Tag Archives: UVic

5 Questions with Aaron Shepard

Aaron Shepard, a graduate of the University of Victoria’s MFA in Creative Writing program, just released his debut novel: When is a Man (Brindle & Glass.) When is a Man wades into the small towns of the British Columbian interior and shines a light on relocation, ghost towns, and rebirth.  Shepard, a writer of award-winning short fiction, grew up in the Shuswap area of B.C. After earning a Recreation, Fish and Wildlife Technology diploma, he built hiking trails and worked for fisheries biologists and silviculture crews around the province. With this much exposure to nature it’s no wonder Shepard decided to explore B.C.’s remote forests in his debut novel.  Recently, Adam Hayman was able to ask Shepard a few questions over e-mail about his novel.

This is your debut novel, and you mentioned that small portions were modified from a short story that you had published in the Malahat Review. How did this novel evolve from that, and what was that process like for you?

Most of the novel’s origins evolved quite separately from that short story, “Valerian Tea,” which takes place in Sweden and also has a protagonist named Paul. When I started writing the novel, I didn’t have a firm grasp on my main character – what kind of person he was or the conflict that was driving him. The mood and tone of “Valerian Tea” seemed to fit with the direction of the novel, so I started taking the story apart and adapting it as part of the novel’s backstory. Through that process, I realized I had a fully developed character in Paul that I could parachute into the novel to give it some emotion and heart. Even though their situations are different, the two versions of Paul share the same soul, the same defeated outlook on life.

Your biography mentions that you are an avid outdoorsman.  This love for the outdoors comes across beautifully in your descriptions. Outside of a personal passion for nature, where did the lengthy descriptions stem from?

“Avid outdoorsman” is probably a little inaccurate after 10 years of city living, unfortunately. My canoeing and tracking skills are pretty rusty. I almost got lost in the woods a couple of weeks ago, and that’s never happened to me before.

The Immitoin Valley, where most of the story takes place, is a composite of different landscapes, rivers and towns that I know well. [I did] some research because I wanted to include elements of reservoirs I’ve never been to, like Kinbasket or Williston, but mostly I was going on memory and experience from years of working and hiking in southern B.C. To write the excavation site in Sweden, I did a lot of internet research on local bogs, birds, grasses, shrubs and so on.

For some reason, it was important to me for the setting to be as realistic and accurate as possible, right down to the moss. I guess it was a way of celebrating the places I’d lived and worked. It sounds really nerdy, but I have a background in forest ecology through a tech diploma program I took in the nineties, so I imagined my setting in terms of biogeoclimatic zones. That way I could invent a place out of thin air – like the old mill site along the river, for example – and know that it fit within the logic of the valley.

Recovery, relocation, and rebirth are some of the themes that course through this novel. Were these themes you wanted to work with beforehand or were they born from the subject matter?

When I started out, I knew I wanted to explore those themes, but didn’t know how they would fit together or what direction they’d go. I had some vague ideas. But the characters and their actions have to feel natural and logical, so ultimately they lead the way and everything else follows. I think a kind of structural tension always exists between the narrative and the underlying ideas – if you tweak something concrete, something abstract is changed as well. Eventually you realize you can only control the concrete stuff. The ideas become slippery and subjective.

One thing I realized early in the writing was how prevalent themes of displacement and rebirth are in Canadian literature. I felt that instead of trying to be coy about themes in my novel and pretend I hadn’t noticed they existed, it was better to hold them up to the light and really examine them. So there’s a bit of a self-referential or “meta“ aspect to my novel, like when Paul wonders why these stories of floods and displacement are constantly recurring and he starts to question the relevancy of his project.

The novel is separated into three sections and in the middle section the form differs slightly: there are no chapter breaks. What was the reasoning behind this?

Instead of having numbered chapters in the second part of the book, I used Paul’s interviews and field notes to create structural breaks. The interviews are a visceral way to mark the time passing, as well as the shifts in Paul’s line of inquiry and his attitude. I also liked the idea of blurring the distinction between Paul’s research and his life – as though he’s turning his ethnographic lens on himself.

As tempted as I am to simply ask you, “When is a man?” I will refrain, and let the readers figure it out. I am curious to know if your understanding of masculinity changed during the writing and/or research of this novel?

In terms of defining masculinity, I was definitely struck by all the untapped possibilities – in both life and literature. When we’re tackling the notion of “manliness” in fiction, it’s usually through the image of the hyper-masculine fighter/drinker/lover or else the “emasculated,” tragi-comic male. Paul’s definitely closer to the latter, but he also sees his recovery from prostate cancer as an opportunity to start on a different path. He goes about it the wrong way, perhaps, but I didn’t want to write a feel-good, politically correct recovery story either. If you become somehow displaced from your body – whether through paralysis, amputation, or impotence – you’re obviously going to go through some dark times.

I read some great articles about how couples dealt with prostate cancer and impotence. From that came the idea that our best relationships transcend the question of gender roles. You do whatever needs to be done for the relationship to survive and flourish, to help love endure.


Open Word: Readings and Ideas: Emily McGiffin

First reading: Wednesday, October 9, 2013, at 12:30 p.m., University of Victoria, Fine Arts Building, Room 209
Second reading followed by interview with Carla Funk: 
Wednesday, October 9, at 7:30 p.m., Open Space
Admission by donation, books available for purchase, cash bar.

Toronto writer Emily McGiffin will read from her new book Between Dusk and Night as part of the literary series Open Word: Readings and Ideas. The event is hosted by the University of Victoria Department of Writing and Open Space. Her book of poems considers the human relationship with the earth during the current environmental crisis, and the intimate relationship between humans themselves. Local poet Carla Funk will interview McGiffin after the 7:30 p.m. reading at Open Space.


SALT New Music Festival starts Saturday

SALT New Music Festival and Symposium
May 25-June 2
Open Space, 510 Fort Street, and UVic School of Music

The SALT New Music Festival and Symposium is a one–week event, occurring from May 25 to June 2, taking place at Open Space and the University of Victoria School of Music.

At the University of Victoria School of Music  you can find a week’s worth of free lectures, colloquia, and masterclasses. At Open Space, three stunning concerts–including seven world premieres–will take place. The event’s hosts, The Tsilumos Ensemble, have invited world–class experts in contemporary and electronic music to join them in Victoria present audiences with new sonorous adventures in contemporary music.

The concerts will consist of local musicians such as Max Murray, a tuba soloist originally from Victoria and now based in Berlin alongside many esteemed international performers such as the Quasar Saxophone Quartet (Montreal, QC), the award-winning Ensemble Dal Niente (Chicago, USA), and Experimentalstudio (Freiburg, Germany).

This iteration of the SALT New Music Festival and Symposium will premiere three new compositions by Wolf Edwards (Victoria, BC), Steven Takasugi (Cambridge, USA), and Gianluca Ulivelli (Florence, Italy), made possible by a grant from the Ernst von Siemens Foundation for Music (Germany).

Students of music from around the world have been invited to this program and offered reading sessions, workshops, and lessons in composition and contemporary music interpretation, hopefully to invigorate the study, research, and performance of contemporary and electronic music.  Come and join them in this exploration of the cutting edge of new music.

For more information see www.openspace.ca/SALT2013 Information about free events can be found at www.tsilumos.org


Challenges and opportunities facing the Haida Nation

The Political and Economic Challenges and Opportunities Facing the Haida Nation
Tuesday, April 30, 1:45-3:30 pm
First Peoples House, UVic

The presentation will be conducted by Peter Lantin, President of the Haida Nation. In attendance:

Trevor Russ, Vice President of the Haida Nation
Guujaaw, Former President of the Haida Nation
Robert Davis, Executive member of the Haida Nation
Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson, White Raven Law Corporation

Moderator: Dr. Brent Mainprize, Gustavson School of Business

A few gems at WORK

WORK: Annual UVic BFA Visual Arts showcase
April 19-27, Visual Arts building, UVic
Free and open to the public

Reviewed by Blake Jacob

The annual UVic Visual Arts showcase, WORK, is taking place until April 29. The show is curated beautifully in the many spacious rooms of the Visual Arts building, and features projects of over 40 undergraduate students. These are young artists who are finding their way, so the works on display demonstrate various levels of maturity. However, interspersed among the studies of marijuana paraphernalia and photographs of pensive-looking cheerleaders are a few unique gems.

One outstanding work is a series of untitled portrait photographs by Claire Aitken. The artist’s knowledge of light and shadow led to the successful execution of captivating photos. The portraits are black and white and  displayed in oversized frames. Several groups of showcase attendees lingered at length near these portraits, discussing them animatedly. It seemed clear that this work was well-received.

Another remarkable piece is an untitled painting by Mia Watkins. The painting is beautiful and jarring at the same time. The artist is attentive to detail and chose a fantastic color palette. Unfortunately, the lighting in the area was a bit dim and didn’t give the piece the justice it deserved.

A third noteworthy work is Brittany Giniver’s portrait series “My Mother at 21.” The work is a series of photographs which are recreations of the subject’s mothers. The subjects are styled, posed, and dressed similarly to the subjects of the original photographs, composed in matching settings. Some of the subjects look very much like their mothers; when they are posed in the same setting, the photos beg a double-take. Other subjects are so dissimilar in appearance to their mothers that the juxtaposition provokes thought. It would have been powerful to see more non-white families in the series, but the work still raises questions despite its lack of diversity.

The showcase is worth a visit to see the memorable pieces that stand out from the crowd.

Blake Jacob is a Vancouver Island poet whose essential nutrients are optimism, wordsmithery, and captivating melody.


Fine Arts well represented in IdeaFest

Running March 4-15 in every corner of UVic campus, this free festival connects you to experts working on the kind of ideas that really can “make a difference.”

Here’s a quick breakdown of  Fine Arts events:

Enacting the Artist / Researcher / Educator: Six UVic applied theatre graduate students engaged in a theatre-based PhD research project will discuss utilizing playbuilding as qualitative research, as well as a variety of theatre conventions as a way to generate, interpret and (re)present data.   2-4 pm Monday, March 4, in room 109 of the Fine Arts building

Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Awards: Celebrate some of the outstanding research produced by the 2012 Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Awards scholars at this day-long presentation of their work. Here’s a list of who’s representing Fine Arts: Sara Fruchtman, Alexandra Macdonald and Christine Oldridge (History in Art), Stewart Gibbs, Sarah Johnson and Jennifer Taylor (Theatre), Bronwyn McMillin and Willie Seo (Visual Arts), Claire Garneau and Liz Snell (Writing).  11am-3 pm in the SUB’s Cinecenta, Upper Lounge and Michele Pujol room

Mini Film Fest: Join some of the Department of Writing’s emerging filmmakers for a screening and discussion of several recent, award-winning student films—including the Leo Award-winning web series Freshman’s Wharf, and Connor Gaston’s recent TIFF and VFF-screened short, Bardo Light, among others.  7:30 pm Thursday, March 7, in room 162 of the Visual Arts building• Sonic Lab: Join UVic’s contemporary music ensemble as they present two compositions that explore the sound itself as musical material. Imagine a brick wall with a human figure painted on it, which can be taken apart & rebuilt as a fence or a house—meaning the parts of painted body would show up in an unexpected context.  8 pm Friday, March 8, in the Phillip T Young Recital Hall

“Have you ever had an idea?”Get in on this interactive, community-involving project aimed at enabling ideas to be more accessible and more attainable. Participants become part of Victoria’s biggest idea—a giant run-on sentence created by texting, calling or e-mailing in their ideas.  7-10 pm Friday, March 8, in room A111 of the Visual Arts building

“Games Without Frontiers: The Social Power of Video Games”: Join professors, grad students, undergraduates, high-school students, local game designers and curious citizens of Victoria at this mini-conference to explore, discuss and marvel at the power of video-game technology to bring people together and improve the world. Faculty and students will give demonstrations and offer a Q&A about the innovative use of “gamification” techniques in their research, including games that help to improve the lives of children with autism, teach about First Nations treaties, combat obesity and explore the ocean floor, among others. Noon-6 pm Saturday, March 9, in room C103 of the David Strong building

“Is There Still Potential for Human Creativity?” A good question which promises a lively back and forth at this Fine Arts discussion panel featuring Jennifer Stillwell (Visual Arts), George Tzanetakis (Computer Science-Music), Lee Henderson (Writing), Victoria Wyatt (History in Art), Jonathan Goldman (Music). Moderated by the Times Colonist‘s Dave Obee.  7:30 pm Monday, March 11,  in B150 of the Bob Wright Centre

Fine Arts PechaKucha: Get a sense of what’s happening in both History in Art and Visual Art with this exciting, fast-paced PechaKucha-style interdisciplinary visual presentation. Don’t know PechaKucha? It’s like a TED talk on speed!  5-7 pm Tuesday, March 12, in room 162 of the Visual Arts building.

Intergenerational Theatre for Development in India: After being displaced by the 2006 tsunami, a new community in India is using Applied Theatre to reconnect its citizens. The creation of an intergenerational theatre company to perform the stories of seniors and rural youth of the Tamilnadu community has the potential to create lines of dialogue across generations by positively highlighting the life experiences of residents of Tamaraikulam Elders’ Village and students of the Isha Vidhya Matriculation School. Theatre PhD student Matthew Gusul recently visited India and will tell the story of this developing project.  4:45 pm Thursday, March 14, in the Phoenix Theatre’s McIntyre Studio.

More info:  IdeaFest 2013 website