I was pleased to see that the lead review in Sunday’s New York Times was a new collection of stories, Life Without Children, by Ireland’s Roddy Doyle. Roddy and I became friends after he toured Canada to promote an earlier book, and visited Calgary and Banff when I was hanging around, a friendly Publisher trying to be a helpful Canadian host. I often did things like this, once stepping in to help an under-manned Calgary Authors Festival event, where I got to introduce three authors, including the remarkable James Houston. He stole the show with his opening line from the stage, “I’m a REALLY old guy! And I’ve had a hell of an interesting life!” (In the general celebration afterwards, one young woman noticed how much fun I was having, as a Publisher. She asked a shrewd question; “How do I get to do what you do?” I hope she made it.)
In one of my books I tell the story of how Roddy’s visit to the Banff Festival coincided with rutting season for the elk who roamed around the Banff Centre for the Arts, where we were all staying. I had been there a few years previously, also at rutting time.
There had been an incident.
Guy Vanderhaeghe, the brilliant novelist from Saskatoon, had come out after breakfast in the cafeteria, to find a male elk blocking the way to his residence up the hill. The elk looked frisky, so Guy, a sensible man, decided to wait until the elk and his harem moved on. Unfortunately, a young woman came out of the cafeteria and headed straight up the hill. Guy, a polite man, not inclined to issue instructions to strangers , suggested that, um, it might be smart to wait until the elk drifted away.
The woman was not impressed. “I will walk wherever I please”, she said, and began to march up the hill.
In Guy’s words, “She ended up behind a tree”. She was now keenly aware that the huge elk’s antlers, and its sharp hooves, were dangerous weapons. As Guy tells it, in order to help he took out a white handkerchief and started to wave it at the elk. Shyly.
Enter Robert Kroetsch, in Banff as a poetry instructor. Surprisingly, his poetic skills gave him the confidence to stride straight at the elk, shooing it away. The trapped woman scuttled off, not pausing to thank Bob Kroetsch or Guy Vanderhaeghe, or his white hankie.
Now, years later, Roddy Doyle was in Banff in the Fall. Rutting time is accompanied by very serious annual warnings about the dangers. Like me Roddy was staying at the Banff Centre, and we made sure that he took the elk warnings seriously. Roddy, a small, neat man (whom I later saw on a visit to Dublin, along with Colm Toibin, whose 2021 novel, The Magician, I warmly recommend) was very surprised by this threat. This was new to him, he explained to his Banff Centre audience, in his North-Dublin accent. He was prepared for most of the hazards facing a touring author, but these had never before included “the danger of being focked by an elk.”