Tag Archives: Aritha van Herk

A-R International … Self-Isolating Authors Edition: Part 3

This is the third part of a series in which Authors I’ve promoted in the Authors-Readers International series tell Readers what they’ve been doing during these past few months of self-isolating … See the introduction to Part 1 for a further explanation. Here is the link to Part 2. (All links on the authors’ names will take you to their A-RI promotion.)

Aritha van Herk

From an email sent in April: What a change since you were here in Calgary. The city has now virtually ground to a halt, the university is closed (even the library), and everyone is holding their breath about when the COVID-19 cases will go through the roof. So I am teaching on line, and trying to develop my skill with ZOOM. The students are distressed, but the university is doing all we can to get them through their year. But these last months will be tough. However, ZOOM brings all the students on line together, and all I have to do is be sure that I am twice as prepared as usual.

However, other constraints. No more travelling inside or outside of Canada until September, decrees the university, so all my trips are cancelled. I must say, Air Canada has been fantastic, even though they are taking an economic killing.

Trying to finish a book!

Aritha van Herk published an opinion piece in The Calgary Herald on April 9: COVID-19: The future is here, now we must be resilient, nimble and smart

Tim Baker

Tim Baker has been working from home in Flagler Beach, Florida, since self-isolating began, and posts photos regularly of this new “office” and comments on the hijinx of all his co-workers …


Working from home – one of my co-workers is posting…




Working from home – it’s bring your child to work day.






Tim also wrote a blog post titled How I Spent My Corona Virus Isolation about finishing and editing his next novel.

And since his weekly Friday night radio show on Surf 97.3 had been on hiatus due to the virus lockdown, it was with great excitement that he and his co-DJ, Fizz Ed, returned to broadcasting again a couple of weeks ago, with the addition of in-studio video via Facebook! Well, there was great excitement here on our verandah on Bequia, at least, as we enjoy listening in every week. Dennis even managed to stay awake for most of the show … You can check out their Facebook page for past videos here, The Friday Night Music Extravaganza feat: Fizz Ed & Tim Baker, and tune in to listen to the station online here at Surf 97.3 every Friday evening from 7-10 ET.

Sheree Fitch

Sheree Fitch has been busy doing a lot of readings of her books online. She created a video for the Halifax Public Library and a series of podcasts created for VoicEd Radio. (Scroll down that page for the complete list of podcasts.)
It was just announced that Sheree Fitch’s book, Everybody’s Different on Everybody Street, is among the finalits for the 2020 Atlantic Book Awards!

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, Sheree had to keep her bookstore, Mable Murple’s Book Shoppe and Dreamery, closed for the time being. Here’s her explanation of that decision from Facebook:

Gulp. Gulp. Gulp-able purple news from us to you.
(But only temporary! So smiling … onwards. Not sad, just joy–delayed. Gilles and I will cherish this unexpected gift of time and our summer together!) Here goes:
I’ve put this one off—hoping, waiting, but knowing, really, what had to be done. We said we would let people know by the first week in May. The thing is, Mabel Murple’s Book Shoppe and Dreamery, for the past three magical years, has been a gathering place – a people place: in the shop, under the fairy tree, huddled around the animals, sitting at picnic tables, in school desks, and cuddled in booknooks. This is a place we are elbow to elbow and cheek to cheek, and we HUG. A lot. (You’ve let me hold and squeeze your babies and kids.) I joked that every time that screen door squeaked open, seemed like Love walked in the door. Corny, maybe, but t-r-u-e. And you’ve bought books. Good ones. Canadian books and others. Over nine weeks every year since 2017 thousands of people, hundreds a day, have come to this little book shop on a dirt road in the village of River John. Which is SOOO good except for this summer? Maybe not so much. Among other events and festivals, Wordplay and Read By the Sea is cancelled and we know tourism will be down.
We are more of a “social” enterprise” than regular business and so for us, “social” distancing will not work here. Not in any way that to me would make sense and be safe this summer. Mabel Murple’s is not an online business taking orders for mailing or delivering books.
It’s all about coming here to enjoy the purple world we’ve created. Community.
I cannot imagine us saying, “no touching books and then putting them back on shelves” – that is what “browsing” for books means.
I cannot imagine not hugging and squeezing babies and no kids on my knees.
It is not who we are.
Truthfully, we don’t want to change the spirit of our place. And yes, honestly, too, we just could not afford to open and not have people coming as freely as they did in our little spaces.
So , it’s official, Mabel Murple’s will not be opening this season BUT .. YES YES YES WE WILL OPEN NEXT YEAR, ( all will be okay by then, we hope) so gear up for a super summer time in 2021.
What you can do ! Read BOOKS and please plan your vacation to come next year!
Purple on, our wonderful book-loving storytelling purple people pals. And yep, Love one another.

Bob Van Laerhovn

(translated from Flemish)

Sometimes it takes years before a man some aspect of themselves begins to understand. And sometimes you need someone else to put you on the right track. In my very personal story The Flower-Woman Eating & Me, which appeared on page 50 of the May issue of Electric Press – Literary Insights Magazine reveals how confrontational it can be.

You can read a free digital version of the magazine through this link at ISSUU. Please be patient. Note: It does not load that fast.

(I asked Bob to send me photos of his horses to add to this update and here’s what he had to say about that …)

In attachment, you’ll find some pictures of the horses (beautiful) and me (ugly) J. The lockdown didn’t change much for Caroline and me. As you probably know, Caroline is an equitherapist, and I am the stable boy/groomer/dung remover/meal preparer. J

Although the corona quarantine only allowed one patient per day, we were very busy with repairs and upgrades of our summer and winter stables, paddocks, race-track, etc.

We used the extra time to bond even more with our four darlings: Bruja, aka The Queen, Tina aka The Red Rooster, Archimeda aka The Lady, and Amani, aka Prince of the Desert.

Now, things are slowly getting back to normal, over here in Belgium.

The pictures were confronting for me: it was very sunny, so I squint a lot. I’ve become a grey old man ravaged by bacterial arthritis. I haven’t been able to work out for more than two months now – all fitness centres are closed – and it is surprising – and frightening – to see how quickly one declines.

Or maybe, my ego is just too big, and I can’t accept that I will be 67 over two months J J J (You’re still oungr than I am, Bob, by almost a month!!)

I hope everything is alright in your “bubble.” (What a word they invented for all this social distancing).

And let’s pray for a better future.

All the very best,
Bob Van Laerhoven – Belgium / Flanders

Barb Howard

Thanks for all you’re doing – especially in a pandemic! Hope you continue to stay healthy and safe in Bequia. I didn’t think I was getting much accomplished during these last few months but your note prompted me to reflect and, turns out, I got some stuff done. Granted, not the stuff that needs to be done like cleaning the closet in my office, but some other stuff. I don’t have any links to the info below…sorry…not very interactive, yet.

I’ve been a lucky person during these initial months of the pandemic because my main job is to stay home. No essential work being done by me! My work with Calgary Arts Development and other boards ramped up because many artists and arts organizations have been hard hit by the measures put in place to keep us safe from Covid19. I haven’t started any big new projects of my own, but I did successfully work on a few older stalled-out projects. I finished an essay about my piano playing, perhaps because I have been playing the piano more during this time. I’m now reworking an older essay about a unicycle. And I finished the edits for a story that will come out through Calgary’s Loft 112’s Long Lunch Quick Read series next month. I have a book review of Truth Be Told by retired SCC Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin coming out in the July/August issue of Alberta Views Magazine. Best of all, I signed a contract with University of Calgary Press (Brave and Brilliant imprint) for my new novella. I think it will be coming out in 2021 or 2022.

And, okay, the real highlight of my last few months is that a teeny story of mine will be printed on some Blindman Brewing beer cans this summer. Cheers!

A-R International: Aritha van Herk

Aritha van Herk
Authors-Readers International

Aritha van Herk is a cultural commentator as well as an award-winning Canadian novelist whose work has been acclaimed throughout North America and Europe. She has given readings, lectures, and workshops on culture and community, literature and life, in the United Kingdom, the United States, Singapore, Australia, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Austria, the Baltics, and Scandinavia. Her popular, creative and critical work has been widely published and her work has been translated into ten languages.

Aritha van Herk was born in central Alberta, read every book in the library at Camrose, and studied at the University of Alberta. She first rose to international literary prominence with the publication of Judith, which received the Seal First Novel Award and was published in North America, the United Kingdom and Europe.

Her other novels include The Tent Peg, No Fixed Address: An Amorous Journey, Places Far From Ellesmere, Restlessness. In Visible Ink and A Frozen Tongue collect her essays and ficto-criticism.

Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta offers an unorthodox narrative of that province’s past. Mavericks so inspired the Glenbow Museum of Calgary, that they created a permanent Alberta gallery and named the gallery after the book. Aritha van Herk returned to her Alberta stories to create Audacious and Adamant: A Maverick History of Alberta, the companion book to the exhibition.

Aritha van Herk is a member of the Royal Society of Canada, and a Professor who teaches Canadian Literature and Creative Writing in the Department of English at the University of Calgary, but first of all, she is a writer who loves stories.


Aritha van Herk is the author I’ve known longest of any here who I am promoting in this series. I was working at The Guild Gallery of Artists and Authors in Calgary during 1979 when Aritha won the first-ever Seal First Novel Award for Judith and we hosted her at the bookstore for a signing. This was the biggest monetary prize ever offered in Canada so a Calgarian winning it was a big deal indeed! Fast forward to the mid-80s when I was working for another Calgary bookstore, Books ‘N’ Books. Aritha would come into the store regularly to browse and buy, because we had such a good selection of international fiction. Aritha has always been a huge reader! Then flash ahead again to the early 90s when I became a publishers’ sales rep and was selling books for Red Deer College Press. The publisher, Dennis Johnson, was then publishing Aritha’s books, so I became her sales rep! I studied a brilliant course offered at UofC on medicine in literature that Aritha taught along with a medical doctor. And I attended a number of lectures and talks about writing she delivered whenever I had the opportunity. We even drove to Fernie together for the Fernie Writers’ Conference and I enrolled in her class. We’ve kept in contact sporadically since then, together mourning the loss and paying tribute to two very important men in both our lives (Robert Kroetsch and Dennis Johnson), and getting together for a glass of wine and a catch-up a couple of times when I was in Calgary. So I was quite pleased when I learned that Aritha van Herk’s first novel, Judith, had been adapted into a play and the premier performance would be held in June 2018 at the annual Blyth Festival. Blyth is less than an hour away from the trailer park where I spend my summers! I contacted Aritha immediately and found out she and her husband planned to attend the opening night “gala” – which included a Pork Dinner beforehand, as this performance of the play was sponsored by the Pork Producers of Ontario. (You’ve gotta love these small rural communities!) So I drove to Blyth and parked on the main street. As I was getting out of my car, another car pulled into the space behind me. It was Aritha and her husband, Bob! That was a great evening we had, and I thought the play was an excellent adaptation of the novel! The theatre was packed, too. My only regret was that Aritha and Bob had to leave Ontario the next day, so I could not take them back with me to the trailer for a longer visit. Here are the festival and play programmes, my hardcover copy of Judith (signed by the author!) and one of the little paper “pigs” that were part of the dining table decorations. (Aritha had grabbed the few from our table and handed one to me – a little momento of our evening together.)

By the way, Aritha, while I’ve been preparing your promotion, I’ve also been doing the laundry.


I recently included Aritha van Herk in a blog post I wrote about my new TBR list, since earlier in the year I had “repatriated’ to my trailer all the books (and there were A LOT!!!) I’d previously left behind in a Calgary storage unit for a number of years.

And while I was reading through previous posts on my blog in which I’d mentioned Aritha, I discovered that this interview first broadcast on the old “Bookmark” programme on CKUA Radio is still available. Aritha van Herk speaks with host Ken Davis about literacy.

For more information about Aritha van Herk, her writing, books, teaching and travels, please see her website.

Dedicated Reading … My New TBR List: Part 2

This is a continuation of an earlier blogpost from the summer, Dedicated Reading … My New TBR List: Part 1

Back again with the second half of my to-be-read stack …



Paul Quarrington is next on my list. An actual mentor to me, Quarrington was the author I worked with when I was enrolled (online) in the Humber School of Creative Writing. He was an award-winning novelist, playwright, screenwriter, filmmaker, musician and writing instructor. At the time he died, I discovered he was one month younger than me – he was so accomplished, and here I was, really just starting out, flexing my own creative muscles. I wrote a tribute to Quarrington on my blog. I have paperback copies of seven of his novels, and was going to begin by reading Whale Music (which had also been made into a movie), but then I noticed the hardcover copy of Cigar Box Banjo: Notes on Music and Life that was published posthumously in 2010 by Greystone Books – who I had repped for many years. And, when I opened the book to have a better look, I discovered there is a CD/DVD attached to the back cover containing three songs and two videos by Quarrington … Bonus! So I’ll add that CD to my stack for background music while reading the novel. (I do have a copy of Quarrington‘s final CD, The Songs, but that’s in my CD library on Bequia.)

David Poulsen is an author I first met in 1993 when I was repping for Red Deer College Press and they published his novel Don’t Fence Me In, A Romance of the New West. (I have reminded Dave that we were among the few who remained relatively unscathed after working with publisher Dennis Johnson … Aritha (below) is another of those fortunate “few.”) Poulsen has not only written many books for teens and adults over the decades, but has also been an actor, TV presenter, rock singer, college instructor, high school football coach, bareback rider, rodeo clown – and an award-winning Professional Rodeo Announcer! He has served a number of times as writer-in-residence for various libraries, and is quite capable of encouraging readers, especially that difficult group of reluctant readers – teenage boys! – to get all fired up about reading books. It’s David’s enthusiasm for writing and telling a great story that attracts readers. For this reader, however, it’s also his great sense of humour and humility that comes through. I only have three print books in my library by David Poulsen (one of which is The Cowboy Country Cookbook, co-written with Barb Poulsen and Lauren Hitchner and also published by Red Deer Collge Press), but I have read many of his other titles borrowed from libraries either online as eBooks or in print editions. Here’s a video I found on YouTube about David’s career as a rodeo announcer, so I’ll let him tell you all about himself!

And when I was publishing my second novel, One Woman’s Island, David Poulsen did me the honour of providing a blurb for the back cover!



Next up is an author who may not be known outside Canada as well as I think he should be. Guy Vanderhaeghe is from Saskatchewan and began publishing after I had moved west, so I certainly knew of him and his writing early on. And his writing is superb! Any new book by Vanderhaeghe is an event, as far as I’m concerned, and worthy of being bought in a hardcover edition to add to my library. Possibly his best-known novel is The Englishman’s Boy, published in 1996. The edition I have was packed up to go with us to Bequia, so was on my shelf there, when a friend came looking for a book to lend to his American friend to read while he sat in Her Majesty’s Prison in Kingstown awaiting a murder trial. (This was a celebrated case at the time, which you may read about here.) My friend took the book and returned it a few weeks later, complete with a hand-written review on an inside page – and a “Censored” stamp from the prison! When I had the opportunity to meet Vanderhaeghe in Banff a number of years later, I took all my books for him to sign, and gave him a copy of this page … His reaction was cautiously amused.

I will be rereading Vanderhaeghe’s second book, My Present Age, published in 1984 and nominated for the Booker Prize that year.

Aritha van Herk should need no introduction! I’ve written about this author before on this blog (a post in which I explain how I know Aritha) and she also recommended the author George Melnyk on my Reading Recommendations blog. She continues to be an inspiration to me, and I’m especially grateful for the confidence she has always had in my ability to do … well, almost anything! Aritha van Herk has also had a longtime connection to two of the other authors I’m listing on these two blog posts: Robert Kroetsch and Rudy Wiebe. This time around, I will be rereading a novel that was published by our mutual friend, Dennis Johnson, when he was the publisher of Red Deer College Press, a book she describes as geografictione, Places Far From Ellesmere.

Another author I met through being his sales rep is Tom Wayman, who published Woodstock Rising, a novel with Dundurn Press in 2009. A long-time teacher at the University of Calgary, Wayman is primarily known as a poet.

And the final author in this list is Rudy Wiebe (previously mentioned above in connection with Aritha van Herk). Weibe taught for many years at the University of Alberta, but I only learned of the author and his work when I began selling books in Calgary in 1978 and realized what an important literary figure he was in the west. I know him best for his books The Temptation of Big Bear (winner of the Governor General’s Award for Fiction in 1973) and The Mad Trapper, a novel about Albert Johnson who in 1932 became the most notorious criminal in North America, the object of the largest manhunt in RCMP history. (I have a copy of the original M&S edition from 1980 and the re-issue by Red Deer Press in 2003.)

Our own Griz when he was a kitten (he’s now 13 and no longer fits on these shelves …) checking out my Bequia library of books. One of those books by Cormac McCarthy on which Griz is perched is a rare signed edition (rare because McCarthy is known for seldom signing books or doing any promotion) that was very generously given to me by a fellow Canadian sales rep.

Richard Ford – reading all his books from 1976 to present

You may or may not remember that back in March of this year I set out to read all the books written by Gail Bowen and talked about it in the blog post, Reading an author’s complete oeuvre – a suggestion.

That proved to be a very enjoyable task I set for myself, and I’m happy to say that I completed reading all of Gail’s Joanne Kilbourn novels and the four Rapid Reads titles on July 15th. It was great not only to revisit my friend’s writing but to see the development in the characters throughout her series – to really get to know those characters – and also to marvel at the craftsmanship that went into the writing of each of these books. Now I am truly ready for the publication of Bowen’s newest book, The Gifted, which is being released next month.

So, when casting around for another favourite author’s complete oeuvre to read, I decided that there was none better than Richard Ford, My Favourite Living Author.

Favourite Living Author is not an honour I bestow lightly, either! The first to hold that position was Graham Greene. Then he died. Second to be appointed was Brian Moore. But then he died, too. So Ford is only the third author to hold this position in my heart, and I do hope he continues to hold it for a very long time. He can only lose it by dying … or by writing something really awful, but I doubt he is capable of doing that.

So I begin at the beginning with Richard Ford’s first novel, A Piece of My Heart, published in 1976. It’s been a long time since I read this and Ford’s other earlier works. Already I can tell that reading these books will be an antidote for any of the bad writing I’ve had the displeasure to read over this past while. You know, the books you pick up in great anticipation only to put down again after having spent far too much valuable time on them, hoping they won’t be the disappointment you suspect they actually will be. Ford’s writing is perfect in every way!

I see that all copies of his books I have on my shelf are signed (except Women Without Men) and I do have the lot of them! And Independence Day is signed: For Susan, with my gratitude, and with the pleasure of meeting you. *Sigh* Major Author Crush here, folks!

I met Richard Ford for the third time in Calgary last Fall when he was at the Calgary Public Library for an on-stage interview with Aritha van Herk to promote his most recent novel, Canada.


In the meantime, while I’m enjoying visiting with Richard Ford once again, here’s an article for you to read about Richard Ford that ran in today’s Boston Globe.

ABC Friday Reads – Thomas Wharton

Since I am attending the Rural Libraries Conference hosted by the Peace Library System in Grande Prairie this Friday, I thought it would be appropriate to recommend the writing of Albertan author, Thomas Wharton, for your Friday Reads pleasure this weekend. Thomas was born in Grande Prairie!

I have two of Tom’s books on the Alberta Books Canada display table at this conference. Both are volumes in his The Perilous Realm YA Fantasy Trilogy. The third book in the series will be published next year.

Thomas is an award-winning author who has previously published critically acclaimed fiction for adults. He received his PhD from the University of Calgary after working with Aritha van Herk, another ABC Friday Reads author. Wharton is currently a professor of writing and English at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, and head of the creative writing department.

Here’s a link to a great book trailer created for his latest release, The Fathomless Fire.

And here’s a post that Thomas wrote for his blog on being an Alberta writer.

And there’s a double-barreled reason for reading Thomas’s books this weekend – he will also be reading and signing books at Word on the Street in Lethbridge on Sunday!

ABC Friday Reads – Aritha van Herk in Fernie

Last year, on March 16th, I wrote a post on this blog about some of the authors who have driven with me in my car. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of being the passenger in a car driven by an author as we travelled to Fernie, BC, for the annual Fernie Writers’ Conference.

Aritha asked me not to tell you the truth about her when I said I would be recommending her books this week in my ABC Friday Reads posting. After all, she said, “all writers lie.” But my mother, who coincidentally shared the same birthday with Aritha, told me I must never lie – and I always did whatever my mother said I should.

Yeah, right! I’m a writer. I agree with Aritha.

The fact is, though, that I have known Aritha van Herk since 1979 when she won the Seal First Novel Award for Judith, the first year the prize was awarded. Her sales rep at that time was Bertha Hanson, who became my mentor when I later began working as a sales rep for Dennis Johnson, the publisher of Red Deer College Press and Aritha’s publisher for Places Far From Ellesmere and Restlessness, plus a reprint of No Fixed Address. Our lives and careers have intersected over the decades, but yesterday was the first time we have ever driven anywhere together. Aritha is here at the conference to teach a class and deliver the keynote address this evening. I am here to help Carolyn Nikodym, the conference director, and to take Aritha’s class. So far, it’s been a GREAT conference!

As for the lies… I’m sorry, Aritha. I just can’t fabricate anything about you that would be believable. I am compelled to tell the truth – you are an inspiration as a writer, a gifted teacher who truly cares about your students and their writing, a passionate reader, and a fierce defender of the arts and culture. And a very safe driver who takes directions well from your appointed navigator. Thank you!

So this week I recommend the body of work written and published by Aritha van Herk, and direct you to the listing on Wikipedia for a complete bibliography, because Aritha once said that everything about her on Wikipedia is all lies…