Event 1: Neil Gaiman's book tour stop in Montreal last Wednesday!
Event 2: 20th anniversary of Margaret Buffie's Who Is Frances Rain?!
Neil's event - one of only three in Canada as part of his last North American book tour - was sold out!
Luckily, I'd gotten our tickets the day they went on sale from Librairie Drawn and Quarterly.
There were no assigned seats, so the line outside the Rialto Theatre started early, snaking around the corner and down the next block. Luckily, my friends and I ended up directly outside the door of Cafe Matina, and had a drink while we waited. I wondered if Neil had tried the sushi from the restaurant across the street.
The cafe owner came to the door and looked out in bewilderment at the line. He asked us what we were waiting for, and said he'd never seen a line like that for any previous event at the theatre!
The theatre itself was lovely, as was the surrounding neighbourhood, full of gorgeous architecture from the 20s and 30s (some sadly derelict), but that's a post for another day.
Neil's talk and readings were - in a word - delightful. As someone who struggles with public speaking, and also as an author who cringes to hear her own words read aloud, watching and listening to Neil was both entertaining (for the talk itself) and an education. His timing and pitch are spot on. And his stories are so much fun!
At one point he even told us "you don't have to cheer everything!" He'd just begun a story featuring his hair and Shirley MacLaine and his wife, so I called out "but it's Amanda!" Doubt he heard me though. (I'd been secretly hoping she might come to Montreal with him, in between her own gigs.)
He read half of a chapter of The Ocean at the End of the Lane and, even though I had just reread the book the day before the event, the story still felt brand new. I heard words I couldn't even remember reading and the dialogue was... let's just say I'm really looking forward to the audiobook. It's not often you come across a story that works equally well on the page/inner ear and on the outer ear.
After the reading he answered a few audience questions, about his hair, about Doctor Who, about his writing process (a lot of tea and glaring), about daydreaming (what if a werewolf... bit a goldfish?), and so on.
He also mentioned a semi-secret project about myth retellings. So of course I started wondering whether there'd be any Turkish myths or folklore involved. There's so much that I'd love to see him mine - the Dede Korkut stories, Nasreddin Hoca's wisdom, Karagöz and Hacivat shadow theatre, Keloğlan tales... I was always fascinated by the Zümrüt Anka bird, which apparently comes from the Persian Simurgh.
Then he read from his upcoming book Fortunately, the Milk and I was very very happy to know I'd already pre-ordered it. Let's just say, I've got my Christmas gifts for my nieces and nephews sorted this year. Although there's really no age limit for books like these.
Then came the signing!
Compared to some of Neil's other tour stops, we weren't as intense, I believe. Only (!) 800 or so in line, and I didn't hear that he need to ice his hand afterwards. They did hussle us along however. I understand he needs to get through lots of us, but it was a bit disconcerting the way they had him sign your books and then stand beside him for the photo, which meant that often he was already signing the next person's book while in a photo with you.
I'm glad I talked to Theresa beforehand, because she clued me in to The Graveyard Book tidbit - instead of just signing your name, Neil "engraves" it on a tombstone. I brought my UK copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane which has the lovely little pail on the inside cover and, as I found out to my delight, Neil likes to draw ghosts coming out of the pail!
Isn't it wonderful how cheerful he always is? Thank you for a brilliant evening, Neil!
On to event 2!
One of my favourite books is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year!
Who is Frances Rain? by Margaret Buffie
I'm very pleased to be hosting Margaret Buffie herself here today! I asked her all sorts of random questions and she obliged me...
Where do you do most of your writing?
I do most of my writing in my second floor office in my home. The house was built in 1910, and I love to look out at the old elms along the street as I work and think about the history of my city. I also write at my lake cottage.
What do you need to help you write?
I start with a pencil and lined notebook for the first few chapters. Then I go to my computer. I also set up music to create the mood for each different storyline. Hard to explain. But it works for me. Add many cups of tea and I'm good.
Do you have stories that might never see light of day?
I have many ideas that I doubt will get published. I have two "adult" manuscripts from years ago that I still "intend to work on" but I find I'm always working on a YA novel first. One of them is on the second burner as I write this newest YA. Actually I am kind of writing both at once... new idea for me, but fun...
What's your earliest memory related to writing?
I was in grade four and I had written a story for my much adored teacher, Miss Day. I was walking beside her during recess and she said to me, "You know, Margaret, I think you may be a writer one day." I'm sure she was just being sweet, but I believed her.
What do you do when you're not writing?
I spend a lot of time with my family. I am also an artist and a photographer – and I love to cook. (And of course I read a lot!)
Which of your characters is most like you?
Mmm. Tough one. I know I put a part of me into every character. I "feel" as if I am that character while I am writing their story. In Who is Frances Rain?, for instance, I am part of all three modern characters – Lizzie, her mom and her gran. But I am not Frances Rain. I would never be as independent and brave as she was. But I admire her tremendously, because she paid a big price for her independence.
Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
I think what makes them believable is my deep connection with them. To me they are very real as I explore their stories.
Names are very important to me. The name Frances, for instance, means "free" which suits my character to a "T". I chose Lizzie McGill for the main character, because that was my grandmother's name. Every name I choose is carefully picked. I also avoid trendy "modern" names and stick to names that are more traditional, yet powerful. (To me.)
Who is your favourite literary character not your own?
My favourite literary character is Barbara Pym's character Mildred Lathsbury in Excellent Women. Mildred has always observed life from a distance, but the new people who arrive to live in her house somehow change how she looks at everything. I also love another of her characters, Jane, in Jane and Prudence. Jane is so honest, messy, intuitive and funny. I adore her. I also love Inspector Maigret who is the creation of French writer Georges Simenon. His second best character in that amazing series is Paris!
Who is your favourite author?
I have many. But when the chips are down, I bet you can guess who it is. Yep. Barbara Pym! She's brilliant.
Who inspired you to write?
Me! (And Miss Day...) But I didn't start writing until my late thirties. Up to then I was a visual artist. No one even knew I was writing except my husband and daughter. I was reading YA books along with my daughter and loving so many of them, that soon, I was reading many on my own. An idea for my own novel kind of dropped into my lap – and I decided to try writing it. Fell in love with the whole process. Kept going. Haven't stopped yet!
Do you have a favourite writing-related quote?
I saw this quote by Barbara Kingsolver once, in a book of quotes, and I copied it and put it up on my bulletin board, because it is exactly how I feel about my own writing.
"Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer."
Do you do all your own research or have others help you?
I do all my own research.
What's the weirdest thing you've researched?
"Box privies" – or outdoor toilets that did not have a hole in the ground at all! Ack! They were supposed to be cleared out by city workers which was not regularly done. These were still in use in the early 1900's on city streets in Canada, and the fetid waste and hoards of flies were the cause of much illness and death in the poorest areas of those cities.
On Frances Rain
Have you ever considered writing a sequel to the story, perhaps something that happens to a child of Lizzie's?
I have been asked this question often by readers. I did consider it, but I simply don't have a story to tell...yet.
Do you still feel close to the story and characters?
Yes, very much. Maybe that's why I felt that this story was "complete" because when it was finished I felt I could move on to something different.
Was the story written in linear fashion?
In way yes .. and in a way no. I wrote the first few chapters pretty quickly. Then the story ground to a halt. It became clear to me that I had no idea how to take this story where I wanted it to go. So I decided to do a plan or general outline of it and test some ideas. This fluid outline changed many times as the story evolved. But I kept reworking it. A few times I changed the plan here and there to the point where I had to go back and rework sections of the manuscript. I still work this way. I think it keeps the story fresh - and open to change.
What was the first image or scene that inspired this story?
I was cleaning up a small island near our lake cabin, so my daughter and her cousin's kids could play on it safely. There was a very old refuse dump on it and I became an archeologist in a way as I sifted through it. I found some gorgeous bottles, medical and old fruit syrup types etc. and a lot of broken china. But I did find an old heavy mug still intact with debris in it. When I dropped the little pile onto my lap, I found an object wrapped in shattered pieces of oil cloth. Out dropped a pair of wire glasses. I held them to my eyes and looked across the water, and wondered what it would be like to see a canoe paddling toward me from out of the past. I still have the glasses and the mug. (And the bottles and other things I found.) I knew there was the remains of a trapper's cabin across the lake under a small circle of trees and I wondered if the glasses belonged to him. But what if the trapper was a woman in my story? That was the kernel of the idea for Who is Frances Rain?
What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?
For me organizing the story is always the biggest challenge. But once I wrestled Who is Frances Rain? back on track - so that I was able to have my characters say what they really wanted to say; to develop the story; and present the setting almost as another character - it became a complete joy to write.
Is there anything you would change in Lizzie's story if you could?
No. Nothing. I could probably write it a bit better today, I suppose, but it is what it is and I am very proud of it.
What are some of the most memorable events that have happened to you as a result of this story?
The first memorable thing that happened was that Who is Frances Rain? was nominated for the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year award – and was the runner up in that – and it also got great reviews. But best of all, shortly after, it was also nominated for the Young Adult Canadian Book Award by the same group and it won!
Another memorable event and a very nasty one for me, happened just after I had finished a reading to a class in Montreal during Children's Book week (put on by The Canadian Book Centre) a year or so after "Frances Rain" was published. A reporter called there, asking how I felt about bring banned from an Ottawa school, where my next reading was to take place a few days later.
This kicked off a news event of sorts across Canada's newspapers. The Ottawa principal began to slur my name calling me a "difficult" author and that I had "demanded" unreasonable things etc. He had not read the book, of course, (these people rarely do) because his librarian highlighted words and scenes and dialogue for him that she decided might make it a problem. As I had never spoken to anyone from the school at all, his comments were completely false. I did have one supporter besides my family – a public librarian from Montreal who stood by me all the way - and I will always be grateful for her support.
When I came back to Winnipeg, another librarian from a local school, who had asked me to do a reading there, read the "banning" news in the papers, and showed them to her principal. He, of course, also did not read the book. I was consequently "uninvited" from his school. When challenged by local media, this second principal also blamed me, saying I was "difficult." Of course, I had had no personal contact with either him or the librarian. Ironically, the article about the censoring of my novel was written up in a Canadian children's lit periodical a few months later and they talked about the events - adding comments from the principal in Ottawa. However, no one from that periodical thought to talk to me! I protested in writing, and they then asked me to write about my experience. Which I did!
[I hadn't heard any of this before! Lucky for me that I had no trouble getting my hands on a copy in our school library!]
If this story was made into a film (and I wish it would be!), who would you have as the leading actors?
It was actually discussed – once with Anna Paquin as a possible Lizzie. She is now a grown adult of course! Sadly the people involved in the US negotiations could not come to an agreement with my publisher regarding the contract. However My Mother's Ghost was ultimately the book that was made into a film. Maybe someday Frances Rain will live on the screen. I would have to see who would suit the roll in the future, as young actors grow up so quickly!
For more information and excerpts, please visit Margaret Buffie's blog.
Both Neil and Margaret mention tea as part of their writing process! Have I been doing it all wrong all these years with my latte obsession?
Brief ROW80 update - I've decided which project to work on next! I'll be typing up Captive of the Sea. That way, I can save drafting the 1913 Canada story for this year's NaNo.
Have you been to any book tour stops lately?
Is there a special book whose anniversary you're celebrating?