Tag Archives: Interviews in 5 questions

5 Questions with Jon Middleton of Jon and Roy

Victoria folk band Jon and Roy have been busy making music since 2005. The two musicians independently released their eighth album, By My Side, in May, available for purchase online. The band has been touring extensively throughout Canada in support of the album, ending their tour at Rifflandia festival recently. Band Member Jon Middleton recently spoke with Emmett Robinson Smith about touring and different aspects of the album.

You’ve been touring pretty heavily in support of your new album, By My Side. Has this tour been different from others?

In some ways it has been. We are at a place now where we are confident with our live show and we are comfortable, and at home, performing on stage, so pretty much every performance has been an absolute pleasure this summer. Also, we flew in to most of our shows this summer which was nice. It allowed us to spend more time at home during the weekdays.

Was there a particular show where you felt an especially strong connection with the audience?

There were two, actually: one [was] in Edmonton at a small club. Usually we play bigger venues in Edmonton but we’d booked this show last minute and so we couldn’t get anything larger. But it turned out to be one of our best shows of the summer; it was an intimate crowd and everyone was right there in our face, surrounding us and singing loud and dancing along. It’s great to play tiny clubs like that once in a while, it feels like you are right there with the audience. Another highlight was our performance at Tall Tree Festival in Port Renfrew. It was a nice sized crowd, but the vibe was the same as the Edmonton show. The people were awesome and down for a good time.

Your new album has many references to both nature and love, sometimes simultaneously. For example, “I want to have fun in the sun with my daughter” on the title track, and “Here in the desert, I need your water” on “Take Me By Surprise.” Were these motifs deliberate?

Kind of, I suppose. I love nature, I love being outdoors and going to the ocean and going hiking and watching the moon. All that and more. I feel at home in nature so it comes out my lyrical content. As for love, well, love is amazing. And not just the idea of being in love, but love for everything. I’m becoming more at peace with what love is and so perhaps I’m singing about it more.

The standout track for me on By My Side is “Every Night”. Musically it’s quite different from most of the album. Was the creative process different for this song?

Mmm, not really. The only difference to me is that there is a bit of a different feel to it and the electric guitar is more prominent. Also, Roy’s drum beat is really an integral part of the song and it takes the song from a simple folk tune to something more interesting.

You ended your tour here in Victoria. What’s the plan now?

Well, we will be hitting the road again in November to tour some places in Canada we didn’t get to in the summer. And then back in the studio! The music is flowing steadily. Then we shall see what 2015 brings.

Emmett Robinson Smith is a classical pianist at UVic and a member of the band Modest Nudist.

Language play enlivens Barton’s Polari

Victoria poet John Barton, perhaps as well known as the editor of The Malahat Review as for his 10 previous books of poetry, has just launched Polari, a new collection with Icehouse Poetry, an imprint of Goose Lane Editions.  Co-editor of Seminal:  The Anthology of Canada’s Gay Male Poets, he has won a number of writing honours, including three Archibald Lampman Awards and a CBC Literary Award.  He teaches poetry workshops across Canada, at such places as The Banff Centre, the Sage Hill Writing Experience and the University of Victoria.  He recently answered Lynne Van Luven’s questions about Polari in an e-mail exchange.

John, I like the title of your new poetry collection, Polari.  Can you tell me a little about when you first learned about the word, derived from the Italian parlare, which you define as a “coded anti-language or idiolect at one time spoken by gay men.”

Polari? I am not sure when I first became aware of the term, exactly. In the last 10 years, maybe longer?  I would hear mention of polari, then forget what it was or how to spell or pronounce it, go searching for it, find it and forget it again, in a long, irritable and irritating cycle, until one day it stuck.

Of course, I am not of the generation who would have used polari terms in order to pass, since the reasons behind needing to “pass” are now nowhere near as relevant as they were sixty years ago (or more precisely thirty years before I came out)—at least not in the part of the world and the stratum of society that is mine. It’s a different matter in Russia or Uganda, for instance—and God knows how one chooses to pass in either. However, I am old enough to remember when the society I belong to was not as open-minded and the urge to speak plainly did truly involve risk—though not risk of imprisonment. I am sure gay men do still talk differently amongst themselves than they would if “non-gay” people were present—and when “non-natives/speakers” are part of the exchange, “experiences” are “translated” for them. Any group is like this.

I realized a few years ago that anyone who might overhear a group of gay men discussing matters solely of their mutual concern might still find the conservation hard to follow. This tendency toward opaqueness—toward this anti-language—is a way of marking and restricting space—and even of policing access of it.  The idea of polari even became a kind of joke to me—”Oh, am I speaking in tongues again—LOL?”

I can’t claim that I was consciously thinking about all these ideas while writing the poems collected into this book, but after writing the title poem it occurred to me that “polari” helped characterize their texture. The surface “beauty” of their language is a protective crust that challenges the reader to take a firm bite—sharpen those intellectual incisors!—by reading carefully (and sympathetically) in order to break through to whatever substance resides within. (Or so I vaingloriously and self-consciously think.)

I also enjoyed the way you played with rhyming language in this collection.  There was a time – not too long ago – when Free Verse Ruled; a poet dared not rhyme words for fear of being thought fusty, but now I see it cropping up in many contemporary books of poetry. Can you talk a bit about this shift?

Observing metrics and rhymes has fallen in and out of fashion since the origins of modernism in the early part of the twentieth century. The current vogue in Canada found its inspiration in the New Formalism movement that began taking hold in the United States in the mid-1980s, with Canadian poets like the late Diana Brebner taking up the influence in her work; I can’t think of anyone who would have tried her hand at such formal concerns in Canada as early as she did—or at least not as well. Today, Matt Rader and Elizabeth Bachinksky, I believe, are among the best practitioners.

For myself, I grew tired of writing in free verse and was looking for a new challenge, which so-called traditional, rhyming forms offered. I had written a little bit of formal verse—the sestina, the sonnet, and the villanelle—when I had been a student over 30 years ago, but had never explored the opportunities to be found in formal writing with any focus until eight years ago.

Writing a formal poem is akin to offering different appetizing tidbits to a fussy eater, having them refused one after the other until said child (or poem) takes a bite and some sustenance—and substance—has been both derived and transferred. It takes patience and inventiveness—much more than I would have ever guessed, especially once one gets beyond thinking that merely observing the rules is enough—the “what a nice plum, what a good boy am I” syndrome. Writing a formal poem is less like filling in the answers to a crossword puzzle than designing a mandala—it’s all about balance and intent. I like how adhering to a strict syllable count and a subtle rhyme scheme forced me to make decisions I might not have had to make had I chosen to write a free-verse poem. I might settle early on for something reasonably satisfying in the latter, whereas to get to something satisfying in the former takes much more tenacity. Writing formal poems expanded my vocabulary, made me more flexible in my expectations, and open to change. Writing in form is like doing aerobics or weight training; writing free verse is like going for a nice walk with great scenery, and if you have a dog, picking up after it.

Writing formal verse has re-enforced my belief, developed while writing free verse, that it doesn’t matter which words you use as long as they work well together.  The challenge ultimately becomes how to write a formal poem that still feels contemporary. For example, I decided not to be a stickler for singsong metrics—ten syllables always, but not necessarily in iambic pentameter. You want the formal attributes to support the poem and not be the end in itself. Also, to match the form to the subject can be crucial; it can make the tension between traditional form and the contemporary subject a subject of inquiry too. However choosing a form arbitrarily, without regard for the subject, and then making it seem like the obvious and only choice is great fun too.

 Some of your titles — I am thinking of “Bombproof Your Horse” or “The Book of Marmalade . . .” — tackle the world with a wry eye that simultaneously notes its violence and its mundanity.  Is that a renewed tension in your work?

The absurdity of these titles—which are titles that have won a Diagram Prize for the oddest book title of the year—automatically draw attention to itself, doesn’t it?  They bring the humour implicit in my work right to the surface. That said, I agree this book is wryer than my previous books. Humour is a defense mechanism we all deploy to sample a smorgasbord of personal and social hurts—a way to make them visible, to decry them if necessary, and if we are lucky, to put them into perspective. Up to a point, self-deprecation is so much attractive than self-aggrandizement. I might not have been able to write many of these poems had humour not empowered me to do so.  In the case of the Diagram Prize poems, they might not have occurred me at all.

 John, you have lived and worked in many regions of Canada – Saskatoon, Fredericton, Calgary, Ottawa – and your family history in this country goes back a long way.  Do you think of certain of your poems as products of geography, or is your relationship to space and place more nuanced than that?

I am not sure what place means to me any more, having moved about so much. It is a pleasant wallpaper against which I live my existence.  Now my response is less one of a tourist, by which I mean I don’t write a poem simply because I have been somewhere (though I have written my share of such poems)—a temporary geographic cure equivalent to grazing at a salad bar. I suppose I see locale as an opportunity to give a particular concern a context. Sometimes, through the concern in question, I become connected to the place where a poem is set. Writing a poem set in a familiar location renews my connection to it. “I am somewhere, therefore I am a particular am”—and am forever. How many tourists taking selfies of themselves with a smart phone can truly say that?

 I’m an old fogey, I fear, but I think our use of language is growing less precise every day.  Is there any one essential piece of advice you like to give the emerging poets you mentor in workshops? 

 No poet can afford to be imprecise, if she or he hopes to be any good. Anyone who aspires to the craft (however fey that may sound), should never allow themselves to think that their readers will get the gist of what is intended—i.e., don’t become too wed to what you’ve put down in your initial draft and think it’s good enough. Instead, revise, have fun, agonize, fall in love with your genius, despair, be surprised, and explore. And most importantly, be your toughest and best reader.

Silent-film romance speaks eloquently

British Columbia writer Margaret Gunning just published her third novel, The Glass Character, with Thistledown Press.  Gunning, a long-time print journalist, columnist and reviewer, as well as a poet, has written two previous novels, Better than Life and Mallory.  She recently took the time to sit down in her office in Coquitlam, B.C., to answer questions  from Lynne Van Luven about The Glass Character.  The novel is a well-paced narrative that melds a young girl’s coming of age story with insights into the ambition and competition that drove the creation of silent films.

Margaret, for some reason the subject of your new novel startled me.  How did a sensible no-nonsense journalist (as I think of you) get so interested in Harold Clayton Lloyd, a 1920s silent screen comedian?

The first thing I ever wrote or published was poetry, so I have never really been all that sensible! But if it hadn’t been for Turner Classic Movies, I don’t think this novel would have happened. Not only do they regularly feature silent movies in their programming, they seem to champion Lloyd above all the others (including Chaplin).  So I first became hooked five or six years ago when I tuned in halfway through The Freshman, during a hilarious dance sequence when Lloyd’s cheap suit falls apart piece-by-piece.  But as a kid, I distinctly remember seeing a full-page black-and-white photo of Harold Lloyd, I think in a coffee table book called The Movies. It was the iconic photo of him dangling from a huge clock, and somehow his name fastened itself to that image.

Can you talk about all the research you did to capture the nuances and action of the Jazz Era in your novel?

I kind of did this backwards! I had already become enchanted with Lloyd, but at that point I was interested in a lot of things and was randomly picking my way through YouTube snippets. Then at some point – I remember the exact instant, when I was sitting in my office chair in a daydream and the idea hit me like a brick – I realized I was going to write about Lloyd. This filled me with woe, because at that point I knew very little about him. I had ordered a superb DVD boxed set called the Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection – take note, it has all his best stuff in it! – but by the time it arrived, I was already writing. So the research ran parallel to the work, and continues today because I am still interested – or should I say, enthralled.

Your narrator Jane is an inspiring character on so many levels.  Do you think “Hollywoodland” would be any different today for an innocent, star-struck teenager?

I think it would be totally different. In the novel, I use the cliché of the girl from a small town getting on the bus, headed for stardom. I figured if it was such a cliché, it must have been true in a lot of cases. Nowadays, a girl could not just walk on a movie set and get a part as an extra. At least, I don’t think so. The devouring machine of these TV talent shows is shark-infested water, as far as I am concerned, and no matter how gifted and determined you are, it’s a lottery with almost everyone going home heartbroken.

As I continued to read your novel, I realized that I had a subliminal memory of seeing the occasional Harold Lloyd movie, but that I was more familiar with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.  Do you identify with the ordinary guy/underdog epitomized in Lloyd’s many “Glass Character” roles?

Funny you should say that! Over and over again, when I told people I was writing about Harold Lloyd, I’d get a blank look. Then I’d say:  “You know, the guy dangling off the clock 20 stories up,” and then came the “Ohhh! Yes, I know who you mean.” He’s filed somewhere in the back of people’s minds, but one reason we don’t know him better is that he was overprotective of his movies. He literally locked them in a vault and refused to show them on TV. He seemed to be engineering his own oblivion. As for being the underdog, Lloyd described the Glass Character as “just a regular fellow,” so most of us could identify with him:  an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances.

I noted that you make no mention of Lloyd’s involvement with the Freemasons at the height of his career.  He reached an exalted level within the Masons, and that association was always part of his life.  Did you skip that fact as just too cultish and unromantic for Jane to absorb, a fact just unhelpful to your fiction?

Oh, there were so many things I could not cover, because Lloyd was the ultimate Renaissance man, an amateur scientist, painter, 3D photographer, show dog breeder, magician, golfer, acoustic innovator, and on and on. Right now, Freemasons are looked upon as targets for all sorts of conspiracy theories, but when my Dad was a Mason in the 1960s, it was just something you did, a dull men’s club. So in many ways it was the most conventional aspect of his life – but perhaps he needed it to remain grounded amongst all the more pedestrian souls.


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.

Novel probes Afghanistan aftermath

Katrin Horowitz is a Victoria writer whose second novel, The Best Soldier’s Wife (Quadra Books, 184 pages, $21.95,) was a finalist in Mother Tongue Publishing’s second Great B.C. Novel Contest.   Horowitz’s protagonist Amy Malcolm, whose husband volunteered to serve in Afghanistan, writes a series of letters to the wife of the Chief of Defence Staff, as she struggles to understand what happened to her husband in the conflict.  Horowitz’s first novel, Power Failures, was a murder mystery published in 2007 after she had been a volunteer in Sri Lanka.  Horowitz will be launching her new book in conjunction with Remembrance Day events at Vancouver Island libraries:  in Duncan and Ladysmith on Nov. 14; Nanaimo on Nov. 15 and on Gabriola Island on Nov. 16.  Horowitz recently answered Lynne Van Luven’s e-mail questions about her new novel.

 Katrin, I really enjoyed the conversation – or is it a monologue? – that you created via Amy Malcolm’s “letters” to Mrs. Harker, the wife of Ian Malcolm’s chief commander in the Canadian Forces.   Can you explain how you came up with this technique for your novel, and what you hoped to achieve?

I knew as soon as Amy arrived in my imagination that she was obsessed with how Mrs. Harker had managed to become the ideal military wife.  If the story is a conversation, then Mrs. Harker is the antagonist to Amy’s protagonist.  And if it’s a monologue, Mrs. Harker is Amy’s alter ego.  But it took me a while to find the most compelling way to tell their story.  Then I happened to read White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga, and recognized that I what I needed was a twist on the epistolary novel.  The letters allow Amy to say what she needs to say to one particular person, a person with whom she invents a relationship – but also someone who is on one level “you,” the reader, thereby strengthening the connection between writer and reader.

I find it interesting that Ian Malcolm is a reservist helicopter pilot who volunteers to serve in Afghanistan without first consulting his wife or teenage son.  Why this detail, why not just a novel about a regular enlisted man’s family?

Amy and Ian have a long history together.  And like many middle-aged couples, they know how the other is going to respond to certain issues.  Ian doesn’t tell Amy about his decision ahead of time because he knows that she will try to talk him out of it, and he doesn’t want to be talked out of it.  His strategy works, because he effectively shuts Amy up, and the rest of the story happens because he shuts Amy up. Ian retired from the full-time military because Amy insisted, she’s good with words and can talk him into anything, and although he’s still flying, which he loves, it’s not the kind of flying he did in the military.  Commercial flying is all about keeping it safe, about staying firmly in the centre of the envelope.  As their son Ethan points out to Amy with devastating accuracy later in the story, Ian was bored with his life and was looking for a new adventure.

Ian volunteers in 2009, and serves for nine months, but three years pass before Amy actually writes her letters to Mrs. Harker.  Why the lapse in time?

Amy first thinks of writing to Mrs. Harker the same day that Ian tells her he has volunteered.  But she is held back by her own reticence, so she limits herself to what she calls ‘head letters,’ letters she imagines writing but never commits to paper, because a good soldier’s wife doesn’t complain.  Even three years later she is worried that her letters are presumptuous, although by this point her obsession with Mrs. Harker has grown until it is impossible for her not to write. She feels she must tell her story to the wife of the general who she holds responsible for what happened to Ian.  How we communicate – the who, what, when, where and why of sharing our thoughts – is a thread running through the book.  Is the best soldier’s wife the one who keeps her thoughts to herself?  Or as Amy asks near the end of the book, “If I tell the truth and nobody hears, is it still the truth?”

As I read the novel, I kept thinking that you must have family in the military, because the details felt so accurate.  But in your Acknowledgements you thank Mary and Steve Lawson because they “made this book possible.”  Can you talk a little about your position on or your connection to Canadian Forces?

Thank you!  My father fought in the Second World War before I was born, but my only real connection to the military is through my very good friend, Mary.  She not only shared stories of life as military wife with me and introduced me to other military wives, but also enlisted her husband’s help with the details of his life at KAF.  The scene in the book where Ian puts together a slide show of all his pictures of ramp ceremonies for dead soldiers was inspired by some of Steve’s photos.

The daily newspapers provided incidents from the real war in Afghanistan, from horrific IED attacks to the ridiculous ‘Love in a LAV’ scandal.  Reading military memoirs, including former Chief of Defense Staff Rick Hillier’s A Soldier First, provided additional background.  The names of the dead soldiers that end each of Amy’s letters came from the Department of National Defense website. And finally, as I was writing about Ian’s PTSD, I realized I was also writing about how my father had been damaged by his war experiences.

Quadra Books may not be a known publisher to many readers.  Can you tell me why you chose the house to showcase your second novel?

Quadra is a Victoria literary publisher committed to publishing “good books for thoughtful readers,” which for me is an excellent starting point.  That it was willing and able to include The Best Soldier’s Wife in their Fall list and bring it out in time for Remembrance Day was a big plus.


Skidmore tells story of child migration

Patricia Skidmore (left), who lives in Port Moody, British Columbia, has written a moving book about her mother’s experiences as a child migrant to Canada in 1937. Marjorie Arnison was from Whitley Bay in northeastern England. She lived in Birmingham for seven months before being sent to the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School in the Cowichan Valley when she was just 10. She could never properly explain her past to her children. The “mystery” caused Skidmore to write Marjorie Too Afraid to Cry: A Home Child Experience, published by Dundurn (295 pages, $30). Coastal Spectator Editor Lynne Van Luven read Marjorie’s story with great interest since her own grandfather was also sent to Canada as a “Barnardo Boy.” Skidmore’s book will be launched at the University of Victoria Bookstore on March 14 at 7 p.m. 

Can you remember the catalyst that set your mind to writing about your mother’s story?

After spending much of my childhood fighting my mother for her story, in an attempt to find out who she really was and why she was in Canada while most of her family was in England, I concluded that she was keeping some horrid dark secret from me. At 17, I gave up and left home.

It took another eight years before I faced the question again, when I was a mother myself and feeling overwhelmed. My father had died in 1957, leaving my mother with 5 children between the ages of three weeks and 8 years. My bout with one sick baby helped me realize that I was not stronger than my mother, as I had always thought. I began to see her in a different light and I wondered who was this “superwoman” who single-parented her little family and kept them together against all odds?

And I realized that I needed to find my way back to her–although I would still need to try to figure out who she was. I feared that I couldn’t be a good daughter without knowing her deeper, and if I couldn’t be a good daughter, then how could I be a good mother?

In June 1986, when I saw the Fairbridge Farm property for the first time, I was dumbfounded by the beautiful countryside. I had expected a gravel pit. It hit me that the stark image I had in my mind came from my mother’s emotional distress at feeling so alone and bleak when she was removed from her family and sent to a new country.

By this time, I had been single parenting my three sons for many years–so finding time to pursue this research was challenging. After my 2 older sons were through high school, I returned to Victoria in 1996 to complete a degree that I started there in 1969. And I found my way into Women’s Studies.

In 1999, Professor Christine St. Peter led us to the BC Archives, which opened an avenue for research that I had no previous knowledge of. And the archives are where I found my mother’s past (in the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School records). I found a personal file for my mother, and together we discovered her immigration landing card, then her birth certificate, sent by her mother in 1948 when she wanted to get married, along with a couple of photographs. My mother seemed pleased as the research progressed: “Well they didn’t just throw me away, they kept records of me,” she said.

You have referred to your 20 years of exhaustive research on your book. What advice do you have for others who might be considering writing a family memoir?

For me, making my mother go back to that place she had buried all those years ago was a tricky business. I told myself I would stop if she became distressed. However my desire to understand the truth was so great, I wonder if I really would have.

My advice to anyone searching for a lost past is: don’t give up but don’t expect things to happen overnight.  Patience is important.

A number of factors enabled me to rediscover my mother’s past, but the most important thing was that she was with me while I did this research. I wrote my mother’s story because it was important to me to know about my past.

I am working on a sequel, which takes Marjorie through her years at the Farm School until early 1943. She was removed from the Farm School at 16 and was placed as a domestic servant in a home in Victoria. The working title for this sequel is Marjorie: The War Years. Today, my mother is offering her memories. The door is open to her past. The shame has dissipated. Marjorie now feels strong and proud about how she navigated her life and survived.

Have you or your mother heard from many other child migrants since your book was published?

Yes. I keep in regular contact with a number of the Former Fairbridgians sent to Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School, as well as several from the Rhodesian (now Zimbabwe) Fairbridge Memorial College, which ran from 1946 until 1962, and I keep in touch with some of the Old Fairbridgians from the Australian Fairbridge Farm Schools.

Since the publication of my book, I have had numerous new contacts, which include email  from offspring of former Canadian child migrants, now living in the United States and in Australia.

In a recent CBC interview, you said many of those transported as children, including your mother, felt “shame” about their history. Do you think Gordon Brown’s apology and the slow growth of books and stories about child migrants helps to dissipate that feeling?

Yes, but it may be that each personal journey differs – so I cannot speak for others. I saw my mother transform during her visit to England in 2010 for then-prime minister Gordon Brown’s apology. If you were not directly affected by the events that lead up to a formal apology, then that act would hold little meaning. But I will never again question the validity of a formal apology after witnessing the healing firsthand.

When Gordon Brown looked into my mother’s eyes and said, “I am truly sorry,” that formal recognition allowed for more healing than all my years of research. I believe a lot of the shame stemmed from an inability to talk about her past and what brought her to Canada. So much was hidden, she found difficult to speak openly.

 Do you think Britons and North Americans have learned anything useful about child migration since the practice first started, even since your mother’s time?

Child migration went on for so long: Britain first started “transporting” children in 1618, and child migration to Australia continued until 1974.  So many well-read people tell me that they have never heard of British Child Migration. I too was surprised to learn that child migration had a 350-year history, with the first group of children being sent to Richmond, Virginia, at the request of King James I.

I feel at a loss to understand why its history has not become better known. Perhaps the main reason is that the full history is not taught in the public schools. The Canadian government’s attitude may also be a factor.  In 2009, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said there was “no need” for Canada to apologize for abuse and exploitation suffered by thousands of poor children shipped here from Britain.

VIMA’s eclectic scene ready to roll

The Vancouver Island Music Awards (VIMA) is gearing up for the 9th Annual Awards show on April 28th. Some of this year’s nominees include the Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra, Steph MacPherson, Woodsmen, Man Made Lake, and Carli and Julie Kennedy.  Andrea Routley recently talked with James Kasper, the founder and producer of VIMA, about what to expect.

So, 9th Annual Vancouver Island Music Awards, and you’ve been there from the beginning. You must have heard hundreds of submissions by now, and across such diverse categories like rock/metal, jazz, pop, spoken word . . . Have you noticed any musical trends over the years, or recurring themes? Is there a way to describe “Vancouver Island Music”?

There is definitely an eclectic scene here on the Island, with everything from blues to metal. But probably what I hear most is a kind of vocal-based organic roots-rock sound. I think it’s been like that here for years, from what I’ve observed.

Is there a particular artist or group that stands out over the years? Why?

Any artist who works hard and doesn’t give up despite the challenges and adversity . . .  Any artist who treats other artists and fans with respect and kindness no matter what level of success they achieve . . . Those are the artists who stand out to me.

The Awards show is a huge production. You’ve got 1,000 tickets for sale, up to dozens of performers, advertisers, media–camera crew, artist collaborations . . . So quick:  Best VIMA show moment ever?

Oh wow, where to begin . . . I like the moments where the audience is so excited to hear the winner’s name that people begin screaming even before the presenter is finished reading the card . . . This happened in 2011 when Aegis Fang won for Male Vocalist, and in 2012 when Lindsay Bryan won for Song of the Year. And really, the whole event is just a rush. I spend 8 months of my year preparing for the main event, and it’s pretty exciting to see it all crystallize into a 3-hour show.

Now, Worst VIMA show moment ever:

Hm, well, the cue cards have presented some interesting challenges over the years, including the first awards presentation in 2011 when the cue cards weren’t ready, and the presenters were left to improvise until I sent the hosts out to do damage control, which they they did just fine. It was stressful at the time, but some people told me later they thought it was all part of the act. Ha. Also, several years back, when David Gogo and David Lennam were hosting, they were asked to give out a door prize and they somehow procured an actual honest-to-goodness door in the rubble backstage and brought it out as a “door prize.” At that point, I shook my head and thought to myself, “I have completely lost control of this show.”

James, you are also a prolific musician, both as a touring musician and a recording artist. What can awards do for a music career?

I always advise independent musicians to just take advantage of any opportunity they can to expose their work and build their network of contacts. A music awards show is one such opportunity. And the Island Music Awards have always been much less about competition and much more about community, celebrating the Island’s music scene, and a way for a diverse array of musicians and music industry representatives to come together on one night and network with each other.

Last summer, VIMA’s put out a call for community support, seeking donations from businesses in order to continue into 2013. The goal was $100 from 50 island businesses. What happened with that?

To be honest, it wasn’t the result we were hoping for. There were some donations from a couple of businesses and a couple of musicians, which we were very grateful to receive, but the event is still in dire need of financial sponsors in order to stay afloat. Any Island business wanting to support this event can reach me at info@jameskasper.com . . . because if we can stay afloat, it would be nice to have a 10th anniversary next year!

The 9th annual Vancouver Island Music Awards show takes place Sunday, April 28th at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, downtown Victoria. Tickets are available now. Contact info@jameskasper.com.

For the full list of 2013 nominees, visit islandmusicawards.wordpress.com.


Singer’s lyrics aided by English degree

Chris Ho’s new CD, City of Dust, released January 18, 2013 at the Victoria Event Centre, has been keeping Lynne Van Luven happy company for the past couple of weeks. Smitten by the music and lyrics, she keeps changing her mind about her favourite songs. Today, it’s “Ghost Limbs.” Tomorrow, it could be “Story of the Flood,” or “It’s Coming Along.”  Van Luven recently talked to Chris Ho about his work and creative plans. 

Chris, I am one of your newest fans.  Love your lyrics!  I keep trying to figure out your musical influences. I’d call you a bit of a balladeer, but you have a wonderfully energetic sound–which is good, because ballads can get awfully lugubrious and sentimental. Can you explain where you position your own songs in the music spectrum?

Thank you! My top influences include Wilco, Death Cab For Cutie, Stars, and Tegan and Sara. There is somewhat of a genre ambiguity when it comes down to my music. Put simply though, the sort of music I’ve written thus far tends to fall under two somewhat contrasting categories: indie rock and folk. That isn’t to say that they’re always separate from one another, since many songs obviously incorporate both of these traditions simultaneously, but it definitely helps to think of City Of Dust as having two personalities.

The numbers in this new—your first—CD are all appealing, and yet convey their messages in diverse ways. Did you envision an overarching narrative for City of Dust?

After writing the songs, and contemplating which ones I wanted to include on the album, I did end up envisioning an album that was musically eclectic and yet narratively cohesive, which was definitely a bit of a challenge.

Where did you study or are you a totally self-educated musician?

I took guitar lessons for about a year, starting when I was sixteen, at the Douglas Academy of Music in Vancouver, which taught me some basics. But, ultimately, songwriting has always been a process of spontaneity and trial and error. Oddly enough, the English Major I completed last April at the University of Victoria contributed to my growth as a songwriter more than anything else.

 I am impressed by the orchestral sophistication of City of Dust. Can you tell us about the crew that helped you put your CD together?

The co-producer and engineer Sam Weber, along with myself, put our minds together for this, and of course reached out to the local community of musicians in order to add more depth to this album. For example, Taz Eddy (Trumpet), Rob Phillips (Drums), and Alexei Paish (Percussion) were all music students at UVic during the time we were tracking the album. Not to mention, Kiana Brasset (Violin, Backup Vocals), Chelsea-Lyne Heins (Backup Vocals), and Esme John (Bass Guitar) are very much embedded in Victoria’s musical community as well. The hard work of Sam Weber, combined with my artistic vision and a strong support network of musicians, made this album possible.

I know you have a another show coming up in Victoria (Feb. 16th–all ages–at Fairfield United Church with The Archers, doors at 7pm, $10) and recently played in Kelowna, and will keep on with more promotion. Where would you like to be five years from now?

Put simply, I would like to be doing exactly what I’m doing now, except on a larger scale. The singer-songwriter tells the story of [his] journey, and the listener relates it to theirs. Every so often, someone tells me how much they appreciate my music, or how it’s helping them get through something in their life. The more people I can affect this way, the more rewarding and fulfilling that work is for me.

Memoir explores author’s transplanted life

Kamal Al-Solayee    Photo by Gary Gould/Ryerson

Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes
By Kamal Al-Solaylee
Harper Collins, 204 pages, $27.99

Kamal Al-Solaylee teaches journalism at Ryerson University and is a former theatre critic for the Globe and Mail. He answered Lynne Van Luven’s questions via-email at the end of September. He noted that his memoir has netted responses from “other Arab/Muslim gay men and women and they’ve all been supportive, inspiring.” In Yemeni media, he said, the book has been covered as a gay story, which he considers reductive. Mostly, Prof. Al-Solaylee is “disappointed in the lack of responses from the Arab community in Canada. They chose to ignore it. I was hoping that the book would kick-start a conversation about a number of issues: the pervasive nature of extremism here in Canada and back in our home countries, women’s and gay rights, and our civic participation in Canadian society. Maybe that’s a lot to hope for and maybe that’s to come.” Let’s hope so.
Clearly, you silenced and edited yourself for many years 
prior to writing this book. Can you look back now and see a “catalyst 
moment” that precipitated the idea of finally telling your and your 
family’s stories?

The idea for the book came to me after a particularly distressing visit to the family in Sana’a, Yemen, in 2006. It was my first trip in about five years and I couldn’t get over the rapid decline in both the material and emotional lives of my family. I also started to notice what I would term a disturbing level of religiosity. That visit put into focus the huge gap between my life in Toronto – a safe, privileged and even spoiled life – and that of my family. To illustrate the point, I returned to Toronto after that trip and within a few days I went to New York to review the Broadway opening of The Drowsy Chaperone, the Canadian-penned hit spoof musical about the roaring twenties. It took a few days and before I knew it a complete depression started to set in. A friend suggested I write about that experience which is how the book originated – in sadness and depression.

Towards the end of the book, as you worry on the page about
 your family members, and wonder about the viability of moving everyone to
 Cairo, I found myself thinking that you were suffering from something akin 
to “survivor’s guilt.” What can you say about that?

I never thought of it in such terms (survivor’s guilt) but I guess that’s how I felt and continue to feel. I believed that I betrayed the family, especially my sisters, and abandoned them when they needed me most. The events of the Arab Spring and the civil war in Yemen last year only exacerbated that. I can’t keep thinking that way, however, or I’ll go stir crazy. I have to accept that I made the decisions that were best for my personal, emotional and intellectual survival. Writing this book both helped me think through that and added to the sorrow associated with my decision to separate from the family and my helplessness about it all.

Do you think North Americans can ever begin to truly 
understand the complexity and convoluted cultural history of Arab culture, 
not just in Yemen, but elsewhere in the world? (I always remember
 Margaret Atwood’s veterinarian character Dr. Minnow in Bodily Harm, musing
 about the “sweet Canadians” who do helpful things like sending supplies of 
pork to countries whose inhabitants do not eat it.)

I don’t know if Arab people understand their own culture(s), let alone the North Americans. One of the most distressing aspects of the move to religious extremism in the Middle East has been the shutting down of debate and the marginalization of alternative and dissenting voices. Here in North America, I think we’re suffering from a kind of intellectual laziness. The idea of the general public educating itself on a part of the world by reading extensively about it has been replaced with the histrionics of 24-hour news channels and the banalities of the sound bites and the political messaging. Funny how having too much information – social media, cable networks, bloggers – has led to less not more real understanding of issues.

You comment several times in your memoir about how difficult 
your mother’s and sisters’ lives have been, yet at the same time you are
 frustrated by their tendency to self-sacrifice. Can you elaborate a 
little on how you feel about that now, in the wake of the memoir’s 

Writing this book has helped me understand the “choices” that all my family, male or female, have made. I put the word choices in quotation marks because I don’t believe that they had any. I should say “reactions” or “responses” because that’s more accurate. I must say that I don’t blame or accuse my family of anything. I’m just trying to reconstruct the sequence of events that led to where they (and I) are now. Strangely enough, the clarity that came with writing the book didn’t help mitigate my heartbreak or made the gap between us any less dramatic.

Had you not been gay, I wonder if you would have ever left 
your family and moved to England and then Canada. Do you ever imagine 
scenarios about what your life would be like if you still lived in the 
Middle East somewhere?

Being gay is so essential to my identity, to my life, that I can’t even think of one where I’m not. I came out of the womb gay! But, speaking hypothetically, it’s quite possible that had I been straight I would have settled with my family in Sana’a and led the proverbial life of quiet desperation. I’m glad that’s not what happened to me. I often say that being gay was the best gift that life gave me. I won the genetic lottery in the family. It allowed me to experience difference. I’m beyond grateful for that. Sometimes I think I would have been a very horrible straight man, given my instincts for self-preservation and my reluctance to sacrifice. My gay self made me more aware of the challenges and beauty of being a human being. I like to think I’m more empathetic because of my sexuality.

Lynne Van Luven is the Editor of Coastal Spectator.


Lorna Crozier pays tribute to the essence of objects

Lorna Crozier’s latest book, The Book of Marvels, was published this Fall by Greystone Books. Student Jenny Aitken visited Crozier’s cozy office at the University of Victoria to discuss the creation of this new work, which will be launched October 3 , 7:30 p.m. at the UVIC Bookstore.

Q: How was it different describing household objects as opposed to characters?

I have probably had more fun writing this book than I have [had] writing any of my other books. When you become obsessed with something outside of your self, it is a release because you leave behind your worries and concerns and the stress of what you’re going through. I got to look at an object like a bowl or a doorknob and try to get to the heart and essence of it. I didn’t want to overdo that literary trope, so I tried to let the objects speak to me and show me what they were — beyond the human context but also involved in a human context . . .

Q: What gave you the idea of writing an entire book about often-overlooked objects and how did you choose which objects to include?

I actually got the idea about three years ago with the coffee pot. I was doing a writers retreat in Saskatoon, and we had to share a kitchen with a coffee pot and I was getting more and more annoyed at the person who wasn’t making the next pot. I was always getting the last black burnt inch on the bottom . . . One day I went back to my room and wrote a short piece about the coffee pot. I tacked it on the wall and everyone loved it, so I thought why don’t I keep going? After about 15 objects I thought maybe I should cover the whole alphabet. So I had to ask myself what interesting objects start with X? With Y? If you look those letters up in the dictionary, they don’t get much space. (laughs)

Q: How did the writing process differ in a book of prose like The Book of Marvels compared to your memoir Small Beneath the Sky?

In some ways the memoir was actually my inspiration for writing in this form. My memoir consisted of short chapters that were interspersed with prose poetry. For the poems, I gave myself the task of writing short pieces describing the essence of the prairie landscape, like the dust, gravel and snow. Writing those compact pieces made me obsessed with that format, which led to me using that same form in these object pieces.

Q: How did you plan on balancing fact and comedic observation in this book?

I didn’t plan on it, it just happened. Sometimes I did a bit of research because I wanted to learn more about an object. I didn’t know, for instance, that LeRoy, New York, has its very own Jell-O brick road. Those facts were fun to stumble upon, and I wanted to incorporate them with my own experiences with the object. For me, Jell-O brings back memories of jellied salads at church suppers. I have a passionate stance on jellied salads because I have always hated them. (laughs) I think these facts added another texture and livened the pieces, so whenever I could incorporate them, I did.

Q: It seems the narrator looks back when describing the objects; were you aware of this approach?

They are mostly written in the past aren’t they? I definitely look back on the objects that are central to my childhood but hard to find now, like the Yo-yo or linoleum. People don’t even talk about linoleum anymore. Or even an eraser: someone interviewed me on the radio and told me they had never even used an eraser; I was shocked because as writers I think we are always using them. I didn’t deliberately set out to write these poetic essays with nostalgia; it wasn’t a conscious effort, but sometimes it just happens . . . There is something compelling about objects in that we know many of them will outlast us. I could die tomorrow but that wooden table could remain; even my coffee cup could have a longer life than the animals and people I love. I think because of that objects are animated with specialness and I think we endow them with meaning but some of the meaning is their own.