my debut story collection which got great reviews and won the Toronto Book Award in 2012. I went deep into my personal roots on that book. The stories were inspired by my youth in Toronto’s Polish community on Roncesvalles Avenue. For that reason, it’s been a hard book to leave behind.

A degree of literary success raises creative issues that don’t even occur to you when you’re labouring in an obscurity that, with hindsight, can seem a little blissful once the “business” of writing gets its hooks into you. Copernicus Avenue drew comparisons with Mordecai Richler’s work, Roncesvalles being my counterpart to his St. Urbain. The Globe and Mail even suggested it did for the neighbourhood what James Joyce’s Dubliners did for that city—heady stuff which, of course, tickled me greatly.

People want to know if there’s a son or daughter of Copernicus on the way, and it has given me pause. Am I betraying my “brand” if I stray from the literary “turf” I’ve “staked out” for myself?

I can rationalize all I want on the business side, but in the end it’s the work that has the final say. The novel I’m working on now was well underway when Copernicus Avenue was published, and it insists on being written. It explores the other half of my heritage. While the “s-k-i” at the end of my surname has staked me to my Polish heritage for most of my life, I’m actually half English; my mum was born in Weston to parents hailing from West Yorkshire.

Being crusty Yorkshire folk who’d toiled in the mills from the age of twelve, my grandparents looked on their Englishness with a jaundiced eye, and my mum identified as a proud Canadian. It wasn’t until I lived in the U.K. at the height of the Thatcher era that I realized just how English I really was—with  my taste for stodgy food, warm beer, dry humour, and eccentric behaviour. Watching Thatcherite realpolitik play out in streets, in the pubs, and at nightclubs and festivals, I witnessed the devastating effects of three hundred years of class-based thinking. I was startled to recognize how, a continent away and two generations later, that history had infiltrated my own psyche. And I still need to make sense of the 1980s, the decade in which the world I hoped to inherit went horribly askew. So The Frenzy of Mad Sweeney, as I’m calling my novel-in-progress, must have its say.

The reading at Brockton finds me straddling two worlds. I’ll be offering readers a glimpse up both thoroughfares and into the weird cultural conjunction that is my literary lot in life.

Andrew J. Borkowski visits the Brockton Writers Series Wednesday, January 7, 2015—full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC)—along with Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, Lee Maracle and Andrea Thompson. The event begins with a special guest talk by Jack Illingworth, Literary Officer at the Ontario Arts Council, about applying for the writing grants the organization provides.

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Brockton Writers Series 07.01.15

Join us for the first BWS of the new year on

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 7, 2015

AT

full of beans Coffee House & Roastery

1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto

Guest speaker at 6:30pm

Four readings beginning at 7:00

The reading is PWYC (suggested $3-$5) and features a Q&A with the writers afterward. Books and treats are available for sale. Please note that while the venue is wheelchair accessible, washroom facilities are not.

Many thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for their support.

Print

READERS

Andrew J. Borkowski’s short story collection Copernicus Avenue, set in Toronto’s post-war Polish community, won the 2012 Toronto Book Award and was shortlisted for the 2012 Danuta Gleed Literary Award for short fiction. His journalism has appeared in the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Forum, Quill & Quire, TV Guide, and the Los Angeles Times.

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer is the bestselling author of the novels All The Broken Things, Perfecting and The Nettle Spinner, as well as the short fiction collection Way Up. Her short stories have appeared in Granta, The Walrus, and Storyville, where she won the inaugural Sidney Prize. She recently completed residencies at Yaddo and the Virginia Centre for the Creative Arts, and is pursuing a PhD in Literature at the University of Toronto

Lee Maracle is the author of a number of critically acclaimed literary works, including several novels, a non-fiction book, a poetry collection, and a short fiction collection, and she has edited several anthologies including My Home As I Remember. Born in North Vancouver and a member of the Sto: Loh nation, Lee is currently an instructor at the University of Toronto, the Centre for Indigenous Theatre and the Banff Centre for the Arts, and is also the Traditional Teacher for First Nations House. She was granted an honorary doctorate in letters by St. Thomas University in 2009, and has received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for her work promoting writing among Aboriginal youth. Lee’s latest novel, Celia’s Song, was released in October.

Andrea Thompson has been writing and performing poetry across the country for the past 20 years. Andrea is the author of the collection Eating the Seed, co-editor of the anthology Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out, and has recently released her debut novel, Over Our Heads. She currently teaches Spoken Word through OCADU’s Continuing Studies department.

GUEST SPEAKER

Jack Illingworth

Literature Officer, Ontario Arts Council

Topic: Grant applications

Stay tuned for further details!

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