Why fiction is beautiful – Canadian author Margaret Atwood
This is the first post of a few I will be doing featuring some of the authors of the Edinburgh book festival which starts this Saturday August 10th. I have decided to start with Margaret Atwood as she was the first Canadian author I read and I discovered many more Canadian books and authors thanks to her.
Her collection of books and stories is impressive. Some of these books below were bought in Canada as as well as the stories, I thought the book covers were quite something too. I mean just take a look at them:
The cover represents the age and elegance of the time. Set in Canada, it is narrated from the present day, referring back to events that span the twentieth century.
And for one of my favourites if not only for the detail and the artwork involved. I would quite happily hang this book cover on my wall. In fact, I think I will. ‘All books are equal to art forms but some are more equal than others’ – very animal farm I know but something I believe to be true. All of the above could be artistic paintings hanging in a gallery. I’m just pleased they are currently gracing my shelves in my book, I mean ART display case.
Following on from the review and trail yesterday, The Book Trail is very proud to introduce to you: Elaine Cougler: Time to pick her brains!
Hi Elaine. First of all thank you very much for agreeing to this interview on the Book Trail. The Loyalist’s Wife is an intriguing read. What made you want to write about this period of history and in particular from the point of view of a loyalist’s wife?
I am delighted to be your guest on the Book Trail and am overwhelmed by your support of The Loyalist’s Wife. Thank you so much. As for the choice of point of view, the story just seemed to demand that both John and Lucy get to show their respective sides as the story progressed. When John goes off into the trees to join Butler’s Rangers I could see that this was terribly difficult for both of them. The structure, then, of chapters from his point of view and chapters from her point of view allowed me to do that. And to add a lot of suspense, as well!
I felt such sadness at Lucy’s plight – did you find certain parts of her story hard to write?
I absolutely did and I sat at my computer with tears streaming down my face but I can’t tell you what they were as they are spoilers for new readers. But while they were hard to write, they were also the easiest as I just lost myself in the story. My fingers smacked the keys, only stopping to grab a tissue, as I stuggled to bring to life those scenes.
Can you tell us something about the literary devices you used to tell your story – such as the alternate storyline of Lucy’s plight and John’s role in the fighting?
I love words and word pictures and writing word pictures in such a way that the tumbling of the words in their sentences mirrors the action and, indeed, the meaning of the words. They are like a patchwork quilt which has been carefully constructed of various colours and designs in order to make the whole a bigger entity than just each square taken by itself. For me, the literary devices slide in unobtrusively because they just are part of that love of mine.
Did you visit Niagara-on-the-Lake as part of your research and can you tell us a little bit about what you found there?
Oh, yes, I visited Niagara-on-the-Lake several times. I love to walk where my characters might have walked and I click away on my camera so that I can have photos to remind me of what I saw. NOTL has Fort George, built after the American Revolution. It has many historical buildings built after the burning of the town by the Americans during the War of 1812. And it has a wonderful museum which keeps all of this history alive so that down through the generations we can see and remember. But the best thing I found was Fort Mississauga, which was built after the time of The Loyalist’s Wife but which is hidden on a golf course—you have to walk to get to it—and which shows exactly why Fort George had to be built. Fort Niagara is so close to Fort Mississauga that the Americans could easily have erased it with a steady bombardment. Of course today our countries are best friends but a couple of hundred years ago, not so much.
Do you think these battles and this period of history is something that is not well understood by many? Your book certainly lets us see them from the point of view of those involved!
Most of us are caught up in our daily lives and don’t pause to think too much of what or who came before and I was no different. When I did start to research for The Loyalist’s Wife, I found out a lot about my own personal history and that just made me ache for more. I knew I was from Loyalist stock but not much more than that. Now I absolutely treasure the stories of those who fought then so that I can be who and what and where I am now.
Congratulations on your first book! As the book is part of a planned series, are you able to tell us about what we should be looking forward to?
The Loyalist’s Luck (due out next year, I hope!) stands on its own as a novel but continues on with John and Lucy’s story. My research showed me there was much more about the history of these brave peoples and John and Lucy just had to be involved. The Loyalist’s Legacy will again stand on its own but have links to the first two books. And that’s all I can tell you at this point.
Do you have any words of wisdom or advice to anyone out there who is currently writing a book or thinking of doing so?
I am not sure there is any quick way to write a book or to learn how to write the kind of book you want. I wanted mine to be excellent for its story, its characters, and its correctness. As a former teacher of high school English I needed to do the best job I could. That meant taking a few years to learn about the industry, the process, the social media connected, and the people who were doing a great job. The short answer is just start. Write a set number of pages a day and stick to the schedule that suits you. Writing is mostly about being persistent.
Finally, who do you think would play Lucy and John in a TV adaptation or indeed a movie adaptation of your book?
OMG, you’ve done it! You’ve come up with a question I find impossible to answer. I am the one who watches a movie and afterwards says, “you know, the one with the purple shirt who sang that obnoxious song” when trying to give the actor’s name. I don’t even really take note of the characters’ names either. I love authors of long books who give a character list at the beginning so I can keep going back and refer to it.
So now you’ve managed to sneak into my head and steal my secret.
That being said, Lucy must be strong-willed to the point of being a bit of a pain, independent, forthright, intelligent, auburn-haired, clever, competent, and a loving wife. John must be tall, deep, strong and yet soft, clever, and a true friend, as well as quick to anger and able to forgive. Maybe I should have a contest on my blog for people to name actors to play my amazing characters.
Thanks Elaine for agreeing to feature on The Book Trail!
Elaine blogs at On Becoming a Wordsmith which may be found at www.elainecougler.com. She also is frequently found here: @ElaineCougler, Facebook/ElaineCouglerAuthor.
1. Book covers are an art form in their own right:
2. Reading a book awakens all the senses – touch, smell of the pages, seeing the words on the page and hearing the voices of the characters
3. Reading forms and encourages the mind like nothing else ever could
4. It takes you to places that you may never have travelled to otherwise, and gives you an experience you may never have had – like jumping into a cool lake on a hot day:
5. It’s an escape to another world, another time
6. Like the Mr Benn cartoon – where a man in a fancy dress shop enters a parallel world full of colourful characters and situations – a book takes us on this very journey as adults
7. A world without books is a world without hope
8. A world without fiction is a world where Alice never went to Wonderland, where Charlie didn’t visit the chocolate factory and where Harry Potter never discovered the magic of Hogwarts.
9. I live, eat, and breathe fiction. Without it I would die
10. Fiction is beautiful because it’s my friend. It sits with me when I’m sad, it comforts me at night and it lies on the grass beside me in the park when I’m enjoying the sun. And my fiction friends share my home with me. I would feel lost without them
I have so many books that I sometimes don’t know what to do with them all – I mean I can only read a few at a time and so the rest have to just hang out on their shelves and talk amongst themselves until I can sit them on my knee and hold them in my hands in a warm hug as we enjoy each other’s company.
I feel the tug of wanting to spend time with those books on the shelves but not wanting to miss out on their unique qualities and the stories they have yet to tell. Sometimes books I have read suddenly catch my eye too as I remember the good times we’ve spent together – their often bedraggled state reminding me of the days on the beach, down by the river, sitting on the bus that time I spilt my coffee…oops
So sometimes I like to spend a little moment with these friends. So we made a poem about a train journey. Here goes…*clears throat*
A book poem
Falling leaves on the line often cause a stir
127 hours with no news and time seems to go past in a blur
Is the train still stuck in the yard we wonder? Will we be waiting here for ever?
Should we jump in a taxi or a even lifeboat depending on the weather
When where there be good news we cry? Will there be a nice surprise?
Just what ever you do Train Announcer, just don’t pull the wool over our eyes
In honour of Independent Booksellers’ Week I wanted to write a little blog post which celebrated these lovely people and the literary havens that they lovingly create.
The importance of independent bookshops can not be underestimated. These three little beauties are all in lovely Northumberland….
1. Forum Books, Corbridge
According to their Twitter slogan:
There’s more to us than books you know, but not much more.
Well I disagree – but I suppose an impressive range of books, imaginative window displays, very friendly staff and a real passion for all things book and author related just isn’t very catchy for a slogan is it? As you may have read on a previous post https://thebooktrail.wordpress.com/2013/06/22/secrets-in-corbridge/ I have been to some very interesting events here. And long may it continue!
I like to go here regularly, buy a book or two and then pop over to the Tea and Tipple cafe for a brew and to enjoy my recent purchase. A perfect literary afternoon in my book (pun intended)
There is a lovely stand just as you enter the store dedicated to Myrmidon Publishers – A North East gem and champion of great books which are just that little bit different.
The website is under construction at the moment but will be at http://www.forumbooks.co.uk/
In the meantime you can find them on Twitter: @forumbooks
2. Cogito books, Hexham
Another great little shop, tucked away from the main square by a very Harry Potter like half-cobbled alley way with an arch at its entrance. Magical even before you get to the shop door.
And once inside there is no room for disappointment – it is full to the brim, bursting with books. Stocked up to the ceiling, two rooms joined by a mini passageway leading you to the cavern of books behind it.
I went here recently and spotted a lovely sign in the children’s section – at the right as you walk in:
Shout out for local authors!
There are regular book groups which meet here and a funny Where’s Wally? search which got children (and adults if I’m honest although this was purely for research purposes you understand) to find 10 Where’s Wally figures hiding in shops in Hexham in order to be entered for a prize draw . The winner of which will be announced at a party at the bookshop on July 27th.
Applebys Bookshop has been owned by Tim Wallace for more than 30 years and has traded since 1886.
It almost closed in 2012 due to a drop in sales which was blamed on the roadworks in the town and parking restrictions but luckily, people power changed the owner’s mind and he added a coffee shop to make the shop even more attractive. Ooh and don’t get me started about the cakes!
They stock hundreds upon hundreds of books over two mind-blowing floors and have a children’s department with regular story times. In particular, there is a very good section from the US and Canada which is particularly important to me. I’ve always known that apples are good for your health but Appleby’s is vital to your reading health.
There are so many good bookshops out there that need people like us to visit and to buy books from.
I’m not putting chain bookstores down. I’m rather sad the likes of Dillons is no longer with us as the death of any bookstore is a sad day. And don’t get me started on libraries.
But the ‘little guys’ are the ones that sometimes get overlooked or forgotten about and these guys need you to support them. In fact I call them ‘little guys’ but they are more like David in David and Goliath – and have inner and hidden strength that Goliath could never hope to have.
These 3 bookshops are in my home region. They are my friends and the places I go to see hundreds of friendly faces smiling back at me from the bookshelves. They are a place of comfort and of warmth and shelter on a cold wet day. When I step over the threshold, the door is always open, my friends always pleased to see me and I smile and greet them all as I walk in with a smile.
They will always be there for me – somewhere I can go and sit, maybe have a coffee and just take a moment to think. For these friends are good listeners who don’t judge. It works both ways as you should never judge a book by its cover.
And the best bit? My friends are always home. Sometimes though I invite some of them to join me in my own home and so ask their landlady to pack them up for their onward journey.
I’ll take very good care of them I tell her.
And I do. For once my friends have settled in and told me all the stories they are going to tell me, sparked my imagination and spent hours in my company, they are still there just incase I need them again. A true friend never leaves you and I tuck up all my friends in their new home, on MY bookshelves with THEIR new friends.
As I leave my room and turn off the light, I gently close the door behind me and I’m sure I can hear the faint excited chatter of my new book friends making new friends themselves.
I just wanted to send a very good friend of mine lots of hugs and best wishes on their special day:
Yes Canada I mean you. It’s your day today and I want to thank you for teaching me about great literature and for opening up all the possiblities of reading in both French and English that you have fostered in me.
I’ve put together of 10 great things I love about Canada and its literary leanings. I lived in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal and hope one day to go back and call one of them home.
I discovered the world of Canadian Independent bookshops and discovered Toronto’s huge literary scene one Sunday morning in between Yonge and Spadina
I delved into the world of Margaret Atwood and discovered her writing environment
I read many books on the tram travelling along Queen Street West in Toronto on my way to work
I laughed at Canadian wit thanks to the daily Morning Smile column in The Globe and Mail
I spent hours and hours in Chapters and Indigo, ate there, read there and almost nearly slept there
I quickly picked up the skills of reading with one hand and eating poutine with the other (Poutine is a dish of chips covered in gravy and cheese curds – the best ever!!)
I lived in a house with a wooden porch and swing seat where I would sit and read- very Anne of Green Gables
I got snowed in for 2 days and spent the time reading!
I fell in love with Canada and its literary festivals : the Antiquarian Book Fair in Montreal in particular
I know not of a greater pleasure than relaxing with a Tim Hortons, on a bench on Granville Island, Vancouver, whilst reading a book.
what I have been nominated for a Liebster award! From several of you! and I’m so honoured. This is a very nice idea whereby you nominate someone with less than 200 followers, answer 11 questions about yourself or write 11 facts about yourself and then nominate people in turn. First of all I want to say a HUGE THANK YOU to:
I urge you to go and read their blogs as there is some great stuff on there and I am now enjoying blogs I may not have come across without this nomination! I have also now increased my followers way above 200 so thank you thank you thank you.
It’s hard to think up questions so I chose this list from Readers Review blog as I needed the challenge to ask set questions! Thank you sincerely to all those who voted for me. I really appreciate it and I am currently putting my list of 11 together too. I will write about this in a further post.
What inspired you to begin a blog?
What is your favourite book genre?
Where is your favourite place in the world?
If you could be an animal, which animal would you be?
Which animal scares you the most?
Which musical instrument would you love to play?
Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings?
Who is your most favourite author?
What is your favourite meal?
If you could be a tv/film comedy character of your choice, who would you be?
If you were to write a book, which genre would best describe it?
1.I had tons and tons of notebooks with journey notes all in them and thought other people might be interested to read the same books that have enabled me to travel to some cool places!
2. Too many to mention but I do like a good historical fiction novel. Having said that I absolotely love a story about people and families and how the past can impact on the present and the future (Kate Morton for example)
3.Canada – Vancouver in particular is perhaps the most stunning place I have ever been to.
4. A bird so I could fly to Canada
5.‘Swedish’ Frogs – I saw what I thought was a big rock on a tram track in Sweden and it turned out it was a frog! not sure what kind, I didnt hang around long enough! I do love Kermit though – he’s helped me become more accepting to our frog friends.
6. I used to play drums and piano! I played many a jazz hall but just don’t have the time now unfortunately. I played piano till grade 6 when you had to sing. I refused (to save people’s ears) but sadly that meant I had to give the exams up. I still play for pleasure from time to time.
7. Harry Potter. Like most people, I am awaiting that letter from Hogwarts!
8. Where to start – Kate Morton, Alison Weir, Stephen King, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and I have recently discovered Mari Hannah (crime fiction) and Hazel Osmond (romantic fiction) and am totally engrossed in both!
9. Fish and chips from the chipshop. Or Swedish meatballs with lingonberry
10. Oh that’s a toughie. TV comedy character? Well would Grace from Will and Grace count? I loved that show and still watch it on DVD. She’s funny and lives in a cool appartment. And she gets to work in a fab office and has some great friends.
11. I would love to write a story about how the past affects the future – hidden secrets that kind of thing. I loved the lifestyle and culture in Sweden so would be keen to explore a story set in Stockholm.
Well I hope that my answers are ok! I will be sure to check back and to send out a list of my own for other people. Hmm now what can I ask……
I’m writing up the second part of my Barcelona book trail as we speak, but I felt I wanted to write about a little literary moment I had this week, whilst shopping with a friend.
The Prisoner of Heaven has arrived on many a supermarket bookshelf recently and I myself have bought it despite already having it in Spanish. I like to read the same book twice but wonder if I should or not really given that I could be reading something brand new. However, a good book can be read over and over again in reality otherwise I would not have had the pleasure of entering the world’s of Alison Weir and Kate Morton several times had I not. And sometimes once just isn’t enough.
I read to enjoy, I read to escape and I read mainly to travel – to immerse myself in that literary world with those people that I meet and the places that they take me. Everytime I go, I see something different so no literary journey is a wasted one. When I can read something in more than one language, that makes it all the more unique and a totally different journey again.
So wandering into Sainsbury’s, whilst my friend waltzed off to shop for food, I said I’d catch her up and look at the books
And there it was – one of the books that I have just been to Barcelona to explore further. The first in the series by Carlos Ruiz Zafon was of course The Shadow of the Wind and this is the one I was most intrigued by in Barcelona. I read a little bit in the store and was immediately transported back to the heavy and dusty heat of the Barcelona streets. Looking up at the books shelves, I imagined I was in the Cemetery of Books amongst all the forgotten or forbidden texts and wondering which one I was going to pick. Which one was going to lead me on a journey of intrigue and sometimes danger. The right book would determine the characters I would meet and the streets I would walk down. I could feel the sun on my face and the piercing white light as I left the Cemetery of Books after I opened the heavy door to the world of mystery outside. Would I visit the Plaza Real? or just loose myself in the crevices of the city’s Gothic Quarter?
I must have spent sometime in my literary world as the next thing I know, my friend comes back to find me, wondering where on earth I’d got to. You’d been here all this time? she gasped.
I just shrugged but inwardly thought ‘No I’ve just spent a delightful time with some literary friends.’
I had the pleasure of attending a fantastic literary event recently which brought together some amazing literary talent and experts in the literary field. The whole event was hosted by New Writing North – the writing development agency for the north of England.
NWN opened in 1996 and celebrates everything there is to do about literature, reading and writing in the North East. I have written about their Read Regional Campaign on this blog before and I will do so again since I am so proud of my literary heritage. We have some fantastic talent in the North East and I am proud to be, an observer for now, and hopefully a writer amongst them in the not too distant future.
The list of speakers was impressive – all were very funny and provided some interesting anecdotes.
One such anecdote was from a literary agent who described the role of an agent as a ‘fun sponge’. It was from her in particular that I learnt what an agent does, what they are looking for and what the literary process looks like from their side of the street. Their descriptions of their some time frustration and then pure joy at discovering a story that speaks and resonates with them was insightful on so many levels. Writers take note – this is not just about us, it’s about them too – and the publishers – in fact we are but one part of a train but if all the carriages are lined up, we’re all in for one hell of a literary journey.
I realised that I had never really understood the greater part of the literary process – on Saturday I came away with a new found respect for it and thrilled that I had met some amazing people with interesting stories to tell.
It inspired me one day to want to tell my own.
Thank you New Writing North and thanks to all the speakers on the day. I hope every region has the opportunity to value and nurture its talent in this way.