two things for a holiday monday

1.   Dear Moody Long Weekend Mornings… that conspire to keep their skies grey long enough to insist that I linger in bed fluffed with pillows and layered with pages—books, newspapers—and a pot of tea. Peppermint. Sometimes even going so far as to demand I have a square of dark chocolate.

My deep gratitude.

AND 2.   Dear Literary Press Group… who sent me a box of books that fit so well in the above-mentioned fluffing and layering. And all I did was like you on FB. How lovely you are, but please know my like is sincere and goes beyond any number of books (having said that, please also know I am beyond thrilled).

As for the books, well, they are perfectly exquisite gifts. The cover of each is a joy in itself.

I’ve already dived deeply into Rosemary Nixon’s Are You Ready to Be Lucky? because how can I do otherwise with an opening that goes: “Roslyn high-steps up Bantry Street on an icy Alberta evening buffeted by late-December gusts, holding high her sixty by forty centimetre tray of pineapple-stuffed meatballs, trying not to look like a woman who, at the yearly No Commitment Book Club Christmas gift exchange, received a can of gravy and… How to Seem Like a Better Person Without Actually Improving Yourself…”

There is also The Wondrous Woo, by Carrianne K.Y. Leung, and The Fleece Era, poetry by Joanna Lilley, which I’ve only peeked at and already love—not to mention that exquisite stock, the typeset, the black flyleaf. The words, did I mention the words? “I don’t look at paintings/ but at the walls on which they hang.”

Then there’s Swarm by Lauren Carter, a mildly dystopian novel about “a world only one turn of the dial from our own”, and a matter of survival by fishing, farming and beekeeping. My sort of thing. Finally—as if this bounty isn’t enough—A History of Breathing, a play by Daniel MacDonald that, based on a quick scan, I can’t wait to properly spend time with.

All of which to say: a thousand thanks, dear Literary Press Group. A box of books is no small event in this house.

(at) eleven with barbara lambert: the whirling girl


I have a thing for Italy. For its food and the sound of its language, for its chianti and soave wines, for the way people yell at you to eat more (I adore people who yell at me to eat more); for what I imagine is the quality of the setting sun in the countryside and the voices from piazzas in the city as heard from a balcony.

I was in Venice once. I was ten. It’s not a romantic story, although I did paddle a gondola. I need to go back. In the meantime, the next best thing is reading and vicarious travel and Barbara Lambert’s The Whirling Girl  is one ticket to that chianti’d world.

In a nutshell: Clare Livingston, a botanical artist, has inherited a house and property in Tuscany from an uncle who leaves a cryptic message in his will.
A message that niggles and eventually works its way into the deeper spaces of her memory, to a place that touches on the painful, and seems so very incongruous with the quality of that setting sun…

She arrives in Tuscany, to claim her house, to wonder about the why of this gift, and with the idea of researching material for a book of flora (the descriptions of the images can be quite steamy) “Those stamens with their delicate stems… striations on the ovary at the centre of this cluster, and the almost-invisible hairs on the closed bud and on the poppy. But a distraction presents itself in the form of an ongoing Etruscan archeological dig and the people involved with it, which, ultimately, changes her life.

There is love. There is magic. There is history and mystery. There is food.whirling_girl_large

“…tagliatelle  with seafood bathed in saffron, and a noble white wine from Montepulciano… a sorbetto  of passion fruit.”

There is a most wonderful character in the form of Marta, a housekeeper, who is every matriarch that ever lived in any society. A woman who understands life, who has a whole lot to teach anyone who cares to learn.

There are unicorns. As metaphor anyway, insofar as representing that you either believe in something or you don’t; that not everything is provable. This is no small philosophy as Clare tries to unearth her uncomfortable past and to weigh the realities of the present.

Have I mentioned the humour? Lambert writes with a dry wit: “A word of warning, though. Never try to carry a fountain pen through airport security in Brazil. They’re terrified you’ll barge up into the cockpit and try to write a sonnet.”

Annabel Lyon calls this a fairytale for grownups  and I agree. It has just that quality. It’s a book of revealing history, in relationships and in society, the things we search for, what’s left behind, and why. It’s also about a small slice of Italy, a place its author clearly adores. At its essence though, it’s a book about the importance of finding something to believe in—starting with yourself.

But enough from me… I’m thrilled to present, by way of Eleven Questions, Ms. Lambert herself… to whom I’m so very grateful for taking this time.

So, without further ado, the extremely bellissimo  Barbara Lambert…

1.   What literary character did you want to be as a child?

BL— Bagheera, from The Jungle Book — the first story I recall my mother reading to me (the Rudyard Kipling original version). And now, reminded what a thrilling character Bagheera is, I can’t resist quoting two passages. (Substitute “she” for “he”, and imagine a tiny girl becoming that glorious powerful creature):

“A black shadow dropped down into the circle … inky black all over, but with the panther markings showing up in certain lights like the pattern of watered silk. Everybody knew Bagheera, and nobody cared to cross his path, for he was as cunning as Tabaqui, as bold as the wild buffalo, and as reckless as the wounded elephant. But he had a voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree, and a skin softer than down.”

And here, “she” speaks for herself:

“I had never seen the jungle, they fed me behind bars from an iron pan till one night I felt I was Bagheera – the panther – and no man’s plaything, and I broke the silly lock with one blow of my paw and came away; and because I had learned the ways of men, I became more terrible in the jungle than Shere Khan.”

2.   What’s a favourite passage from any book, and why?

BL— I am currently reading the collected stories of Anton Chekhov, in 13 volumes, some already familiar to me (or so I’d thought), and many more that I’d never come upon. I remembered The Kiss as a brilliant “Chekhovian” example of a story in which nothing – and at the same time everything – happens. But I had forgotten the searing poignancy of the final sentence, summing up as it does the entire future of a young soldier, in one lethal blow.

“For an instant there was a flash of joy in Ryabovitch’s heart, but he quenched it at once, got into bed, and in his wrath with his fate, as though to spite it, did not go to the General’s.”

3.   Do you sometimes find themes in your work that you weren’t aware of?

BL— What an interesting thought. And looking over my answer to your first question, I’m wondering if those passages appeal to me particularly because in my own work I do seem to keep dealing with people who secretly picture themselves as capable of dropping down like black shadows, but who may never break the locks imposed by their need for safety, self defeat. Is this what The Whirling Girl is really all about? Art and archaeology, yes, and love and lies, as the jacket suggests: but at heart, the exploration of a character so imprisoned by secrets in her past, that in truth even I kept wondering, as her “Tuscan adventure” progressed, whether she’d ever be able to break free?

4.   My theory is that we write what we need to learn. Not directly, of course, but on some, perhaps, subconscious level. So, if that’s true, what do you think you were “exploring” in writing The Whirling Girl? (Of course you may well debunk this theory.)

BL— It’s hard for me to separate out what I needed to learn as a person from what I needed (and need!) to learn as a writer. At first I was going to talk about archaeology, here, as I certainly did need to learn a lot about that fascinating discipline. But on reflection, what I most needed to learn was to trust my characters, trust their true natures I mean: not merely to allow those characters go the way they needed to go in the story, but to look really closely at what their story was: and also, not let them bamboozle me into looking away from some things they wanted to hide.

There is one particular episode in my central character’s background that she really didn’t want to look at; and for a long time I didn’t look squarely at it, either. I changed it, made it less creepy. I suspect that, subconsciously, I feared that readers would also find this episode a place they did not want to go. I have to thank my brilliant editor, Marc Coté, for catching me out on that, giving me the courage to write my complex character Clare as she truly was. What did I learn? Well, aside from what a huge mistake it is to try to appease readers, I hope I have learned to trust the true needs of my characters – and to develop the kind of ruthless bullshit detector that a fiction writer needs, to tell the truth.

5.   We have to talk about the cover, from a Charles Pachter painting. How did it become “yours” … because it’s perfect.

BL— I’m so glad you think so. Choosing a cover (or just “okaying” one) is a crucial and hair-raising business. But I was lucky. Angel Guerra, of Archetype Design, has done many brilliant covers for Cormorant Books, and when my editor sent me a selection of Angel’s ideas I immediately fell for the detail he’d zeroed in on from Charles Pachter’s painting, “The Party”. There’s a theory that a book cover should not show images of people “full face” for fear or supplanting the reader’s own idea of what the character or characters might look like. (That’s why you see so many showing the back of someone’s head against an evocative scene of some sort.) But the secretive and dreamy and perhaps guileful expression on the face of the woman in the painting struck me as so revealing of Clare’s inner nature…. Plus the whole scene is so rich and compelling. I wanted to be at that party. I hoped that anyone who saw the book would want to be there too. So when I learned that Charles Pachter had given his permission for Cormorant to use the image, I felt very lucky indeed to have work by such an iconic Canadian artist grace my novel.

6.   I’m interested in how characters develop. How do you get to know yours? Do you outline, assign qualities and give them strict orders, or do you allow them to surprise you en route? If the latter, can you share one of those surprises?

BL— I suspect that the process, if I can call it that, goes back to before I was school age, an only child on an Okanagan orchard, where I spent most of my time wandering around under the trees “imagining”. I didn’t realize I was making up stories – or that later in life the imagining process might lead to writing. The people in the adventures I made up were not pretend friends though. I never imagined myself as part of that gang of bold girls who swung through the jungle on vines to rescue captured princesses in Indian temples, or out-rode and out-shot bad guys in the wild west, or captivated the hearts of desert sheiks, generally by astounding skill with very sharp scimitars – leaving the whole veiled dancing thing to shadowy others. Though now I do recall that those adventures would often involve a delicious moment when — veiled, or crinolined, or meekly aproned — one of those girls would throw off the socially demanded bonds, and flash a hidden six-gun or scale a mountain peak to rescue the handsome man who’d somehow foolishly come a cropper, thereby winning his stunned admiration and love.

So now your question has made me wonder if what most interests me about the men and women who inhabit my adult imagination is whether they are also packing hidden six-guns so to speak, in the form of suppressed emotions, histories, desires: and whether they are going to turn those powerful forces on themselves, to subvert their own desires, or if they will manage to call on them, at last, to free themselves?

Certainly, as a writer, the moments when a character does burst the bonds of what I’d scripted are the most exciting moments. One example in The Whirling Girl involves the young Italian, Gianni, whose imagination frequently leaps beyond the practical. He runs a sanctuary for endangered species. Clare – who is trying to resist falling disastrously in love with him — has not allowed herself to take his elaborate and fanciful plans too seriously, till, unexpectedly, he makes up a poem for her — of the names of all the butterflies in Europe that have gone extinct. And she is sunk. So was I.

7.   “Tonight a man who believed in unicorns would take Clare Livingston to a wedding that had happened seven hundred years before.”The Whirling Girl has a distinctly ethereal feel at times, the beauty of the Tuscan landscape, the heat, mysterious doings, the unicorns! Okay, the last is merely an in-joke between characters, but so appropriate in this enchanted tale. In the acknowledgements, you refer [tongue in cheek?] to long hours in a hammock… My question is this: how much effect did place have on the style and tone of the novel? [In other words, what would have been different were it not for that hammock…? Be it real or metaphoric.]

BL— I think place had everything to do with the style and tone of the novel. But there’s nothing metaphoric about that hammock. On my initial trip to Tuscany, day-long explorations of the countryside almost always ended with me settling into the gently gently-swaying netting outside the 500-year-old mill house where we stayed, in the valley below the ancient hill town of Cortona. Journal in hand, I’d begin to record the day’s adventures; and even then — well before I began conjuring up a novel set in that countryside — as I drifted off into a sweet rocking snooze, “she” began creeping into my thoughts – someone who (unlike me) might never have to leave this enchanting setting, Now who would she be…? Many pages of my Tuscan journals are tinted grassy-green where the book slipped from the writer’s hands and the scent of flowering lime trees drifted in, spinning magic in my dreams.

But as to unicorns, I must protest. The young man (Gianni) really did believe in them: as a symbol, at the very least, of the possibility — if we humans put all our energy and belief into imagining the seemingly impossible – that we can, by practical effort, save our expiring world.

8.   What was it about Etruscan history that compelled you to write this book?

BL— The Etruscans played no part in my original concept for the novel. But the longer I spent in Tuscany, on succeeding trips, the more fascinated I became by this puzzling race that once ruled almost the whole of Italy, and who — after their conquest by the Romans — disappeared almost completely from the historical record. When their culture did come to light again, little by little, it was mainly through the contents of their underground tombs. But what a culture! The twelve hilltop cities of the Etruscan League were architectural dazzlers looming over countryside made fertile by brilliantly engineered irrigation schemes. At the society’s peak, Etruscan merchant ships dominated the surrounding seas, bringing back riches to their avidly-collecting families. Indeed, it’s thanks to their love of finely-crafted objects that we know so much about Greek society of the same period; for the majority of the famous Attic pottery in museums around the world, with those finely-painted and detailed scenes, were discovered in Etruscan tombs, part of the furnishings the wealthy intended to take along to the “after world”. Those same tombs give us proof that Etruscan women were powerful and literate (a unique combo in ancient times) and stunningly dressed and be-jewelled (we are talking about the “elites” of course; though tomb frescoes do portray the clothing and accouterments of many levels of society in fascinating detail). The Etruscans were avid lovers of food and wine and dance, too, as so many frescoes reveal.

Yet here is a conundrum. This was a culture deeply steeped in religion and a sense of fate.

It was this split mind-set that particularly intrigued me, in relation to my novel. The Etruscans believed that their civilization would last just ten generations. And indeed that was almost exactly its span before it was swallowed by the Romans. How did one thing work upon the other? Did a priestly assurance that it would all end (and when) spur on the vibrant and uncannily beautiful art objects of every sort that they created: even the most every-day utensils packing a wallop of intriguing design? Did this ominous foreknowledge set them free to live with an artistic intensity not seen again until the Renaissance? Or is this theory “a load of codswollop!” (as one of the characters in the novel kept declaring, though in the end he got edited out)? In any case, an aspect of comparable tension between two very different cultural traits seemed to seep in and enrich what I came to know about my central character, Clare: an artist, and idealist — living an undermining life of secrets and lies.

9.   Marta is a favourite character, a sort of inherited housekeeper. She doesn’t have a lot of ‘stage time’ but, in her own way, is essential to the quality of life on the Tuscan property. This is true of so many matriarchs, especially those in patriarchal societies. What drew you to this quality? How is she different from Clare? And… how did she come to have her own blog on your website where she so passionately discusses tradition and food?

BL— Marta has always felt to me to be a downright gift. I don’t know where she came from. She just plonked herself down in the novel and everything she said or did felt right, what a gift indeed. So really, all I can say is that this is what drew me to her, and that through her I felt the novel was able to connect with some essential qualities of Tuscan country life. Also, thinking it over now, I liked that she was so much the opposite of the members of the quasi-aristocracy whom Clare, for better or worse, shortly becomes involved with. But how is Marta different from Clare? Perhaps, not very. They both have their shifty aspects, don’t they: and Marta’s canniness is certainly match for Clare’s secretive nature.

As to Marta’s blogging career: Not long after the novel was published, I was out walking – feeling a little blue, because I’d spent so long on the novel, and I just plain missed being in Tuscany. For that matter I missed the whole process of being immersed in the writing. I started thinking of an early scene, the one where Marta Dottorelli first appears, with a bag of nettles that she’s gathered by the roadside on her way. Marta starts making a pot of nettle soup. She insists that Clare sit down and eat it, which Clare is dubious about…. And as I walked, suddenly a voice popped into my head. “Don’t make me have to tell you how you got that wrong!” Marta’s voice. Complaining that not only did I, the author, know nothing about making nettle soup, but that I knew nothing nothing nothing about her life, and had absolutely no business trying to trap her inside a novel, and that she had not the least intention of staying there. Well. I rushed home and channeled that voice, setting up a blog (starting with her recipe for Nettle Soup) where right off the bat she sets things right about what life on a Tuscan farm is like, and how I have got everything wrong not just with her life but with Clare’s life. And since then, every now and then, a new recipe of hers appears, often with seasonal descriptions of her life, and always with something snarky to say about “that writer”. There are a number of her recipes up there now, at:

10.  Which do you find harder to write… the first sentence or the last? What was the first scene [you wrote] of The Whirling Girl? And did you always know how it would end?

BL —Often a story starts for me with the final sentence popping into my head. And the question: Okay, so who is this about, what’s been going on? But with everything I’ve ever written, by the time I get to the end, that sentence has to go. The first scene I wrote of The Whirling Girl involved Clare driving up the Italian autostrada to Cortona to the property she’d inherited from her uncle. It gave me a huge amount of trouble, draft after draft. There seemed to be so much information I had to get in, right at the start. Eventually I somewhat resolved this by starting with her uncle’s obituary instead. But (a confession) when I do readings, now, from the start of the novel, there are still a few bits that seem superfluous, which I chop. As to whether I always knew how the novel would end — yes. But, in this case, not just the final sentence got cut, but – in a very last-minute edit — the final several paragraphs. A Wow moment.

11.  Choices:

Pasta or Pizza? Pasta

Chianti or Coffee? I refuse to choose.

Ocean or Lake? Lake (if it can be either Trasimeno or the Okanagan)

Thesaurus or Dictionary? Can’t live without either but the Thesaurus comes more frequently into play.

Primary or Pastel? Can I go with some rich in-between shades, like for example (quoting from the novel) terra rosa, ultramarine, moonglow, raw umber…?

Salmon or Steak? Salmon.

Poetry or Song? That’s tough. But I’ll have to say “song”.

Theatre or Film? Theatre.

Canoe or Bike? Canoe.

Cherry or Eggplant? Well I live on a cherry orchard, so…! On the other hand, I hear Marta’s got a bumper crop of eggplant this summer. I wonder…!

Florence or Rome? Florence.


 Matilda’s Menu for The Whirling Girl


Zuppa di Ortiche (Nettle Soup)

Pasta Puttanesca

Spiedini al Limone (Skewered Meat in Lemon Juice)

Insalata Verde

Melone di Vino Dolce (Melon with Sweet Wine)

Pan Forte

(But I’m a mere amateur. For the REAL meal to eat with this book,
talk to Marta…)

lambert571 highresBarbara Lambert’s novel The Whirling Girl was published in the fall of 2012. Her previous work includes A Message for Mr. Lazarus (2000) and The Allegra Series (1999). She has won the Danuta Gleed Award for Best First Collection of Short Fiction and The Malahat Review Novella Prize, and been a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Prize and the Journey Prize. Lambert is currently editor of Dr. Johnson’s Corner, an online gathering place for writers too in love with their own words. Further information about The Whirling Girl and Lambert’s previous work is available at: .

The Whirling Girl is available online at Blue Heron Books. Support indies!






this is not a review — ‘in the spice house’, by marnie woodrow

Only just recently discovered this quirky and quite lovely book, published in 1996—another testament to the riches that are CanLit and the fact that so many gems are present for but a moment, before the next thing takes its place… for but a moment.

In other words, it’s easy to miss a few.

I divide books into four categories: new-new, old-new, old favourites, and books I’ve heard nothing about and got merely on a whim. Often, that’s where the treasures are found and, to be honest, it’s my favourite pile. No prejudice nor expectation, no hoopla to live up to… a book from this pile can just be a book.
[Is it just me or does it seem that titles receiving the most hoopla are very often the least hoopla-worthy, while so many gems fly under the radar….]

Blather aside, in the spice house was a delicious find indeed. And a much-needed palate cleanser from the recently hoopla’d.

The food references are not accidental.

Each story [there are 16] in this collection centres around or focuses on or incorporates food and relationships in bold and unexpected ways, which, in my world, is more important than plot. Although there’s plenty of that detail also.

In ‘Mamamilk’ a woman is confronted by a child she lost due to neglect and other slovenly habits. ‘Belly’ is a bit of sarcastic pleasure about home ownership. It begins: “I’m holding a brunch in honour of my lucky friends, the ones with two-car garages and split level lives.” [FYI: brunch takes an ominous turn.]  ‘Suck’ is about a chef who loses all self control while watching people eat, and ‘King Cake’ offers up traditional New Orleans fare along with some distinctly original revenge. In ’32 Flavours’ a rapist rues the day he walked into an ice-cream parlour. ‘To Market To Market’ takes us on a ride in more ways than one, and in ‘Obvious Need and Senseless Longing’ Elizabeth David’s death leads to a dangerous romance with the knife obsessed. It begins, “I gave up drinking in favour of buying cookbooks.” 

The shortest piece is ‘One Lip’, a sort of fairy tale about the end of love and its inherent difficulties.41twt9hKaVL__SL500_AA300_

The longest, ‘Madame Frye’, is about an unhappily married woman who works in a fish and chips shop and longs to go to Bora Bora or have an affair with a patron named Melinda, whichever comes first. It takes the form of something like diary entries, alternating in the wife’s voice and that of her ultra savvy daughter Penny [it’s her voice that makes it].

The stories are short, bite-sized things, and written in prose that feels like a conversation over lunch with some wonderfully wild and free-thinking companion who never uses the same voice twice in her ‘tellings’—here, listen to this one, each narrator seems to be saying as we sip our Chardonnay, break a piece of baguette, lean forward.

And then we start on the cheese, the olives, order some more wine, all the while leaning in even further…

Viva long-lost gems.


(at) eleven with fran kimmel: the shore girl

They’re everywhere. A certain kind of young mother, single, unemployed, pushing prams, kids in tow as they walk and walk… yet something suggests there’s no real destination—that hours, days, years, are merely something to get through… until… what?  More kids maybe, another guy, another unfortunate choice. Because for some people life is a series of unfortunate choices or, worse, unfortunate events. Whatever the reason, they keep moving, these mothers, as if in the hope it’ll all somehow ‘become’ right. They’re recognizable—not by any expression of hope—but by their sadness, sometimes by the look of fear in their eyes. We worry about them for a moment but mostly do nothing. We wring our hands for the children: what chance do they stand?
and then we drive on by…

This is the impression we take. We of the narrow minds.

Fran Kimmel either doesn’t have a narrow mind or is just a lot brighter than many of us. Or more aware. Her book The Shore Girl, the story of Rebee Shore, shows the world of single The%20Shore%20Girl_1motherhood and their kids from the inside out, through a child’s eyes and [in dedicated chapters] through the eyes of everyone who is—by blood or choice—connected to her.

But there’s a difference: Rebee’s mother [Elizabeth, who prefers to go by Harmony] isn’t a pram pushing sort of mum. She’s on the run, rejecting her past and doing her best to dodge the present, which happens to include her daughter. From infancy into her teens, Rebee’s life alternates between moving constantly from van to motel to trailer to relative’s couch. “… Harmony gets restless. For her, a new place has a three-month expiry date, same as fruit bars.”

And if she’s not moving with her mother, she’s being temporarily abandoned by her.

In other words, the kid has every reason to be angry, to follow suit, to make a mess of her life. She has the excuses. But that’s not what happens. Rebee is one of those miracles who, instead of becoming resentful, learns through the very debris of her childhood that she has to be strong because her mother is preoccupied just keeping them alive.

“I thought how rage must hurt in the beginning,
but a person gets so used to it, she thinks it’s
a heat a body’s supposed to feel.”

She gets it.

It’s why she keeps a box of fingernail clippings, mostly Harmony’s, the various shades of nail polish reminding her of places they’ve stayed; it’s the only constant in her life, the only thing that reminds her of where she’s been and the only part of her mother that she can protect from disappearing.

“We rumble along the highway under a watery sky, past wheat rolled into giant soup cans, cows frozen in muck. I think about where we just came from. I can’t remember the colour of the walls or feel of the curtains or shape of the bathroom sink. Blank as water, like on a test day in a new school and I end up at the fountain, gulping, drowning… I slip off my runners and slide my toe across my bag until it touches my nail box. We’ll get to wherever we’re going tonight… I’ll wait awhile. Sprinkle the brittle bits on my blanket. Sift them like seashells.”

While often told from Rebee’s perspective, it’s very much Harmony’s story too, one that has her cemented in shame and anger.

All that and yet… The Shore Girl  is ultimately hopeful. It’s about connection, the small and unfathomable ways we touch each other and thereby save each other. About reclaiming what’s ours and how family comes in various forms. It’s about getting beyond what’s ‘normal’. About using the scraps you’ve been tossed.

Above all, it reminds us that our story is never obvious to others, nor is it entirely ours alone.


As is customary with the (at) Eleven series, a meal of my choosing—appropriate to the book—follows the Q&A, because… “Eating is our earliest metaphor, preceding our consciousness of gender difference, race, nationality, and language. We eat before we talk.”  ~Margaret Atwood from The Can Lit Food Book

And now, without further ado, may I introduce Fran Kimmel… who I thank so very much for her time, her insight and her kind heart.


1.   What literary character did you most identify with as a child?

FK—As a young kid, I devoured Trixie Beldon books. I loved all her insecurities and her grumbling about chores and homework and brothers.

2.   Can you recall one of your earliest pieces? (Crayola poem, a finger-painting storyboard…?)

FK—Okay, here goes:

Across the shadow of the moon and ever so slowly gliding

Through the leafy-figured trees, a starlit shape was sliding

Up and down with swirling streaks, across the snowy hills

With patterns of rejoicing grace, and lacy moving frills

It’s so bad, it’s memorable. This poem won a contest in Grade 4 and I had to read it in front of the whole school on assembly day. I cried a lot beforehand, trying to get out of going on stage, but neither my teacher nor my mother would give in. I made it to the end without collapsing, but this marked the end of my poetry career.  (Likely a good thing)

3.   What were you reading at fifteen?

FK—Girl gets boy stories, killer gets caught stories, town goes berserk stories, world on verge of collapse stories. Lots of junk sprinkled with a hearty dose of the Bronte sisters, which I could not get enough of back then.

4.   Can you describe what was on the bookshelves, or on one specific shelf, in your childhood home?

FK—While my sisters and I usually had stacks of library books beside our beds, our family bookshelves were pretty sparse. I remember a shiny set of A-Z Encyclopaedias with more pictures than words, as well as a few volumes of Girl’s Own Annuals, leftovers from Grandma’s house. These were huge tomes from the 1930s, 800 plus pages, packed with illustrated stories and ridiculous amounts of sage advice about how to sit still,  take care of your stockings, or knit the perfect skating outfit.  Hah!

5.   A favourite passage from any book and why.

FK—This is such a hard question. Every week I read a new passage that blows me away. But here is a long-time favourite taken from Girls by Frederick Busch.

“The dog and I live where it doesn’t snow. I can’t look at snow and stay calm. Sometimes it gets so warm, I wear navy blue uniform shorts with a reinforced long pocket down the left hip for the radio. I patrol on foot and sometimes on a white motor scooter, and it’s hard for me to believe, a cop on a scooter in shorts. But someone who enforces the law, laws, somebody’s laws, fall down like that. Whether it’s because he drinks or takes money or swallows amphetamines or has to be powerful, or he’s one of those people who is always scared or because he’s me, that’s how he goes—state or federal agency or a big-city police force, down to working large towns or the dead little cities underneath the Great Lakes, say, then down to smaller towns, then maybe a campus, maybe a mall, or a hotel that used to be fine.”

This quiet, understated passage comes early on, page two. With these words alone, the reader is given everything needed to fall hard for Jack, the book’s main character. Such tension and bitter regret here, the unravelling of a life. You know Jack will get only halfway near the harsh truth, but you’re rooting for him already. My favourite passages and phrases are almost always deceptively simple.  The eight-word sentence, “I can’t look at snow and stay calm,” gives me shivers.

6.   Do you ever find recurring themes in your work, things that surprise you?

FK—I seem to want to write about life’s damages. (My husband grumbles, Can’t you try to be a bit funny?) And it does surprise me that loss keeps coming back again and again. I’m not sure why exactly, except that I’ve been forever interested in the fragile connections that hold us together and what happens when these connections are broken.  I think I’m drawn to what I don’t want to know about myself.

7.   The Shore Girl opens with the heartbreaking scene of Rebee as a toddler, alone in a motel room, thirsty for a glass of water and yet reluctant to disobey the parent who isn’t there. How do children like Rebee manage to find such resilience?

FK—I’m left speechless by what children are able to endure. I think that kids like Rebee are always on the outside looking in, which gives them a lot of time to observe and to reflect on what they’re observing.  They learn to somehow distance themselves emotionally (and physically) from the source of their heartache. Some of these kids – the lucky ones – are able to become stronger in the process. I’ve met some amazing women at book clubs who endured childhoods much like Rebee’s and they’ve gone on to lead brilliant lives.

8.   Rebee’s mother, ‘Harmony’, is a wonderfully drawn character, and the only one [of the central cast] that we don’t hear from directly. She’s alluded to, pined for, despised, misunderstood, tolerated, fallen in love with; she makes us want to give her a shake one minute and then breaks our heart the next. No matter what, she’s the ‘always elephant in the room’ There’s an expectation, a desire to hear Harmony tell her side of things, yet if she did, the book would be less. It’s the very absence of Harmony’s voice that creates the character; she emerges as both the problem and the appeal and the lack of her own platform is a kind of metaphor for her life, also her choices. The ‘silence’ fits her confusion and her abdication of so many things and, most importantly, it reflects for the reader some of the mystery, frustration and longing that Rebee feels. My question is this: how did you ever find the courage [read: wisdom] to NOT give her a platform? It surely must have been tempting to do otherwise. [and I’m guessing she probably kicked up quite a fuss!]

FK—Harmony did kick up a huge fuss. She was a powerful presence underneath everything else that went on in this book, and I was inside her head and heart all the way through. I feel a huge swell of tenderness towards Harmony, but if I had given her a voice, she would have taken over the book and the story would be hers and hers alone.  I wanted more for Rebee than that. It took me a ridiculously long time to figure this out.

9.   Was there any unexpected outcome in writing the book that you might share? (I’m thinking of characters that resisted where you wanted them to go or who walked on or off the stage spontaneously; something you discovered in research, elements that you cut/added because of info gleaned ‘en route’…)

FK—The book itself was its own unexpected outcome. I’d been writing short stories for some time and this, too, began as just that – a short story about Rebee and her fingernail clippings.  After I sold the fingernail story, I thought well that’s that, but then I’d wake up night thinking about her. I wanted to know what it would feel like to run across a girl like Rebee, a girl who stumbles out of a run-down van, bedraggled, and then just disappears again. Who would reach out to her? Who would turn away? I wrote and wrote, character after character, story after story. It wasn’t until a long way in that I started to see these pieces melding into a book.

In earlier drafts, I had a large section told from the town’s point of view after Rebee moved to Chesterfield. And a section by a crusty old neighbour named Gunther who I absolutely adored. But in the end, I cut huge swaths and whittled the writing down to this small band of characters who I felt told Rebee’s story best. On a side note, I didn’t intend for Joey to keep puking. No matter how many times I wrote that out, I’d turn around, and he’d puked again.

10.  In your opinion, what are some positives in the ‘new publishing industry’?

FK—Since the self-publishing industry has blown wide open, there is an infinitely large space for writers who want to go it alone. New spaces for writers is a positive. Some excellent books are coming online that might not have made it past the gatekeepers in the old publishing world.  This brings a crazy surplus of junk, too, but that’s a whole other issue.

And despite doom and gloom forecasts, small independent publishers are still alive and well in Canada. If I want to be assured of a good reading pick, I check out my favourite inde publishers’ new line up and am seldom disappointed.

11.  Choices:

Pen or Keyboard? Keyboard definitely. In a coffee shop, I’m one of those high-maintenance laptop users who pulls out the wireless mouse and huge portable keyboard and cushy wrist rest.

Tent or Trailer? Tent trailer.  I love the smell of canvas and all the zipping before bed, a solid floor beneath my feet and the half-aluminum door between me and the bears.

Poetry or Song? Leonard Cohen.

Theatre or Film? Film if I want to kick back and absorb. Theatre if I want to lean in and participate. I love both (but nothing coming out of Hollywood these days).

Prairie or Lake? Yellow fields and the big, open sky. Although prairie lakes are pretty cool too.

eReading or Paper?  Paper. I keep promising to buy myself an e-reader, but really, how serious can I be.

Salad or Cheese? I’ve become a bit more flexible since my tuna-salad decade, but lunch without lettuce doesn’t work for me. I throw in everything I can find, including lots of cheese.


Matilda’s Menu for The Shore Girl:

Peanut Butter on Graham Crackers

Choice of grape juice or bottomless pitcher of cool, fresh water

Wintergreen Lifesavers for dessert

(to be eaten in the dark)


Fran 2013 for CarinBorn and raised in Calgary, Fran Kimmel has worked all kinds of jobs including youth worker, career counselor, proposal writer, communications coordinator, and VP for a career consulting firm. Fran’s short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies, including twice in The Journey Prize Stories, and her first novel, The Shore Girl, was a 2013 Canada Reads Top Forty selection and winner of the 2013 Alberta Readers’ Choice Award.  Fran now writes and teaches in the small prairie town of Lacombe, Alberta, where she lives with her husband and overly enthusiastic Labrador retriever.

The Shore Girl is published by NeWest Press.

this is not a review: indian horse by richard wagamese


I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I began reading Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse . Everyone seems to be talking about it, I’d seen reviews, it’s a Canada Reads contender. I knew there was hockey. I’d heard the descriptions: ‘powerful’, ‘stunning’, ‘heartbreaking’. But I hadn’t heard the details.

Now I understand why.

The details are hard to talk about, hard to accept. Harder still to read but impossible to stop reading.

The in-a-nutshell version is this: An Ojibway man who is a mess due to a family history of residential schools, booze and unemployment, ends up in rehab after almost making it to the NHL.

If you think you’ve heard the story before, believe me, you haven’t. Not like this.

The book opens with images of life before the white man, before indigenous peoples were made to accept a pittance for the job of helping the government devastate their own land, before they beganindianhorse trading berries for bottles.

It soon moves ahead a few generations with the focus on Saul Indian Horse’s childhood and family: a nurturing grandmother; a father who’s fine when he’s working but work for Indians is rare; a mother who is already a wreck from her own years at residential school and is now forced to watch as her children are taken to the same place, one at gunpoint.

Saul himself ends up at the school—where, among other atrocities, children die standing up, bodies hang from rafters, wrists are slashed on bathroom floors and a young girl fills her pockets with stones and calmly walks into the creek to drown. Where another child, already dead inside, speaks matter-of-factly about the priest and the nuns coming to her in the night to share “god’s love”.

“They called it a school, but it was never that….There were no tests or examinations. The only test was our ability to survive.”

Despite the horrors there is not a trace of rancour in the writing, not one gratuitous scene to drive home a point. Quite the opposite in fact. Wagamese wields a strong but subtle hand on the subject, the power being in what’s left unsaid. One gets the terrible idea that what Saul knows, what any of us know, is merely the tip of the iceberg.

How Wagamese kept what must be his own deeply rooted feelings out of the story, focussing only on Saul, telling The Bigger Story through him… is a feat not many writers manage, much less manage so beautifully.

“When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness.”

Escape for Saul comes in the form of hockey—and these are some of the most beautiful passages in the book. While I can watch a game and be soothed by the sound of skates on ice, puck meeting wood—even though I really know very little about what’s going on—I didn’t think I’d like reading about hockey and it was one of the reasons I initially hesitated picking up the book. Turns out reading about hockey the way Wagamese writes it is an utter joy, even for someone who doesn’t know a crease from a blue line. The passion and lyricism of those chapters could easily be applied to a description of any artist or athlete doing what they love.

Saul has the talent of a Gretzky or a Crosbie and he moves quickly up the ranks, becomes a local hero where ‘hockey brings unity to a fractured society’ and “Every reserve in the North had a team.” But the system has him move up even higher, to minor leagues, to big city games in the south where an Indian on skates is an event, a cause for racist headlines, jeering and jokes.

“During one game [the fans] broke into a ridiculous war chant whenever I stepped onto the ice…. When I scored, the ice was littered with plastic Indian dolls… A cartoon in one of the papers showed me in a hockey helmet festooned with eagle feathers, holding a war lance instead of a hockey stick.”

What once was his salvation proves to be just another thing that belongs to the white man. Hockey is metaphor for the “white man’s game”… the game of life. They expect him to play the role of savage Indian, and eventually, fueled by a lifetime of suppressed rage, and against his better instincts, he obliges them.

From there he spirals down until he’s at the New Dawn Rehab Centre where he discovers perhaps the most difficult layer of his past [a shocker I did not see coming…] and begins the long process of healing.

This is the part of the book that was hardest to take. We white folk in Canada pride ourselves on our multiculturalism, our supposedly easy acceptance of all races. But we don’t talk about the aboriginal population when we talk about race and racism. We don’t talk about the aboriginal population at all. Because, well, they live “up there somewhere” and very little that happens to them is reported in mainstream media, and even when it is, it’s a news blip not a serious problem. Contaminated water in Walkerton? A very big deal. Heads rolled. In Attawapiskat? Where’s that?

Ditto mould, insufficient housing, suicide.

But it’s not that we don’t care, it’s that we don’t know.

The Idle No More Movement has shown, at least to some degree, that there are large numbers of us, people of all description, that do care. And we crave information. Yes, we can ferret it out online, but perhaps the day has come where equal air time and ink in mainstream media is given to aboriginal issues.

The long and short of it is this: we know too little about the history of native communities. For this reason books like Indian Horse are important in that they convey a hard story that needs not only to be told to heal the teller—but heard, to help heal our world.

Indian Horse  is available for purchase on-line at Blue Heron Books. 

And Hunter Street Books.

Support indies!

this is not a review: malarky, by anakana schofield

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: my favourite books are the ones in which nothing happens, except that whole worlds change.

Anakana Schofield’s Malarky  fits the bill perfectly.

The world in question belongs to a middle-aged widow as she speaks to a counsellor, this after having become ‘confused’ or possibly temporarily off her nut [though she strikes me as saner than most] following her husband’s death. Between what she tells the counsellor, who she refers to as Grief, and what she tells us and what is told us via third person narration, we learn that she, Philomena, aka Our Woman, some years previous, and quite by chance, meets the mistress of her cattle farming husband, known as Himself. Turns out said mistress [The Red Twit] feels compelled to share details of the dalliance that Our Woman would be happier not to know.

And it’s not as if her head isn’t already full up with images of her son and another lad having it off in the pasture, after which he joins the military and she, Our Woman, knows, just knows, he won’t be coming back in one piece. And there’s no consolation to be found in her husband. Even if he weren’t indulging himself with The Red Twit, she cannot discuss the simplest things with him, much less anything of an emotional nature. Certainly not anything beyond cows.

In fact, he blames her for the son being ‘soft’.

So she keeps much inside herself, does Our Woman. Or, I should say, she keeps much from the people in her life. With us, the reader, she’s very good at sharing.

“The thing people don’t realize about patchwork women like me is how given to exasperation we are. On the surface, we fuss over the cleanliness of a work surface, or kitchen counter top, we notice the scum around the bath, we may, the most desperate amongst us, brasso the door handles each week, but do not for a millisecond misbelieve that as we are doing this undulating task we are not awash with rage and salty sentiment the likes of which would sting the eyes of out of the most coarse rumped pig.”

Soon enough she meets a man who is driven by strange curiosities about the mechanics of reproduction from a woman’s point of view, and, although he is slightly younger than would have been ideal, his interest in practicalities, in the anthropology of sex rather than the emotions, suits her in many ways, not the least of which for its quality of distraction. She begins an affair with him, partly to even the score but mostly to understand her son.

“Jimmy’s absence taking all of it, more than I wanted gone. No sooner is something gone than we must know more of it. Why’s that? I often felt this same way when a cow leaves to the factory. I’ve no interest in the animal, but once missing, a hole forms for her. I look for her. I miss her in a whole new way.”

It should be said the book is not about sex.

Not in the slightest.

It’s about language. The way we speak, the way we hear, what we communicate and why and how and how we pick our moments to reveal the things we do. And to whom. And then we’re back to why.

Why do we marry, love, befriend, hate? Are these even choices? What do we accept, what do we hope to change? And then we’re back to the how.

“Everything about widowhood is exhausting because you’re trying to recall, unable to recall and then expected to explain why you cannot recall. It is not as simple as living. It is not as simple as being irritated. Being alive and married is like sanding a windowsill. Maybe it is dusty, it may get in your eyes or knick your fingers but you can look at it and see there’s a windowsill. You can look at your husband and feel no need to say anything to him.
“The curse of the widow is the non-stop chatter outside and around your head. Like a television talk show where you loathe the questions, but cannot turn it off.”

I adore the way Our Woman notices the details of life even as its biggest boulders are falling on her head, the way a character “…ponders how it all went wrong, while her biro did a word search.”

Schofield’s use of language, the playfulness of it, including local dialect and turns of phrase [the story is set in the countryside outside Dublin], as well as clever stylistic choices, all conspires to convey the message of how we communicate—and is pitch perfect. Gorgeous in fact. And even though I’ll admit the sometimes unusual sentence structure and occasional [intentional] missing punctuation annoyed me at first, I couldn’t stop reading. Much like meeting up with someone who rattles on and on and you think, god, how do I get out of this, but then, something in their eyes, some gesture, some honest inflection in their voice makes you hear, really hear, what they’re saying and it’s so real and they’re sharing it with you and you realize that’s no small thing and so you listen and before you know it you’re leaning forward across the table, yes, yes, go on, you’re saying… and when it’s time to leave you make a date to meet again soon and as you walk away in separate directions, you notice not much is different except a shift in the world… by just the tiniest degree.

Reading Malarky is like that.

this is not a review: burt’s shawarma, by kathleen winter

Rhonda has been angry and unhappy for a long time. It doesn’t help that she lives on the outskirts of a town whose claim to fame is being the nation’s teenage suicide capital “…just past the point where the Pinegate Pizza won’t deliver”. Nor does it help being married to Dan, a farmer with a soul as romantic as a milking machine. God bless him though, he’s one of those guys who thinks that duty and maintaining a roof over one’s head is enough. In his own out-to-lunch way, he tries. He’s probably in as much pain as his wife but it matters to him less or it matters in a different way. He takes solace, not in conversation, not in reaching out to her, but in immersing himself ever deeper in the work of livestock, insulation, leaks in the barn. Nothing personal… these are merely the things that matter.

Part of her knows he won’t change yet another part continues to believe he’s capable—if he tried—of finding a way in. She’s waiting for the moment where he’ll sit down next to her in his cowshit covered clothes and say to her:

“…Why don’t I get a shower and make you a cup of tea? Hoffman’s elm is like us, isn’t it? I’m sorry you’ve been lonely inside. Let me touch you? Not with my paws—with the word rain, the colour green, with eating bread and sitting here till a yellow bird comes and eats the crumbs.”

She’s starved for him to merely try. 

When Dan suspects (correctly) that Rhonda is having it off with Burt, the local ‘exotic’ who runs a Lebanese cafe, and who thinks Rhonda is perfect, he buys her tulips for Valentine’s Day. This is huge in their dry and loveless union and enough to keep it going for another painful stretch, despite her apathy.

“…she no longer cares that her vinyl toilet seat has torn pieces that stick up and prickle her butt.”

While she realizes the thing with Burt can’t last, she takes some comfort in the knowledge he can be replaced. By which logic, so can Dan, albeit with a bit more difficulty and anyway, what would be the point?

“You can tell about the state of anyone’s marriage from their medicine cabinet,” she tells her sister Bett. Her own has empty calamine lotion bottles piled in with rubbing alcohol for ears pierced fifteen years ago, ancient antibiotics, blunt useless tweezers and a stack of wrapped soaps with cobwebs on them from the Holiday Inn in 1989, which was the last time she and Dan took a trip together, and that was to bring home a trailer for getting show cattle to the fall fair. She doesn’t care about the fence Dan promised to make for her garden twenty years ago. She doesn’t care that Dan had an affair when the kids were little, or that there has never been chemistry between Dan and herself. She doesn’t even care that the magic with Burt is dying out. Bett calls him an interim phase and that’s fine by Rhonda. What matters is that her anger, her poisonous anger, has drained away, thanks to Burt. She watched her mother carry the same anger, panicked when she realized she had it too, knew one day she was mad as hell at her whole life and it looked like there was nothing she could do about it. Burt stopped the time bomb with his hideout, with its cool walls and blue shadows where she didn’t have to do things from morning till night in which she had no interest. She will feel relief deep down, be able to breathe deep down, whenever she thinks of Burt even after this is over, which it almost certainly is already, with no illusion of anything permanent. No one has mentioned Rhonda helping Burt run his cafe, but not in the same way that no has ever mentioned her helping Dan run his farm.”

— excerpts from ‘Burt’s Shawarma’, from the collection BoYs, by Kathleen Winter

Three Impressions Overall: delicious ironies, entire worlds sympathetically drawn in mere pages, and the kind of truth that makes you squirm as it pulls you forward, then leaves you pretty much where you thought you’d be left for pretty much the reasons you thought you’d be left there. Only thing that’s changed is that now you’re aware of the ‘why’. It may not feel like enough but of course, truth is always more than enough. (And may I say I love the cover of this gorgeous collection.)Note: this post first appeared in May/2011 as part of Year of the Short Story (YOSS) celebrations.

Now part of the Re-Run Series.


—Purchase boYs online at Blue Heron Books.

reading canada

I like what the LRC has done in the July/August issue, ie. offering up a list of thirteen books that epitomize each province and territory—as chosen by writers from said locale.

Not saying I’m going to read every one of them (and why exactly not? I ask myself…) but I’ll keep the list handy. I am, however, very intrigued with two of the titles. Joan Thomas’ choice: The Two-Headed Calf, by Sandra Birdsell, representing Manitoba, which interests me because—ever since, a couple of years ago, I was hugely and pleasantly surprised by what Winnipeg has to offer (extraordinary art gallery, especially its collection of Inuit carvings; smoked fish, best eaten with thinly sliced red onions, rye bread, and washed down with ice cold vodka; great restaurants in very funky neighbourhoods; Fringe Festival; fabulous kids’ theatre arts program; annual lit festival: Thin Air; the North End; the downtown library; the freaky and beautiful Masonic architecture of the Legislative Building; the Forks, especially Tall Grass Prairie Bread Co. & Deli)—I’ve been very into that province generally.

Also want to read my friend Steven Mayoff’s PEI choice—My Broken Hero and Other Stories, by Michael Hennessey, about which he says, in part:  

“Hennessey’s prose adopts an easy, anecdotal tone…There are also dark streaks of violence… complex undercurrents thrumming beneath what is widely known as the ‘Gentle Island'”.


And because I also love B.C.—and occasionally spend part of my year there nestled in a small trailer in the woods—I may also have to read Lee Henderson’s choice: The Invention of the World, by Jack Hodgins.

Because how can I resist this—

“…about B.C., but also about the bigger ideas of heaven and earth, earning a living, human nature and the supernatural. It is a portrait of the B.C. way of being and one awesome read.”

Then there’s Denise Chong’s pick: Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion, which I’m embarrassed to say I have never read. Madeleine Thien’s choice for Quebec is also intriguing. And I know nothing about New Brunswick and Saskatchewan and I want to know more about Newfoundland (Lisa Moore suggests Michael Winter’s The Architects are Here) and the Yukon and NWT and Nunavut. And how could I not want to read the definitive book of Nova Scotia? I love NS.

And let’s not forget Alberta, a province I lived in for three years and know practically zippity doo dah about except it’s a 40 minute flight from Edmonton to Calgary.

So, yeah, I’ll keep the list handy.

But I’m not saying I’ll read every book.

I’m really not saying that.

I think.


canada eats


Am celebrating the 143rd birthday of our grand beau pays with my favourite things: words and food. Specifically—words about food. 

As far as I’m aware (not that I’ve done an extensive survey) I’m the only person I know who has a copy of The CanLit Foodbookwhich, a few years ago, sprang into my arms from the ceiling high stacks at one of my favourite secondhand shops.

Why it’s taken me this long to crack it open, I haven’t a clue.

Assembled in the late 80’s by Margaret Atwood for P.E.N. International and The Writers’ Development Trust, it’s a collection of real and twisted recipes, essays, studies, poetry, fiction, thoughts and observations about food and eating and cooking, as well as reading and writing—about food and eating and cooking—from over a hundred Canadian writers. Or, as Atwood describes it: part cookbook, part “…literary symposium on the subject of food.”

The 200 or so pages are divided into sections [with illustrations by Atwood] such as: ‘Preprandial Prologue: Food as Metaphor’; ‘Cracked Dawns: Breakfast for Barbarians’; ‘Teatime; Strange Innuendoes Over the Cups’; ‘Eating People is Wrong: Cannibalism Canadian Style’; ‘Shindigs: Cocktail Parties, Weddings, Christmases, Funerals and Other Social Disasters’.

Each contribution receives its own brief preamble [again, by Atwood], such as ‘Graeme Gibson’s Right Way with Oatmeal’, about which she says:

Graeme Gibson learned to cook this in Scotland, and does indeed eat it while striding about the room.

Or her introduction to Salutin’s instructions on making toast and tea:

Playwright and journalist Rick Salutin used to have a phobia about cooking, until he mastered this recipe. After that, he went on to other culinary triumphs, such as Heating up Frozen Coffee Cake.

Margaret Laurence makes cauliflower soup, Timothy Findley serves fresh peaches and explains how to cream rodents, while Michael Ondaatje jellies them and Erica Ritter offers an essay on food and dating. There are foodish excerpts from known and not so known novels, precise directions for making Pierre Berton’s version of the perfect black Christmas turkey as well as corned beef hash; Catherine Parr Traill describes the means by which fish are caught and Alice Munro shares her recipe for Maple Mousse.

There is this from Paulette Jiles:

Paper Matches

  My aunts washed dishes while the uncles
squirted each other on the lawn with
garden hoses. Why are we in here,
I said, and they are out there.
That’s the way it is,
said Aunt Hetty, the shrivelled-up one.

  I have the rages that small animals have,
Being small, being animal.
Written on me was a message,
‘At Your Service’ like a book of
paper matches. One by one we were
taken out and struck.
We come bearing supper,
our heads on fire.


And that’s just for starters.

Speaking of which, I’m going to begin the reading today with a piece by Mavis Gallant who writes about a meal with one of my favourite painters. And the cooking will begin with Rudy Wiebe’s ‘Warm Potato Salad’…

A happy ‘grand beau pays’day to one and all.

Bon Appetit!