The recent decision to award this year’s Nobel Prize For Literature to Bob Dylan has, as they say, provoked some comment. Because Alice Munro won the same prize in 2013, and I was lucky enough to be part of the Stockholm festivities then, I found myself being asked earnestly for a comment on this surprising new development.
At the Gala for the Literary Review of Canada I drew myself up and said judiciously, with a straight face,”The times they are a-changing!”
In fact, when I heard from a distant radio that the Nobel Prize was going to “Dylan” for a confused moment I thought that it was a retro-active recognition of the literary excellence of Dylan Thomas, who was clearly not going gentle into that good night.
No such luck. But if excellence in writing lyrics is now Nobel-worthy, if posthumous awards became possible I would happily lead a campaign for the great Cole Porter, whose “You’re the Tops!” will never be topped.
But let us consider the links between Alice Munro and Bob Dylan. None of Alice’s work has, as far as we know, been adapted for Dylan’s songs, but “The Love of A Good Woman” must be a strong candidate. I’m sure my wise readers will have their own candidates. And “Sad-eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” might well apply to the former Alice Laidlaw.
You see, like Alice, Bob Dylan has strong links with Scotland. Let me explain.
You may be surprised to learn that this academic recognition for Bob Dylan did not come out of the blue. In 2004 the University of St. Andrews in Scotland awarded him an Honorary D. Litt. If you go to the University’s website, you can see Bob, formally attired, with his hair approximately brushed, posing beside sober academics at my old University. St. Andrews is Scotland’s oldest, and (according to recent surveys, and not just my opinion) best, university, so the honorary degree was clearly a step on the ladder towards the Nobel Prize.
There is a Canadian link here. When my Winnipeg friend Gordon Sinclair was showing me around the city a couple of years ago, he took me to the house where Neil Young grew up. Apparently, some years ago the house-holder was surprised to answer a knock at the door and find Bob Dylan standing there. He was keen to see around the house where his admired friend and fellow musician Neil grew up. Bob drifted politely around the house, then moved on. Like a rolling stone, some might say.
I’ll be in Waterloo on Thursday 3 November, hosting a tribute to Edna Staebler at Wilfrid Laurier in the evening.
On Saturday 5 I’ll be at the WINDSOR BOOK FESTIVAL, at the Art Gallery at 3.00 pm.
on Sunday 6 I’ll be in London at the LONDON BOOK FESTIVAL at the Museum at 1.00pm.
Lots more events to come. But tell your friends about these.


My most recent blog was about the wide range of Alice Munro events that have been held around the world. I foolishly left out the recent hit of the Edinburgh Festival, “The View From Castle Rock.”

Alice’s admirers in Canada and beyond will recognise this as the title of her 2006 book, and the title of an individual story early in the collection. Now it has gained fame as a superb stage play, based on that story, and the others that begin the book (with its very agreeable Dedication).

My friend Elizabeth Ewan, who teaches Scottish history at The University of Guelph, tells me that the play was a huge success in Edinburgh, so popular that she was lucky to get a ticket from a shrewd friend who bought early. The combination of Scottish settings, from the Ettrick Valley just 50 miles south of Edinburgh, to the over-excited sighting of “America” just north of the Firth of Forth from the Edinburgh Castle rock, then on the voyage from Leith all the way to Canada, makes for a fine theatrical evening.

I hope that we will all get to see the play in Canada before too long.


I was at Guelph last weekend, celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Scottish Studies Department. For several years I have been involved with the Scottish Studies Foundation, which supports the Department financially.  In April this year I was proud to accept the Foundation’s annual Canadian Scot of the Year Award, which went to Alice Munro, to her great pleasure.

The moving spirit is a fine fellow named David Hunter, the Foundation’s Chair and hard-working promoter. After the event he told me a story too good not to be shared. He arrived from Glasgow in the early 1970’s, knowing almost nobody in Canada. But he looked up the name of an old friend in the Toronto phone book. The friend was excited to tell him that he was having a party that Saturday evening, at this Cabbagetown address. David promptly showed up, to find that it was wild, and noisy, and full of hip characters. When food arrived, the Chinese take-out cartons were put in one room, and people were directed to the chop suey and chow mein. The pizza must have been a counter-attraction, because only one other fellow joined David in the Chinese food room, and handshakes were exchanged.

“So, Jack”, said David, helping himself to the fried rice, “what do you do for a living?”

“Oh,” said Jack, “I’m in the acting game”, and they munched their Chinese food and had a good time.

It was only the next day that David saw a newspaper photo of his friend, under the heading “Jack Nicholson seen in Toronto.”

I have to report a very pleasant surprise. I’m always pleased to find my name cropping up because of the books I published. It’s different, but also pleasant, to be named for books that you did not publish, and that actually do not exist.

If you pick up the fine 2015 book of short stories, Chance Developments, by Alexander McCall Smith, you’re in for a predictably enjoyable experience. Sandy, as he’s known to his friends, is hypnotically effective, whether he’s writing about The Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Africa, or Isabel Dalhousie’s philosophical problems among her friends in Edinburgh, or anything else. He has taken his public readings to a new level, turning “Laughing  at Your Own Jokes” into a delightful new art form. The more he starts to chuckle at what he has written, the more his audience starts to laugh, until the event almost collapses in whooping, tear-shedding hilarity. Unforgettable.

So I’m thrilled that the fourth story in the six-story collection “Dear Ventriloquist” is set in Canada, and ends with an obituary from the Kingston Whig-Standard in July 1998. It speaks of Edward Beaulieu’s death, and refers admiringly to “his one and only book, The Future Lies In The Past, eventually published in Toronto by Douglas Gibson five years ago.”



I’ll be presenting ACROSS CANADA BY STORY in Fergus, at The Grand Theatre on October 1 at 8.00 pm

Look out for details of my shows at Festivals in London on November 4, and Windsor on November 5, with many more to come!



Alice may not be writing any more, but people are certainly writing about her – and creating events and works of art that celebrate her writing.

In FILM , for example, the famous Spanish director Pedro Almodovar has just brought out his first film in three years. Its title is “Julieta”, and it’s about mother-daughter tensions, based on three stories by Alice.

In MUSIC, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa recently enjoyed great success with a new piece inspired by Alice’s work.

In THEATRE, the Belfry Theatre in Victoria is hard at work on preparing a “word for word” stage version of two of Alice’s short stories. I’ve been involved (helpfully, I hope) in these preparations, and I’m sure that next Spring’s production will be fascinating, and may tour the country. These “word for word” presentations, half-way between a simple reading and a play with actors playing all the roles, are really a new art-form, and I find them fascinating.

In LITERARY FESTIVALS, early June saw The Alice Munro Literary Festival take place in Wingham and other parts of “Alice Munro Country”. A major feature of this year’s event was a fascinating talk by Professor Robert Thacker, where he dealt very generously with my role in bringing Alice’s work to the wider audience it deserved. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to light up the auditorium with my blushes. Next year, I hope.

In LITERARY GALAS , I’ve already mentioned Alice winning The Canadian Scot of The Year Award in May, where I represented Alice. I’ll have the same honorific role on October 13 when The Literary Review of Canada recognises a number of our greatest writers at a fund-raising gala dinner.

In THE UNIVERSITY WORLD, the great news is that Western University ( in Alice’s time there, it was “The University of Western Ontario”) has successfully completed its fund-raising for The Alice Munro Chair.  The first Professor will be chosen in due course, and announced with appropriate fanfare.

Not bad, eh?



We’ve been travelling around, at the expense of the blog, but amassing a number of stories. In Moose Jaw, at the Saskatchewan Writers Festival, we knew that we would have a fine time. This was a return engagement, after a three year lapse, and the old gang of friends was there, wallowing in the pool at The Spa, or strolling through central Crescent Park, where a beaver put on a special evening cruise for us.
We had breakfast with Harold Johnson and Joan, whom we met three years ago, as authors on the same stage in the Library. In August Harold is bringing out what sounds like a very controversial book about the impact of alcohol on our indigenous people. As a Cree with a law degree from Harvard who works as a Crown in La Ronge, Harold  knows about the daily damage of booze to our society. The book is called FIREWATER, and will come from Bruce Walsh’s University of Regina Press. It seems certain to be a powerful book. Watch for it.

On Friday afternoon I gave my Across Canada By Story show in the Mae Wilson Theatre that I remembered with such affection. All went well, although this time there was no superb introduction by Bob Currie (whom I’d like to pack up in my bag, and take with me as my Travelling Introducer). Earlier, I had the pleasure of sharing a session with Bob reading his poetry this year.

I helped with one or two other events, once unofficially. I found Zarqa Nawaz, author of LAUGHING ALL THE WAY TO THE MOSQUE wandering aimlessly around the Library, when she was supposed to be the main lunch speaker. I led her there, and from the stage she told her interviewer, Angie Abdou, that this “nice man” had rescued her, and got her to the event on time. When the “nice man” was asked to identify himself, Angie laughingly suggested that following this particular nice man’s directions was usually good policy for any Canadian author.

On the final day of the Festival, events took a strange turn. I was on a five-author panel on humour, and the speaker before me was Zarqa. She was very keen to inform us all just how difficult it has been for her to find a market for her most recent piece of writing, a very thorough non-fiction study of labiaplasty. She spoke at some length about this, and the audience seemed to like it.

(There may be a link here with the romantic reticence in Saskatchewan that was satirised by singer Connie Kaldor in her Saturday concert at the Mae Wilson Theatre. She asked “Did you hear about the Prairie farmer who loved his wife so much that….. he almost told her?”)

Speaking for the first time, I followed Zarqa by thanking the organisers for inviting me to come to this superb festival. Then I noted, disapprovingly, that while inviting me to participate in the Humour panel, they had not even mentioned the word “labiaplasty”.

Not even once.

The ensuing discussion was amusing,and we all had a good time. Although Terry Fallis later suggested that I might have been wiser to avoid the issue of labiaplasty altogether. He said that I should have kept tight-lipped about it. I believe that was the term he used.


Like so many Canadians, I cheered along as Milos Raonic fought back for famous victories against David Goffin of Belgium, and Roger Federer of Switzerland. This was a wonderful thing for Canada…a Canadian in the Men’s Final at Wimbledon. Surely this was something for all of us to get behind, cheering him on.

Except for this: his opponent in the Final was Andy Murray of Scotland.

I was born into a keen tennis-playing family in Scotland. I was good enough that I was on the local Men’s Team at 14, and my father and I never lost a set all season, as our fit young opponents vacillated between picking on the old guy, or targeting the little kid. So after I came to Canada in 1967, as my own minor tennis career  came to an end, I watched Andy Murray’s career take off, and supported him keenly – although watching him was never a truly relaxing experience.

He played a part in my own career as a writer. In 2008 he made it to the Final of the U.S. Open in Forest Hills, his first Grand Slam Final. I happened to be in Scotland, staying with my brother’s family near Stirling, just south of Dunblane, Andy Murray’s home town. Shazam! It was time for a piece of enterprise reporting. I contacted the Globe and Mail and asked if they would like a Special Correspondent’s Report on watching the New York Final in Andy Murray’s home town.

They liked the idea. I grabbed a quick sandwich, while my young nephew watched in disbelief (“You’re just going to go there and write about it for the newspaper?”), and drove to Dunblane. Quick questions on the street revealed that the tennis match would be shown at The Dunblane Community Centre. I found it, found the organizer, and shamelessly introduced myself with the words “I represent the Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto”. In turn, she introduced me around in the crowd, to friends of the Murray family. I knew that all would be well when one old gentleman gave me the quote “Win or lose, to me Andy will always be just a wee laddie from Dunblane.” (Punching the air is not an appropriate response from a note-taking reporter).

Well, Andy didn’t win that day, but The Globe and Mail’s readers got a fine feature from an unexpected tennis correspondent. If you don’t believe it, you could look it up, from September 2008.

So Andy Murray and I go back a long way. Supporting Milos against him was going to be very hard. It was indeed, as my title suggests, a real tennis conundrum. How should a patriotic Canadian born in Scotland handle this culture clash?

In the end, I decided that since both Scottish and Canadian cultures are, let’s say “anti-triumphalist”, my most appropriate position was to support, and root for, the player who lost in the end.

So go, Milos!


Last week I went to Austin Clarke’s funeral in St. James Cathedral. A fine, formal event where the white-gloved pall-bearers included the hefty Barry Callaghan, somehow reminding me of his wispy father Morley; also my old friend Patrick Crean ( we dated girls in the same family in the Sixties) who was latterly Austin’s editor for The Polished Hoe, and other books; and above all Cecil Foster, the well-known writer.

At the end of the service (one of the few in the Cathedral to involve Bob Marley’s songs, plus a reading from Austin’s latest novel, More, which mentions the bells of St. James), I made a bee-line for Cecil. I thanked him for urging me to visit Austin, who was in poor health. Of course I had meant to visit Austin, whom I’ve known for over forty years as a figure on the Toronto scene, and whose novel, The Origin of Waves, I published. But, although full of good intentions (you may recognise this situation in your own life) I had never got around to it. Cecil’s urging me to go to see him, soon, did the trick. I visited Austin at home just two months before he died, and just days before St. Michael’s Hospital claimed him for the last time.

Austin was clearly very ill, but he knew me, and our fond visit went very well. So well that his young relative Alan, who was with us at the Shuter Street house, greeted me at the funeral, and told me how much Austin had enjoyed our time together. Then he invited me back to the family gathering after the funeral, where I met many old friends, and we shared stories about Austin, not all of them involving rum.

Some weeks earlier Gordie Howe passed away. Our newspapers and magazines were full of tributes to this man that scores of writers called our greatest player. Yet many of the tributes (especially Stephen Smith’s fine hockey blog) dealt with Gordie’s Jekyll and Hyde personality, where this big, charming Saskatchewan boy off the ice, when he put on skates and picked up his surgeon’s stick, turned into an on-ice assassin.

I knew Gordie. I knew, and liked, the good Gordie when I published After The Applause, Gordie and Colleen’s book, written by Charles Wilkins. And during that time, I was hip-checked by Gordie Howe!

Let me explain.Famously, Gordie used to get bigger in the dressing room. The more clothes he took off, the more his long muscles seemed to emerge. I can attest to just how solid he was. We were at a publishing cocktail party and big Gordie secretly came up on my blind side, then smilingly stepped into me with a gentle hip check. I staggered across the room. It was like having a building move into you.



MOOSE JAW…..Saskatchewan Writers’ Festival

The Mae Wilson Theatre. Friday July 15, 4.00 – 5.00

TORONTO……..Classical Pursuits, with Ann Kirkland (Members only)

Victoria College Dining Hall. Tuesday 19,  7.00-8.00

OTTAWA VALLEY…..Bonnechere Authors Festival

St. James Church, Eganville, Wednesday, 27 July 7.00—8.30

EASTERN TOWNSHIPS…..The Piggery Theatre, North Hatley, Quebec.

Sunday Evening, 31 July.


Three years ago, I was delighted to drive down to the Niagara Peninsula to be part of the very first Ridgeway Literary Festival. The other participants were Charles Foran , talking about his majestic biography of Mordecai Richler, and Andrew Westoll, telling us about his prize-winning book, The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary.

It was great fun, although I missed the spectacular events of the Saturday, when the celebration of the Battle of Ridgeway went sensationally askew. According to my informant, the reliable David Wilson (biographer of D’Arcy McGee), the two proud Canadian regiments involved in the original battle (“headlong retreat” is not used in regimental histories) were unable to agree on who should march at the head of the line, following the historical route from the Ridgeway train station to the nearby battlefield.

Total standoff.

In the end, the gallant lads from Hamilton flounced off, and the Queen’s Own Regiment led the way through cheering (well, ice-cream licking) crowds to where the new monument was to be unveiled.  The local MP, Harper’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Robert Nicholson, made a speech where he paid tribute to me as an impressive performer the previous evening at the Literary Festival named (long pause) “Doug (…..even longer pause) Wilson!”

The unveiling of the monument went no better, because the canvas cover had been tightly lashed down against high winds, and the ropes had to be slowly sawed through, whereupon the cover billowed and snapped like a sail until it was caught and hauled down, as I have described in a previous blog

Nevertheless, the Ridgeway organisers, led by the tireless Mary Friesen, had warm memories of me, and invited me back to Ridgeway this June. The occasion was not a Literary Festival, but a Literary Evening grafted onto a remarkable historical event entitled “THE FENIAN RAIDS HISTORICAL AUTHORS CONFERENCE” .

The people in attendance were historians from Canada, the United States, and Ireland, and for two days I sat and admired their professional skills as they explained the significance of this battle, which had taken place exactly 150 years earlier, to the day, June 2, 1866.

The background is this. Many Irish immigrants with bitter memories of British rule in Ireland fought for the North in the American Civil War. When the war ended, many of these hardened soldiers were persuaded by nationalist Fenian groups that an invasion of British Canada might pressure Britain to give up their rule of Ireland, to in effect swap Canada for Ireland. Inspired by this idea, these Fenians invaded Canada at several points, most famously across the river from Buffalo, to Ridgeway, beside Fort Erie.

The battle was a disaster for the Canadian volunteers, whose officers were so incompetent that they sent their men out in sweltering June weather in winter uniforms, and without canteens to give them water. I took a battlefield tour with Peter Vronsky, the author of the Penguin history of the battle, and the tales of military folly were predictably amazing. As the Canadians advanced, the Fenian general was luring them, Civil War-style, to a killing ground. But someone shouted out “Cavalry!” and the panicked Canadian commander had the chance to use his favourite parade-ground manoeuvre, which always brought warm applause from crinolined spectators,

“Form a square!” he bellowed. The troops loyally shuffled into position, ready to repulse the non-existent cavalry.  The Fenians, with their inaccurate breech-loading muskets, could hardly believe their luck as their opponents clumped together to form an easy mass target.

Soon the Canadians were rushing back to Ridgeway. This hasty retreat meant that they avoided the planned killing ground, but nine Canadians died, while fourteen Irish Americans also lost their lives.

It was a fine historical conference, but many of the attendants were…er…deeply eccentric. One enthusiast, for example, had driven many hours from Vermont in a car bearing the licence plate FENIAN. Others were historical re-enactors. They are the sort of hobbyists all too keen to march around reconstructed battles in precisely correct uniforms, dying dramatically, arms outflung, until the announcer at such events  intones through the microphone  “THE DEAD MAY NOW ARISE.” I’m sorry that we had no such event at our Conference.

The musical entertainment in Ridgeway involved a famous Irish group, Derek Warfield and the Young Wolfetones. Their long-running tour of Irish America meant that their praise of all things Irish was without a trace of irony, and sentimental rebel songs full of weeping mothers were greeted with hoots of delight.

I like Celtic music.

Across Canada By Story tells how I came to sing a solo of “The Wild Rover” at the Royal Ontario Museum. But what, you may wonder, was I doing at this Ridgeway conference?

Well, the Literary Evening featured Guy Vanderhaeghe, whose last historical novel, A Good Man, featured a narrator scarred by his experience at the Battle of Ridgeway, who later encountered Fenians out west, when he was dealing with Sitting Bull’s arrival in Canada after The Little Big Horn.

My role was to interview Guy, or have an on-stage conversation with him. He’s such an old friend that we go back to Man Descending, his first book, which I published in 1982. Not only was our conversation a success, because Guy is such a thoughtful writer. Socially, it was a great time for us, from the moment when Jane and I picked him up at the Toronto airport on Thursday, until we dropped him off on Saturday.

I especially enjoyed our time together, roaming around downtown  Ridgeway. We visited the fine bookstore on the main street run by Mary Friesen, where I was pleased to find that my photo (along with Charles Foran and Andrew Westoll) adorns her walls. Just a few minutes down the street, past The Flying Squirrel restaurant, I found the theatre where I gave my original show. It shares a building with a lively brewery that produces a beer named “Brimstone.” There may be a song there.

Certainly, the menu at our Fort Erie hotel deserves wider fame. For dinner, Guy noticed, it is possible to order a steak “grilled according to your likeness.”