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!