Category Archives: Nadia Grutter

Routley internationally recognized for LGBT lit

Andrea Routley, an alumna of the University of Victoria, has recently published her debut short story collection, Jane and the Whales through Caitlin Press. The collection is a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, an international English-language award for LGBT literature. Previously, Routley’s work  has appeared in numerous literary magazines, including the Malahat Review and Room Magazine. In 2008, she was shortlisted for the Rona Murray Prize for Literature. She is the founder and editor of Plenitude Magazine, Canada’s queer literary magazine. She also edited Walk Myself Home: An Anthology to End Violence Against Women (Caitlin Press, 2010). Recently, Coastal Spectator Managing Editor Nadia Grutter discussed Jane and the Whales with Routley via email.

Andrea, I was delighted to read a series of short stories that skims so close reality. Your stories—particularly “The Gone Batty Interpretation”—challenged and moved me emotionally. Would you mind describing the emotional journey you went through writing this book?

Well, each story is its own journey. I didn’t begin writing the first story with an over-arching concept for a collection, but, like any writer, your obsessions begin to reveal themselves in your writing patterns. That particular story, “The Gone Batty Interpretation,” I wrote about six months after the suicide of a high school friend, so it is not a humorous story or an intellectual story at all. Suicide is something that comes up in several stories. So many of us are touched by this, but I most often hear it talked about in medical terms, as a treatable disease, and it’s not that simple. “The Sign,” on the other hand, deals with the same subject but in a way that (I think) is humorous. It looks at choices like that from a more logical perspective.

Your writing is powerful in its restraint—both in its brief form and concise content. Is this something you learned to cultivate through, say, workshops during your time at UVic or has your writing style always been so distilled? Basically, how did you learn to write the way you do?

When I first started writing stories, I’d often get the question, “Is this the beginning of a novel or a short story?” At first I felt proud of this question, like looking like a novel meant it was a big, fat, interesting story and this was a good thing. Then I realized this just meant I had a lot of superfluous detail or was alluding to potential plot twists that were never going to happen. You definitely learn to pare down the more you write. (And yes, I learned this while at UVic with the fantastic instructors!) I think this is in part because your writing becomes less precious to you, simply as a result of quantity. I’ve axed characters from some of these stories who I’d thought were critical in early drafts. For example, there was a kid like a wild animal who likes to stalk around in the sage by the clay cliffs and hisses at people, but eats his wiener like it’s corn on the cob. Maybe he’ll come up in another story, and if not, that’s okay too–it was fun to write the scenes with him. It’s not about publishing everything you write. It’s imperative to just enjoy writing, too (or just feel compelled to do it).

Your stories are very diverse content-wise. How did the stories inform each other in the writing process? Was there one core story that sparked a sort of leap-frog of ideas into the other stories?

Every story explore in some way humans’ and animals’ relationships with the world around them, that search for a place. “Habitat” certainly carried over into “The Gone Batty Interpretation” with the protagonists both coping with grief and expressing their sadness through empathy for an animal, among other things. Many of the stories have characters trying to make sense of the past through their unreliable memories — or the way we discover just how unreliable our memories are when something surprising happens to a person we thought we understood.

The conclusions to your stories strike a careful balance between inevitable and surprising. What did the process of rounding out an individual story look like for you?  

I’m glad to hear the conclusions feel that way. I try to write a “satisfying” ending to stories. Sometimes stories end so abruptly and the satisfaction is really delayed; it only comes later when you’ve had time to unlock its meaning. I can appreciate those endings, but I don’t really “enjoy” them. I try to write something that will feel concluded and satisfying, but give enough to leave you with something to chew on. For some of these stories, the rounding out involves the editor’s feedback, deleting one line too many, or adding one more beat. (Sometimes more than that, of course, like going back and rewriting a scene that obviously was not doing its job of setting up the ending and things like that).

Are you working on any projects aside from Plenitude at the moment?  

I have some crazy, daunting, stupid idea of writing another book, one of linked short stories of exclusively queer characters, across decades. I have read at a couple queer events and it was incredibly rewarding to read a queer story for such an engaged, lively, appreciative crowd. I want to make more of those characters that we are obviously in need of — “we” includes me. The queer past is full of diverse and wonderful people and experiences, and there are not enough of us in story. If anyone would like some ideas on new queer books to read, though, I have an ever-growing list of new queer Canadian titles at

For more on new queer Canadian titles, visit

5 Questions with Andrea Raine

Andrea Raine is a local Victoria author and University of Victoria alumna. She has participated in the Glenairley writing retreats led by Canadian writer Patrick Lane in Sooke, B.C. and has been attending the Planet Earth Poetry reading series since 1997. She published her first book of poetry, A Mother’s String, in 2005 through Ekstatis Editions and recently self-published her first novel, Turnstiles, through Inkwater Press. Recently, Nadia Grutter held an email conversation with Raine via email to discuss her writing experience.

1. First off, tell us a little about Turnstiles.

My novel, Turnstiles, is basically about three main characters who are struggling with inner demons, pushing the outside world away and yet, at the same time, wanting desperately to be a part of the bigger picture. They just need to come to terms with a few things first. Their chance (and relatively brief) meetings propel each of them in different directions, where they gain new perspectives on how to move forward. It is an empathetic and honest portrayal of human beings attempting to redefine themselves amidst the clash of idealism and societal expectations. It is a stirring, dramatic depiction of love, loss, impulse, and consequence.

2. Your first published work, A Mother’s String, is poetry. Turnstiles is fiction. Do you prefer writing in one genre over the other? How do they inform each other in the writing process?

I have been writing poetry longer than I’ve been writing novels. My poetic voice definitely influences my prose in how I paint a picture and play with language.

3. From what I understand, Turnstiles is self-published while A Mother’s String is not. How did the publishing processes differ?

A Mother’s String wasn’t necessarily self-published, but it was published through on demand by a small, local publisher Ekstasis Editions. I didn’t pay for the publishing and professional editing services, but I did need to pay for subsequent copies of my book at a discount price. It was entirely up to me to place my poetry book in bookstores on consignment, much like my novel Turnstiles. I published Turnstiles through a publishing package with Inkwater Press that included marketing assistance. So, my two publishing experiences are comparable.

4. Why did you chose to self-publish and would you do it again?

Initially, I tried to publish my novel, Turnstiles, through the traditional route by writing query letters and pitching to literary agencies. I received positive feedback, but there were other obstacles to landing a literary agent, i.e. my book didn’t fit their portfolio. I stumbled across Inkwater Press, an indie publisher, and was impressed with their mandate and services. Inkwater Press was eager to publish my first novel, and they have continued to be extremely helpful in marketing and setting up reading events. I am not opposed to self-publishing again because there is a large degree of freedom and control in the design concept. However, there is a price tag attached to self-publishing and for that reason I am going to first try traditional publishing again for my next book.

5. What advice would you give other authors looking to self-publish?

Self-publishing has its benefits, and is a good way to get your big toe into the book world. Still, authors who are self-publishing need to be savvy when it comes to marketing your book, keeping out-of-pocket costs down, and targeting an audience.

Maryse Bernard and friends rock Vic French Fest

Photograph and video by Adam Lee

Reviewed by Nadia Grutter

Maryse Bernard, former vocalist of the Victoria-based band Woodsmen, recently returned to the Victoria music scene with a lively performance at the 17th annual Victoria French Festival in Centennial Square. The 22-year-old vocalist, who flew in from Quebec to perform, brightened the rainy day with her strong stage presence and killer vocals. By the end of her set, people were quite literally dancing in the rain.

Bernard performed a bilingual French/English set with a dynamic array of songs, genres and accompanying musicians. She was joined by bassist Steve Kalkman, who plays for Abbotsford-based funk band Doja; drummer Michael Luis of local Victoria bands Blackwood Kings and SweetLeaf; Solomon Krause-Milaca and Jake Gambling (both former members of Woodsmen) on lead and rhythm guitar respectively; and pianist/saxophonist Julia Kimberley, who studies music at The University of Victoria. Despite the rain and challenging outdoor acoustic set-up, the group performed an enjoyable, unified show with clean transitions and genuine energy.

One of Bernard’s first songs included a catchy re-imagination of Britney Spears’ 2003 pop hit “Toxic,” followed by several R ‘n’ B influenced original songs, which showed off her  impressive range. Halfway through the set, Bernard’s microphone gave out, which she gracefully handled by dancing her way to another microphone as if nothing had happened. And, once she sang “La Vie En Rose,” the audience seemed to forget about the tech hiccup altogether. Bernard’s vocals attracted a larger crowd of passersby, who happily swayed along.

“That was beautiful,” commented three onlookers at the end of the song. Indeed, it was, and can be watched here:

Bernard ended her set with a cover of “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars, at which point most people discarded their umbrellas to dance at the foot of the stage.

Bernard, a recent graduate from the UVic Writing Program, now works as a language teaching assistant in Quebec. She is channeling most of her creative energy into an electronic/R ‘n’ B influenced EP to be released this summer. She has previously collaborated with local Victoria artists Ciele and The Raven. She has performed at local venues all over Victoria and with Woodsmen at Rock of the Woods in 2013.

During the show Bernard graciously thanked her parents for bringing her up in a bilingual household. Indeed, she is an inspirational young figure for French and English Canadians alike. Merci, mademoiselle!

Nadia Gutter is the Managing Editor at the Coastal Spectator and a student at the University of Victoria.

Kerr’s directorial debut of Unity successful

Unity (1918) 

 Phoenix Theatre, University of Victoria 

 March 12- March 22, 2014. 

 Tickets: $14 to $24. Reserve at 250-721-8000 

 Reviewed By Nadia Grutter 

 The Phoenix’s production of Unity (1918) marks a special debut for Kevin Kerr’s dark and hilarious play. This is the first time Kerr has directed his play, which won the Governor General’s Award in 2002. The epic play is narrated by a young woman named Beatrice, who reveals the inner workings of a small town in Saskatchewan that is quarantined to prevent the spread of the devastating “Spanish Flu” of 1918. A handful of young female characters carry us through their stories of love, loss and absurdity during the epidemic that killed more people than the Great War itself.  

             The script itself is genius, detailed with lively dialogue and surprising scenes. In one of the opening scenes, a man drops his wife’s dead body, which releases gas in a startling low-pitched note. The man, thinking his wife has revived, kneels over her desperately, only to realize she has broken wind.  

             One of the three leading roles, that of Sissy, was played by Haley Garnett, who illuminated the stage with charisma and energy. She was joined by the talented Amy Culliford as Beatrice and Logan Mitev, who played the blinded soldier Hart with subtlety and respect. Marisa Nielsons expressive performance of telephone operator Rose contrasted with Keshia Palms serious, demanding role as the Icelandic undertaker, Sunna. Both actresses achieved  memorable performances. All performers made use of the theatre’s aisles, taking care to bring the action close to the audience. My only quibble was with the blocking, as the actors had their backs to the audience more than needed. 

             While the acting, directing and script were impressive, the set (and set changes) were somewhat distracting. The Phoenix’s thrust stage was strewn with wood shavings, which made for some interesting emphasis when dragged bodies left bare black strips in their wake. However, wooden coffins were noisily rearranged throughout the play, and consumed more space than needed. Two massive intersecting black structures were rolled together and apart throughout the production, which seemed arbitrary and inspired confusion during the intermission: “What are those big black things?” On the other hand, an electric track set with a coffin brought characters and objects on and off the stage, which added an interesting mechanical element to the utilitarian setting. 

             The costumes were tailored well to each character, with impressive attention to detail on military outfits. The actors wore lights under their costumes, which were used sporadically as (what I interpreted to be)  beacons of morality throughout the play. Live music was provided by a talented guitarist, who used a warping pedal to imbue the sound with eeriness. The entire cast sang collectively at the end of the production, making for an unexpected musical ending to a dialogue-packed play. It might have been more effective  to have all sounds created on-stage to keep with the wonderful realness created by the intimate thrust stage, but the recorded sounds worked well. 

             All in all, The Phoenix’s production of Kerr’s award-winning play did the university proud, and should not be missed by students and community members alike.  

Nadia Grutter is the Managing Editor of the Coastal Spectator and a fourth-year student at the University of Victoria.



True West a true hit

True West by Sam Shepard

Directed by Britt Small

November 19 – December 1, 2013

The Roxy Theatre

Nadia Grutter

“Did they do a good job of it?” someone asked me after I saw Blue Bridge Theatre’s November 19, 2013 rendition of Sam Shephard’s True West. Absolutely, was my reply. The play was one of the best productions I’ve seen in Victoria. And that is why this is going to be a spoiler review. If it isn’t enough to read that this play is fantastic and buy yourself tickets, read on, but know that I’m revealing some of the juiciest bits.

The play shows estranged brothers and Lee and Austin, who find themselves housesitting their mother’s suburban home…together. Austin is trying to negotiate with a Hollywood producer despite Lees constant interjections and eventual undermining of the project. Directed by Britt Small, this comedy explores the differences and similarities between the two within the tense confines of reconciliation.

The show has incredible attention to detail, from sound and set to costume. The set is a kitsch yellow kitchen, with a fully stocked fridge and pan-stacked cupboards. On the table are dog-eared books beside a functional typewriter (which is later de-ribboned and later still, destroyed with a golf club). In the back corner are potted plants, which are effectively killed as well. In one scene Austin steals a series of toasters, which are plugged into the stage and nearly pop toast into the front row. Lee wears a leopard print belt, Denis’ hair comes loose as he drinks, cricket sounds taunt Lee half into madness and their mother’s bright blue eye shadow makes her character twice as hilarious. To all involved designers: well done.

While the acting was generally impressive, Paul Fauteux’s stage presence was a force to be reckoned with. His portrayal of the bat-out-of-hell Lee took the fiction out of Lee’s character and made me believe in the the wide-stanced, expressive delinquent in front of me. I was nervous that he might jump down and teach me a lesson if I looked at him the wrong way. What made Fauteux’s performance so believable was the humanity with which he played Lee. He understood the character so well that when a chair unexpectedly fell over in the middle of a scene, he kicked it.

Jacob Richmond’s character, Austin, was supposed to be more static, but his comedic timing seemed off—but only when his character was sober. Drunk Austin was hilarious. At one point Fauteux knocks a plate of toast out of his hands. Richmond proceeds to crawl around the stage and earnestly reassemble the tower of toast. His bewilderedness made me also believe that reassembling that stack of toast was of the utmost importance, and I quietly egged him on from the front row. My only complaint was that, despite their tumultuous relationship, the two characters yelled too much. Both actors demonstrated the ability to dynamically handle emotional material, and I would have liked to see them deliver those highly emotional lines with less volume and more feeling.

True West is not to be missed—seriously. Do yourself a favour and visit Blue Bridge at The Roxy for an evening of laughs, tears and toast.

Nadia Grutter is a freelance writer and editor living in Victoria.

Contemporary Shakespeare worth the hiccups

A Tender Thing by Ben Power

Directed by Peter Hinton

November 5- December 8, 2013

The Belfry Theatre

Review by Nadia Grutter

“Give me the light.”

Lights up on Romeo as an aged man. He stands with his hands open by his sides, eyes fixed on his gaunt beloved. Juliet lies in a queen-sized, covers pulled up around her bare shoulders. Her white hair is pushed back from her wizened face. She is dying.

The November 7, 2013 North American premiere of Ben Powers’ A Tender Thing captured the audience…for the most part.  Powers’ contemporary twist on Shakespeare’s tragedy shows Romeo and Juliet as an old couple attempting to save their love against time and illness in classical Shakespearean dialogue. But while the lighting, sound, set and acting impressed individually, the lacklustre couple detracted from the play.

But before I get to that, I’d like to congratulate lighting designer Robert Thomson and sound designer Brooke Maxwell for an unforgettable dream-like ambiance mixed with ethereal and realistic light and sound. The play opened and closed with deep cello instrumentals, which enhanced the inherent darkness in the play.

But in dark there was light: Maxwell incorporated classic love songs, like “I Only Have Eyes For You” by The Flamingos while Thompson illuminated the stage with water-like projections.  I thought the water lighting was particularly effective, as it reflected the fluid, eternal nature of Romeo and Juliet’s love. Most importantly, the lighting/sound indicated changes in time, which fast-forwarded and rewound throughout the play. This is what I took issue with: without the strong lighting and sound, I think the audience may have become confused as to where they were within the story.

The set was impressive as well. The walls of stage left and right were two giant mirrors, expanding the stage into a reflective landscape. Juliet’s bed was portable, and made for some fun moments with Romeo scooting the bed around the stage in an infatuated stupor. Other props included two chairs (which went largely unused and made me question their significance) and a massive wooden door set back in centre stage. The free standing wooden door symbolized death, release, enlightenment or all of the above, and loomed ominously in the background as a latent reminder of the couple’s impending fate.

And Peter Anderson! The actor as Romeo kept the audience laughing, and sometimes crying, with his charisma and earnestness. Claire Coulter was less demanding as Juliet and didn’t project well. She did, however, skillfully alter her voice according to her age. Together the actors didn’t seem to click. Maybe it was nerves; maybe it was an off night. But as two of the most famous lovers in literary history, their display of passion was disappointing.

The end of Powers’ play was both surprising and inevitable, which is a difficult balance to strike. A little shocking, too. I won’t give it away. I’d see the play again, if not just for the ending, to see experience atmosphere heightened with the love I have faith Coulter and Anderson can more strongly portray.



Montreal band ignites Rifflandia audience

By Nadia Grutter

“Finally, someone saying something worthwhile,” said the guy encroaching on my umbrella space.

Stars’ co-lead singer Torquil Campbell had just thanked the audience for “helping create culture” when the band took the main stage during Victoria’s Rifflandia Music Festival’s final hours. Playing Rifflandia was a first for the Montreal-based indie band, but they worked the crowd like veterans.

“This is perfect!” yelled Campbell when a sudden downpour invoked frantic backpack searches for plastic ponchos. He stood at the edge of the stage, raised his arms and commanded the park with one of the band’s newer releases, “The North.”

“It’s so cold in this country…”

All eyes turned back on Amy Millan, Evan Cranley, Chris Seligman, Pat McGee and, of course, Campbell. Someone even shushed me.

Despite the melancholic nature of Stars’ music, lead singers Millan and Campbell warmed up the crowd with energy comparable only to the distant lightning. This is the fourth time I have seen Stars live, and the fourth time I have been charmed by the pair’s hilarious onstage antics. During the sexually suggestive chorus of “We Don’t Want Your Body,” Campbell chased Millan around the stage, mischievously wiggling the microphone wire behind him like a tail. The two sang to each other with such authenticity that it felt like watching a real conversation.

The band’s love for sharing the stage translated to the audience, whose dismay at the weather quickly turned into shared excitement (and shared umbrellas). When Campbell held out the microphone during the 2004 hit “Your Ex-Lover is Dead,” the crowd sang back the lyrics cohesively.  Everyone smiled at the pride with which Campbell brandished his melodica and swooned over Millan’s short dress. And people can blame the rain all they want, but tears were definitely shed.

After a short set of songs back from the Set Yourself on Fire days to their 2012 album The North, Torquil made one request before their last song.

“Dance! There is nothing else to do but dance.”

At this, most people in the audience threw up their hands and did just that. Campbell disappeared from the stage, reappearing moments later with a handful of children who danced the hardest of all of us. He and Millan twirled around the kids, igniting their last moments onstage with the wonder and freedom good music should stir in us.

I left the show with wrecked Converse and an insatiable urge to hug everyone I passed. It’s rare to see such a down-to-earth show from a successful band and leave having experienced the music, not just watched it. Stars’ first performance at Rifflandia confirmed the significance of simplicity and truth—not just in music but in everyday life.


University of Victoria student Nadia Grutter listens to music and writes when she’s out of classes