Tag Archives: Mike Robbins

A-R International … Self-Isolating Authors Edition: Part 4

This is the fourth part of a series in which Authors who 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 are links to Part 2 and Part 3. (All links on the authors’ names will take you to their A-RI promotion.)

David Poulsen

David Poulsen created a YouTube video for his reading of his book, I Wish I Could Be Like Tommy Blake. As David says on his website: Because it’s written for the little guys, we always have a lot of fun with the character (who like me) wants to be like the cool kid in the school, and, of course, Ron Desnoyers’ amazing illustrations are hugely popular as well. I thought that with kids forced to miss school, sports and a whole lot of other activities, this might be a good time to have some fun with me reading the book exactly like I do in schools.

Hazel Hutchins

Hazel Hutchins has also created a video in which she reads from her new book, The Truth About Wind. Publisher Annick Press says of the book: Co-author Hazel Hutchins reads her new picture book The Truth About Wind. A story filled with imagination and the importance of telling the truth even if that means letting go of something you love. And Hazel says: I love the way the new book turned out! But it’s a difficult time everywhere and please know that the globe in the background is placed there purposefully, just as a small note of acknowledgment and support.

Anna Porter

I have handed in my new manuscript. It’s fiction, entitled DECEPTIONS but that may change as we go along the editing process. It’s scheduled to be published next March but, as you know, there are very few certainties in today’s Covid-ridden world. I have been reading a great deal, doing some reviewing, and serving on the jury for the National Business Book Awards (more reading). Yes, some ZOOM meetings and FaceTime – not sure which app I hate the most. I am also doing some interviews still with Hungarian media for the Forbes edition of Buying a Better World, my book about George Soros and his foundations. I find that speaking relatively intelligent Hungarian is a huge challenge. I also give some editorial and publishing advice online but do not charge for it because I don’t want it to become a professional service (been there, done that). Love your posts about Bequia! (Thanks, Anna!)

J.P. McLean

Thanks so much for all you do. You really are a dynamo.

I spent the first few weeks of the pandemic adrift. My thoughts scattered to the wind. The only thing I could grasp onto was the endless loop of bad news, which only compounded the feeling of helplessness. People dying and sickened, people losing their livelihoods, companies failing. Writing felt inconsequential in comparison. My creativity flagged along with my energy. It wasn’t until I saw pictures of the skies clearing over the Great Wall of China and dolphins returning to Italy’s waterways that I was finally able to break free of the negative hold the pandemic had on me. That silver lining, fragile as it might be, helped me find shore again and anchored me.

But I didn’t get back to writing immediately. First I got busy in the garden. There’s something primal about digging in the soil and nurturing plants that soothes me. I also got busy cleaning. The house and yard have never looked so good, and that too, soothes me. And then I tackled a few projects that had been on my to-do list for a couple of years. It took all of that to make me feel like I was in control again. Best of all, my energy came back online and my imaginator kicked in.

I’m still not writing anything more substantial than blog posts, but I’m back to working on the outline for my next book. In addition, I’m scribbling out ideas for a short Christmas story. I’ve taken our local writers’ group of twenty + members online with ZOOM, and my volunteer work on the board of our local Activity Centre, Gym, and Museum has also gone online.

I’m loving ZOOM. Even after this pandemic is over, I won’t be giving it up. In fact, I’ve joined two other authors in a weekly share and brainstorming session. My critique group, also three authors, are local and we’re planning a proper socially-distant meeting on my deck with a glass of wine in the very near future.

I’m reading more and tuning into webinars and live training sessions and learning new skills. Our small island community has pulled together. We’re buying as much as we can locally, but when one of us has to go off island, we shop for as many other people as we can manage. I shopped for six of us at Costco a few weeks ago – could barely push the cart up to the till. In that sense, COVID19 has brought us closer.

This pandemic has been difficult, and it’s not over yet. The future is unsteady for all of us. It takes effort every day to stay positive. Keeping the news loop at bay helps, as does this super supportive writing community. So thank you all, and especially Susan, who’s a ray of sunshine on the darkest days. XO (Thanks, Jo-Anne!)

Ranjini George

Please join me for two programmes:
In the third week of July for a one-week online Meditation and Writing Retreat at the Summer Writing School, University of Toronto.

A two-week intensive on Mindfulness and Writing for Discipline & Productivity this July. Time=Life. Learn to master time and live life in accordance with your values and aspirations.

Alison Acheson

I hate to admit how much work I’ve done these past weeks. But the time has been good, and writing is a distraction from any anxiety… it makes the time feel to have some worth.

So here is my update:

I have been WRITING!

Of course, my teaching moved to being online, but I have taught online before…so it really was about switching modes, and being there to support the students…many of whom have not worked online before. And then grades went in.

Here’s an article I wrote for The Writing Cooperative: Optimal Writing Time: Making time — micro and macro — work for you

In addition to working on a novel for adults, I have been writing short pieces, articles—for Medium—something I’ve not done before—and also for a small number of calls for submissions. I was so pleased to have a story win Sub-Terrain’s Lush Triumphant fiction prize this year, and have been enjoying “writing short” while working on the novel. While I can’t imagine working on more than one long (deep!) project at a time, I feel a need to work long and short simultaneously. It’s an old habit, to deal with writer’s block, and to make use of time (an urge borne of the busy time of raising three children). In the midst of this pandemic time, I have also had another book for young children accepted—a book of sacred texts, a “lectio divina” for children. The research for this project was an amazing journey into so many faiths. As I age, I am finding even more pleasure in setting myself down self-chosen research paths

After having a number of readings and presentations cancelled—as have we all—I have been busy with ZOOM promotion, most recently for All Lit Up, and a woman from the ALS Society in Texas, who has put together an amazing book club every Thursday evening for ALS Awareness Month. I am also taking part in a written Q&A for the Vancouver Writers’ Fest Newsletter. I am so grateful for these opportunities to share my work. And most grateful for this opportunity too, Susan!

Sharon Butala

It’s wonderful to have you doing this work on our behalf. I am truly grateful.
Here’s what I’ve been doing during the last eight weeks of self-isolation:
First, I’ve been sorting my papers and tossing them by the ton, or else piling them for shredding, whenever I can make that happen, or putting them in neat piles with labels for the millions of hungry scholars who will descend on them – hah hah – for what, I don’t actually know except that throwing them out is just not in me. I’m leaving that up to my son and heir.
Second, I discovered that the difficult and unusual (for me) novel I’d been researching and had begun writing when COVID-19 hit does not respond to my efforts to woo it into compliance. I have had to put it on hold for now. The reason, or the additional reason for this, is that almost at once a great idea for a COVID-19 novel hit me, and like a wood tick, burrowed in, would not let go, until I finally wrote a hundred pages of it. Then I had to stop to gather my thoughts, such as they are, and try to find a way to put the next hundred or so pages into my computer. I hope to start writing Part Two tomorrow. In the meantime, I have written a short magazine piece about the pandemic (500 words) and an essay to go at the end of my as yet unpublished essay collection: This Strange Visible Air.
Third, I have had four literary engagements cancelled or postponed, three of which will (eventually one hopes) still take place in the fall and that will earn me in total a couple of thousand, maybe. I haven’t really been worrying about my writing income because I get OAS and CPP and have a bit of money otherwise – a sadly diminishing pile, though. My heart bleeds for anybody whose entire income is from writing. It’s criminal what’s been done to Canadian writers in terms of income. And just today I got myself a judging gig for summer – one literary competition – with some financial compensation.
Fourth, my agent, Marilyn Biderman at TLA, Freehand Books and I have signed an agreement and I am now a Freehand author. This had to be done because my previous publisher, Coteau Books of Regina went bankrupt in late February. Season of Fury and Wonder will be back in print shortly. In the meantime, copies of it must be floating around in bookstores and libraries. I’m very happy about this, and have always been a big admirer of Freehand and I count myself lucky. That collection, by the way, was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the W.O. Mitchell City of Calgary Prize and the Georges Bugnet Fiction prize. With the bankruptcy I was afraid it was simply dead in the water, but nope, Butala rises again, like the phoenix! (Definitely a joke.)

And, finally for this 4th post of updates, this is the way I like to see things work with all the authors I promote …

Mike Robbins, on his blog, had reviewed the latest novel, Eternity Began Tomorrow, by Kevin Brennan. Then Kevin returned the favour on his blog with a shout-out and a review of Mike’s collection of novellas, Three Seasons.

Now Kevin has just announced that the paperback edition of Eternity Began Tomorrow is available to purchase!

I asked Kevin if he would send me a calming and peaceful photo from one of his walks that I could post here and he said: You could show the nice people this pic of a hiking destination Sue and I made it to recently. Didn’t see another soul, and it was utterly gratifying. Now that they’ve reopened the parks, places like this are packed. (Below is the Middle Fork of the American River, just a stone’s throw from our house.)

A-R International: Mike Robbins

Mike Robbins
Authors-Readers International


Mike was born in London in 1957, and brought up in Oxford. He was educated expensively up to the age of 14, at which point he was thrown out of boarding school; this was, he says, a good move from everyone’s point of view. He passed through a number of schools and colleges and became a journalist of sorts, and worked in rock music publishing and as a traffic broadcaster. In 1987 he signed on with VSO, the British equivalent of the Peace Corps, and spent two years in the east of Sudan in the wake of the 1984-85 famine. This led to a book, Even the Dead are Coming, which was eventually published in 2009.

He stayed on the road for many years, living in such diverse countries as Ecuador, Bhutan and Syria. His travels inspired another autobiographical book, The Nine Horizons (2014), and a novel, The Lost Baggage of Silvia Guzmán (2014). He is also the author of Crops and Carbon (2011), a scholarly work on climate change, and a book of novellas, Three Seasons. For the last few years he has been working as an editor in New York.

~

If memory serves, I first learned of Mike Robbins and his books through a listing on Goodreads. I was interested enough to contact him and ask if he’d like to be promoted on Reading Recommendations. Since then I have read most of what Mike has published and have really enjoyed his writing.

When I contacted Mike by email earlier in the week about this promotion, he told me he was reading my novella, That Last Summer, which made me very happy! I explained that the story was based on my own childhood of spending summers at the family cottage, and he said he’d experienced an Ontario cottage with his family who had travelled to Canada together for his father’s work: “We arrived in Canada in August 1968 and the next weekend a colleague’s son drove us out to their family cottage on a lake west of Ottawa. I remember it very clearly; a “cottage” doesn’t mean quite what it does in England, being made of wood, with the insect screens and the canoe drawn up at the water’s edge. I remember hot summer days but also cooler ones at the end of the season, when the sky was grey and a cold breeze rippled the surface of the water. The lakes always seemed huge; it was my introduction to the sheer size of Ontario. Later we took the train to Winnipeg and it took two days, across endless forests and lakes.” So that was another, and kind of cool!, connection that I now have with Mike Robbins. (Mike directed me to this blog post he wrote of his experience travelling to Canada for that year. Very interesting, and great travel writing!)

And I especially enjoyed this novella by Mike Robbins, his most recent publication …

~

Dog!

In the summer of 1976 a young Mike Robbins was startled, as was everyone in
Britain, by a TV programme in which a Welsh hypnotist, Arnall Bloxham, regressed three subjects to their past lives. One had served on a ship of the line in the Napoleonic Wars; another remembered being a hunter-gatherer in the prehistoric Balkans; and another recounted fleeing from a pogrom in medieval York. The programme, The Bloxham Tapes, generated some debate in later years as to what it did and did not prove.

No-one under 50 would remember watching The Bloxham Tapes, and it may not now exist. (An Australian university has a VHS tape, apparently; but those tapes do not always survive so well.) However, Robbins never quite forgot the programme. What happened after death? If you were reborn, would it be as a human again, and if not, why not? Forty years later, stuck on a book that was going too slowly, he broke off to write the novella Dog!, the story of an elderly rescue dog who is not quite what
he seems.

Dog! isn’t religious. It was the dramatic possibilities that Robbins wanted to explore. What if that pug you saw in the park was actually Henry VIII? It’s actually not a new idea, according to Robbins; he cites Rumer Godden’s first book, Chinese Puzzle, which revolved around a similar idea, and the late James Herbert’s Fluke. But Robbins wanted to have a bit of fun with the concept. The dog’s owner is a cheerful slob called Bazza (the English often abbreviate names into Baz, Caz, etc.), a university lecturer in a provincial English city. When not teaching logical positivism or medieval ontology, Bazza chills with a spliff and a beer or browses porn sites. He’s also adopted an old dog, but finds it dour and unaffectionate. Still, the two of them live together happily enough, despite the dog’s contempt for humans and its habit of licking itself in front of guests. Then a Himalayan monk comes to stay for a few
weeks while teaching courses in the city. He senses at once that there is something strange about the dog. He is right. As the book’s blurb says: “Dog! is a powerful story of love and loss, sin, redemption and dog mess. You’ll never see your pet the same way again.”

What Mike Robbins is working on now: “Since 2011 I have been working on a novel set in postwar Britain, but the research and the writing have both been tough. But it’s half-written now, and I hope I’ll finish it in the next year. I have also nearly completed a collection of “think pieces” and book reviews. Also slated for this year is a Spanish translation of The Lost Baggage of Silvia Guzmán (there is already one of Dog!).

Mike has also offered up to readers a few of his own reading recommendations:
Mike says there’s too much to mention! His best-loved novel of all time is J. B. Priestley’s Bright Day. But he also recommends Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain; a long slow read but the ideas in it are more important than ever. He is also a fan of Rumer Godden and recently wrote on his blog about her life in India. Of more recent books, he’s strongly enjoyed a couple of books by Kevin Brennan, who’s also been featured on Reading Recommendations (and is part of this Authors-Readers International series), and also recommends Alison Layland’s new thriller Riverflow. Finally it’s well worth checking out Rebecca Gransden’s strange and compelling novel anemogram. (sic), and her short-story collection, Rusticles.

For more information about Mike Robbins, his writing, books, book reviews, and travels, please see his website.

Mike Robbins was previously featured three times on Reading Recommendations: Feb. 2015, Nov. 2015, May 2017.