Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#27)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these guidelines form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #27

A tip for all writers is to avoid the use of the word “there.” If it’s used as a noun to denote location (“When we got there, we stopped.”), it’s fine.
But as soon as it enters the narrative as an adverb with the chilling words “There is” or “There are,” it serves to encourage sloppy, boring writing, usually full of static nouns, and reminding the reader of a government report.

Instead of “There are many examples . . .” try “Examples abound . . .” or “Many examples show . . .”

Editors should hunt down these “there”s, and writers should avoid them.

Doug’s thoughts on the “Turf Wars” of Canada Reads

The theme this year for Canada Reads is “Turf Wars,” pitting one region of Canada against another. The CBC designated five regions, and readers across the country voted on which books should represent each region. Recently CBC Books announced the top 10 books for each region, and asked Doug to comment on those selections. You can read this thoughts on the top 10 list at CBC Books.


The King’s Speech

I was very pleased to be invited to give the annual Flemming Lecture at King’s College, Halifax. Naturally, as I worked on this speech, it became known around the house as “The King’s Speech.”

The title I chose was “WITH A PINCH OF GENIUS: A Recipe to Produce Great Authors.” My starting point was the “Own the Podium” plan, which holds that choosing young athletes and pouring lots of money into their development will produce lots of world-class figures who will win lots of Olympic medals. I wondered what a parallel program to produce lots of world-class Canadian writers would look like.

It was a mischievous concept from the first, of course, but it led me into some interesting places. The trick, I find, to producing an interesting talk (or essay) is to set out to discover what you really think about an issue. With luck, the revelations will surprise the reader as much as they surprise you, and you’ll both be better for it.

For instance I started out to see how encouraging Canada is for its writers, in terms of providing readers. The news here is terrible. The 2008 TD-Canada Trust survey of literacy found that 50% of the adult population has trouble reading. Let me repeat that; half of Canadian adults have trouble reading. Since nobody who regards reading as a decoding problem is going to buy books, our authors are like wheat farmers growing their crops for a population where 50% are celiacs, unable to enjoy their wares.

I won’t repeat the whole 45-minute speech here, but the people like Roy MacSkimming and Rowly Lorimer and my friends at the Canada Council came up with an interesting response to my questions. In a roundabout, shuffling sort of Canadian way, we have already come up with a successful “own the podium” kind of program for our writers, and it has worked remarkably well, with many of our current writers renowned around the world, by surname alone. The trick now is not to throw it away. In fact, one of them suggested, we’ve done such a good job on the “supply” side, that for our authors’ sake we now need to work on “demand.”

Very interesting.

I enjoyed my time at the podium (but why do young people cluster at the farthest corners of a lecture hall?) and  enjoyed it best when I could get out beyond the podium to handle the lively Question and Answer session with the 50 or so bibliophiles in the audience.

Afterwards, thanks to the fine people at the King’s Bookstore (working in the tradition of James Rivington, who opened Canada’s first English bookstore in Halifax in 1761) I was able to sign some copies of my book, before going off to dinner with Bryan Flemming himself, and some lively friends.

I spent the night at the Lord Nelson Hotel, celebrated in my book as the place where an alert House Detective saw something fishy in Don Harron, dressed to do book promotion for me as Valerie Rosedale, and told him sternly to move along.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#26)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these guidelines form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #26

I have written earlier about the importance of keeping all of the entries in a list consistent. All very obvious, you may say.

How, then, can we account for the giant signs outside Indigo stores that say: “Books” (That’s good, and it’s nice that they lead off their list of items for sale with the printed word. ) “Gifts” (Again, a sensible widening of the items available.)  Then, finally . . . “Kids” (What is this? Either baby goats are now on sale, or junior human beings, or the list of items has just taken a head-spinning turn to express the idea that, um, you know, things suitable for children are available at Indigo.)

“Books. Gifts. Kids.” Nice work.

Stories About Storytellers Comes to the East Coast

Having already ranged all over Ontario, the Prairies, and the West Coast, Douglas Gibson is bringing his stage show to the Atlantic provinces at long last.

Between September 20rh and September 26th, he’ll be doing his stage show at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Mount Allison University, Acadia University and St. Mary’s University. You can also catch him hosting Marina Endicott and Ami McKay at Halifax Word on the Street and giving the Flemming Lecture at King’s College.

For more information on dates and showtimes, head over to the events page.

Hugh MacLennan and the Women’s Soccer Bronze Medal

On Saturday, August 11, I performed my show at the annual Couchiching Conference. Jane and I met there 11 years ago when I was a visiting speaker (pronouncing great truths on globalization and publishing, I recall) and Jane was a hospitable member of the board, tasked with making visiting speakers feel welcome. We were married within the year.

The conference theme this year was The Arab Spring, and the implications for Canada. My Stories About Storytellers show was labelled as “And Now For Something Completely Different,” which was very accurate billing. But much of the Conference had dealt with the worrying situation facing the minority groups in many nations in the Arab world, and Hugh MacLennan provided an interesting link there.

I recalled for the audience that it was Hugh who made the point that Canada was formed from “defeated peoples.” Hugh listed The Loyalists, driven north after losing the American War of Independence, the French-Canadians after 1759, the waves of Highland Scots ejected after The Clearances, the Potato Famine Irish. Thereafter there were waves of defeated people from Europe, followed by more recent examples like Vietnamese Boat People, Ugandan Asians, victims of the Yugoslavian troubles, Tamil refugees, and on and on, not to mention our invaded aboriginal people.

I went on to suggest that if you were trying to create a society that was concerned about minorities, not just the triumphant majority, you couldn’t devise a more promising background than Canada’s.

As a punch line, to show how long-lasting this cultural heritage of support for gallant losers really is, I asked what other nation would be so proud of an Olympic bronze medal? Think about it. It was no accident that Christine Sinclair was selected as our flag-bearer. That bronze medal was the great event of the Olympics for most Canadians.

Hugh MacLennan would have been very pleased.

Sunshine Sketches of a Little Coast

For 30 years they have held a literary festival at Sechelt. That very first year I was glad to send Jack Hodgins (from his Lantzville home on Vancouver Island, right across the Strait of Georgia from the Sunshine Coast ) as one of the five authors attending. He had a wonderful time, and reported back with great enthusiasm.

Over the years, as the little festival grew into the established “Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts,” in my role as Publisher I was pleased to send a steady stream of authors to this festival, assuring them that they would “have a great time.” They always did.

This year, in my new role of author, I got to see for myself. The hard-working Jane Davidson had secretly attended my performance at the Vancouver Writers’ Festival last October, and followed up with an invitation to attend the Sunshine Coast Festival that she runs.

So August saw Jane and me flying in to Vancouver, then dashing off to catch a seaplane that skimmed up the coast to land us at Sechelt. There we were met by Sally Quinn, a welcoming volunteer who identified herself brilliantly by displaying a copy of my book . . . always visible to an author’s eye at 100 paces. A quick tour of Sechelt took us to the Festival site, where we met Jane D. (astonishingly calm, given that over the next three days she would be receiving more than 20 performing authors from across the country, yea, even unto Michael Crummey’s Newfoundland, and Linden MacIntyre, fresh from Edinburgh). I also got to see the hall where all of the readings/performances take place. It is an all-wood open structure, the ceiling held up with tall pine poles, lending the air of a West-coast longhouse (crossed with a Cathedral, as one admirer put it). Ten seconds on the empty stage were enough to show me that this was a very special space, open yet intimate.

Since one of the strengths of this fine festival is that all events take place there, with no competing events at different venues, Jane and I were to spend many happy hours in the audience at that theatre over the weekend, enjoying the varied readings, Q and As., conversations, and performances. I’m happy to report that my own tightly scripted but apparently informal Stories About Storytellers show was reviewed by the local paper as “polished ramblings.” Aha!

Most of the time we sat with our host and hostess, the authors Sharon Brown and Andreas Schroeder, who live just outside Sechelt as “Roberts Creekers.” (Over time, we warned them, “Roberts Creakies” may apply.) We had the great good fortune to stay at the cabin down by the shore that Sharon and Andreas (whom I have published with great pleasure over the years) provide for lucky friends. And the blackberries! Words fail.

One of the high points of the festival is that at the end of each session, the great Hall is cleared, and everyone files out to drink, chat, or (usually) line up for the next session starting in 30 minutes. As a result, the placid queues along the Rhododendron-lined paths are a great place to meet old and new friends, and to chat about books and authors.

The local support for the festival is all you would hope for, and people are proud of what they have built up over the years. One retired man who sought me out to sign his copy of my book said it best. When I commented on what a great thing for the community this festival must be, he said, “This is why we moved here.”

A footnote: on Sunday Andreas took us for a quick tour of Gibsons, just to the south. For someone with my name, the place is a goldmine for delusions of grandeur. A quick tour reveals “Gibson’s Cinema,” “Gibson’s Curling Club,” “Gibson’s Swimming Pool” and so on and on. At the waterfront (near where The Beachcombers was filmed) is a statue of Captain George Gibson, who founded the town in the 1880s, rowing his produce down the coast to Vancouver. I posed proudly with my arm around his oilskin-clad shoulders, and felt right at home.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#25)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these guidelines form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #25
A recent article in The Atlantic magazine discusses the pros and cons of unscripted dialogue in movies. The main advantage, the writer argues, is that the spur-of-the-moment conversations produced by the liberated actors “sound more real.”

Anyone who has spent much time reading faithfully transcribed examples of “real” conversations knows that in print the disadvantages of, you know, um, like I say, the, er . . .  kind of real stuff massively outweigh the advantages. So cut and polish that dialogue fearlessly, and you’ll have people talking the way they think they do.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#24)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these reminders form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #24
Any time an editor sees the word “literally,” sirens should sound and red lights begin to flash. For “literally” is used wrongly most of the time, by most people. “I literally died of embarrassment” is not an extreme example. Every month you will read, and hear, dozens of such mistaken uses, serving to deprive the world of a useful word that says, “And I really mean this, it is the factual truth.” Dozens of examples. Literally.