BWS 11.01.17: Danila Botha

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Danila Botha is the author of the novel Too Much on the Inside (Quattro, 2015), which recently won a Book Excellence Award in the Contemporary Novel category, and the short story collections For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known (Tightrope, 2016) and Got No Secrets (Tightrope, 2010). She just started writing a column interviewing writers for The Puritan’s Town Crier. Danila is currently writing a new novel and working on her MFA in Creative Writing through the University of Guelph. She will be teaching at the Humber School for Writers, in the correspondence writing program, this spring. She lives in Toronto with her family.

Danila stopped by the blog this week for an interview ahead of her Jan. 11 visit, and told us, among other things, just how well she came to know at least one man and one woman in her latest book.

BWS: One of the recurring characters For All the Men, Elliot, is revealed to have insomnia, depression, and difficulty with emotions (he “shuts down” when he and his partner, Melanie, have conflict), which are all to some extent a function of having been abused by a parent, as is his subsequent teenage pain-killer addiction – plus, there’s something of a hoarding disorder, too. All in one character! What draws you to characters who are in pain? And is there a limit to how much pain you can inflict on your characters?

Danila: Wow, what an interesting question. Those are really fascinating observations. Initially, when I was writing Elliot, I wasn’t sure what his issues would be, and I tried out a few options before finding ones that suited him and fit with and against the dynamic of the relationship with Melanie. I actually wrote the stories chronologically (first “My Second Family”, then “The Keeper of Your Secrets”, then “Start Being More Independent”), even though they appear in a different order in the collection.

It was important to me that Elliot be capable of coming from a place of compassion and empathy, but because he hadn’t really dealt with his own issues, also be uncomfortable with being in a relationship that involved openness. I thought of him as a very intelligent and sensitive character who was not ready to process the effects of his past.

The nuances of his history (his home life, and the depression he suffered from, for example) and the effect on his choices was so important in terms of his relationship. The tension between his good intentions versus the distant and sometimes cruel way that he treated Melanie, for example, and her own unarticulated needs versus her impatience with him, was so interesting to me.

I always thought, also, that his and Melanie’s issues were actually similar – there was a lot of shame, fear and missed opportunity in both of their lives. What was also similar was both of their inability to really talk about their feelings and needs and expectations beyond their initial confession.

I knew early on that I wanted addictive behavior to be in some way part of the calculus, too – they both wanted to plunge in very quickly into commitment, desperately seeking stability, but actually both being incapable of real intimacy.

I did a lot of research on the issues, and their effects. I’m glad they read as authentic. Hoarding is a really interesting one.

To answer the second part of this question (and I love this question, too), I’m interested, in everything I write, in trying to understand people’s compulsions and feelings, motivations and behaviour. I always want to know how people feel, why they want what they want, why they can be their own biggest obstacle to having it, for example. My goal is to always find new ways of empathizing and understanding people.

I read an interview recently with Lisa Moore where she said: “Character is desire… [and] whatever it is they want… they want it badly. No matter how big or small, they want it with all their might. And that desire is luminous and has made them alive and indelible. It doesn’t matter if… they are worthy of what they want. What matters is if we are caught up in the sweeping spotlight of that desire.” I was so excited, because I thought, yes, that’s exactly where I approach things from, too.

There is a limit. I do actually always wonder how much is too much to put a character through. I try to approach every character (and their relationship dynamics and choices) from a place of compassion, love and empathy. I think about it all the time.

BWS: It would be one thing to tell about Elliot (or Melanie, or any character in any work of fiction) from two different people’s perspectives – say, one “pro” person and one “con”– but two of these stories are in the third person and presumably told by the same narrator. It’s a remarkable reversal. How did you go about constructing the same character twice for two different effects?

Danila: Thank you so much. This question is so great.

As part of my research for this book, aside from reading, I interviewed people about their relationship experiences and histories. What I heard overwhelmingly was, “I got involved with someone who seemed to be [attentive, loving, etc.], but then they hurt me [in varying terrible ways] and now I can’t figure out, [or, now I really don’t know] which part of them or my experience and perception is real.”

That confusion, and that fear of deception and inability to trust one’s one instincts after the fact is totally understandable, but I thought: there must a way that people can feel conflicting emotions, and maybe both are appropriate. Maybe someone can be deeply loving, is capable of being patient, generous and kind, and that can be true, and they can also be distant, and cruel and cause great pain, and that also can be accurate.

So I became consumed with wanting to write the story in two parts. I wanted to write the falling in love part as romantically and as bursting-with-hope as possible, and I wanted to write the falling out part with all the devastation one can imagine – but also with the reasons why on both sides. I really wanted readers to feel for both characters, and to understand the limitations of not fully processing or dealing with one’s issues, for example.

I hope that by writing “The Keeper of Your Secrets” in the second person, I set up the romantic feelings in a universal enough way that they can apply to a lot of early relationships. The second person can provide an interesting amount of both intimacy and distance. And initially, “Start Being More Independent” was written in the first person (I actually tried writing it from both characters’ points of view) before landing on the third person, which let me switch between them.

The main goal was to humanize both Elliot and Melanie, to make their actions and motivations, and the dynamic between them seem as realistic and relatable as possible.

BWS: Many of your stories shatter expectations just shy of their endings, often in a single “gut-punch” sentence or paragraph. When you’re writing toward this moment in a story, how do you know when to take that swing?

Danila: I love this question, too. The “gut punch” is a great term. I usually know it before I write the story. I often write that last paragraph first and then build the story around it. Or I write the early paragraphs and then before I’ve written the middle, before I know how to get there, I have the line, or paragraph that ends it all.

It often gets fixed to be even more impactful through drafts or in the editing process. It’s my favourite to write, I have to say: that moment of emotional impact, of revelation or realization is usually the most fun to write (and I really love writing short stories in general).

BWS: On that note: between your first collection, Got No Secrets, and this one, you wrote a novel (Too Much on the Inside). Did you learn anything from the longer form that changed the way you write short stories?

Danila: I’m finishing a new novel right now, but every time I get a break, or hit some kind of wall, I go back to the new short story collection I’m also working on. I absolutely love writing short stories. I love the specificity and the economy of the form. I love reading short stories, too.

I find everything about the form completely a pleasure and a joy.

The thing I realized, especially with Too Much on the Inside, is that you have room to write a lot of backstory and go into a lot of depth and detail that you just don’t have room for in a short story. I learned not to be afraid of seemingly irrelevant details – you never know when knowing something about a character that seems small could be useful in the story later.

Thank you so much for these wonderful questions! I’m so looking forward to reading at Brockton.

BWS: Thank you, Danila! We can’t wait.

Danila Botha visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, January 11, 2017 – in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with John Calabro, Soraya Peerbaye, Dane Swan and a special guest speaker!

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We have a big announcement!

Over the last few months, the BWS volunteers have been discussing the need for us to have an accessible venue (this was prompted by feedback from Dorothy Palmer—thanks Dorothy!). While we love being at Full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, we also feel that it’s necessary for us to be at a venue that has an accessible washroom.

We searched the Brockton neighbourhood, but had trouble finding a place that met our requirements. When Glad Day Bookshop opened their new, fully accessible location at 499 Church Street, we approached Michael Erickson (who has been BWS’s bookseller for the last year) to see if they could accommodate us. And so…we’re moving!

We’d like to express our gratitude to Lori Nytko and her staff at Full of beans for their wonderful support over the last few years. We’ll miss the Brockton neighbourhood, where we started 7 years ago, but we are looking forward to this change. Glad Day is a wonderful indie bookstore, bar, coffee shop and event venue. We hope that our community of friends will enjoy it too, and we can’t wait to welcome you on January 11.

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Brockton Writers Series 11.01.17

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 11, 2017 – 6:30pm

Brockton Writers Series rings in another amazing year! Join us for readings by:

Danila Botha
John Calabro
Soraya Peerbaye
Dane Swan

and special guest speaker

Jack Illingworth

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Glad Day Bookshop

499 Church St., Toronto

The reading is PWYC (suggested $3-$5) and features a Q&A with the writers afterward. Books and refreshments are available for sale.

Many thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for their support.

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And to the Canada Council for the Arts for travel funding!

GUEST SPEAKER

“Changes to the Ontario Arts Council
Grants for Writers”

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Jack Illingworth is the Literature Officer for the Ontario Arts Council. He has previously worked with a number of book publishers, magazines, and literary organizations, most recently the Literary Press Group of Canada.

READERS

img_8307Danila Botha is the author of the novel Too Much on the Inside (Quattro, 2015), which recently won a Book Excellence Award for Contemporary Novel, and the short story collections For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known (Tightrope, 2016) and Got No Secrets (Tightrope, 2010). She just started writing a column interviewing writers for the Puritan’s Town Crier. Danila is currently writing a new novel and working on her MFA in Creative Writing through the University of Guelph. She will be teaching at the Humber School for Writers, in the correspondence writing program this spring. Danila lives in Toronto with her family.

john-calabro-photoJohn Calabro is a fiction writer. His novella, Bellecour, published in 2005 was named by the Globe and Mail as one of the top 5 First Fiction in 2005. The Cousin was published in 2009, and its French translation, Le Cousin, was shortlisted for a Governor General’s Literary Award. An Imperfect Man is his third novella.

soraya_guenther-1Soraya Peerbaye’s most recent collection of poetry, Tell: Poems for a Girlhood (Pedlar Press, 2015), won the Trillium Book Award for Poetry in English and was a finalist for the Griffin Poetry prize. Her first collection, Poems for the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names (Goose Lane Editions, 2009) was short-listed for the Gerald Lampert Award. Her poems have appeared in Red Silk: An Anthology of South Asian Women Poets, and the chapbook anthology Translating Horses. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph.

dsc00426Dane Swan’s second  poetry collection, A Mingus Lullaby, was published by Guernica Editions in Spring 2016. Inspired by the life and music of Charles Mingus, the collection explores themes that permeate the life of his subject and Dane’s personal life. A past Writer in Residence for Open Book Toronto, former slam poet, and self-taught author, Dane Swan regularly collaborates with poets, performance artists and musicians as a founding member of MXTP_CLTRS (Mixtape Cultures), a small artist collective.

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BWS 09.11.16: Five First-page Mistakes, with Suzanne Sutherland

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Suzanne Sutherland is the Children’s and YA Editor at HarperCollins Publishers, where she has worked with internationally bestselling authors such as Kenneth Oppel, Emma Donoghue, Dennis Lee and Kit Pearson. She is also the author of three novels for teens, including her most recent,Under the Dusty Moon.

Suzanne gave the talk “Getting Past Page One: How to Make Sure a Publisher Will Read Your Manuscript” at our November 2016 event, and left us with these five tips!

1. Not establishing a distinctive voice
No editor wants to feel as though they’ve already read a manuscript before they’ve even begun. There are always new voices and new perspectives to be explored in fiction, so be sure to consider what makes your story unique from other books like it in the market.

Your character’s voices are also hugely important. Stilted dialogue can be an early tip-off to an editor that an author may have a fine broad sense of their novel but may not have fine-tuned it on a molecular level. Consider reading dialogue out loud, and think about what makes your character’s voice and perspective unique.

2. Introducing too many details or characters
There’s a balance to be struck, of course. You want to bring the reader (or editor) into the world of your story, but you want to do it in a thoughtful way. Remember that every character, like every chapter and even every scene, should be driving your manuscript forward to its eventual destination–each element that exists on the page should be there for a reason.

3. Being too heavy-handed with tone or theme
While you certainly do want to establish these elements early in the story, be on the lookout for scenes, characters or even turns of phrase that, while precious to you, may not ultimately fit within the narrative. These are your darlings, and you will have to be ruthless with them. Sorry.

4. Not starting your story at its most interesting point
Remember that you need to establish and build tension throughout your story to keep readers turning the pages. Think about where this can be found in the manuscript and how you can support that development through your storytelling. Beginning your story at the right moment in your central conflict is crucial to maintaining narrative propulsion.

5. Expecting the reader to have a particular familiarity with the subject, the time, the genre
Certainly there are readers, and editors, who will never read a word of a particular genre or category of book, and it is in no way necessary to please everyone. But a good book really does transcend these arbitrary barriers–just be sure that you’re not counting any readers out before they’ve had a chance to be truly absorbed by your story. Consider a reader who has never read a book like yours. What is it about your story that will pull them in?

Check back after our next event for more tips from our next guest speaker–-and before that, see you at our next event: January 11, 2017, 6:30pm,  at full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto!

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BWS 09.11.16: It’s Tonight!

WEDNESDAY, NOV. 9, 2016 – 6:30pm

Brockton Writers Series celebrates its seventh anniversary! Join us for readings by:

Louise Bak
Pratap Reddy
Olive Senior
Bänoo Zan

and special guest speaker

Suzanne Sutherland

AT

full of beans Coffee House & Roastery

1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto

The reading is PWYC (suggested $3-$5) and features a Q&A with the writers afterward. Books and treats are available for sale.

Accessibility Information
The venue is wheelchair accessible (no step up at door), but washroom facilities are down a flight of stairs. Street parking. Accessible by 505 Dundas streetcar (Lisgar stop). Please contact Farzana Doctor if you need to reserve a seat as the venue can get full.
Please refrain from wearing scents.

Many thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for their support.

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And to the Canada Council for the Arts for travel funding!

GUEST SPEAKER

Getting Past Page One: How to Make Sure a Publisher Will Read Your Manuscript

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Suzanne Sutherland is the Children’s and YA Editor at HarperCollins Publishers, where she has worked with internationally bestselling authors such as Kenneth Oppel, Emma Donoghue, Dennis Lee and Kit Pearson. She is also the author of three novels for teens, including her most recent,Under the Dusty Moon.

READERS

1654053_10153843291505198_1497305120_nLouise Bak is the author of Syzygy (DC Books),Tulpa (Coach House Books), Gingko Kitchen (CH) andemeighty (Letters). She’s the co-host of Sex City, Toronto’s only radio show focused on intersections between sexuality and culture. Her recent poetry will be assembled in a small book with Impulse.

pratapPratap Reddy moved to Canada from India in 2002. An underwriter by day and a writer by night, he writes short fiction about the agonies and the angst (on occasion the ecstasies) of new immigrants. He has completed a creative writing program from the Humber School for Writers. Pratap was awarded the Best Emerging Literary Artist prize from the Mississauga Arts Council, and has received a grant from the Ontario Arts Council. His short stories have been published in anthologies and magazines in Canada, the USA and India. His collection Weather Permitting and Other Stories (Guernica Editions) was published in June 2016. He is currently working on a novel, and another collection.

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Olive Senior is the prize-winning author of 17 books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and children’s literature. Her latest, The Pain Tree, is the winner of the 2016 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. She lives in Toronto but returns frequently to Jamaica where she was born. She conducts writing workshops internationally and is on the faculty of the Humber School for Writers.

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Bänoo Zan has published more than 120 poems, translations, biographies, and articles. Songs of Exile, her first poetry collection, was released in 2016; Letters to My Father, a second, is due to be published in early 2017. Bänoo is also the founder of Shab-e She’r (Poetry Night), the most diverse poetry reading and open mic series in Toronto..

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BWS 09.11.16: Bänoo Zan

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Bänoo Zan has published more than 120 poems, translations, biographies, and articles. Songs of Exile, her first poetry collection, was released in 2016; Letters to My Father, a second, is due to be published in early 2017. Bänoo is also the founder of Shab-e She’r (Poetry Night), the most diverse poetry reading and open mic series in Toronto.

Bänoo stopped by the blog for an interview before her appearance tomorrow!

BWS: You’ve said elsewhere that you chose your alias when you felt your were “writing in a voice other than [your] own, the wiser, more mature voice of [your] muse”. How does the translation from the personal to the poetic feel? And are there ways in which you might say that your voice as a person is “immature” by comparison to the voice of your muse?

Bänoo: Poetry is not a translation of life. It is an expression of life, and a brutally direct one at that. Poetry starts after stories have told and retold themselves. Poetry does not tell stories, though stories could be written based on it. Poetry is so open-ended you can write the story in a screaming number of ways. Poetry un-tells stories that impose their narrative on you and take your agency away. Poetry is reclamation of your right to be larger than your life. It is freedom from history.

I have come to realize that my inner voice knows more than I do. To give you an example, when I fall in love, at first I don’t realize I am in love. It is only when I write a poem and others describe it as a love poem or when I read it much later that I realize I am in love! If it wasn’t for my inner voice, I wouldn’t know what I am. If I listened to my own poetic voice at non-poetic moments, I would be beyond reproach. But I am blind to my own wisdom.

BWS: Given that you write under a pseudonym, I was wondering if you had any reaction to the recent “unmasking” of the novelist Elena Ferrante by a journalist, or to the responses to it. (Jeanette Winterson, for one, found the journalist’s actions malicious and sexist.)

Bänoo: I did not know about this, until I read the article. I don’t know the writer, so cannot have an opinion.

As for my case, “Bänoo Zan” as a pen name does not attempt to hide either my gender or my ethnicity. It means “Ms. Woman” in Persian. Any Persian speaker knows it is not a name, nor can it exist in this combination. And, it came to me well before I landed in Canada or even thought of leaving Iran.

My pen name came to me, not in an attempt to “create” an identity, but in an attempt to “define” it. I was feeling the presence of this voice that was and still is changing me into her scribe. As a poet, I claim the right to speak for my muse!

Let me tell you something: I wouldn’t have survived in this new land (Toronto, Canada) if I were not blessed with this self-confidence. I would not have left a trace on the Toronto poetry scene if I did not think I have the right and the responsibility to engage with the world around me. For one thing, I write poetry in a language that is not my mother tongue. And I share it with many who question that right. What is more, I am a peacemaker, a leader, a visionary who brings diverse communities together. This is a long term project. It will take more than a life-time. I don’t have time to be “successful.” But who knows what others see as success?

Poets do not write only about themselves. They capture the other in the self. Self-discovery is a never-ending pursuit, because it involves the discovery of the world. I should be thankful to whoever helps me know myself better. In some traditions, people go on adventures to find their name. I may have been on such a journey towards my writerly self when I encountered “Bänoo Zan.”

BWS: Several of the poems in Songs of Exile have dedications: to your mother, your father and each of two sisters; the book’s editor and its proofreader; and also to a public figure, Nelson Mandela. Do you know before you write a poem who it is for, or does this emerge afterward? And assuming that you never met Nelson Mandela (awesome if you did, I want to hear the story!): how is dedicating a poem to a public figure different than dedicating one to a person you know?

Bänoo: I often know from the start who the poem is about and begin poems like these with dedication. On another note, I know and don’t know the people I write about: poetry is a journey to the subject. If I thought I knew these people very well, I would probably never write about them. Most of them are people in my life, family, friends, relatives, lovers, but also public figures. None of them knew they were going to end up in the book before they read it. The Nelson Mandela tribute was written over three or four days after he passed away. I did not know Nelson Mandela personally, but I believe the political is personal.

BWS: In a wonderful CWILA interview, you say your poetry is not narrative. But would a reader be mistaken to tease out connections between the four poems called “Phoenix” or the five under the title “Words”? Particularly in the “Words” series (if I may call it that), one might argue there’s a progression: the speaker in (I) asks “Turn me into your words”, in (II) says “Transform your words / into yourself / that I may / begin to believe / in me”, in (III) is “in love with misunderstanding”, in (IV) fears words crawling on [her] palm are “nature / turning against itself” and in (V) feels trapped, perhaps, “a word in your lexicon”, and declares silence [her] song of liberation, [her] “exile / from the confinement / of your words”. How did you decide to put these poems in this sequence? Why are three grouped together, but IV and V spaced out and a little further into the collection? How do you see the “Words” poems relating to each other?

Bänoo: Poetry is a post-story genre. Readers are free to tease out stories from any poems or groups of poems. As I mentioned in the CWILA interview, however, the arrangement of poems in the book is chronological. The “Words” poems are about linguistic alienation of immigrants as well as the alienation of language from itself. As a newcomer I soon realized that stereotypical associations are imposed on immigrants. People automatically assume they know your ethnicity, colour, sexual orientation, religion, age, and more; all on the basis of the way you “look.” They don’t even bother to ask. Newcomers are told that problems start to go away once we learn the language of this country. When I landed, I already knew the language better than many of its native speakers. It has not helped dissipate misunderstandings. The “Words” poems are about the failure of language and poetry to bridge the gap.

Bänoo Zan visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with Louise Bak, Pratap Reddy, Olive Senior and a special guest talk, “Getting Past Page One: How to Make Sure a Publisher Will Read Your Manuscript”, by HarperCollins Canada Children’s and Young Adult Editor Suzanne Sutherland.

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BWS 09.11.16: Olive Senior

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Olive Senior is the prize-winning author of 17 books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and children’s literature. Her latest, The Pain Tree, is the winner of the 2016 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. She lives in Toronto but returns frequently to Jamaica where she was born. She conducts writing workshops internationally and is on the faculty of the Humber School for Writers.

Olive is also a contributing editor for the Ottawa-based online literary magazine Maple Tree Literary Supplement, which celebrated its 20th issue last fall and just released #21.

Ahead of Olive’s visit on November 9, the BWS blog presents a throwback to MTLS‘s first two issues, which respectively featured her short story “Flying” and her poem “Persephone”. Enjoy!

Olive Senior visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with Louise Bak, Pratap Reddy, Bänoo Zan and a special guest talk, “Getting Past Page One: How to Make Sure a Publisher Will Read Your Manuscript”, by HarperCollins Canada Children’s and Young Adult Editor Suzanne Sutherland.

 

 

 

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BWS 09.11.2016: Louise Bak

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Louise Bak is the author of Syzygy (DC Books),Tulpa (Coach House Books), Gingko Kitchen (CH) and emeighty (Letters). She’s the co-host of Sex City, Toronto’s only radio show focused on intersections between sexuality and culture. Her recent poetry will be assembled in a small book with Impulse.

Follow the links below for a sampling of Louise’s poems ahead of her Nov. 9 appearance!

“Restlessness”, “Immuring” & “Whine”

“Absorptive”

Louise Bak visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with Pratap Reddy, Olive Senior, Bänoo Zan and a special guest talk, “Getting Past Page One: How to Make Sure a Publisher Will Read Your Manuscript”, by HarperCollins Canada Children’s and Young Adult Editor Suzanne Sutherland.

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BWS 09.11.2016: Pratap Reddy

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Pratap Reddy moved to Canada from India in 2002. An underwriter by day and a writer by night, he writes short fiction about the agonies and the angst (on occasion the ecstasies) of new immigrants. He has completed a creative writing program from the Humber School for Writers. Pratap was awarded the Best Emerging Literary Artist prize from the Mississauga Arts Council, and has received a grant from the Ontario Arts Council. His short stories have been published in anthologies and magazines in Canada, the USA and India. His collection Weather Permitting and Other Stories (Guernica Editions) was published in June 2016. He is currently working on a novel, and another collection.

Ahead of his November 9 visit to BWS, Pratap shares an excerpt from “Going West”, a story in Weather Permitting, and the book’s trailer, too!

“Going West” (excerpt)

When the airplane banked, I had my first glimpse of the CN Tower, rising like an upended middle-finger. I was immigrating to Canada, and the huge butterflies in my stomach were only growing bigger.

The aircraft swooped down, and landing with a thud, raced down the runway hell for leather. As though having thought better of it, the plane slowed down and eventually came to a stop. Soon afterwards some of the passengers shot up like jack-rabbits as usual and dashed to the exit, clogging the aisles. I waited for the crush to subside before I got up from my seat and pulled out my hand luggage from the overhead rack. Dragging the bag after me, and balancing a rather capacious coat on my arm, I sidled out of the plane. I clutched the coat – the thickest I could buy in India – as if it were some sort of talisman that would protect me from Canada’s notorious cold.

I shuffled along what seemed like an endless corridor towards the immigration check. Other passengers, with tired, bored expressions, sped past me, standing on a moving walkway. Being unused to a travelator, I gave it a wide berth not wanting to break a leg on my first day in Canada.

I waited in a cavernous hall with a planeload of landed immigrants – men, women and their cranky children. When my number was called I entered a small cell. The border official took my Indian passport and the snot-green landing paper, and checked every line in them, periodically looking up to examine my face. What with 9/11 and all, I was half-expecting him to whip out a pair of handcuffs and slap them onto my wrists. But he was more interested in the ‘proof of funds’ I had brought with me. Satisfied with the loot, he said: “Welcome to Canada!”

At baggage carousel, I was seized with a paroxysm of alarm when my suitcases refused to show up on conveyor belt. When I cased the area around the carousel, much to my relief, I saw my luggage stacked safely on one side. Not having Canadian change on me, I accepted a coin – reluctantly yet thankfully – from a fellow passenger to get myself a baggage trolley.

In the lobby of Pearson International Airport, standing like lighthouse, I swept my gaze in a semicircle over the multicultural collection of faces of people waiting for their near and dear to emerge. A few of them had surgical masks tied to their faces, I noticed with concern. Praful Patel, the owner of the guesthouse I’d be staying at, had promised to receive me – for a fee, of course. There was a fair sprinkling of south Asians, but I managed to lock on to his unsure, unmasked, half-smiling face. He looked older than in the JPEG image he had sent me by email.

A few days before leaving for Canada, I had surfed the Internet searching for some sort of accommodation that wouldn’t be too expensive. Checking into a hotel was out of question. As to friends and relatives in Canada, I had none. On the web I found a not so flattering review of the Patel guesthouse. It was a pension-like set up where immigrants could avail themselves of its frugal hospitality without getting gouged. I’m not the type to give much credence to all the reviews one encounters on the net, so I booked myself a spot – I was thankful to have an inexpensive place to go to, straight from the airport.

Praful extended his hand and said, “Welcome to Canada. Did you have a pleasant journey?”

I nodded – though I wouldn’t have called travelling twenty thousand miles in 24 hours with two extended layovers and not much sleep, pleasant. I took his hand nervously. The newspapers in India were full of stories of a dreaded disease called SARS that was rampant in Canada.

Praful took control of the trolley and we walked to the parking lot. The spring evening was bright but it still had a nip to it – with a shiver running down my back, I draped my thick coat loosely over my shoulders and hugged it like a shawl. Praful who was dressed in a golf shirt and shorts, seemed impervious to the weather. Once the suitcases were stowed in the boot I went around and stood on what I thought was the passenger side. Praful too materialized on the same side.

“Sorry!” I said. “I forgot you drive on the wrong side in this country!”

“No problem. There are many things in this country which are the exact opposite of what you find in India.” He added sagely: “You’ll get used to them.”

As Praful steered the car through the enormous parking lot that seemed to be deliberately laid out as a maze, I was struck by the multiplicity of roads and flyovers snaking out of the airport, and the sheer number of automobiles swarming over them. Even though it was only dusk then, all the cars had their lights turned on. Ahead, the procession of red tail lights moved steadily as if keeping time to an unseen metronome. Back home, I was used to seeing traffic, composed of cars, buses, motorcycles, auto-rickshaws and an occasional cow or two – rushing harum-scarum along the roads.

Praful played Bollywood songs for my benefit during the twenty minute drive to his semi- detached house in Mississauga, a suburb to the west of Toronto. The Patels ran their guesthouse out of this property.

“Every Sunday they show a Hindi film on TV,” he said. “But if you have a satellite dish, there’s no limit to how many Indian films you can see! Do you like Hindi films?”

“No,” I said. I didn’t mean to offend him. In India I had watched Hollywood films in regular theatres, and enjoyed old French cinema shown at special screenings even more.

“Oh!” said Praful, and added hurriedly: “Should I switch off the music?”

“No, don’t!” I said. “I do like Hindi film music however.”

The houses on the street he lived had a uniform appearance with chocolate brown facades and lawns the size of living room carpets. Praful taxied the car close to the front door. Between the two of us, we managed to move the oversized suitcases into the lobby. When I pushed open the front door which was left unlocked, I was at once assailed by the fug of Indian cooking. I had not experienced such a powerful bouquet even in India where a billion mouths had to be fed daily.

A plump middle-aged woman, with close-cropped hair and dressed in shirt and pants, came forward and said: “I’m Mrs. Patel. Welcome to Canada.”

All the Mrs. Patels I had met hitherto had worn saris, even if wrong way round, Gujju style. Mrs Patel unwittingly delivered the first jolt of culture shock to an immigrant from India. Maybe, reading the astonishment on my face, and perhaps wanting to calm me, she said hurriedly: “I’ll make some chai for you. Sit down and relax.”

No sooner she went into the kitchen than a man came down the large wooden staircase that seemed to dominate the living room area. He was of medium height and light-skinned.

Praful introduced us: “Gahlot meet our new guest. He’s from Hyderabad.”

“Welcome to Canada,” Gahlot said without enthusiasm, and added: “I want to speak to Falguni.”

The man went into the kitchen and at once started remonstrating with Mrs. Patel. I could hear the argument over the timpani of the kitchen utensils.

“Falguni, why should I pay for the lock?”

“Because you’ve lost the key!”

“I only lost the key, not the lock!”

“Yeah, but…”

Praful said: “Come on, I’ll take you to your room.”

As we climbed up the stairs, lugging my suitcases, Praful cautioned me, using only gestures, to tread quietly. I noticed then that unlike back home, staircases and floors in Canadian homes were made of wood which made a lot of noise as you walked over them.

The room upstairs was little more than a box, and had two cots set at right angles. I could make out the spoor of the other occupant: a shirt hanging on the back of chair, a used coffee mug on a table, the odour of unwashed socks.

It was getting dark, so I reached out my hand and tried to switch on the light. I found the toggle switch already at ‘on’ position.

“Aren’t the lights working?” I asked.

Switching on the light, Praful said, “You must push it up to put on the light.”

In India the electrical switches operated in the opposite way. It was at this moment, standing awash in the yellow light of low wattage, that it dawned on me that I had left my own country for good and immigrated to a land about which I knew so very little. Within the last two hours I had been welcomed to Canada on four occasions, with varying degrees of warmth. Yet I felt a wave of homesickness rising in my innards, bitter as bile.

Pratap Reddy visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with Louise Bak, Olive Senior, Bänoo Zan and a special guest talk, “Getting Past Page One: How to Make Sure a Publisher Will Read Your Manuscript”, by HarperCollins Canada Children’s and Young Adult Editor Suzanne Sutherland.

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Brockton Writers Series 09.11.16

WEDNESDAY, NOV. 9, 2016 – 6:30pm

Brockton Writers Series celebrates its seventh anniversary! Join us for readings by:

Louise Bak
Pratap Reddy
Olive Senior
Bänoo Zan

and special guest speaker

Suzanne Sutherland

AT

full of beans Coffee House & Roastery

1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto

The reading is PWYC (suggested $3-$5) and features a Q&A with the writers afterward. Books and treats are available for sale.

Accessibility Information
The venue is wheelchair accessible (no step up at door), but washroom facilities are down a flight of stairs. Street parking. Accessible by 505 Dundas streetcar (Lisgar stop). Please contact Farzana Doctor if you need to reserve a seat as the venue can get full.
Please refrain from wearing scents.

Many thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for their support.

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And to the Canada Council for the Arts for travel funding!

GUEST SPEAKER

Getting Past Page One: How to Make Sure a Publisher Will Read Your Manuscript

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Suzanne Sutherland is the Children’s and YA Editor at HarperCollins Publishers, where she has worked with internationally bestselling authors such as Kenneth Oppel, Emma Donoghue, Dennis Lee and Kit Pearson. She is also the author of three novels for teens, including her most recent, Under the Dusty Moon.

READERS

1654053_10153843291505198_1497305120_nLouise Bak is the author of Syzygy (DC Books), Tulpa (Coach House Books), Gingko Kitchen (CH) and emeighty (Letters). She’s the co-host of Sex City, Toronto’s only radio show focused on intersections between sexuality and culture. Her recent poetry will be assembled in a small book with Impulse.

pratapPratap Reddy moved to Canada from India in 2002. An underwriter by day and a writer by night, he writes short fiction about the agonies and the angst (on occasion the ecstasies) of new immigrants. He has completed a creative writing program from the Humber School for Writers. Pratap was awarded the Best Emerging Literary Artist prize from the Mississauga Arts Council, and has received a grant from the Ontario Arts Council. His short stories have been published in anthologies and magazines in Canada, the USA and India. His collection Weather Permitting and Other Stories (Guernica Editions) was published in June 2016. He is currently working on a novel, and another collection.

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Olive Senior is the prize-winning author of 17 books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and children’s literature. Her latest, The Pain Tree, is the winner of the 2016 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. She lives in Toronto but returns frequently to Jamaica where she was born. She conducts writing workshops internationally and is on the faculty of the Humber School for Writers.

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Bänoo Zan has published more than 120 poems, translations, biographies, and articles. Songs of Exile, her first poetry collection, was released in 2016; Letters to My Father, a second, is due to be published in early 2017. Bänoo is also the founder of Shab-e She’r (Poetry Night), the most diverse poetry reading and open mic series in Toronto..

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