A NEW SHOW: 150 YEARS OF GREAT CANADIAN STORYTELLERS . . . 1867–2017

A new stage performance by DOUGLAS GIBSON, announced here first, to my faithful blog friends!

From coast to coast to coast (Ungava Bay, aboard an Adventure Canada cruise ship!) former publisher Douglas Gibson has given over 160 performances of the dramatized versions of his first two books. Against the backdrop of the brilliant author caricatures by Anthony Jenkins (of Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Pierre Trudeau, and many others), he has told behind-the-scenes stories about the men and women he got to know well.

Internationally, he has taken his show celebrating Canadian authors to London (where he fell off the Canada House stage, a West-End triumph) to Beijing, to Mexico, and beyond.

Now he has created a new show – again with the help of Anthony Jenkins – to celebrate our greatest storytellers  since Confederation….English, French, and Indigenous. People in many Canadian communities may think that staging  the show is a fine way to celebrate our Sesquicentennial.

The power-point show follows our history decade by decade. Each decade begins with a burst of Canadian music from the time. On screen we see a familiar photo of the decade (“Ah, yes,that was the time of the Klondike Gold Rush”), and then several iconic pieces of Canadian art, by people like Cornelius Krieghoff, or Lawren Harris, or Mary Pratt.  Then the burst of music stops, and the caricature of the chosen author appears, and fascinating (boiling his moccasins?) stories about the chosen author and his or her best book are excitingly told (in front of a train?)

Usually, in each decade only one novelist in French and one in English will be chosen. This means that the show will be controversial (“How could you leave out X from the 1980s?”), but Doug Gibson will be happy to provoke spirited debate about our best authors. And while the show will be in English, everything on the screen, such as book titles and the names of the translation (“Kamouraska and Kamouraska, you say?”) will be bilingual. We all may learn more about our greatest authors, including the epic Haida storyteller, Skaay.

To learn more about booking the show,which will run from May-December 2017, please consult www.douglasgibsonbooks.com, or contact Jane Gibson at jane1929@rogers.com ,or phone 416 489 1929.

Please spread the news.

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A NEW YEAR, A NEW BLOG, A NEW BOOK!

You may have wondered why I let my blog slip in recent months. The answer is the best one possible, for me, at least. I’ve been busy writing a new book.

This was a major surprise to me. Whenever friends, or interviewers, asked me if I had another book up my sleeve I would answer honestly, saying ,”Look, Stories About Storytellers is about my forty years in publishing,I don’t think I’ll live long enough to come up with material for another book So no, I don’t think I’ll ever write another book.”

But then, to promote that book I turned the book into a one-man stage show, and decided to see where it would go. It went everywhere. And roaming the country from this Festival to that University, to this neat bookstore or that Library , with Jane as my “lovely and talented assistant”,  we came across dozens of stories. Too good not to share. Enough for a book.

So, in September 2015 our friends at ECW Press will bring out ACROSS CANADA BY STORY: A Coast-to-Coast Literary Adventure.

It will remind you of my first book, because I’ve persuaded Anthony Jenkins to enrich it with his caricatures, once again. This time there are no fewer than 30 of his superb drawings, of our major authors. With this book I’ve widened my range beyond just those authors that I edited, to include major figures like Margaret Atwood, Marshall McLuhan, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Carol Shields, Michael Ondaatje, and dozens of others.

As a Literary Tour the book will take you from Newfoundland to Haida Gwaii, and from Moose Jaw to Grand Manan, as we visit all ten provinces. It will set your feet itching to travel ,as I recall exciting events we enjoyed roaming around cities, small towns, mountains and islands . And as the books and authors spill out in the stories you’ll find that you’ll be tempted to read — or to re-read — dozens of our best books.

You heard it here first.

My New Book Club

We all know how important the avid readers who belong to informal book clubs are to the world of books.

I’m doing something new for them. I’ve produced a Storyteller’s Book Club where I deal with five classic Canadian books, and provide 20 Discussion Points about each one of them for the club members.

What’s special here is the I edited all the books I discuss. Well, with one exception. I didn’t edit Hugh MacLennan’s great novel The Watch That Ends the Night, but I did edit books by my friend Hugh, which allows me to talk about how I might have edited the book. As for the others, I can take the club members behind the scenes with Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, Robertson Davies and Alistair MacLeod.

Check it out at on the Storytellers Book Club page.

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  http://www.writersfest.bc.ca/2012festival/remembrance

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

Alistair MacLeod Got It Right

The Globe and Mail obituary for the Rankin Family’s Raylene Rankin on October 10 began,

Raylene Rankin and Susan Crowe disagreed about a scene in Alistair MacLeod’s novel No Great Mischief. There is no way that the story’s narrator would take his brother all the way back to Cape Breton to die, argued Crowe.
“[Raylene] looked me in the eye and said, “You’re not from Cape Breton,” said Crowe of her friend and musical collaborator. . . .

I’m not from Cape Breton, but in editing the book I never questioned Alistair’s decision to provide that particular powerful ending. Sometimes editors are smart to assume that authors know what they are doing.

The Mills of Eden Grind Fine

I have attended the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, just outside Guelph, on several occasions, but always as a supportive publisher, cheering on an author or two. This year, in my new role of Author, I got to attend the Saturday evening dinner held in the fine garden of a festival supporter.

As always, the literary festival magic took over, as I and other friends from the author circuit greeted each other with glad cries (“Hello, Angie!” “Don, I’ve got some great birding stories from the Prairies for you.” “Alistair, how are you?”) and enjoyed an outdoor meal warmed by heaters as night fell around us.

The next day, after parking my car with the help of solemn air cadets, I wandered around in the sunshine dropping in on various readings in the various sites around the little village. In the authors’ “Green Room” (actually in a blue house) I mingled with the likes of George Elliott Clarke and Donna Morrissey, although Richard Gwyn and Linden McIntyre tried to exclude me, on the grounds that I was really a publisher. I can reveal the exciting secret that the Green Room supplies authors with snacks (celery! carrots!) and soft drinks and wine. There is even a special washroom!

Alistair MacLeod and I walked to our show, which was in the little church nearby. The “little” proved to be a problem. We learned afterwards that disappointed fans of Alistair were to be seen pressing against the outside of the windows in the hope of hearing his reading, but the church proved to be soundproof. My own role, in what I described as “a Punch and Judy show” was to talk about my role in extracting No Great Mischief from him, and to set the urban legend straight I read the relevant passage from my book about the famous “home invasion.”

Alistair then read the tragic scene of the deaths on the spring ice from No Great Mischief, and the third part of our show consisted of me being mischievous, prodding the chuckling Alistair to tell stories like the famous midnight ride from Calgary to Banff that he took with W.O. Mitchell and a nervous cab driver not familiar with blizzards. The Question and Answer session went well, and on leaving I was pleased to meet the church’s minister who that day had preached from a text taken from my pal Trevor Herriot’s River in a Dry Land.

In the autographing session that followed I disobeyed my own rule for authors that you should never engage in a joint session with a famous and popular author. So I sat there beside Alistair while 50 eager fans lined up in front of him, and the kind people from the Book Shelf in Guelph engaged me in distracting conversation. I did, in fact, sign a few copies, but it was a tiny portion of Alistair’s, and the area in front of me was a still centre compared with the eager dozens lined up before him.

As he signed copy after copy I leaned over to whisper that he should sign the words, “Please buy my friend Doug Gibson’s book,” but I think he failed to do so.

The Best Possible Reader Response

My five-year-old grandson, Alistair, has just learned to read. I sat down with him last weekend and showed him my book. He has already received his signed copy of “Granddad’s book,” which will interest him in about 15 years, but it has not so far affected his life one way or another, and has not caused him to go easy on me in street hockey or driveway tennis.

But this time I turned to the last sentence in my chapter on Alistair MacLeod, which speaks of “the latest deeds of my tiny grandchildren, Lindsay and Alistair.”

Alistair read it solemnly, his lips moving. Then he looked up, jumped to his feet, and ran into the kitchen, whooping “Lindsay, Lindsay! We’re in Granddad’s book. We’re famous!”