A piece I did on the challenges of writing a novel immersed in social media ran in the online edition of the National Post. Here is the link. You can also find ‘Publishing Planet Lolita’ on this website, under Essays.
This week marks the 25th anniversary of the 1989 democracy movement in Beijing. More precisely, it is the anniversary of June 4th, the tragic culmination of an astonishing period in recent Chinese history. Though I vowed more-than-once to quit publishing pieces on the anniversaries – I did so on the 20th, 10th, and 5th, for sure – the quarter-century mark is too important to let pass. As well, I want to explore the resonances of spring 1989 from a very 21st century perspective; namely, how China has managed post-Tiananmen to delink a market economy from the liberal institutions associated with civil society. Once, the two were believed inseparable. The piece appeared in the May 31st edition of the Globe and Mail. It is posted as well in Essays.
May 27th marks the official pub date for Planet Lolita. It also marks my debut on twitter, both as myself and, from time to time, in the voice of Xixi Kwok, my intrepid teenage narrator. (Click on above to explore the QR code for her.) Reviews, media, a piece about writing the novel, to follow in the next few weeks. A schedule of appearances is still forming, but below are some confirmed dates, with links to the respective websites.
Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts, August 14-17, Sechelt, BC
Toronto Public Library, Runnymede Branch, September 18, 7 PM
Kingston Writers Fest, September 24-28, Kingston, ON
Calgary Wordfest, October 14-15, Calgary/Banff, AB
Whistler Writers Fest, October 17-19, Whistler, BC
Vancouver International Writers Festival, October 21-26, Vancouver, BC
Toronto International Festival of Authors, October 23-November 2, Toronto, ON
Windsor Writers Festival, October 25, Windsor, ON
Ridgeway Reads Fall Reading Series, November 21, Ridgeway, ON
Publication date for Planet Lolita isn’t far off. The novel will have a strong digital dimension, in keeping with its decidedly 21st century nature. One example: a QR code on the back cover, allowing potential readers to learn more about the book by scanning it with their mobile devices. The initial contents of the QR code, ‘Who is Xixi Kwok?,’ a descripto-graphic with story information and focusing on the main character, can be viewed on the tab above. MUCH more about the world of Xixi Kwok, and the novel on-line, to come. As well, I will post a list of upcoming appearances in the summer and fall.
My profile of author Joseph Boyden appears in the April issue of The Walrus. You can read the piece on this website, or else check it out, complete with photos of Boyden, at The Walrus: http://thewalrus.ca/revision-quest/
On May 20th, HarperCollins Canada is publishing my new novel. Here is a brief description:
An electrifying novel about a chance encounter that changes everything for a girl.
On the remote Hong Kong beach where they are camping, bickering parents and their lonely teenage daughter awaken at sunrise to a strange sight: a dozen women suddenly on the shore. They seem to have washed in from the sea. Fifteen-year-old Sarah, known as Xixi, tries befriending them, and she snaps a cell phone image of a beautiful young woman she calls Mary. Soon after, Xixi, believing she has a connection with Mary, posts the photo on Facebook, triggering an online narrative she can neither comprehend nor control. Meanwhile, Jacob and Leah, distracted by their failing marriage, must also deal with the fury of an absent older daughter, Rachel, and a looming new SARS epidemic in Hong Kong. As fear and paranoia settle over the city, isolated Xixi grows more desperate to save Mary from her doomed circumstances. She dares herself to be brave, and take a risk, but her actions are perilous.
Told in the voice of a bi-racial, “half-half” girl and the language of social media, Planet Lolita is a riveting novel of desires and consequences in our unfolding digital age.
Starting in early January, I am once again teaching the contemporary Irish novel for the Celtic Studies program, St Mike’s, U of T. A few of the texts are new, as is the course description:
Though it yet dwells in his long shadow, the Irish novel since James Joyce has continued to evolve. Beginning with the surreal, formally innovative The Third Policeman and ending with the outrageous City of Bohane, this course examines Irish fiction since, in effect, Finnegans Waketested the limits of literary modernism. Authors include Flann O’Brien, Samuel Beckett, Molly Keane, Patrick McCabe, Anne Enright, and Kevin Barry.
The Third Policeman, Flann O’Brien
Company, Samuel Beckett
Good Behavior, Molly Keane
The Butcher Boy, Patrick McCabe
The Gathering, Anne Enright
City of Bohane, Kevin Barry
The New Brick Reader, offering some of the best writing from that esteemed literary journal, was published in early December by House of Anansi. Among its contents is ‘The Here and Now,’ part of my discarded preface to Mordecai: The Life and Times. Both halves of the preface are available on this website.
Last fall, another fine journal, the Literary Review of Canada, asked me to write about the essay collection The Edge of the Precipice: Why Read Literature in the Digital Age. My essay about the state and fate of analog literary forms is now also posted in, appropriately, the Essays section of Writings.
ARCHIVAL EVENTS AND NEWS
I am teaching again this fall at St. Mike’s, U of T. The course, SMC376, is titled ‘Irish-Canadian Writing.’ Here is a brief description: An exploration of Irish-Canadian writing must start with a simple question: does such a category truly exist? If so, how does having an Irish background, even a recessed one, inflect and shape a Canadian writer’s sensibility, including how he or she responds and relates to Empire? Using the work of Jane Urquhart, Peter Behrens, Brian Moore, Jack Hodgins, and James Reaney, the course examines the nature and uses of cultural and political inheritances.
A piece I wrote for the Globe and Mail on the Ai Weiwei show at the AGO in Toronto can be found in the recent readings section of this website. For any who attend the show, I also provide some of the audio, discussing both his life and career in general and particular pieces. Finally, I am giving a brief ‘pop up’ talk at the First Thursdays event at the AGO on September 5th.
Paula Simons’ excellent IDEAS documentary “The Intermittently True Adventures of Moishe”Two-Gun” Cohen” airs on CBC radio in early September. I contributed some thoughts on Cohen’s amazing life, all of them the truth.
Sept 5: talk at First Thursday, AGO, Toronto
Oct 2: brief talk as part of Ai Weiwei: Voices of Freedom, AGO, Toronto
Oct 10: Priestley Lecture: ‘Telling Lives: The Fine Lines of Literary Biography,’ University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta
Oct 15: talk, Storyfest, Hudson, PQ
Oct 17: reading, Morris House, Bishop’s University, Sherbrooke, PQ
Nov 13: on-stage interview with Jung Chang on her book Empress Dowager Cixi, Toronto Reference Library, Toronto
June: Named a finalist for 2013 Premier’s Awards for Excellent in the Arts.
Ireland Fund of Canada Writer in Residence: from Feb 25 to March 16, I will be Writer-in-Residence at Celtic Studies, St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto. Along with public events and class visits, I will be available during this period to meet with U of T students, and friends of the program, and discuss their creative work. Visit the Celtic Studies website for more information.
February 28: St. Michael’s College, U of T, Toronto, talk and reading
March 14: St. Michael’s College, U of T, Toronto, lecture: ‘Scaring Himself Silent: Reconsidering Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman’
April 11: Quebec City, ImagiNation Writers Festival, reading
April 25: Metro Toronto Reference Library, Toronto, on-stage conversation about PEN and censorship, with John Ralston Saul
April 27: Atwater Library, Montreal, QWF workshop: ‘I’m Not Kidding: the Art, and Artifice, of Biography’
May 7: National Gallery, Ottawa, The Walrus debate
June 2″ Alumni Lecture, St. Michael’s, U of T, ‘Riding the Rocket: Maurice Richard and the Rise of Quebec’
June 15: talk on PEN, CAA Conference, Orillia
June 22: A Literary Picnic, Luminato Festival, Toronto
In the last 2 years I’ve done many print interviews about Mordecai Richler, Maurice Richard, and other happy subjects. Two of the more unusual were the mischievous ‘The Laferriere Questionnaire‘ for the CBC in November 2011 and a conversation this past spring about urban spaces for the on-line magazine Guerilla. Below is the Laferriere Questionnaire, in full.
1. If you were Alice, would you rather stay in Wonderland on the other side of the mirror, or come back to the real world to tell your story?
I’d come back. Stories, for storytellers, are all in the telling.
2. If your home were on fire, what prized keepsake would you grab on your way out?
Once everyone was safe, I wouldn’t care much. As long, that is, as I’d backed up all my files. Otherwise, I’d be saving the computer.
3. What childhood fear do you still have as an adult?
Closets, cells, any small, windowless room. Feared them then, fear them now. I doubt I’ll like being in a casket either.
4. Would it be okay to have a miserable childhood if that were a prerequisite for becoming a writer?
Childhood forms the adult. It’s involuntary and permanent, and you never, ever get over it. What kind of exchange is that – a miserable childhood for something to write about? A terrible one, in my view.
5. Do you wake up at night to read or write?
Only to read, and only because I can’t sleep. Not sure I’ve written a single nocturnal sentence in my life. Mornings are when I light up.
6. Do you feel anxious or excited when you start to write?
I feel relieved, purposeful, and alert.
7. Does darkness soothe you or frighten you?
Mostly, it is just darkness: near half our days, near half our natures. On occasion, though, it gets all existential – lonely, solitary, lost. Then I battle those feelings.
8. Do you tend to hang on to a thousand little scraps of paper, or do you regularly clean out your drawers?
Scraps of paper, sadly, are my inept ‘filing system,’ my lame ‘diary,’ my woeful ‘archive.’ Luckily, my head self-organizes pretty well, so I get by.
9. Which animal would you rather be: a cat or a dog?
Dogs smile easily and trust instinctively, and have natural happy feet. They walk upon this earth with just the right step.
10. Does love dry up your creative juices or make them flow faster?
Romantic love doesn’t enter much into it. (Remember: I don’t write at night.) Love of virtually everything else, cosmic and banal, eternal and fleeting, is my daily fuel. Love, and empathy, a desire, I suppose, to wrap my arms around ‘it,’ before it – or, rather, me – is gone.
11. Do you remember your dreams?
Only rarely. When I do, I take careful note. If a dream sticks around past my making coffee, it is probably a psychic flag, most likely red.
12. What’s your favourite colour?
No preference, especially not red.
13. What’s your favourite season?
Spring, summer, fall. Winter is the only problem. I know: I’m Canadian; how can I not have fallen for its bracing charms?
14. Does pressure motivate you?
As a painter friend likes to say: I don’t need an alarm clock – I have my career to wake me up every morning.
15. Would you rather live to write or write to live?
Not a choice. Two types of people: those who want to write, and those who need to write. Those who ‘want’ to will almost certainly live happy, rich lives doing something else. Those that ‘need’ to, well, they are going to live to write and, slowly, surely, the writing will kill them. (Or maybe it will be the life, which has it in for all of us, equally.)
16. What published book do you secretly wish you had written?
Martin Amis’s Money, if only I’d been born smarter, funnier, tougher, and more daring. Oh yes, and wicked with talent.
17. Are you the paranoid type or calm, cool and collected?
My sister once worked in a bank in suburban Toronto, and was held hostage for several hours by an inept, troubled robber. A local TV station covered the incident ‘live,’ and I remember my father falling asleep on the couch while waiting to find out what would befall his only daughter. That degree of calm runs through my veins.
18. What would qualify as the afternoon of your dreams?
A great lunch with my wife and daughters, a nap, a matinee of a smart, funny film, and then drinks with friends in a quiet bar.
19. Are you more like the sun or the moon?
Oddly, even though I burn, rather than tan, and suffer heat stroke after about an hour – I am too Irish, too freckled, and don’t wear hats – I love the sun, love the heat, love the tropics. Southeast Asia, where we lived for years, suited me well – except when I had to sit in a dark, air-conditioned room for days, on account of my love.
20. Do you hear voices?
I know a fiction project is going well when my characters talk incessantly – to each other, to me, to themselves. Sometimes they keep talking long after the novel is finished. Once, I finally had to promise them a sequel in order to get them to vacate my head. (I lied.) Does this describe a writer’s nature, or a psychological disorder? You decide: I can’t.
Recognition for Mordecai “probably the single most awarded book of any genre in the history of Canadian literature. ” (The Globe and Mail, November 15, 2011)
Winner, 2011 Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction
Jury citation: Mordecai: The Life & Times by Charles Foran is biography as high art, illuminating not only the character of Canada’s most provocative writer, but also, in the most vivid and compelling fashion, the times and places in which he lived. This is a grand, sweeping work that sets the standard for future literary biography.
Winner, 2011 Hilary Weston Writer’s Trust for Literary Non-Fiction
Jury citation: Charles Foran’s biography Mordecai is an epic work of scholarship and energy, capturing the career and life of the Montreal writer Mordecai Richler with a majesty that doesn’t betray the wit and sincerity of Canada’s most famous literary contrarian. Mordecai delivers an authentic portrait of a writer who could be both tragic and gut-bustingly funny in the same sentence. It’s a big book, inclusive, intelligent, and sometimes sad, framing the era, the communities, and the life of a man who could be mordant and comic, yet laced with the underlying perfume of tragedy. Charles Foran never wears his research on his sleeve, easing it near-invisibly into the web of this great life. Mordecai is well written, exciting to read, even-handed, and magisterial.
Winner, 2011 Canadian Jewish Book Award
Jury citation: A decade after his death at 70, Mordecai Richler has found the biographer he deserves. The jury declared that Charles Foran has written the definitive biography – generous, thoroughly researched, psychologically nuanced, highly readable. They lauded him for uncovering the demons that drove Richler to create. Foran shows how the novelist’s gritty early life in working-class Jewish Montreal and his experience as a child born of a poisoned marriage shaped his prickly personality, which remained unchanged throughout his life. Foran skillfully contrasts Richler, the tender father and husband, with the hard-drinking Richler who made people angry and uncomfortable. He reveals Richler as deeply moral, using his sharp wit to expose snobbery, hypocrisy, inauthenticity, lies, anti-Semitism, and cant of all kinds.
Winner, 2011 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction
Jury citation: MORDECAI: THE LIFE AND TIMES meets the immense challenge of writing about one of Canada’s most talented and controversial authors. Charles Foran has created a rich and compelling portrait of the man and his times.
Finalist, 2011, BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction
Finalist, 2011 CBA Libris Award Non-Fiction Book of the Year