Our Hero Disbelieving

Our Hero Disbelieving

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Authors for Indies set to party at Book City in the Beaches

It's happening again. The Great Canadian Book Bash is coming to a bookstore near you. On Saturday, April 30, roughly 700 Canadian authors will turn up at more than 100 bookstores across the country. It's called Authors for Indies and, yes, we do it to show our support for Canada’s independent booksellers. We want them not just to survive, but to flourish. You can read all about it at www.authorsforindies.com
Above, a photo from last year entitled The Calm Before the Storm. Here we see Our Hero at Book City in the Beaches with two fellow authors -- Glenda McElwain and George A. Walker -- and also veteran bookseller Ian Donker.
Shortly after Sheena Fraser McGoogan snapped this photo, a mob descended, clamoring for photos, counsel, and signatures on books. Donker, general manager of the Book City stores in Toronto, reeled around this outlet, slapping his forehead: "I've never seen anything like it."
This year, Book City has invited authors to pick three "desert island" reads for possible hand-selling. I said let's go with  White Eskimo by Stephen R. Bown, Empire of Deception by Dean Jobb, and What Lies Across the Water by Stephen Kimber. Book City will also stock a few extra copies of my latest opus, Celtic Lightning, and of a few tomes from my backlist . . . Fatal Passage, Lady Franklin's Revenge, How the Scots Invented Canada. 
Hey, we're talking win-win-win. Besides, it's lots of fun. Maybe see you April 30.

Friday, January 29, 2016

MFA Program in Creative Nonfiction is one of a kind in Canada

I've mentioned the low-res MFA program in Creative Nonfiction at King's College in Halifax? One of a kind in Canada? I serve as a mentor therein, so I may be biased. But I think it's spectacular. It may be cheating, since this is MY blog. But I'll cede the floor to my colleague Stephen Kimber, who does a superb job of summarizing recent fun and games . . .   
(Above: Alana Wilcox from Coach House Press talks to MFA students)
Students in the King’s College MFA in Creative Nonfiction program had a chance to meet, mingle with — and even pitch to — more than 30 of Canada’s top publishers, editors, agents and authors during this year’s Winter Publishing Residency in Toronto from January 17th to 23rd.
The annual publishing residency — which alternates between venues in Toronto and New York, North America’s publishing capitals — is a key component in the two-year limited residency program jointly offered by The University of King’s College and Dalhousie University. The program is the only one in Canada to focus exclusively on nonfiction.
Ben McNally of Toronto’s Ben McNally Bookstore meets with students.
Among the many highlights of this year’s Toronto residency: field trips to the Kobo Canada headquarters for a briefing on the evolving landscape of ebook publishing; to HarperCollins Canada where the publishing company’s nonfiction editors offered a panel on what they’re buying and why, followed by a mix-and-mingle reception; and to the Ben McNally Bookstore, where owner Ben McNally offered insights into the world of bookselling.
PenguinRandomHouse’s digital and social media staff conducted a special author-platform-building workshop specifically for MFA students, while senior staff at independent Canadian publishers Book Thug, Coach House Books, House of Anansi Press and ECW Press offered their insights into the business. Award-winning Canadian authors Lynn Thomson, Sylvia Hamilton, Stephen Brunt and Dean Jobb talked about their work and life. (Hamilton and Jobb are also members of King’s Journalism faculty.) And five of the country’s top literary agents were on hand to talk about their roles in the publishing process.
HarperCollins nonfiction editors discuss the latest trends in nonfiction books.
The week-long residency culminated with “Pitch Day,” during which each of the program’s 38 students got to practise-pitch their book-project-in-progress to two different Canadian editors or agents — and get constructive personal feedback.
The King’s MFA in Creative Nonfiction program — which one graduate described as “a combination MBA for writers and creative writing boot camp” — is currently accepting applications for admission for 2016-17. The semester begins in August with a two-week summer residency at the University of King’s College in Halifax.
This year’s residency will feature HarperCollins author-in-residence Charlotte Gray and PenguinRandomHouse editor-in-residence Diane Turbide.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Creative Nonfiction online? Through U of T? Still time to come aboard . . .

He's back! And this time (see photo) he's at the house of explorer Roald Amundsen, just outside Oslo. In response to a raucous clamor, the Dr. Jekyll in me has clawed his way onto your screen to announce an online course in Creative Nonfiction. It's called The Art of Fact: An Introduction to Writing Nonfiction, and it's available through the University of Toronto. We launch on January 25, 2016 . . . and quite a few folks have already come aboard from hither and yon. Just sayin'.  The particulars look something like this: "The hallmarks of Creative, Literary or Narrative Nonfiction are truth and personal presence. The genre includes subjective and objective streams, and encompasses memoir, autobiography, biography, history, adventure, travel, and true crime. The writer of nonfiction employs memory, imagination, analysis, and research, and adapts literary techniques from fiction, journalism, and the essay. This craft-oriented course aims to enhance your ability to tell true stories." You can find out more at the link above.  In the past, folks have "attended" from as far away as Japan and Uganda. Oh, and we do have a favourite text: Textbook: The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism, edited by Kevin Kerrane and Ben Yagoda. (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-684-84630-6).  Wherever you are, come on out. (Special welcome if you know who Amundsen is!)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Enough about me. Let's talk about YOU. What do YOU think about me?

Looking back as the year winds down, I discover that this has been a great month for the ol' blog. Second highest number of visitors ever. Yes, we are talking thousands. No big mystery, of course: people were keen to read about our Adventure Canada voyage Out of the Northwest Passage. And let's not kid ourselves: folks loved the related photos and, above all, the paintings by Sheena Fraser McGoogan, like the one to your left. Lots more turn up on Sheena's website.
To move into the number two spot, December 2015 narrowly edged out September 2014. That was when I found myself talking about the discovery of the Erebus, and also about John Rae entering Westminster Abbey -- my most visited post ever. As for the number-one month, that remains October 2013. Does anyone remember the 50 Canadians, Ocean-to-Ocean, Book Tour Extravaganza sponsored by VIA-Rail and Harper Collins Canada. Complete with a contest featuring a travel voucher worth $5K? From Toronto, we traveled by train first to the Pacific and then to the Atlantic. It was all in aid of 50 Canadians Who Changed the World.The most popular post during that run, and second most popular of all time? Three reasons why I hate Calgary. Go figure. But hey, that's enough about me. Let's talk about YOU. What do YOU think about me?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Northwest Passage voyagers make history . . . maybe next time?

[Here endeth our Adventure Canada voyage Out of the Northwest Passage. . . .]
Sept. 20
 Today we visited what is arguably the most picturesque community in Greenland. The settlement of Itilleq is 49 km south of Sisimiut on a small island at the mouth of Itilleq Fjord. Inhabited by about 100 Greenlanders, the town comprises a couple of dozen brightly painted houses built on rocky black slopes. A neat graveyard alive with bright white crosses overlooks the town. And beyond lies a spectacular ring of mountains.
The church was built in Thule in 1933 and moved here three decades later. Today, it serves as a youth club and community centre. About twenty people came on board the Ocean Endeavour for lunch, among them some of the most amenable children in the Arctic. One two-year-old uttered not a word of complaint while staffer Dave Freeze carried him hither and yon.
At the heart of Itilleq lies a soccer pitch, complete with two nets. Here, a team of ambitious voyagers entered into a match. . . and came within a hair’s breadth of making history by winning. We brought ashore a number of ringers, among them Laura Baer, yoga teacher and zodiac driver. Another of them, fellow driver Dawson Freeze, registered a beautiful goal. And hard-driving passenger Eddie Carnegie notched a second.
Meanwhile, unfortunately, the Itilleq team scored three times, and so walked away with a victory. Team members accepted the Adventure Canada trophy with good cheer. Fact remains: the red-shirted cheerleaders, under the leadership of Dave Freeze, stole the show with their effervescence, their spirited chants, and their explosive dance routines. Yay, Polar Bears!

Monday, Sept. 21

Kangerlussuaq lies at the end of one of the world’s longest fjords, Sondre Stromfjord, which runs inland for 168 kilometres. This is the site of one of Greenland’s four airports. The U.S. military built it during the Second World War, and vacated in 1992. Voyagers spit into two groups, with one travelling to the ice cap and the other doing a nature tour that included a stop at a glacial lake and a long-distance sighting of hard-to-find muskox.
The previous evening had culminated in an ebullient kitchen party featuring the house band. Unbeknownst to many, it also brought the resolution of a kidnapping mystery that had been inspired by Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress. Photographer Andre Gallant had taken to presenting situational images of a rubber chicken he called McChickie. 
One night at the bar, a few staffers had kicked around the idea of kidnapping Gallant’s yellow bird . . . and, when the popular critter disappeared, and ransom demands ensued, suspicion fell mainly on the late-night conspirators. Incredibly, the real culprits -- staffers Natalie Swain and Judy Acres -- had hatched a parallel plan independently. But, unlike the late-night talkers, they had acted on it. To Gallant’s relief, McChickie resurfaced unharmed.
After dinner, with most voyagers heading for their cabins and the ship sailing into  Sondre Stromfjod, the Aurora Borealis exploded into the night-time sky. This display of Northern Lights provided a fitting cap to a voyage that had taken us more than 5,000 kilometres through the Northwest Passage. Ah, for just one time . . . 
[ In 2016, Sheena (our artist-photographer)  and I sail Into the Passage. Check it out. Maybe catch you then?]

Monday, December 28, 2015

Northwest Passage voyage enters the Greenland ice

Friday, Sept. 18
 Sunrise in Karrat Fjord provided the most memorable morning of the voyage, featuring dead calm waters, icebergs large and small, wisps of fog swirling past distant mountain peaks, white-capped and soaring to 6,000 feet. Voyagers could hardly believe the vistas. Those who had visited this sixty-kilometre-long fjord three or four times were left dazzled, declaring to a person that they had never seen this stunning landscape look more spectacular.
Many of us hiked the nearby peaks, around which gun-bearers had established a perimeter that provided vistas of icebergs and floes. In the distance across the water and ice, we could discern the settlement of Nugatsiaq. More than one visitor remarked on the peacefulness and spirituality of the island on which we had landed: Karrat Island. Call it gorgeous, though even that word fails to capture the experience.
Latonia Hartery greeted voyagers at a small graveyard, and Mark St. Onge explained that the sedimentary rocks, 1.95 billion years old, showed that we were at the edge of the Rae Craton or tectonic plate. He pointed out the highly visible Franklin Dyke, which had erupted into the plate a mere 723 million years ago.
Back on the ship, the bravest among us went for a polar dip. Forty-eight people (28 of them male) took the plunge, some of them retiring later to the hot pool on Deck Six. Nobody showed any signs of wanting to challenge the record, held by AC staffer John Houston, of 28 minutes in the water.
Lunch became a back-deck barbecue in the sunshine, with people sitting around at outdoor tables while enjoying a fabulous repast, not incidentally surrounded by shutterbugs obsessively snapping as we sailed through the most impressive iceberg
s we had yet seen. During the afternoon, as we beat south, Hartery told the compelling story of Knud Rasmussen, Greenland’s greatest explorer and anthropologist. She traced his career from his birth in Ilulllisat through his seven Thule expeditions and beyond, including his six years on the world lecture circuit. Among other achievements, Rasmussen demonstrated that the so-called Peary Channel in northern Greenland did not exist, and that a single Inuit culture extends from Greenland into Russia. He did this last while spending 16 months traversing the Arctic from east to west.
Evening found the ship entering Disko Bay, and that provided sufficient reason to launch a Disko Party. It began with the staff, duly kitted out, performing a beautifully choreographed line dance directed by Jocelyn Langford, who had brought aboard a large contingent of Roads Scholars. With David Newland urging people to outdo themselves, several dancers showed moves so distinctive that expedition leader Stefan Kindberg hurried to the bridge to call the producer of Dancing With the Stars.
Saturday, Sept. 19
Late afternoon in Ilulissat, voyagers returned from a 90-minute cruise  among the icebergs looking cold but exhilarated. The word on everybody’s lips: FANTASTIC! Oh, and again: “This has been the best day of the trip!” Ilulissat is the third-largest town in Greenland, with populations of 4,000 people and 6,000 dogs. Explorer-anthropologist Knud Rasmussen was born here, and his home has become a notable museum. But the main attraction is the Jakobshavn Icefjord, which has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2004.
Flowing past the town at between 19 and 35 metres per day, it produces 20 billion tons of ice each year, and spawns vastly more icebergs than any glacier in the Arctic. Ice was much in evidence early this morning as the Ocean Endeavour sailed carefully through Disko Bay to anchor outside the town. The usual landing site was inaccessible to the ship, but expedition leaders identified a second option and voyagers went ashore by zodiac.

 About twenty passengers set out on a helicopter tour of the glacier, and came back raving about that. They had walked on the ice cap itself, and flew so low during their return – roughly 2000 feet up -- that they could see into the  crevasses. Most voyagers undertook the traditional three-kilometre walk through the colorful town to the boardwalk and beyond,
where we scrambled to a hilltop vantage point and looked out over the flowing icebergs. Today was all about the fantastical ice, and this would be one of those few instances in which the old adage holds true: in Ilulissat, a picture is worth 1,000 words.
Evening brought the Adventure Canada Variety Show . . . and several passengers impressed their fellows as remarkably talented. Assistant expedition leader David Reid, well known for his evocative poems, and having declined an invitation to sing Flower of Scotland, kicked off the evening with a superb song. And who could forget the the visitation of Dr. John Rae, the skit skewering Stephen Harper, or the Inuit dance that ended the show? That said, nobody implored performers to quit their day jobs. [All photos by Sheena Fraser McGoogan]

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Voyagers beat north along the American Route to the Pole

DAY NINE: Grise Fjord
Sept. 13
A larger-than-life monument at Grise Fjord, carved out of stone, depicts two Inuit: an adult female and a child. These figures face towards Resolute Bay, where a companion statue of a male Inuk gazes back at this memorial. Together, the two monuments speak to the separation of families that occurred as a result of a government-driven displacement -- an event whose repercussions have reverberated into the present day.
The statue here on Ellesmere Island, in the most northerly civilian settlement in Canada, was erected in 2010 to begin the healing process necessitated by the forced settlement of this community in the 1950s. Looty Pijamini did the carving. His family was one of those to arrive here in 1953 and 1955. In a move reminiscent of Scotland’s infamous Highland Clearances, the Canadian government evacuated Inuit families from northern Quebec, claiming that here they would flourish. In fact, the government engineered the relocation to assert sovereignty over the region. And here, even more than in Resolute Bay, the newcomers suffered.
At the two-year-old gymnasium, voyagers enjoyed a fashion show. They gathered here after touring the town in groups of twenty-five or thirty. One of the guides, seventeen-year-old Olaf Christianson, capped the usual tour by taking us past two sheds he owns, and showing off bear and muskox skins from animals he had taken. Along the way, and in a short onboard presentation before the landing, we learned that:
Grise Fiord was charted and named by Otto Sverdrup; The population is about 130, and one third of those are young people attending school, where they learn from five teachers; The town has an excellent medical centre, built in 1989. The ship’s arrival coincided with a regular visit by a dentist, and one member of the crew used his services; The original settlement, known as the Old Village, was located nine kilometres away, an exposed point that can be reached only by water. The town moved when the RCMP arrived in the 1960s. 
At 76 degrees 24 minutes north, Grise Fiord is 1544 kilometres from the Noth Pole.

Sept. 14

During the afternoon, driving west across Baffin Bay in rough seas, we entered the area in which American explorer Elisha Kent Kane accomplished an extraordinary escape across the polar ice. In 1855, from a latitude above 79 degrees, Kane led sixteen men to safety along the Greenland coast on a 980-kilometre, small-boat journey. The sailing came after the men hauled whaleboats to the mouth of Smith Sound, where they took to the water. This they did six decades before Ernest Shackleton worked his celebrated miracle-escape in the Antarctic.
Kane was seeking the 1845 Franklin expedition, which he and many others believed had got trapped in an Open Polar Sea beyond a great ring of ice at the top of the world. Five years before, sailing as a ship’s doctor on an American expedition encouraged by Lady Franklin, Kane had passed through what he described as “a crowd of noble icebergs.” Prevailing currents usually pushed this so-called “Middle Ice” to the west, opening a channel along the Greenland coast. Whalers would follow this laneway as far north as Melville Bay – essentially a massive indentation -- and then sail to the northwest, crossing Baffin Bay through the relatively ice-free North Water – waters that, in September 2015, we were now traversing.
Occasionally, to save valuable summertime weeks, voyagers tried to thread their way through the Middle Ice. In 1819, Edward Parry had succeeded in this; a few years later, he wasted two months trying. In July 1850, the highly literate Kane described the “vast plane of undulating ice” as creating an unspeakable din of crackling, grinding and splashing: “A great number of bergs, of shapes the most simple and most complicated, of colors blue, white, and earth-stained, were tangled in this floating field.” One evening, while standing on deck, he counted 240 icebergs “of primary magnitude.” Today, with the Little Ice Age having become ancient history, we churned through open seas.
In 1853, sailing now as captain of his own ship, the ingenious Kane passed through the Middle Ice by attaching his small wooden vessel – 26 metres, 144 tons – to an iceberg so huge that it tapped into a deep ocean current and flowed north against the waves prevailing on the surface. He achieved a new “farthest north” above 79 degrees, but spent two terrible winters trapped there.
Finally, in spring of 1855, Kane was forced to abandon the Advance. He and his men spent one month (May 17 to June 16) transporting supplies to Etah, then a permanent home to several extended families. From there, having reached open water, Kane said a fond farewell to his Inuit friends. With sixteen men (he had lost two before setting out, and one had perished along the way), he piled into two tiny boats and began his voyage south.
Eventually, after weeks battling winds, ice floes, and near starvation, he reached Upernavik, the northernmost Danish settlement, where he and his men stayed for a month before leaving on a supply ship. Kane had found no Open Polar Sea, but he did find what came to be called – after Robert Peary and Frederick Cook passed this way -- the American Route to the Pole.