Category Archives: Calgary

One Woman’s Island – Fan mail and reviews!

And definitely not from some flounder!

But this is what I can call a message I really like!

Not all readers like to write reviews and post them online, and I get that! So I will never ask anyone to review my books or post their thoughts if they don’t wish to do so.

However, I do know many readers, especially friends, like to tell me their thoughts and impressions about my books after they’ve read something I’ve written. They quite often write to me privately in an email, or they tell me in person when I meet up with them. So I then ask if I may post their comments to my blog, and will do so anonymously, if that’s what they wish.

Here are comments from two friends who had previously read Island in the Clouds and have now told me what they think of One Woman’s Island

Friend #1 (received by email):
I loved reading One Woman’s Island. I enjoyed it so much that at one point, I wished the story wouldn’t end! I appreciated that Marianne was such a strong character. She believed in her values and did not cave in when she encountered opposing views. Keep writing, Sue. I look forward to your next book. Violet

Friend #2 (From a conversation):
I enjoyed the development of the characters, particularly Tex, who I had no sympathy with initially, but came to like him. Mariana reflects the views of a lot of people who come to the island, who are invasive and intrusive, and get it all wrong. She irritated the hell out of me and at times I wanted to slap her! I really enjoyed the change in speed between life on Bequia and the slow pace of the tranquil garden in several scenes. There should be a place like that on this island where people can sit in private and not be overheard, enjoying a coffee or tea completely out of sight. (smt: Well, there is my own verandah at The View. Although I do quite like my imagined garden in the novel.) I actually felt that what you’ve done is left enough strings untied that what I want most is to read the next book.

Friend #1 has visited us on Bequia, but I have known her since 1979, shortly after we moved to Calgary. We have been friends ever since. She is an artist and has always encouraged my writing.

Friend #2 owns a house on Bequia and has been coming to the island for many years. She’s supported my books wholeheartedly and keeps print copies in her house for rental guests to read. (And if you’re thinking of coming to Bequia, I do recommend you check out this friend’s house – send me an email for details.)

Both women are avid readers, so I am particularly flattered by their comments.

As well, I received a wonderful review of my book from author and friend, Timothy Phillips. (The link will take you to his promotion on my blog.) He did post to both Amazon and Facebook, but I just had to share with you here what he has said:

I was fortunate to read Susan Toy’s first book, Island in the Clouds. This is set on the Caribbean island of Bequia and murders will take place – guaranteed. We don’t have to wait long – a body turns up floating in the swimming pool almost on page one. It’s an exciting read all the way through.

Toy’s second book is also set in Bequia, which is where she resides for half the year. She knows the island intimately and she knows the people, both the ex-pat community and locals and has weaved this backdrop effectively into her story. We will have to wait a third of the way into her book before we have full proof of skullduggery and mischief. Yet, right from the beginning, we have ominous warning of some malevolent presence of things to come through the almost incoherent rambling conversation of three children. So, we’re prepared to wait. It reminds me of the witches’ scene in Act One, Scene One of Macbeth.

We all, especially if we live in the cold North, have images in our mind of paradise on earth – a warm sunny climate, pristine beaches, plentiful exotic fruits, smiling locals speaking in a patois that has a lilting and colourful charm – easy to be enchanted here, nice place to visit. Might even consider moving here if suddenly there was upheaval in one’s life.

That happens to the protagonist, Mariana who has come to Bequia with her two cats for an extended visit to mend from a marriage that ended. She’s naive but well-intentioned – perhaps she’s enervated by sunshine and dazzled by vibrant blue skies. She wants to contribute meaningfully and yet her perception of life on the island through seemingly rose-tinted spectacles is far different from reality.

The tension in Toy’s story builds magnificently, the main characters are intriguing colourful individuals and she develops them masterfully. There are few that will predict the outcome of the story and we are left guessing right to the end.

Toy is an interested foodie and has obviously experimented with local dishes. At the end of some chapters, she has included the recipes for these. It gives one a chance to take a breath and reminds me of the opportunity to stretch, get a snack or an ice cream at Intermission. One needs that.

Loved it.

And I loved your review, Tim! Thank you so much for reading and telling everyone! I especially like the reference you made to Macbeth – Nice!

If anyone else has read and enjoyed any of my books, but is kind of shy about putting their comments out there, your secret identity is safe with me! Just send me an email, susanmtoy (at), tell me what you think, and give me permission to post either with your name or without. As I said in a blog post I wrote earlier this year, A small request of all my readers …

Thank you, to all readers, from the bottom of my heart!

Heart Failure Research Unit – a listening recommendation

Thanks to Reading Recommendations-promoted author Sharon Clark for telling me about this group of musicians who also just happen to be Research Doctors at the University of Calgary.

From Sharon:
It has been a great privilege for me to work with a group of very bright medical doctors and researchers, some being both. I was always impressed with their medical and scientific expertise, but I was amazed to find out that these individuals also are very talented musicians.

Dustin Anderson wrote and sang the songs in this CD. He obtained a PhD in Neuroscience and is currently a medical resident in Internal Medicine.

Vadim Iablokov obtained his PhD in Gastroenterology and now he too is in medical school. He plays the drums.

Lorrie Matheson – a professional musician and producer – had a variety of roles. He not only played keyboard, bass and guitar, but was also the producer of this CD. He plays in multiple bands, both folk and rock. His latest album “The Night is for Sleepers” was available in 2013.

Dan Muruve, is a doctor and researcher that I am fortunate to work for. He is a nephrologist who also has two research labs – one in basic research studying chronic kidney disease and the other investigating markers in various patient kidney diseases. He plays guitar here.

I also had the good fortune to work with Simon Hirota during his Post-Doctoral studies. Currently he also has his own lab focusing on acute and chronic inflammatory diseases in the gastrointestinal tract. He plays bass on earlier records.

These people have worked hard to become experts in their fields. They balance their demanding careers through their musical creativity, which they hold to the same high standards.

Heart Failure Research Unit

What is your latest release and what type of music is it?
Temporary Dreams is the latest CD. It is alternative rock/folk

Quick description of the music you perform:
We have recorded 3 albums with this current lineup. Our musical influences are diverse and include Hayden, Pavement, Neil Young, The Figgs, The Replacements, Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, Frank Black, Ryan Adams.


Your band bio:
We are all medical doctors or research scientists. Heart Failure Research Unit is the brainchild of Calgary’s Dustin Anderson – a prolific songwriter who combines his love of weirdo psych-roots and classic troubadours to make an incredibly engaging indie-folk hybrid. Drawing on his vast life experience, his lyrics are wise and weary, heavy and hopeful, his voice warm and inviting, like your favorite sofa at Grandpa’s cabin.

Links for people to buy your music:

Your promo links:

What are you working on now?
We are planning to make another record in 2016 and have a CD release party this fall.

Please recommend the name of a musician or band whose work you’ve enjoyed hearing lately.
Courtney Barnett

Guest Post: J. Michael Fay on Remembering Alexandra Centre

Michael Fay has been guest-posting here about his early days as a writer, attending the Bread Loaf Conference in 1978 and as a participant at the Banff Centre in 1976. Michael is back now to tell us about writing in Calgary during the 70s and his part in the beginnings of the Alexandra Centre as a place that has encouraged and educated writers for decades since.


Remembering Alexandra Centre
by Michael Fay

I first entered Inglewood in the fall of 1978 as a tenant in the Dandelion Co-op, known in history as the Deane House. The Co-op offered office space to writers, painters, potters, artists, fabric artists, as well as a superb exhibition space in the glass-enclosed veranda.

I had just moved to Calgary with my family. My partner had taken a social work position with the Alberta government and I had recently returned from a summer course at the Bread Loaf Conference in Vermont. I was a writer of short fiction and had received grants from the Alberta government to study creative writing, first at the Banff Centre in 1976, then at Antioch College in 1977, and finally at Bread Loaf. I was a newly named instructor in the Correspondence Course offered by the Literary Arts Branch of Alberta Culture and hoped to continue my budding career as a freelance journalist and writer. We had spent the previous three years in Camrose, Alberta, my partner’s home town. Since most of my life had been spent in cities, that time in Camrose felt a bit alien to me. I was happy to be in a big city again and eager to enter the literary life.

The Dandelion was a funky place, to say the least. I was there five days of the week, hammering away on my portable electric typewriter, beginning to do book reviews for the Calgary Herald and articles for Alberta, Calgary, and Edmonton Magazines, as well as honing my short stories for the literary market. The other Co-op members would come in through the day and retreat to their studios to paint or pot or run material through their sewing machines.

I was on the second floor with a tall and wide window looking down on the pleasant run of the Elbow River, with great, bending trees on both shores. And, beyond the river, the open fields surrounding the Fort Calgary exhibition centre, a bunker built into the hill leading down to the Bow River, often inspired me to imagine the first peoples who raised their teepees and speared the abundant fish rushing in the current.

My artistic peers at the Co-op and this magical connection to the ancient landscape made it a great place to write.

I was alone for the most part that first fall and winter in the Dandelion, and began to explore the streetscape along 8th and 9th Avenues, looking for places to eat, pick up necessities, and, of course for a curious writer, to find people who would stir my interest and imagination. I passed the beautiful sandstone of the Alexandra Centre many times that fall and winter, admiring the restoration, with the sleek new windows complementing the historic stone structure, but never curious enough to go inside to find out what was going on. That is, until I heard through the walls of the small gym the sound of a basketball bouncing. I was in my early thirties at the time, relatively fit, and just dying to get a basketball in my hands.

One day I decided to take action. I met Molly Cropper, the manager, down in the basement of the Centre, sitting at a desk and, like so many people, myself included in those days, having an afternoon smoke.

“There’s a gym?”


I was introduced to Molly’s reluctance to waste words in that very first encounter.

“And somebody is shooting a basketball?”


I considered myself a fast thinking and talking kind of guy, but Molly left me speechless for a long moment.

“Is it possible to play?”

Molly looked up from the papers on her desk and not wasting a word, took a significant puff on her cigarette. I wanted to pull a cigarette from my own pocket, but decided to wait.

“I mean, for me to shoot some baskets at lunch? I…ah…I work down at the Dandelion.”

“Oh,” said Molly. “I see.”

What did she see?

“I’m looking for some…exercise.”

“Yes,” said Molly.

“Do you…”

“Why, sure. We’ve a young man on a community service and he found the ball and took to shooting at lunch. I’m sure he’d like the company.”

I was overcome with sheer joy. This was the beginning of a four-year relationship with the Alexandra Centre, which went from basketball to helping others create stories, poems, and books, and, by gosh, it’s still happening!

I carried on at the Dandelion Co-op for another few months, helping to launch the Dandelion Magazine with fellow Co-op members Joan Clark, Edna Alford, and Dale Fehr. I was in charge of marketing the magazine and placing it in bookstores across the city. (Note from Susan: Michael’s and my lives have intersected over the decades in many synchronistic ways and places, but I only just realized while preparing this guest post that I was an employee of one of those Calgary bookstores Michael would have approached when selling copies of Dandelion Magazine in 1978-79!) “A Little Green Book” was published in the fifth number, a story based on my time in rural Alberta. I gave my first public reading at the Co-op and was in the audience when my partner’s high school English teacher, subsequent Governor General Award Winner Gloria Sawai, read her famous story about Jesus and the laundry in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. There were exhibits and small shows and I was fortunate enough to be able to write about my fellow Co-op members in an article for Calgary Magazine. I was particularly fond of Cathy Work’s paintings, some of which still hang in our home.

And then suddenly, the City of Calgary decided to withdraw its arrangement with the Co-op members in order to develop the space into a fine restaurant. This whacked me, but got me to thinking quickly about the possibility of relocating to the Alexandra Centre. And in a remarkably short period of time, Molly got authority from the management group to rent an office to me, with access to the small board room just down the hall. This proved to be amazing on three fronts: a wonderfully quiet and contained space to carry on as a writer of both journalism and fiction; a superb place to have creative writing classes of ten or so people, and a remarkable neighborhood from which to begin recruiting students. I mimeographed a small poster, tacked up copies all over Inglewood, and, ta-da, students began to enroll. This was a cozy and creative place to nurture writers and, believe me, they never ceased to astonish me in our evening classes.

But what really tickles me now is forty years later the Alexandra Centre continues to produce writers in that magical place where the Elbow meets the Bow and creativity has flourished from pre-history to the present day.

Michael Fay has published four long-form short stories with IslandShorts, the most recent being Passion. For information on all publications from IslandShorts click here.

A Profile of Blogger, Shaun Hunter

I first met Shaun Hunter in Calgary through the city’s writing community. Shaun is known locally for her non-fiction, personal essays and memoir writing, but I’d like to focus on this brilliant concept for a blog she has been publishing lately. Here’s Shaun to tell you all about Writing the City: Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers. Welcome, Shaun!

Hunter_Shaun Web-0755 I have lived in Calgary most of my life but have only rarely seen the city imagined on the page. About a year ago, I went looking for the city in novels, poetry and creative nonfiction. I was curious: what could writers’ stories tell me about the city that shaped me and continues to confound me? In the spring, I shared a few of my findings on a literary Jane’s Walk through downtown Calgary. The idea for the blog grew from there: Writing the City: Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers would be a virtual walk through Calgary’s literary history as I was discovering it.

For me, and I hope for readers, the blog is a treasure hunt: every week turns up a fresh surprise tucked away in the city’s literary history. The series roams Calgary’s past and its geography, following the meandering path of my own curiosity. The featured excerpt has to be from a published work of fiction, poetry or nonfiction, and has to capture some aspect of the city – no matter how uncomfortable. The blog is not intended as a travelogue or an exercise in civic boosterism. The series offers the city as writers have engaged with it and lets readers make their own connections.

The blog launched at the beginning of Stampede Week 2015 with daily posts. Since then, I’ve been posting a new excerpt every Friday. I plan to wrap up the series after this year’s Stampede, but there is more material than I can feature on the blog. A book proposal is in the works. Stay tuned!

I know from my own experience that Calgary is more than its stereotypes of cowboys and oil barons. But seeing the city through the eyes of writers, I am continually surprised by the different responses writers have to this place. As the series unfolds, my own connection to the city is deepening in ways I had not imagined. I have kept that story out of the blog series, but it’s simmering underneath.

So many of the posts have stories behind them, but one in particular stands out. I am a latecomer to local history. Only recently have the stories of early Calgary begun to capture my imagination. Last summer, I set out to correct my historic deficit and showed up for a tour of Union Cemetery during Historic Calgary Week. The guide, Ruth Manning, had deep roots in the city and was a trove of stories about the people buried on Cemetery Hill. On a ridge overlooking downtown, she talked about what she believed to be the first lines written about the site that would become the city of Calgary. With her eyes closed, Ruth quoted from memory the words of NWMP officer Sir Cecil Denny as he stood above the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers: “Our first sight of this enchanting spot was one never to be forgotten, one to which only a poet could do justice.” In that moment, on that historic hill, I felt myself sinking a little deeper into the city’s soil.

This seems to be a golden age in Canada for literary mapping. Noah Richler offers a compelling exploration of the country’s literary landscape in This is My Country, What’s Yours? A Literary Atlas of Canada (though he doesn’t stop in Calgary). To date, Project Bookmark has installed sixteen plaques across the country, connecting poetry and fiction to specific Canadian landmarks. You can take literary tours of Vancouver and Toronto through these excellent public library projects: Vancouver: Literary Landmarks, Toronto Poetry Map and books set in Toronto neighbourhoods. 49th Shelf also offers an annotated literary map of the country.

Calgary is not just one story. Talk to people who live or have lived here, and you discover that each one has a unique connection to this place. I hope that in discovering writers’ stories about Calgary, readers experience the city as a complex urban landscape with fascinating contradictions, ambiguities and humanity.

Reading Recommendations:
Calgary’s Grand Story (University of Calgary Press, 2005) by Donald B. Smith
In Calgary, we often wear change like a badge. But go back to the city’s first gilded age in 1912, and the story of two of its landmark structures (the Lougheed Building and the Grand Theatre) and you will see that Calgary is consistent with its beginnings.

The Calgary Project: A City Map in Verse and Visual (Frontenac House, 2014) by Dymphny Dronyk and Kris Demeanor
I’ve featured a few of the fine poems in this anthology on the blog, including those by co-editors Kris Demeanor and Dympnhy Dronyk, as well as Cecelia Frey, but there is much more to discover. My only caveat in recommending The Calgary Project is that you won’t be able to fit the book in your back pocket as you explore the city’s streets.

Long Change (Random House, 2015) by Don Gillmor
Don Gillmor’s fictional take on the city’s illustrious oil sub-culture is at once excoriating and compassionate. There is an unforgettable New Year’s Eve party at an oil baron’s estate west of town you won’t want to miss, and a dinner party that will change the way you look at geology. I’ve posted a glimpse of Gillmor’s novel on the blog.

Author bio:
Shaun Hunter is the author of five biographies for young readers about the lives of celebrated women writers, artists and scientists, African-American Olympians and Canadian entrepreneurs. Her personal essays have appeared in literary magazines, anthologies and The Globe and Mail. In July 2015, Shaun launched Writing the City: Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers, a weekly blog series that explores the way writers have imagined the city in fiction, nonfiction and poetry. She leads occasional guided literary walks of Calgary. Shaun has a master’s degree in Canadian Studies from Carleton University. She lives in Calgary, Alberta.

What’s next?

I’m working on a proposal to turn Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers into a book, and making notes toward the personal story percolating underneath the blog series.

Thank you, Shaun! I suggest that everyone reading this check out previous posts Shaun has published on her blog. You’ll find writing by many talented and accomplished authors, some very surprising (such as Graham Greene, Rupert Brooke and Nancy Huston) and quite a number who I have promoted on my blog, Reading Recommendations … such as Katherine Govier, Aritha van Herk, Bruce Hunter, Lori Hahnel, Barb Howard, Betty Jane Hegerat, Fred Stenson and Don Gillmor.

From the vaults – A life in lengths, July 2011

In May, 2011, I broke my left wrist and was in a cast for 6 weeks. In Dec. 2015, I broke my left ankle and have been in a cast these past 6 weeks. Since I’m now faced with restoring the strength and muscles of an appendage, once again, I realize that my very best means of exercise is still to swim. I was reminded of this post I wrote about what an important part of my life water, and swimming, have always been. And always will be.

So, here I am swimming for exercise …


No, Wait!! HERE I am swimming …


Astrologically I’m Cancer – a water sign. I don’t remember learning to swim. My family bought our cottage the year I was born, so I spent every summer there until I was old enough to work and stay in the city. I do remember living in the water most of that time, swimming in the lake as early as Easter weekend, and driving my Mom nuts if the ice hadn’t quite melted. We wore bathing suits from the moment we got out of bed in the morning until we had to go back to bed at night, At least, that’s how it seemed.

It’s funny … we lived in The Beach in Toronto, south of Queen St. and less than a block away from the boardwalk and sand next to Lake Ontario, yet my best memories of swimming are always from when we were at the cottage.

Mom was scared of water and never put her head under, but Dad could float – with his hands behind his head and his feet crossed, as though he were relaxing on a lounger. I can do this, too, so I figure I inherited my swimming gene from Dad.

When I was in Grade 3, an indoor pool was built as part of the new senior public school, Glen Ames, next door to our elementary school, Williamson Road. Lucky me! Grade 3 students were given swimming lessons – once a week, I think it was. Plus that same pool was open in the evenings and weekends for *free* swimming. I loved Toronto! The public pools were free to use, just like our lake up north in the summer.

Malvern Collegiate also had a pool, plus the bonus of a speed swimming team and synchronized swimming lessons. I’m a strong swimmer, but was never that fast, so 5th Place in Toronto one year (out of a field of 6) was my best showing. I can swim distances though and I like nothing better than swimming lengths. We did try to swim across South Lake once or twice, too. What an achievement that we made it! So while I continued on the swim team for a few years, and endured early morning practices during the winter months, I still preferred solitary swimming.

I became a lifeguard and eventually took the swimming instructors’ course, but soon learned I wasn’t cut out to teach kids – anything. The lifeguarding was cool though and paid very well indeed. Certainly much better than what my friends made by babysitting. In Grade 13, I even got the job guarding the school pool during my free periods. (I recently met up with one of the male gym teachers at a Malvern reunion. When I told him I’d had this cushy job of guarding the pool, he said, “You’re the reason the boys had to start wearing suits in swim class!” Ahem!) The best part of guarding and teaching, though, was when we kicked everyone out of the pool, they went home, and I had the pool to myself for a while. Heaven!

Off to university, and I was thrilled that our student fees at Queen’s gave us free access to all sports facilities, including a fairly new Olympic-sized pool. I discovered early on that, if I swam lengths immediately before writing an exam, I could calm myself down and focus much better than if I studied right up to the last minute.

Moving to Calgary was a shock – there were many pools in the city, but… I had to pay to swim!!! I didn’t swim here for many years. Just too cheap to pay for something that had always been free to me. Someone gave me a City of Calgary Parks and Recreation card that still had 4 visits on it. I was going to go back to swimming again, for exercise, but then fell and broke my wrist. After 6 weeks in a cast I was finally able to get into the water this past Monday. I’ve been swimming lengths for three days now and I feel great! 30 lengths each day on Monday and Tues. Up to 36 today. And I’m not pushing it either. Plus my wrist is already feeling better. Bonus!

But the best part of swimming lengths, for me, is that I can either turn off my brain and just count the number of lengths as I complete them, or I can think, think, think things through. For some reason, I’ve come up with some of my best ideas whenever I’m in contact with water – doing dishes, showering, swimming. For instance, this blog post was conceived and written in my head while I was in the pool this morning. Highly frustrating though when paper & pen or computer don’t work as well under water. And to try to remember my thoughts until I can dry my hands does not always happen for me. So I just have to hope that, if it truly is a brilliant idea, it will last or at least return when I’m able to do something about it.

So, Woohoo! for the exercise I’m finally getting, and for the calming effect that swimming lengths has on my mind, emotions and life – not to mention the couple of pounds I’ve already lost. Like J. Alfred, I’m measuring out my life, but with pool lengths rather than coffee spoons.

Since I wrote this blog post, someone has come up with this brilliant idea for AquaNotes! Perfect for someone like me!!


From the vaults – Home and a sense of belonging, April 19, 2013

I was reminded of this blog post I wrote back in 2013 while completing an interview with another blogger. Her first question was: If you had to choose just one, would you prefer to live in Toronto’s Beach, in Calgary where you have also lived for many years, or in Bequia in the Caribbean where you have a house? Where I “belong” has long been a question I’ve asked myself. And since writing the following post, we’ve bought a trailer that’s permanently situated in an Ontario campground, and I plan to spend summers there from now on, and winters in Bequia.

My writing pal, Lisa McGonigle, published an article, In It For the Long Haul, in the Feb. 2012 issue of The Fernie Fix about her long-distance lifestyle. I met Lisa several years ago at the Fernie Writers’ Conference, before she published Snowdrift, and I’ve followed her travels since that time.

This particular article resonated with me because, although my travels have not been as far-flung as Lisa’s, I have maintained two residences, one in Calgary and the other in Bequia, and spent these past five years flying back and forth between the two. Most of my worldly possessions have remained at the house in the Caribbean, along with the cats and Dennis, while I’ve moved around between Calgary apartments to house-sitting situations, accumulating more stuff in an attempt to make a home for myself in the city where I actually worked. Because of the nature of my business, I was able to manage three trips to Bequia every year, usually during their off-season. I told myself I didn’t mind the Calgary winters – really – and I was able to build a good business as well as an extensive network of friends and colleagues that always made me feel “at home” again every time I returned to Canada.

Unfortunately, my circumstances changed in the fall of 2012 and I decided to return to Bequia – at least for the winter months – and reassess my business and my life. I gave away most of what I’d accumulated over those five years, stored the rest in a locker as well as with several friends, and flew off at the end of November. (I have Vincentian citizenship, so I am allowed to stay indefinitely. And the immigration and customs agents usually say, “Welcome home!” upon my arrival. I never hear that from Canadian officials.)

The plan was always to come back to Canada in April, because I had committed to giving a presentation at a Calgary library on the 12th. I’m also planning on attending my high school reunion in Toronto’s Beach in May – the neighbourhood where I grew up. I figured 7 weeks was lots of time to see everyone I needed, and wanted, to see, and to visit with family.

The reality is, though, that Thomas Wolfe was right: You Can’t Go Home Again. Or once gone, easily forgotten? I feel as though I no longer belong in Calgary. People are too busy; appointments and dates are being cancelled; all plans I made previous to the trip have suddenly dissolved. It’s left me wondering why I’ve come back.

But then I never felt as though I belonged on Bequia either while I was there over this past winter.

So now I really wonder where home is for me. Sometimes I think it’s in the air, on a plane, somewhere between Calgary and Bequia. If I were once again Lisa’s age (which is about half of mine), I would consider a new start in a brand new place, creating a new life for myself. New horizons, new possibilities.

But I find I’m too old for that now, so I’ll have to be content to live vicariously through Lisa as she continues on with the adventures of her own life. And create and invent reality in my own mind by writing stories.

… when you remember that You are the author of Your own Life story, You enter into the beautiful process of becoming, as You should be, the author of Your own life, the creator of Your own possibilities …
Mandy Aftel

Since this original post was written my good friend Patricia, who we first met in Calgary in 1980 and who has also managed to “relocate” herself a number of times during her life, ending up part of the year on Bequia, wrote this comment concerning her own experience and thoughts about Home and a sense of belonging.

When Words Collide – a recap


Calgary was the place to be Aug. 14-16, if you had any interest in books, whether reading or writing or publishing them – and you’d had the forethought and good fortune to register well in advance. The 5th edition of the When Words Collide Conference had sold out almost two months before, proving once again that this is one of the hottest Reader Cons in Canada.

I did not attend this year, but was there for the first two conferences, as part of the vendors’ market place (displaying books for authors I was promoting through Alberta Books Canada) and as a presenter. I could tell from the very beginning that this particular reader con would catch on. There was a certain energy I had not felt at other conferences in which I’d participated. And what I enjoyed most was that this was an all-inclusive con, so all genres were represented, and self-published books were just as welcome as those traditionally published.

Speaking with author, Richard Harrison, at the first WWC.

Speaking with author, Richard Harrison, at the first WWC.

Last week, I went back to look at the blog posts I’d written when I was preparing to attend those first two conferences, and I discovered the list of authors I had planned on promoting in 2011. I was delighted to discover that many of these authors have since been promoted on my new-ish blog, Reading Recommendations! And some of those RR– promoted authors were also going to be taking part in this year’s WWC. So I decided to write this blog post about When Words Collide and ask a few of the authors who I have promoted on my blog to tell us something about what this conference means to them.

Receiving some "tropical" support for my own novel at the second WWC.

Receiving some “tropical” support for my own novel at the second WWC.

Also, at that second WWC I attended, I met a Klingon who subsequently read and enjoyed my novel … so you just never know who is going to show up at When Words Collide!

(All authors’ names are linked back to their original promotion on RR.)

Axel Howerton, Author and Publisher – I have attended, and been a participant in, many conventions, festivals and author/creator events in my time–When Words Collide is, hands down, the most edifying, most inclusive, and most enjoyable one that I have ever been a part of. It is my personal most-wonderful time of the year.

Adria Laycraft, Author – Often dubbed the Canadian Readercon, WWC continues to up its game each year. It’s a fine mix of lecture and panel, workshop and pitch session, launch and special guest interaction, with quite literally something for every book lover in every genre.

Dr. Robert Runté, Author and Editor at Five Rivers Publishing – Robert has written a recap of the highlights of this year’s WWC in a blog post he wrote for Five Rivers Publishing.

Brian Hades, Publisher at EDGE Science Fiction and FantasyWWC has turned out to be one of the most important meetups for genre writers and publishers in Canada. It is an absolute ‘must’ for the calendar and better than some of the bigger and more expensive writer conferences out there. The community is strong and supportive with a crossover of genre writers gleening insight and experience from each other – not only in the art of writing but also within the business of writing. It is the conference/festival/meetup that I look forward to attending every year (and I attend quite a few). May both writers and readers continue to come.
(Many authors published by EDGE have been promoted on Reading Recommendations since the beginning, thanks to Brian’s support of the blog.)

Marie Powell, Author – WWC is the best conference for working writers that I’ve attended. It offers lots of opportunities to hear and participate in inspiring panels and workshops, catch up with old friends, meet new ones, and talk writing with so many talented writers. I gained confidence in my writing through the Live Action Slush events and Blue Pencils with skilled editors, and had the chance to practice pitching with supportive writers (like you, Susan.) Last August, I pitched Hawk four times, three in formal pitching sessions and once on the trade show floor, and had invitations to send the manuscript from each one. The result was a contract with the supportive and incredible Naomi Davis of Inklings Literary Agency, a two-book contract with Five Rivers Publishing, and the expert editing of Dr.Robert Runte. We came full circle by launching Hawk at WWC this year, and I took the opportunity to give back by participating in panels on pitching and research. I can’t say enough about this conference. Thanks again to Randy McCharles and all the WWC volunteers!
(I met Marie at the first WWC and have followed her efforts to publish her manuscripts over the time since. I was thrilled that Marie launched her published novel at this year’s conference! Watch for her promotion coming up soon on Reading Recommendations.)

And, finally, a word from Fearless Leader, the man responsible for coming up with the idea of When Words Collide in the first place!

Randy McCharles, Author and Director of WWC – I attend social events for the people. Chatting with old friends. Meeting new ones. Literary events are no different. Yes, I get to discover new authors and top up my reading list. And I get to listen to panel discussions and presentations on topics as diverse as how to kill fictional people with undetectable poisons to the latest trends in fiction. And I can attend workshops on how to use a microphone properly or put on a successful autograph signing at Chapters/Indigo. And pitch a manuscript to an agent or acquisitions editor. Or… There is no end of things to do at literary events, especially at the When Words Collide Festival for Readers and Writers where there are 10 concurrent tracks of programming. 10 choices of what to see or do each and every hour over the entire weekend. But, really, I do go to see people. My people. People who love books. Some of my people I see regularly; they live in town or nearby. But the mood and atmosphere are so much better while at a well-attended literary event. Others I see less often except on Facebook. When Words Collide is often my best chance to catch up.

When Words Collide was conceived in the fall of 2010 when I was chatting with some friends at the final year of one of Calgary’s annual genre events. “Now where are we going to hang out and talk books?” someone asked. “Let’s start our own event,” I said. “And let’s make it just about books. All kinds of books.” It took us very little time to come up with a name, and 10 months later saw the first annual When Words Collide festival. We’d hoped 150 people would be interested in our rather unusual event, a multi-genre festival set in a hotel. Over 250 people came out, many from across Canada and even the US. The best attended sessions were “Festival Guest Keynotes”, “Turning History into Fiction”, and “Dead Men Do Talk”. Word spread, sending attendance skyrocketing each year.

This, our 5th year, saw a sold out festival with 650 people attending. While being sold out means we have to turn away some who would like to attend, getting too large would make our event impersonal. I said at the start that I attend social events for the people. Large events, like the Calgary Comic Expo and the World Science Fiction Convention (which is taking place even as I write these words) are great, but I no longer attend them. Why? Too many people. While it is possible to find your peeps in a zoo-like crowd and hang out, it is simply that much easier at a smaller event. If you check out my NEWS page on my website, you’ll see a list of literary events I am hosting or attending (so far) over the next year. When Words Collide is the largest of them, and it won’t get much larger. 2016 will see the same attendance cap of 650.

What makes When Words Collide so popular? You can guess my answer: the people. That’s right. This year over 200 attending authors, editors, and experts in various fields volunteered their time and experience to share with the literary community. Dozens of volunteers also put in their time and skills to make the festival happen. Unlike many charitable and non-profit organizations, no one working to make our festival a success is paid. Everyone contributes as a member of the community because they love books and people who read books.

I also feel that I must make special mention of the staff of the Delta Calgary South Hotel. I have worked with a number of hotels over the years to put on events, and had long discussions with organizers working with other hotels, and never have I seen such helpful and cheerful staff. The hotel is a joy to work with and I have to admit that I spent big chunks of time chatting with staff rather than festival goers. So shoot me. It’s all about the people.

And there it is. I love books. And I love book people. You can find both at When Words Collide.

Thank you to all the Reading Recommendations Authors who contributed to this blog post. And a special thanks to Randy McCharles for continuing to present everyone with such a dynamic and successful event every year.

This all has me thinking I’d be wise to join in again next year and set up a display at When Words Collide of some of the many Alberta, Canadian and international Reading Recommendations Authors I’ve promoted. Hmmm … definitely worth considering!

Brian Brennan – “Brief Encounters” in Facts & Opinions

BrianB-03E square web Brian Brennan, a journalist and author currently living in Calgary, Alberta, was previously featured on my promotion blog, Reading Recommendations in Nov. 2013. When I read Brian’s memoir, Leaving Dublin, I was fascinated by the numerous stories he told of meeting and interviewing various celebrities of stage and screen for a column he wrote at the time for the Calgary Herald. I thought there could be value in resurrecting these original columns and repurposing them as new pieces, so I made the suggestion to Brian and was delighted when he wrote this blog post explaining the genesis of his new Brief Encounters column in the online journalism magazine, Facts & Opinions. Brian is a founding feature writer with the magazine and his profile of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first original feature in the journal’s inaugural issue, won Runner-up, Best Feature Article, in the 2014 Professional Writers Association of Canada Awards. (This is a very interesting magazine, available only online by subscription, that has been able to sustain itself, so far, without advertising revenue. So, if you are interested in reading quality non-fiction journalism, you may want to consider subscribing.)

Now the very good news Brian has permitted me to share with you here is that he will eventually be gathering all of his original interview pieces together and publishing them in book form! Congratulations, Brian!

Why do you write?

I wrote a similar blog post on July 9th, 2014, with the exact same title, but it seems like the right time to remind Authors of these thoughts of mine …)

Why do you write?

That’s a simple enough question, isn’t it? Why do you “create” could also be asked of all artists – musicians, visual, photographers, sculptors, authors … What is is that makes you want to create something? It’s a question every creator should ask themselves from time to time, but especially when they’re down, after having checked non-existent sales for the umpteenth time, or when reading lackluster reviews.

Why did you get into this in the first place?

If it was with a plan to write the next big bestseller and make untold fame and fortune then I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell to you.

But if it was for the sheer joy of creating something, of using your imagination, or your experience or your skills, to form something tangible out of your vision … well, then! Now you see the ultimate value that no one – and I mean NO ONE! – can ever put a monetary value on or judge in any way to make you feel less than you should about realizing your dreams.

I’m asking this question, Why do you write?, because there are far too many authors out there who are agonizing over the $$$ (or £££ or €€€) and the numbers of copies sold and not considering what it is about writing and creating that got them into this in the first place.

And it all had me remembering a song written by Michael Burton, Night Rider’s Lament. The chorus pretty much sums up what I’m trying to say here … (Lyrics)

Here is my Calgary pal, Tom Phillips, accompanied by Shaye Zadravec (with the very talented Mr. Dwight Thompson on guitar in the background!), instead. Great song! And there’s a bonus – Tom yodels, too …

So … don’t tell me why you write. But be sure to tell yourself – over, and over, and over again.

Katherine Govier – an update on a new book

Katherine Govier was a previously featured author on Reading Recommendations in January, 2014. Since that time, she has published a new book and is here now to tell us about it. (Note that this book is only available in hardcover. However, I have received a copy and can guarantee that you will not want to read this in any other format. It is truly beautiful! Kudos from me on the production quality, Whitecap! smt)

Katherine Govier

I got an advance copy of Half for You and Half for Me and flew to Calgary in April to read it with my mother. We had fun going through the pages, she with her big round magnifying glass, still able to recite the rhymes from her memory. The idea to write it had come when she gave me the 100 year old nursery rhyme book we had pored over together, when we both were younger. She liked HALF FOR YOU and as always when I published, bought copies for all her friends. About ten days later, on Easter weekend, Mum died.

AND SO the book we shared has become a tribute. A month later, I am taking on those interviews I postponed. I know she would have wanted me to. I am thankful for much she gave me, but most of all for teaching me to love books.

Half for You and Half for Me, Best-Loved Nursery Rhymes and the Stories Behind Them was released by Whitecap Books in April 2014.

“Half for you and half for me / Between us two shall goodwill be.” Here is a nursery rhyme book to entertain both adult and child as they read together. The classic rhymes are side by side with annotations about their backstories: Who was Wee Willie Winkie? Did live blackbirds really fly out of a pie? Was Humpty Dumpty a person—or a clumsy cannon?

When she was small, Katherine Govier tucked in close to her mother’s side to listen to nursery rhymes. Later she read them to her own children, and now she has returned to reading them with her mother, who can no longer see well enough to read the pages of their nearly hundred-year-old Mother Goose book. Still, her mother can recite the words. What is the magic and what is the meaning of these rhymes that stay in our heads for a lifetime?

The answers are here. Some rhymes describe historical events and some are just plain nonsense. Some of the oldest rhymes were never intended for the nursery, but for the street— where they came to life as popular judgments on events of the day. In Half for You and Half for Me, the author breaks the codes of these nursery rhymes in accessible, amusing explanations. She also adds some classic Canadiana, including a poem by star children’s poet Dennis Lee.

Commissioned illustrations make this book full of colour to draw in the eye. Charming vintage drawings also pepper the text, firmly rooting the rhymes in their historical context.

Half for You and Half for Me will engage, delight, entertain and inform younger and older readers alike, and aims to be that favourite title that is pulled off the family shelf again and again.

You may purchase Katherine’s book at:
Amazon Canada, US – Hardcover
Indigo/Chapters Canada – Hardcover *NB: This book is a Heather’s Pick book!*
Independent bookstores across Canada and the US.

Promotion for the book:
I am discovering how many people love nursery rhymes. When I went in to CBC Radio to do my Fresh Air interview I discovered that Mary Ito had the sportscaster and the newscaster reading rhymes on air. Here’s the link to the Q and A that ran in the Ottawa Citizen, the Edmonton Journal and the Vancouver Province … What’s your favourite nursery rhyme?

Doris Govier reading to her daughter, Katherine (Photo by George Govier)

Doris Govier reading to her daughter, Katherine (Photo by George Govier)