Alistair MacLeod Writes Again

I’ve spent much of my stage-show tour in the company of the clan MacLeod. In Guelph, for example, young Daniel was in the audience at The Book Shelf show. In Peterborough, Lewis, as a faculty member, organised my Trent University event. In Halifax, Alexander (author and professor) brought me to my event at St. Mary’s, where he introduced me very kindly, and also helped to arrange my tour of other Maritimes universities.

As for Alistair, he dropped in on my show at Windsor, and then joined with me in our Punch and Judy show at Eden Mills.

In the middle of summer, however, we were engaged in real work together. Hal Wake, of the Vancouver Writers’ Festival, had decided that a perfect way of marking the Festival’s 30th anniversary would be to sponsor, and publish, a new short story from his good friend Alistair. With my secret encouragement he approached Alistair, mentioning a mid-summer deadline, to which Alistair (to my amazement) assented.

Then Hal enlisted my help as editor (or swooping enforcer, if necessary). The enforcer role was not necessary. Alistair delivered the story to me in mid-summer. Since we both were slated to speak on the same afternoon (July 12) at the Humber Writers’ course, we arranged that I would send my editing suggestions by mail to Cape Breton, and then we would get together  in Toronto. And so we did, meeting in Alistair’s hotel room after lunch, with friendly discussion of the few tweaks I had to suggest (not to mention details of the fighting around Ortona in 1944 that I was able to bring to his attention). As usual, our work was improved by the copy-editing skills of Heather Sangster, who had collaborated with us on No Great Mischief in 1999.

The design and production of the 40-page chapbook was all handled by Camilla Tibbs and Hal’s team in Vancouver. At this year’s Festival in October, Alistair was present for an on-stage interview with Hal that featured a reading from the chapbook that was being launched, entitled Remembrance.

My copy has just arrived, and I’m delighted with it, and very proud of my role. I’m pleased that the final page reads “The Vancouver Writers Fest would like to thank Doug Gibson, Peter Cocking (internal design) and Jessica Sullivan (cover design) for donating their time and expertise to this project.” Donating? I’d have paid for the privilege of working once again with Alistair, to help him bring a new story into the waiting world

There’s a special joy in reading the note: “ Alistair MacLeod would like to thank Doug Gibson for his help and editorial insight.”

My role was not restricted to editing the little book. I wrote the author’s biography, and the list of other books by him (including the special Christmas book To Every Thing There Is a Season that is not widely known) and I provided the cover copy, describing the book to readers encountering it for the first time. Here’s what I wrote, possibly influenced by the rhythms of Alistair MacLeod’s work in Remembrance:

It is November 11. In the cool morning air David MacDonald stands outside his Cape Breton home, planning to attend his last Remembrance Day Parade. As he waits to be joined by two younger David MacDonalds, he remembers the Second World War. He remembers the horrors of the battle at Ortona in Italy, and what happened in Holland when the Canadians came in as liberators. He remembers how the war devastated his own family, but gave him other reasons to live.

As the classic story unfolds, told in Alistair MacLeod’s deceptively simple style, other generations enter the scene. And we, aware of how many of the linked events go back to the mistakes of war, realise on Remembrance Day that “this time comes out of that time.”

Only 600 copies of this precious little book were printed. If you would like to get your copy, at $25.00, you should quickly go to

I have no financial involvement. But I am emotionally involved in a fine book by a fine friend, Alistair MacLeod.


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