Three years ago I was the Lakefield Festival’s host/interviewer at an evening celebrating Michael Crummey’s Galore and Linden MacIntyre’s The Bishop’s Man. With those two fine writers and performers crooning their readings at the entranced audience, how could it go any way other than very well indeed?
But the Lakefield Festival organisers (this means you, Stephanie) remembered me with affection, and this year presented me with an offer I could not refuse. I would give my solo Stories About Storytellers Show at 2.30 on Saturday afternoon, then act as host/interviewer for the evening session at 8.00, with three authors — count them, three. Then, presumably, I would collapse off-stage, but the show would be over by then.
Ruthless people, those Lakefield folks.
On the Friday evening we had dinner with Orme Mitchell (W.O.’s son) , his wife Barb, and Norman Jewison and his wife, our dinner enlivened by Norman’s tales of his Caledon neighbour , Robertson Davies, and his Hollywood friend Sean Connery, whom I can imitate shupremely well.
Saturday was spent roaming around Lakefield, before we went to the superb theatre at Lakefield School. After many careful sound checks the lapel mike was working really well… until, after a kind introduction by Lewis MacLeod (son of you know who), I went on stage, to find that squeaking feedback was now, mysteriously, a constant enemy.
In the end Jane (urged by the sound man) strode on to the stage, demanding the slide-changing “clicker”, which she handled off-stage, and we soldiered on, to good effect. There was even a standing ovation, which is a surprisingly humbling experience (“You really liked it that much?”). Then Lewis conducted a kindly Question and Answer session, and I went off to sign books.
So many books were sold, and signed, that the local bookseller ran out, and we were able to replenish her supplies with extra copies from the car. Ah, the glamorous life of a touring author.
The evening session featured three very fine novelists, reading from their recent books, then chatting about them with me. The final part of the evening allowed the audience to throw questions at any of the authors.
The books in question were very different: Annabel by Katherine Winter tells the story of a hermaphrodite baby raised as a boy in Labrador in the 1970s: The Empty Room by Lauren B. Davis tells the modern story of a day in a middle-aged Toronto woman’s life when her alcoholism catches up with her: The Purchase by Linda Spalding is set on the violent Virgina frontier around 1800 when an abolitionist Quaker finds himself the owner of a slave.
All very different, all very good. I recommend each one of them whole-heartedly, and am proud that our discussion centred exclusively on the books, as opposed to the prizes won, or the brothers or husbands (including Ron Davis, an excellent photographer) who might have earned a mention. Our main problem was that we ran out of time before all the audience’s questions could be answered. But the books are there to be read.
And I did not collapse, on-stage or off, and even attended a post-show party, before sleeping very soundly that night.
You imitate shuperbly, indeed.
Sounds like a great success. What topics were the audience interested in, after your interviews with the three authors?
About your Stories About Storytellers: a highly enjoyable read. I didn’t even know the book existed – I guess I don’t read enough reviews – until a friend bought it for me, signed by the author yet, at the recent Lakefield literary jamboree. Mightily entertaining. Chatty, amiable, easy-going, charmingly rambling, perceptive – and funny. It sustained me through a number of Toronto’s Yonge Street subway slowdowns, which seem to come much more often nowadays. Maybe it helped that I know/knew some of the principals (though not that well), and a number of the peripheral characters. That was an hilarious Allan Edmonds anecdote – it was classic Edmonds, clumsy but loveable. (I miss the big lug.) Though all the chapters were strong, I was especially taken with the ones on Robertson Davies, Robert Hunter – and Charles Ritchie, whose memoirs your book encouraged me to get around to (eventually).
In short, lotsa fun. You did good. Now I can get back to the Jonathan Franzen novel I put aside to spend some time with you and your authors.
One of the great things about writing a book is that sometimes the message you enclosed in a bottle washes up on a friendly shore.
I was delighted to get your kind, predictably lively response to the book. Many thanks for taking the time to send it…and I’m glad that the book revived fond memories of the people we used to know, like the lovable Alan Edmonds.
See you soon, I hope, maybe even on the subway.