CBC Reader’s Choice and One Cool Thing

Above All Things made the top ten for the CBC Scotiabank Giller’s Prize Reader’s Choice (that’s a mouthful)! Which is fun and exciting.

I know there are skeptics out there who think of this as nothing more than a popularity contest – who can stage the best Facebook campaign, who has the most friends – and there’s some truth to that. At the same time – as a writer – I want to take every opportunity I can to get my book to a reader who might not come across it otherwise. If I won’t do my best to get the book attention than why on earth would I expect my publicist or publisher or even book sellers to do it?

Does everything need to be democratised? Of course not. But this CBC contest won’t change the shape of the Scotiabank Giller Prize. And it is absolutely unfair to books that are coming out in the fall, like Miranda Hill’s short story collection, that the jury has had a chance to read, but the rest of us haven’t. Still it’s a way for books to get a little more press and a little more attention and that can’t be a bad thing. There are a few books in the top ten that I didn’t know about before, that’s for sure.

So – if you feel like it – head on over to CBC Books and vote for Above All Things. You can vote once a day if you want. Sure, there were lots of deserving books that didn’t make this list, but there are great books that did, like Aga Maksimowska’s Giant.

And One Cool Thing for the week: Last week I went hiking in the Adirondacks and managed to climb Mt. Marcy. She’s no Everest, but she is the highest peak in New York State and while my body felt good on the 10 hour hike, my feet didn’t. I was breaking in new boots in hopes they’ll be ready for a slightly larger adventure that’s being planned down the road and man did they do in my feet!

I tried a couple of combinations of moleskin and waterproof Band-Aids that ended up as rubbery globs in the bottom of my boot. Thankfully, though, I had just finished Cheryl Strayed’s Wild in which she sings the praises of New Skin. I bought a no-name bottle, slathered it liberally on my feet and voila – I could walk! I even managed another peak a day later.

I plan on carrying a bottle in my bag from now on for all those strappy sandals and high heels that look so good and hurt so bad.

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Literature for Life and WORDS 2.0

One of the best day jobs I’ve ever had was working for a great literacy organization in Toronto called Literature for Life.

Literature for Life runs reading circles for pregnant and parenting teenage girls in the Greater Toronto Area. Essentially these are book clubs, based in shelters and youth centres in Toronto’s high risk neighborhoods.

As a facilitator at these reading circles I would choose books that appealed to teenage girls and then meet with them once a week to read together and discuss them. The magic that happened in these circles was obvious.

Young women who had never read books before became engaged with the written word. They talked passionately about the books and characters, and then quickly began to reflect on their own lives in relation to the plots they read.

They began to write poems and stories – finding the value in their voices and becoming advocates for themselves and their children.

Once a month or so they would be given new books, for themselves and their children, so that their babies were encouraged to read and love reading from an early age.

Like all charities, Literature for Life relies on the support of the community. While I haven’t lead a reading circle in some time, I still support Literature for Life and it’s works. That’s why I’m thrilled to be the Honorary Chair of their upcoming event WORDS 2.0.

WORDS 2.0 is a party with a purpose. So come on out, support a great cause and have a great night.

When:  September 7, 2012 at 8:30pm

Where: 99 Sudbury

Buy Tickets

For more information check out the event on Facebook.



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One Cool Thing

This is a salute and a blatant rip off. 

I’ve been listening recently to a great podcast called Scriptnotes  by John August and Craig Mazin. Ostensibly about screenwriting and Hollywood, they have lots to say that’s relevant for any kind of writing – and they take writing incredibly seriously, while also realizing that writing is kind of a weird job.

Recently they’ve added a feature to the end of the podcast where they each chip in with one cool thing. I thought I’d borrow that from them and start with my first one cool thing being their podcast.

If you’re into movies, writing, scripts, Hollywood or anything along those lines, you should definitely check it out. 

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Fact and Fiction


Stories do not exist to tell fact, but to convey the truth – David Shenk

Lots of people ask me  how much is true in Above All Things – truth, fact, fiction, these are a novelist’s stock in trade and the answer is more difficult than people might expect.  There are the facts of the Mallory and Irvine story, there are the facts that I have borrowed from my own life and there are truths that to me are bigger than facts.

A novelist has a very different role than an historian – but when a novelist delves into the historical the roles begin to bleed and it becomes important to ask – how accurate does a novelist have to be? That’s a question I thought about long and hard while writing Above All Things, and continue to think on as I work on my next projects – both of which owe their inspiration to public figures and historical events.  It’s a tension that fascinates me, that blurry line between fact and fiction. A slippery line to hold on to even in recounting a “real” event from “real” life as we see the moment we ask two people to recount the same event.

There are writers like Hilary Mantel, who in her novels Wolf Hall and Bringing up the Bodies, aim to stick with that facts that are known as much as possible. “I will make up the thoughts of a man’s heart,” she has said, “but I will not make up the colour of his wallpaper.” Or Margaret Atwood who when talking about her novel Alias Grace said “when there was a solid fact, I could not alter it…but in the gaps left unfilled, I was free to invent.”

These were their personal guidelines. But there are others.

Peter Carey insists that “we don’t go to Shakespeare to find out what really happens with Richard III. We accept that someone has taken historical figures for his own particular purposes, in his own particular time.” As perhaps it can be argued Aaron Sorkin did recently with Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network .  Wayne Johnston goes even further when asked about the blurring of fact and fiction. He doesn’t draw a line at all, but rather says “you can take whatever liberties you want.”

Kate Taylor in her novel Mme. Proust and the Kosher Kitchen rearranges time and famous cemeteries, stating that what was important to her was that the reader believe in the world that she has created. That, for me, as well, has been my guiding principle.

I have taken the historical personage of George Mallory and his friends, family and fellow explorers and used them as a jumping off point. All the research, all the desire to have facts at the tips of my fingers is in an attempt to create a world coloured and detailed and rich that the reader can immerse themselves in. No doubt, some who are familiar with the Mallory story will notice inaccuracies, changes and fictions. I hope, that even for those, these distractions will not prove too grave and that the emotional experience that the story delivers will be worth it.

For more about the balance of fact and fiction read these excellent essays by Colm Toibin, Wayne Johnston, Peter Carey and Kate Taylor.


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George’s Route on Mt. Everest

While Ruth’s journey can be charted over a single day, George and the rest of the expedition cover thousands of miles over the course of months. The map below shows their route in the novel up the slopes of Everest.

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Ruth’s Day in Cambridge

One of the great pleasures of writing for me, is research. While writing Above All Things I spent a number of days wandering gorgeous Cambridge, the winding lanes, the market square.

Below is a map of the locations that Ruth visits during the day described in the novel. You can look at the map in street view, or if you have Google Earth, open it up in there and take a look at what Cambridge looked like over the years.

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Above All Things in Montreal and Kingston

Above All Things was reviewed this weekend in the Montreal Gazette and in my hometown paper, the Kingston Whig Standard.

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