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Mrs. KfC visits Dovegreyreader, a guest post

July 23, 2010

Sometimes you come across a book that you absolutely love, and the characters become much loved friends whilst you are reading it, and often well after you have finished it. You imagine them going about their lives and think about them even after the book has found its place on your shelf. Then you hear that they are going to make a movie of the book, and your first reaction is “oh NO – what if they RUIN it for me!” A casting mistake, a film location that isn’t what you had imagined, a voice that isn’t true, there are dozens of ways that your imaginary friends can come a cropper in the film.

DGR at the Endsleigh

Well, I was thinking about all this as my three wonderful friends and I were chuntering along on British Rail across the length and breadth of England last Friday, coming from the Lake District to a much anticipated visit with Dovegreyreader. You see, she had become something of an imaginary friend to me over the last few months since KfC alerted me to her blog. I have been reading it faithfully and had formed an impression of her that I was holding fast, and I kept wondering what if that was what she was really like. I imagined her as a warm funny woman who embraced life fully, who found joy in all things great and small, and who was unfailingly cheerful, positive and a very, very nice person. I had a picture of her buzzing about, knitting, quilting, singing, reading, writing, and laughing. I knew what she looked like, as her picture had been on her blog. As we neared the station, I got a bit nervous – what if she wasn’t like that at all? Yikes!

We alighted from the train (as they love to say on British Rail) and as we were struggling with our bags, before we had a moment to look up, we were caught up in the warmest welcome you could ever imagine. DGR and Bookhound had come to the station 45 minutes early, just in case, and ran up to us, hugged us all warmly with a “Welcome Canada!” that made us all laugh and put us at ease. Bless them, they had brought two cars, as they knew we were travelling with a lot of gear, and they divided us up – Gill and I went with DGR and Sally and Denise and our luggage went with Bookhound. DGR piloted her little Fiesta to our hotel (the Endsleigh, if you know her blog), pointing out all the sights that had been referenced on her blog, and places of interest along the way. Bookhound, meanwhile, had released his inner Tour Guide, and treated his passengers to a jolly good look round the area en route to the hotel, arriving an hour and a half after we other three got there.

The Tinker book-signing

The next morning, DGR picked us up and took us to town where we attended the dearest thing ever – we went to visit the Tinker in Tinkertown. Having been alerted to our visit, he had just finished the hoovering (his flat is spotless – I want him to move in with us!). After a few pleasantries, the Tinker went and fetched 4 copies of his book, and we had a book signing! (The book is called Bugle Boy, the publisher is Long Barn Books and it features a Foreward by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh.) He is a lovely man, funny, self deprecating, with a merry twinkle in his eye. DGR is clearly the light of his life, and they have a wonderful relationship. Before we left, he showed us some of his beautiful handiwork – needlepoint hangings that are beautiful to behold. The apples don’t fall far from the tree, do they?

DGR always alerts her readers to special moments so they can calm themselves, and I am borrowing her device here. Get ready for something terrific.


On Saturday evening, DGR and Bookhound came to dinner with us four Canadians. I know you already know this if you have read her blog, but she made each of us a lovely quilted square and then SHE GAVE ME A QUILT! I mean to say that this lovely woman had spent the last six weeks making a quilt for a person she had never met. She really did. I was gobsmacked. It is beautiful, as you can see from the picture. I was moved to tears with the generosity of this gift – who gives of her precious time for six weeks to make a quilt for a stranger? Dovegreyreader does, that’s who. Can you imagine? I’m still trying to fathom this. And so she and Rocky could get down to quilting, Bookhound cleared up after the dinner he had made every evening and delivered a cup of tea (not for Rocky though) so DGR could focus on the task at hand.

But I’m not done yet . The next day, Bookhound made us the most splendid tea you can imagine. Lovely little sandwiches – without the crusts, naturally – scones, clotted cream, yummy jam, and of course the requisite tea. All of this served on a crisply ironed tablecloth in a warm and cheery room. We spent a lovely Sunday evening with them, meeting the Gamekeeper (who is great), his dogs, his ferrets, the neighbor’s cows (two of whom have sexual identity issues), Muffy (the cat), and revelling in the beautiful view we all see out the window in the upper corner of DGR’s blog.

So, Dear Readers, I am much relieved to tell you that Dovegreyreader is every bit as wonderful as I had imagined her to be from reading her blog. She is defined by the generosity of her spirit, her joyful approach to life, and her indomitable enthusiasm for her family, her books and her community. When they make the DGR movie, I shall recommend they cast Vanessa Redgrave (circa 1985) as DGR, Alan Bates as Bookhound, Sir John Gielgud as the Tinker, and Rocky as himself.

It was a gift to get to meet these lovely people.

And if you are one of the few people in the world who has not yet visited dovegreyreader’s blog, here is a link.

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Confession

July 17, 2010

Okay, KfC is somewhat behind in terms of new posts. I will confess:

1. Every four years, I become a football fan for four weeks. I thought that I had read and written enough in advance, but it turns out that I was about two books short.

2. Plus, a highlight of every summer is the Open Championship. Even I can’t read a novel when I know that howling winds at St. Andrews are producing very high scores — and wonderful television.

3. Perhaps most important this year in terms of reading distractions, Mrs. KfC and some friends have been off trekking in the Lake District and I have been sending daily North American news reports. Even better for regular visitors here, however, they have now headed south to Devon and will be spending the next few days in the territory of the blogger of all bloggers, dovegreyreader — DGR and Bookhound met them at the Plymouth train station yesterday. I’m getting regular reports (and photos) so this too is a reading distraction. The good news, however, is that Mrs. KfC has promised a guest post about the experience when she gets home. Stay tuned.

I promise I will be back to regular form in a week or so. The David Mitchell is the book currently being read (and is proving a bit slow). Once I figure out when I’ll be finishing it, I’ll get a schedule up. In the meantime, here’s a picture of a sculpture that we are rather proud to own:

And a copy of Annabel goes to…

July 5, 2010

Alison.

Congratulations — I’ll be in touch via email to get a shipping address. My special thanks to author Kathleen Winter for the excellent guest post and to House of Anansi Press for both providing me with a copy of Annabel and offering one for the contest. Thanks as well to everyone who commented on Kathleen’s post.

New Face of Fiction Winners

June 25, 2010

Thanks to the wonders of Random.org, we have two winners:

1. The Canadian contest winner is Katie, who chose Ghosted.
2. The International contest winner is David Dean, who chose Doing Dangerously Well (and who said he is currently reading Deloume Road).

I will be in touch with both winners via email to set up delivery. Thanks to everyone (especially Lisa Hill and her wonderful, abject plea) for entering.

KfC’s NFoF giveaway

June 19, 2010

The headline on this post alone should befuggle google. Befoogle guggle? Whatever.

Over the last few months, I have had the pleasure of reviewing the four first novels that are this year’s selections in Random House Canda’s New Face of Fiction program. As far as I can tell, it started in 1996 and one of the first “first novels” it introduced to the world was Ann-Marie Macdonald’s Fall on Your Knees, one of my most favorite novels of all time and an international success. The record has been consistent ever since (ncluding Self, the first novel from Yann Martel, who won the Booker Prize for Life of Pi) — you can check out a list of the previous selections here.

So here are the two contests:

1. For Canadian residents: your choice of the 2010 New Face of Fiction books, courtesy Random House Canada. All you have to do is comment saying you are Canadian and which book you want. 
2. For international visitors: Since one of the objectives of the KfC blog is to introduce Canadian work to the world, we have a second contest for non-Canadian residents, underwritten by KfC — I’ll ship the book to you from Chapters. Just indicate that you are international and your choice of the four. And I know that if you want two, you will get both, but your plea does have to be abject.

Deadline for entries in both contests is midnight GMT, June 24. I’ll post the winners on June 25.

Here are thumbnail reviews of the four books, with links to my reviews:

Deloume Road, by Matthew Hooton. A modern addition to the literature of Vancouver Island — a contemplation of conflicted lives from families living along an isolated road in mid-island. Those who remember Sheila Watson’s The Double Hook may well find some echoes in this accomplished first novel. Check out the review here.

Motorcycles and Sweetgrass, by Drew Hayden Taylor. A very accessible. often playful, entry into the world of First Nations spiritualism. And an equally good introduction into the modern world challenges of the conflict between traditional and current values. Plus, it features a 1953 Indian Chief motorcyle as a central character. Review here.

Ghosted, by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall. My favorite of the four, but don’t let that sway you. A moving, very dark portrayal of Toronto’s underside, with a fascinating cast of depraved characters. The humor is significant, but very black. For me, a major achievement. Review here.

Doing Dangerously Well, by Carole Enahoro. The review is right below this post so I won’t go into a lot of detail — an interesting exploration of what Nigerian politics does — or might — look like.

All you have to do is indicate whether you are entering the Canadian or international contest and what is your choice(s). Come back June 25 for the results.

A KfC Apology

September 1, 2009

I’m sorry but with only a week to go until the Booker shortlist is announced, and with the last two books both read and reviewed, I could not resist posting them ahead of schedule. By all means, take your time in reading them. And don’t expect any new posts in the next week. I’m relying on people making comments to keep the blog timely.

I did enjoy reading all 13 longlist titles even if a few fell short of the mark in my opinion. I think this year’s jury did a very good job of producing a range of titles from different genres and points of view that made contemplating the longlist much more interesting than it was in the last couple of years. Both the shortlist and eventual winner decision will be most interesting.

I will post my own shortlist choices and predicted choices from the jury in a few days — in the meantime, comment is open to all. My thanks for those who have helped my own Booker challenge along already and I hope you have thoughts on these last two books.

2009 Man Booker Prize

July 28, 2009

bookerThe longlist for the 2009 Man Booker Prize is out — it is listed on the sidebar (with links to books that I have already reviewed) and you can go to the Man Booker site for more details. Open to all authors with Commonwealth citizenship, I have always found it to be one of the more important literary prize competitions.

I hope to be able to review all of the longlist contenders before the shortlist is announced (the Coetzee and Trevor may be a challenge as neither has been released, but we shall see). I’ve read five of the 13 so far — three have already been reviewed, two more were so disappointing that I did not review them at the time but my grumpy reviews will be up in a week or so (forewarned is forearmed).

All thoughts on all contenders — or those overlooked — are welcome. And of course by all means leave your own predictions; that’s part of the fun of literary prize competitions.

KFC IMPAC contest winner

June 11, 2009

ThomasAnd the winner of the third KFC contest is……

John Self of The Asylum, the only entrant who picked Michael Thomas’ Man Gone Down. He was the last entry and admitted that he was only entering as a last-ditch Anybody-But-William effort. It was successful beyond his wildest dreams.

Let me know how you would like the $75 prize money, John. I can’t think of a more deserving winner.

KFC continues to be hopeless when it comes to contests — as visitors here know I found this book so unappealing that I abandoned it. The only comments that I received supported that decision and no one sprang to the book’s defence so I will admit to being baffled by the IMPAC judge’s decision. Any explanations of why it is a deserving winner would be welcome — since I did read 274 pages, I’ll admit in advance it will be a tough task to persuade me to pick it up again. Then again, as I have said before, it would be a very boring world if we all thought the same about every book.

Many thanks to all those who entered and who commented on the IMPAC reviews. It was a fun project from my point of view and I look forward to KFC’s fourth contest in a few months.

KFC’s Third Contest: Pick the IMPAC winner

May 25, 2009

The 2009 winner of the IMPAC Award will be announced June 11 — so a contest seems in order. First prize will be a $75 credit at the online bookseller of your choice who will let me give you a gift award. The shortlist, with links to recent reviews here and elsewhere, is:

DiazThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz. Review at themookseandgripes and the asylum.
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EchenozRavel, by Jean Echenoz. Review here.
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HamidThe Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid. Review at Pechorin's Journal.
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HollandThe Archivist’s Story, by Travis Holland. Review here.
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JacobsenThe Burnt-Out Town of Miracles, by Roy Jacobsen. Review here
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Leavitt2The Indian Clerk, by David Leavitt. Review here.
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Sinha2Animal’s People, by Indra Sinha. Review at the asylum.
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ThomasMan Gone Down, by Michael Thomas. Review from New York Times.
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So with references to all those reviews, there is no reason to not take a guess at least — previous contests here have been won by people doing exactly that and this prize has proven more unpredictable than most.

With only eight finalists, I am anticipating the need for a tie-breaker. For the first time, I will not be entering the contest myself since I will be a subjective judge in the tiebreaker. If you are tied for the win, I will be looking for a three-sentence description (all sentences 40 words or less) of a novel published in English, originally or in translation, that you feel I should read. By all means, include this in your original entry but you don’t have to — any winning ties will be given 72 hours to submit their tie-breaking three sentences.

Deadline for entries is 12 a.m. GMT on June 11. Good luck and please enter.

An Essay: Similarities in Australian and Canadian fiction

May 6, 2009

aus-flag1 can-flagMy interest in the similarities between Australian and Canadian English-language fiction now extends for more than two decades. For me, last year was a particularly good year for reading Australian books, which caused that interest to bubble to the top of the brew recently — so I thought exploring the “why” and providing some examples might be useful to visitors here.

Canberra and Ottawa may be 10,000 miles apart (the actual number is 9,997.86) but the two nations have had something in common ever since Captain James Cook mapped their Pacific Coasts on his voyages in the late 18th century. Both were colonized by the British — while it is true that Australia started as a penal colony, there is a good argument that the dispossessed, misfits and remittance men who settled Canada were just a step ahead of being candidates for exportation to Australia.

Both nations came of age on comparable tracks. As Dominions, both sent troops to fight in the Great War (mainly as fodder, frankly) — significantly in both cases, the decision to join that war was made in London because neither nation yet had control of its own foreign policy. That final achievement of independence came for both with the Statute of Westminster in 1931.

In their early history, Australia and Canada were equally cruel in their treatment of the indigenous peoples on their land — the importation of diseases like smallpox was followed by the introduction of the devastating effects of alcohol and arms. Both had “mission” schools designed to undermine, even destroy, native cultures — the experience described in Porcupines and China Dolls (see the earlier post) in Canada has its counterpart in Australia’s Stolen Generations, an evocative phrase if ever there was one. The exploitative environment and mine in Carpentaria have a host of parallels in native communities across Canada.

Both are now prosperous First World nations, albeit with small populations (Canada’s 31 million versus Australia’s 21 million). Both are proud members of the Group of 8, although the debate would be long and hard about which ranks seventh and which eighth in that group.

Both also have a very large land mass where that population is settled. Perhaps the factor that most influences the similarities in fiction (beyond the shared history) is that the small population of both countries is centred on the coast or border, leaving an immense frontier that to this day is wilderness. It may be desert in Australia and forest and tundra in Canada — it is an ideal setting for a novelist. Margaret Atwood’s initial critical work on Canadian fiction was titled Survival; many of its observations are equally applicable to Australian works.

The two previous posts on this blog — Porcupines and China Dolls by Robert Arthur Alexie and
Carpentaria by Alexis Wright — explore in some depth two somewhat comparable stories of indigenous people in Canada and Australia in the current world. Here are thumbnail descriptions of a few other pairs that I have found comparable — if you have read and liked one, I think you would find the other equally interesting:

grenville guyThe Secret River, by Kate Grenville
The Englishman’s Boy, by Guy Vanderhaege

Both these novels concern the early English exploration and settlement of the two nations. In Grenville’s book, the Thornhill’s are a convict family, sent to Sydney. They follow up on rumors of the availability of land on the Hawkesbury River — disaster ensues. The Englishman’s Boy is somewhat different in that it has both an “exploration” story of an English big game hunter in Western North America (one of those remittance men) told in parallel with a Hollywood setting 50 years later where a producer wants to make a movie of the story. For an excellent recent review of this book (from a neutral British source), check out Max at Pechorins Journal. I am not a big fan of traditional historical novels; both these books impressed me. Vanderhaege’s The Last Crossing and Grenville’s new book, The Lieutenant (which I have not yet read) promise a similar comparison.

ac-lastac-twoThe Last Magician, by Janette Turner Hospital
Two Strand River, by Keith Maillard

This comparison is a bit of a cheat since both these books are out of print, but used copies do show up online — I am including them because it is the first direct comparison between Canadian and Australian novels that I remember. Maillard’s book is one of my all time favorites; he describes it as an adult fairy tale about “a boy who should have been a girl and a girl who should have been a boy.” The stunning conclusion takes this story into the Shaman world of the Pacific Coast nations of British Columbia. I was struck by the similarity with Turner Hospital’s book (which she actually wrote while living in Canada, but I’m not going to argue that she is Canadian) when it was first published in 1992. The Last Magician also begins with some offbeat sexuality — this time a “posh” girl who has turned to prostitution and then expands into a paranormal world, just as Two Strand River does. If you can find them, both are excellent reads.

breath1 hayBreath, by Tim Winton
Late Nights on Air, by Elizabeth Hay

The idea of escape from the urban areas into communities in the modern frontier is the common thread to these two novels. While Breath is a coming-of-age novel, it is set on the rugged coast of Western Australia where two would-be young surfers come under the influence of the guru, Sando, and his woman, a couple who are escaping from the “civilized” world in search of a less alienating, but equally risky, community. Hay’s book centres on a cast of characters who also have rejected urban Canada — in their case, the new community centres on the Yellowknife CBC station. Their embrace of the frontier climaxes in an attempt to retrace the route of the English explorer, John Hornby, whose party starved to death in the Arctic barrens in 1927. Both Winton and Hay have impressive backlists and stand in the front rank of authors writing in English — these two books are excellent examples of their work.

ac-spare ac-goodThe Spare Room, by Helen Garner
Good to a Fault, by Marina Endicott

I didn’t particularly like either of these books for the same reason (too sentimental), but a lot of readers whom I respect raved about both — so I suspect others might come to a very different conclusion than I did. In Endicott’s book, Clara Purdy, a childless, middle-age woman, has a car crash that changes her life. The female passenger in the car that she hit is hospitalized for an extended period and Purdy looks after her children, discovering her own over-powering maternal instincts in the process. In The Spare Room, Helen offers to house and help her friend Nicola who has come to Melbourne for some questionable treatment of an apparently terminal cancer. Relations between the two degenerate under the tension — like Good to a Fault it is an exploration of how deeper feelings get aroused, create tension and are eventually resolved. For an e-interview with the author and a link to a more positive review of The Spare Room, check out dovegreyreader here.

ac-fractionac-fallA Fraction of the Whole, by Steve Toltz
Fall on Your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald

Just as escape from the city to the frontier is a common theme, the notion of escaping the country to a nearby one shows up in both Canadian and Australian fiction. In MacDonald’s novel, the author explores the abusive childhood of Frances Piper in a coal-mining community on Cape Breton. She eventually escapes to New York — but is drawn back home in a harrowing conclusion to this far-reaching novel. In Toltz’s novel, Jasper Dean faces an equally challenging and disruptive childhood, leading to a story that expands beyond Australia to Paris and the jungles of Thailand. While these novels were first published more than a decade apart (1996 and 2008), they both represent examples of what I call “the widescreen novel” as it is being produced out here in the former colonies.

Those comparisons represent only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to similarities in Australian and Canadian fiction (you’ll note the absence of some of the most famous names like Carey, Atwood and Munro). And I acknowledge that I have left New Zealand and Canada’s French language literature off my map. Other comparisons would certainly be welcome in the comments — it is an area that I am certainly interested in pursuing further.

There is one significant barrier to a serious, timely exploration of this project, however. While the sun may have set on the British Empire decades ago, remnants remain — especially in the book publishing world. An Australian who wants to read Canadian fiction (and vice versa) has to choose between the option of punishing shipping charges or patiently waiting until a UK publisher makes a version available there and then taking advantage of the Book Depository’s free world-wide shipping (thank god for that). Just a small reminder of the Mother Country, I guess — and how boring would life be if booklovers didn’t face some challenge in acquiring volumes that they really want.


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