Book Cover

Rowan The Strange Book Cover


The cover for Julie Hearn’s book Rowan The Strange published by Oxford University Press is based on a photo I took several years ago of my youngest son.  It’s always great to get an image published somewhere different and while I’ve had my own books published and have had a number of writer portraits used for book covers this is the first book cover from a photograph of mine. The image was chosen from a British/Spanish agency I have some photos with, Arcangel. Here’s arecent review of the book from the Guardian. I’m not sure if a North American edition has been released but the British edition is easily available/ordered through your local bookstore.


Another photo of my son was used on a Dutch version of a Hugo Hamilton book. I’m not sure what the English version was titled as my Dutch is nonexistent.

Book Launch

P. K. Page -You are Here – Book Launch

The Grande Dame of Canadian Letters, P.K. (Patricia Kathleen)  Page, launched her latest book ‘You are Here’ , published by Hedgerow Press, with a book reading and signing at the Winchester Galleries Humboldt Street location in Victoria. The 92-year-old Page, who is especially noted for her poetry, has had nearly forty books published in genres including memoirs, fiction, non-fiction, children’s literature, written a libretto and is a noted painter under the name P. K. Irwin. She has two more books coming out in 2009.


P. K. Page waits for the reading to begin


Greeting friends and the press


Publisher Joan Coldwell from Hedgerow Press introduces the author


Reading from You are Here


An attentive crowd listens during the reading




The painting on the easel behind her is one of P.K.’s creations


Relaxing after the reading


Signing books

Artist Interview

Interview – Robert Amos – James Joyce & Finnegans Wake

What do you do when you find yourself obsessed by a writer and one of
his books?

If you’re artist Robert Amos and the writer is James Joyce and the book
is Finnegans Wake you use your art training to investigate the text. By
this process Amos has created a new art with Joyce’s words.

This interview with Amos was constructed from emailed questions and                                                                             answers, information supplied by Robert, and
from questions and answers in a one-on-one interview in, where else,
the James Joyce Bistro. It is literally more of an assemblage than an
interview but gives I think a real sense of what Amos is trying to do

Amos was given “the commission of a lifetime” to decorate the James
Joyce Bistro, Decorate isn’t really the right word. Paintings, murals
and assemblages hang on the walls. Text and Celtic knots encircle the
table tops. More Joycean text scrolls down the bar’s counter top.
Maureen the barmaid told us she plans to “read the bar” one evening.
All of this art was created by Amos.

It was quite an experience to sit with Robert in the pub, surrounded by
his murals and paintings. Here I was, resting my elbows on tables he
had inscribed with Joyce’s text, while I was listening to him read
Joyce, not only from the book but from the table top and the bar.

We met on a quiet afternoon with only a few young men playing pool in
the bar and I’m sure it was a novel experience for them to be hitting
balls to the accompanying sound of James Joyce being read aloud.


LP: Where did the idea for the Joyce related art come from?

RA:  As an artist I am constantly in need of subject matter. Finnegans
Wake is a paramount work of literary creativity and is currently all
but lying fallow. At one point, I needed some words to inscribe on my
paintings, and I after trying others, I chose Joyce, who has been my
longstanding literary interest.

LP: You wrote out the text of Finnegans Wake in a “poetic” format of
short lines. Why?

RA: After years of trying to understand the book and getting nowhere,
I discovered an on-line group which was reading Finnegans Wake at the
rate of one page a week. The group was instigated by Charles Cave of
Australia, and by following the postings I began to make some progress.
I stayed with the group for two years.

My first inclination to write out the text came when I was reading the
chapter called “The Mime of Nick, Mick and the Maggies”. It seemed to
be  concocted as an old-time theatre poster and I could imagine it
typeset in old woodcut type. I thought I’d give that a try myself, to
see if I could space the lines, exactly as they were written, in a way
that was circus-poster-like. It worked out well. I tried it first on
the keyboard and then by hand.

Next, while reading the “Washers at the Ford” chapter, I realized that
there were two women involved in the text, one on either side of the
river. I thought it would be helpful for me if I separated their
speeches, so that I would know who was talking. I did this by
downloading the text (the Trent University site) and adding lines and
spaces to make it look like a dialogue. That was a lovely challenge,
and took me to the heart of the matter.

I was hooked, and went on and on with the text. First I divided the
text into  sentences by putting two returns – an empty line – after
each period. Where the commas, semi- and colons occurred I made a new
line with a single return. It was a great realization to me that
Joyce’s punctuation was entirely sensible and his grammar was (almost)
always correct and complete. Clearly, JJ meant every jot and tittle of
this huge and puzzling book.

I posted a bit of my reformatting on-line and one of the group members
commented that it looked like a reading script for a radio play. In
fact, for a long time I had the feeling that Finnegans Wake could be
best understood when it was read aloud. My friend David Peacock was
enjoying the audio book of Ulysses and provided me with the 6-hour
selection of readings of Finnegans Wake by Jim Norton (Naxos) which
convinced me that this book made sense (though I have always felt that
Norton reads too fast to allow any thinking about what he i is saying).
Subsequently I have sought the other bits recorded by a variety of
readers – Joyce himself, Siobhan McKenna, Cyril Cusack, Brendan Behan,
and Joseph Campbell for instance. I learned that Patrick Heaney had
made a once-through flat-out recording (in the course of four days,
using amphetimines) of Finnegans Wake, though I have never heard it.

I reflected on how useful Norton’s reading of Ulysses was. In a bid to
capture David Peacock’s interest for Finnegans Wake, I proposed to make
a spoken word recording of the entire book for him. Though by no means
in possession of a complete understanding of the book – I hadn’t read
as much as a third of it by that time – I began. At first I made a home
recording using an old cassette tape recorder. This took about four
years, and eventually it filled about 36 90-minute tapes.

Progressively some things became clear. First, my pace of going through
the book was different than the page-a-week group, so I left the
Internet behind. Second, the keystroking to reformat my script was
tedious. I don’t much like sitting at a keyboard. Third, I needed to
get to a recording studio if my recording was to have a future.

I had been corresponding with Charles Cave of Australia, and described
to him how I was “short-lining” the text. When I explained my process,
he said that, as a computer programmer, he could easily set up the
algorithms to take care of much of my key-stroking effort. To this end
I defined and wrote out a set of six “rules”, by which the text could
be newly formatted by the computer.

I have done this reformatting entirely for my own purposes. There is
not a single key stroke added to the text. I simply create the line
lengths to suit my understanding and put appropriate spacing between
lines. The original typesetters had done the same thing for different
reasons in 1939. Though I make no interventions in the text, I expect
that scholars consider even adjusting the line lengths to be heresy.

Yet I believe that the short lines are a great advantage to anyone
beginning the study of this book. If there was nothing standing in the
way of publishing Finnegans Wake this way – in an edition more than
2,000 pages long – I think that formatting the line lengths this way
would be a real help to readers.

Here’s why. The words on the page, as they have been typeset, appear to
be one solid mass of uninflected verbiage, compacted for the
convenience and economy of typesetting. The rythms of the text are
entirely missing. The dynamic of the oral tradition is based on the
grammar of each sentence and itis encoded in its punctuation. Short
lines are a visual equivalent of that dynamic.

I used to have the feeling that I was holding my breath while reading
Finnegans Wake, waiting to reach the end of a phrase or clause.

“You is feeling like you was lost in the bush, boy? You says:
It is a puling sample jungle of woods. You most shouts out:
Bethicket me for a stump of a beech if I have the poultriest no-
tions what the farest he all means.”

The aprehension is dissipated by this visual correlative of mine – at a
glance you can see where you are in a sentence. Thus, with short lines
we can tell where the subordinate clauses begin and end (separated by
commas, for example). Very long lists, which are such a part of
Finnegans Wake, form into columns and pop into view. The parallel
structures so dear to Joyce (“they lived ant laughed und loved end
left”) are suddenly given a shape.

They lived
ant laughed
und loved
end left.

When you know where a list begins and ends, you can relax and examine
it for what it is. Or you can ignore it. But it is no longer an
annoying challenge.

What follows is a random example of what happened when the text is

Like Jukoleon, the seagoer, when he bore down in his perry
boat he had raised a slide and shipped his orders and seized his
pullets and primed their plumages, the fionnling and dubhlet, the
dun and the fire, and, sending them one by other to fare fore fom,
he had behold the residuance of a delugion: the foggy doze still
going strong, the old thalassocrats of invinsible empores, maskers
of the waterworld, facing one way to another way and this way
on that way, from severalled their fourdimmansions.

Like Jukoleon,
the seagoer,
when he bore down
in his perry boat
he had raised a slide
and shipped his orders
and seized his pullets
and primed their plumages,
the fionnling and dubhlet,
the dun and the fire,
sending them
one by other
to fare fore fom,
he had behold the residuance of a delugion:
the foggy doze still going strong,
the old thalassocrats of invinsible empores,
maskers of the waterworld,
facing one way
to another way
and this way
on that way,
from severalled their fourdimmansions.

LP: You recorded yourself reading Finnegans Wake, why did you do that?

RA: in fact, the entire reformatting project was in aid of making a
“reading script” of the text, to use in my recording of the text.
Realizing that my home recording was never going to be good enough, I
made the acquaintance of a neighbour, Robert Martin, who has a
professional recording studio in his basement. I decided to record the
first hundred pages with him as a test, and it took us a number of
sessions to learn how to work together. By now we have had sessions
over the past four years – both of us are quite busy and can only free
up a few weeks each year, it seems. We meet at 9.30 am, set up the
microphones and levels, and I read for an hour – then a break – than
half an hour more. By that point I notice my concentration is beginning
to falter, errors crop up, and so we repair to the control room where
we edit out the page turnings, coughs, misspeaks and anything else.
At the moment we are at page 442 of 628.

When people hear that I am doing this they often ask if I am using an
Irish accent. The answer is no. I’ve never even been to Ireland. My
family came to Canada from the Scottish borders in the 1840’s. But with
a Canadian upbringing, a home in Victoria and a British wife, I think I
have the sort of mid-Atlantic tone, which makes most of the words
clearly spoken. Of course, being a natural ham actor, I have taken it
upon myself to create all the characters as they occur to me. At any
rate, Joyce developed the book with the European voices of Trieste and
Zurich and Paris in his ears.

I have no plan to release the recording commercially, but it is
professional quality. When the copyright issues surrounding Joyce are
extinguished I will have the text ready for its audience – should there
be one.

I have no idea who an audience for this will be – no one has so far
shown any inclination to listen to me read. I believe it would be a
real benefit in a university library – if  Finnegans Wake ever makes it
onto a curriculum, and if students ever have to confront what Joyce’s
words might sound like. In fact, as I read it I feel it makes perfect

This audio version of the text and my reformatted version are
intimately conjoined. After I finished recording the first hundred
pages I made a CD for my own use, in MP3 format. At the same time I
copied the text, in its reformatted form, on the CD. Anyone listening
to it on a computer can also have my script appearing on the screen.
(When I found there was more space left on the CD I also added some of
my own calligraphy of my favourite phrases.)

LT: How else have you incorporated Joyce’s text into your own work?

RA: Throughout this time I have inscribed my favourite phrases with ink
and brush on Chinese and Japanese papers. The act of selecting the
texts is a pleasure. Unlike transcribing other authors, writing out the
Joyce texts is challenging, like practicing the piano. One has to focus
on every single character Joyce wrote, for he takes delight in
confounding our expectations. I have created hundreds of these pages,
and they are now posted on a variety of Joycean websites. Over the
years a number of correspondents have commissioned from me their own
favourite phrases. In about 2002 a batch of my originals was exhibited
at a conference at the University of California at Berkeley under the
sponsorship of The Riv, a man we came to know on the list as the
Riverend Stirling. (His rare postings on the internet were the most
cogent comments about the Wake I ever discovered.)

Before his death The Riv wrote me a lovely letter, from which I quote:

“The lively freedom, the riverine adaptation of the literal to the
littoral, the rebirth of Celtic knotwork in Chinese brush strokes —
all these emerge by your creative gifts and merge seamlessly before the
beholder’s eyes, thanks to your authorial ability to connote the
mysteries of “correctness.” I do not exaggerate, though it might look
as such. Robert Amos is one fine Joycean artist!

“It was neatening to see your cover on the James Joyce Quarterly 39;02
Winter 2002. May Brighid’s light flicker lambently on Carol Kealiher
and the rest of the JJQ staff for their good taste in selecting you.
Keep up the good work, Robert.”

With no way to have my pages of calligraphy mounted as scrolls, which
was always my goal, I changed tack. I initiated a collaboration with
Harumi Ota, a Japanese potter living in my home town. Over the course
of four years I have decorated about 400 pieces of porcelain with
Joycean phrases, decorations (Celtic knotwork, Ming Dynasty patterns)
and other imagery. These plates, bowls and cups have been a great
success with my clients. Some of them were taken to Dublin in 2006 for
the centenary of Bloomsday.

Later it became possible to have my calligraphy mounted as scrolls in
Taiwan and in Beijing. In 2006 David Peacock, my friend and fellow
Joycean, commissioned me to do the decor of his new top-end restaurant,
the James Joyce Bistro, located in his Peacock Billiards, the
“ultimate” pool hall, in Victoria.

There is much more to say. As I became more deeply immersed in the
text, I eventually wrote out the entirety of the text with a fountain
pen, in a series of hardbound blank books, a project which took me two
and a half years. I write it out with Roland McHugh’s annotations on
one hand and The Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (by Joseph Campbell)
and Understanding Finnegans Wake (by Danis Rose) on the other.

This is the way I have found to get closest to the author. Every
other method – reading with eyes, listening to a recording, reading
aloud, typing, for example – allows one to move right along without
actually taking in what’s been written.

This was a way of slowing myself down sufficiently to understand what
Joyce was writing. After all, he actually wrote the book – he didn’t
type it. And of course writing a book is different from reading it.

I have been scrupulous to take Joyce exactly as I find him. The
resulting creations work for me. So far the public’s reaction utterly

Anonymous Bookshelf Photography

Anonymous Bookshelf #3

Artist Photography

Artist Robert Amos – James Joyce & Finnegans Wake

Artist Robert Amos creates art in a multitude of mediums and a variety of subjects. He is noted for his paintings of Victoria, his collage photographic portraits of artists in their studio and other work. He is less known for his James Joyce related art. Amos, fascinated by Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, has turned to his art to help him understand the book.

Here are a few photographs of Amos and the artworks. The photos were taken at the James Joyce Bistro in downtown Victoria which Amos used as a giant canvas for a Joyce tribute. Images of Joyce, text and characters from his books are featured on murals and paintings and tables. Text from the books even covers the bar top and his suit.

His website is:

I hope to post a long interview with Robert regarding the Joyce project but for now I’ll post these photographs.

Canadian Interview

Robert J. Wiersema – Interview

First off, let’s look at who Rob Wiersema is. You’ve been described 
as a writer, journalist and bookseller. You’re also married and a 
father. How do you balance all these roles?

Not all that well, depending on the day, to be perfectly honest.
The fact is, my job at the bookstore is full time. Writing is a 
full-time job (to say nothing of the on-going mental detachment from 
the “real” world which seems to plague me fairly often). And the 
amount of reviewing I do is pretty much a full-time job. As a result, 
”balance” doesn’t really enter into it, and things end up sacrificed. 
One of the main things I’ve sacrificed is sleep. I get up at about 
3.30 every morning to write, and get to bed around 11, so… the math 
is actually pretty brutal. I went to the doctor a few weeks ago and 
he actually prescribed me 2 nights of 9 hours sleep each per week, 
and at least two naps of more than 3 hours duration per week. I 
haven’t filled that prescription as yet… maybe once the new book 
is done. The level of busyness has actually been pretty hard on my family 
life. I miss out on a lot of stuff with Xander, my son, being locked 
in my writing studio for the bulk of most weekends. I try to make up 
for it, though — we toured as a family through the Pacific Northwest 
for Before I Wake, which was a terrific time (family-wise, at least). 
And we went on a cruise and to Europe for three weeks this spring, 
which was lovely. I comfort myself with the awareness that he’s watching me, and 
gaining life lessons from what I’m going through. When I was growing 
up, dreams were too-big things that were unachievable for most mere 
mortals. My dream of writing was, as a result, seemingly out of 
reach. I’m hoping that Xander, in seeing what I do on a daily basis, 
and knowing what has happened with my dreams, learns that dreams CAN 
and DO come true, but that they don’t come free — there’s always a 
price to be paid.


Your first novel “Before I Wake”, published in 2006, received 
positive reviews and a fair bit of acclaim. You’ve been involved in 
the book trade a long time. Did you expect this kind of response?

I didn’t expect it at ALL. As a reviewer, and as a bookseller 
especially, I’m very familiar with what gets published and what gets 
well-received, especially in this country. All the old 
CanLit/Can-Publishing cliches are rooted, at least partially, in 
fact. And Before I Wake conforms to none of those cliches. Plus, 
it’s a book that’s hard to pigeonhole, genre-wise. It’s a book that 
has an unorthodox narrative structure, with the multiple voices. 
It’s a book that straddles a lot of lines. When I wrote it, I had no 
notion that it would even be publishable. And once it was in the 
publication process, I had no hope that it would have any kind of 
success. I was thankful that I had a large family, as I really 
believed that they would be the only ones buying copies, the only 
ones reading it. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong.


This was your first published novel but you had been writing for a 
long time. Was it the first novel you’d written or do you have other 
manuscripts tucked away?

There are four or five “first novels” kicking around in various 
drawers and on 5 1/4 inch floppy disks. Most of them are there for 
eternity, though there is one that I’m thinking of revisiting at some 
point in the future — starting with the premise and building it from 
scratch. The writing is terrible, but the idea is too good to walk 
away from. I think.


You were very up front in a number of interviews that you took a 
calculated approach to getting this first novel published. Getting 
your name known through reviewing, meeting editors and publishers so 
that when you sent out that first manuscript people would know who 
you were. Was there much reaction to those statements from other 
writers? Did people see you as too calculating or just working smart?

Ah ha! Somebody other than me has been googling me! Part of that WAS calculated, part of that was just a function of reality.

The reality part: as the event coordinator at Bolen Books, I make an 
annual pilgrimage to Toronto for BookExpo (the annual trade 
show/gathering of the publishing tribes), and as a result I’ve gotten 
to know a lot of people in the trade. Not with any nefarious plan to 
get published, but just as a function of the business. Well, that 
and the nefarious plan to cadge free drinks — publishing types are 
always good for a free drink or two.

Distinct from that, though, I did, semi-consciously at first, then 
with more deliberateness, set out to be noticed as a writer. Every 
young writer does. Every young writer has to. If you write 
non-fiction, maybe you get your name out there by writing journalism, 
or becoming known in your particular field. As a fiction writer, 
they typical path is the get some short stories published in the 
literary quarterlies, making your name known through those credits, 
so when a novel or collection is being submitted there’s some 
awareness there. This is a process that’s been going on for 
generations — it’s like the farm team system in hockey and baseball.

The type of writing that I do, however, isn’t the sort of stuff that 
finds a home in the literary quarterlies. And around the same time I 
finished the first draft of Before I Wake, I was starting with 
reviewing. And it occurred to me that with the literary quarterlies 
being unavailable to me, this would be the way that I had to get my 
writing noticed. So I made a point of reviewing a lot, and reviewing 
well, knowing that the pieces were being read by others in the 
industry. I My copping to this (which, again, is the same thing writers have been 
doing for generations, just not usually with reviewing) met with 
considerable disdain from some fellow writers, who assumed that if I 
was writing reviews with an awareness that I had an audience in the 
publishing community, then I MUST have been pandering to those 
publishing types, writing puff pieces and the like. Which is 
fundamentally NOT the case — I stand by my reviews, positive and 
negative. I calls em like I sees em, and if that means that I go on 
the record as saying that a certain CanLit figure pulled her punches 
in her latest book, I don’t hesitate (though she did manage to 
bad-mouth — without naming names, naturally — the length and 
breadth of her ensuing book tour). If it means I review books from 
even my own publisher negatively, well, so be it. I And I have reviewed books from Random House negatively, both before 
they were my publisher and after I signed the contract. I stand by 
those reviews. Robert J. WiersemaPeriod. 

But, sadly, some people couldn’t wrap themselves around what I felt 
was a fairly clear matter of integrity and continued to look down 
their noses on my publication. So be it.

The fact is this: unless you’re a celebrity, a book doesn’t get 
published because you know someone to say hello to them. And a book 
doesn’t get published because you might have reviewed other books 
from that publisher. Brass tacks: a book gets published because a 
publisher sees merit in it, and thinks it might sell. Period.


Would you recommend the same route to aspiring writers?

It takes a certain mindset to be able to review. You have to have a 
certain fighting spirit, and a willingness to piss people off. You 
also have to have the opposite: a willingness to praise when you feel 
a book deserves it. And you have to have the fortitude to stand by 
your opinions, no matter what happens.

An example: there was a novel published a few years ago which I 
thought was fundamentally flawed, and I said as much in my review. 
The book went on to become a bestseller, and to win prizes in its 
category. Do I think I was wrong? Nope. I stand by my well-argued 
and supported position. Though I’ve just about managed to get over 
my fear that the writer is going to punch me in the head.


What is the latest update on “Before I Wake” now? (Sales, What 
countries has it been published in etc)

Let’s see, it’s been sold into ten or twelve countries, the German 
and Greek editions came out in July, along with the US paperback. 
Poland, Israel and China are coming this fall, I think…

Sales in Canada have been very good, and the book keeps trucking 
along. It’s too early to tell how it will do overall in the US — 
the hardcover performed fine. And it’s done gangbusters in paperback 
in the UK over the past few months. Gangbusters.


You signed a two novel deal. What is the status of the second book?

I’m finishing it even as we speak. It should be delivered on time to 
Random House in September. I think we’re looking at a fall 2009 pub 


Where and when do you write? Do you have a personal space /office or 
are you scribbling away between book stacks before the bookstore 

One of the smartest things I did for my career was to start renting 
an office last spring (2007). It’s actually a 2 bedroom basement 
suite on the same block as my house. I get up every morning at 3.30, 
and I physically GO to work — I get dressed, I leave the house, and 
I go to the work space. It’s a valuable psychological tool, to 
separate work from home — if at all possible, I highly recommend it.


When that book is finished, what’s next? Any thoughts of writing in 
other genres, say non-fiction (since you’re written a lot of 

After that book, the next one. A collection of short stories this 
time, perhaps — I wrote quite a lot in the fallow time around the 
publication of Before I Wake. But I’ve also got a couple of novels 
percolating in the the cerebellum, so we’ll see.

I don’t see a non-fiction book in my near future — I think it might 
be laziness, but I’m not big on research. And I like conversations 
where I get to make up both sides — it’s easier that way.


You have done a great deal of book reviewing, for quite a number of 
publications. Those reviews, as would be expected, are not always 
positive. You also host a great number of writers through the book 
readings you arrange at Bolen Books. Is that ever a problem? Have 
you ever had to introduce a writer whose book you’ve been less than 
kind to?

Oh, it’s been a problem, that’s for sure. It’s made for some 
uncomfortable evenings. Those two authors I mentioned previously? I 
hosted both of them shortly after the respective reviews ran — to 
say that there was tension would be vastly understating the case.


You’ve seen a lot of writers come through on book tours and heard the 
stories, good and bad. Any great stories out of your tours for 
”Before I Wake”?

Well, certainly none fit for a family-friendly operation like this!

 Nah. To be perfectly honest, there wasn’t a whole lot unique or out 
of the ordinary as far as book tours go. I had some fabulous events, 
including a couple on the Gulf Islands (at Galiano Island Books and 
at Phoenix on Bowen) that were great reminders of the value of small, 
closely knit communities. The book’s launch in Victoria was one of 
the highlights of my life — I just wish it wouldn’t have passed in 
such a blur. And the event I did with Pages in Toronto, an 
audio-visual presentation about the music that shapes my process and 
my work, was unbelievable. As was the follow-up reaction, which 
included a blogger referring to me as something along the lines of 
”the rock-star of CanLit”. That makes me smile… I always wanted to 
play guitar.

One thing that touring did remind me of, though, was the strangeness 
of this country. I went out in late September, leaving Victoria on 
Sunday morning. The Saturday afternoon, we were out playing 
miniature golf in shorts and t-shirts, with temperatures in the 
mid-20s. The next day in Edmonton? Minus 3 with the windchill. Two 
days later in Toronto? Almost 30 degrees. How do you pack for that?

The US tour of the Pacific Northwest was a bit of different 
experience. The audience attendance wasn’t quite what we had hoped, 
and as we were driving across the plains, from Spokane to Oregon, I 
realized I was doing what every fledgling rock star (see, there it 
is again!) does: I was paying my dues. That made it easier to 
swallow. As did a great off-night on the water in Cannon Beach, and 
a great event in Bellingham.


Now that you’ve got a published novel behind you, do you get many 
requests for book cover blurbs from other writers?

I’ve had a couple of requests, and if I’ve got the time, I’m happy to 
do it. It seems strange to me to be in a position where my 
imprinteur might be construed as a hallmark of quality, but every bit 

The thing is, if given a choice, I’d prefer to review a book than to 
blurb it. If I’m in a position to blurb it favourably, I think 
there’s probably more value, in terms of attention and public 
profile, to a positive review.


Who are you reading right now?

Let’s see, what have I read recently. The new Paul Auster (Man in 
the Dark), which is a very strong book, very human. The new Rawi 
Hage (Cockroach), which is a tour de force, and certainly pays out on 
the promise he showed with DeNiro’s Game. The new Tim Winton 
(Breath) is fabulous. And probably the best book I’ve read recently 
is Andrew Davidson’s debut, The Gargoyle. This is one of those rare 
books that actually delivers on the hype, and on the news of 
multi-million dollar advances.


Any writers you hope to host for readings during the upcoming fall book season?

That’d be telling, wouldn’t it?


Finally, if you could get any writer for a reading at the bookstore, 
who would it be?

You know, I’ve been doing this for a decade now. I’ve had a lot of 
’visiting author’ dreams come true. Hosting Neil Gaiman a couple of 
times (if you ever get a chance to go for dinner with Neil, you 
should — the man knows his sushi). Hosting Timothy Findley for what 
turned out to be his last book-tour event. Introducing Salman 
Rushdie was such an overwhelming experience that I actually had to 
stop and savour the moment.

 Having said all that, though, I would love to host Stephen King. And 
getting the opportunity to welcome John Irving would be a dream come 
true — The World According to Garp made me a writer, and I’d love 
the opportunity to thank him in person.

You can find out more about Rob at his website.

Canada/USA Uncategorized

Border Line Ignorance

The Seattle Post Intelligencer has a great (small but slowly, slowly growing) section online on Northwest writers that includes a range of writers from novelist Tom Robbins to cartoonist Ellen Forney. Each piece has a sample of writing as well as a video of the writer speaking on a variety of topics.

Looking through the section always makes me realize how little Canadian and American literary communities and readers know about each other despite their proximity

If you know Jack Hodgins on Vancouver Island do you know Ivan Doig in Washington? If you’ve read Jonathan Raban’s sailing book Passage To Juneau, have you read Gary Geddes‘ Sailing Home or the classic west coast book Curve Of Time by M. Wylie Blanchet, all three a literary look at boating the coastal west?

If you live in Minneapolis who do read from Winnipeg? How about New Brunswick and Maine?

I’m sure the writer’s know each others names, or at least I hope they do but I don’t think readers often do. There are exceptions, Robbins and Raban are well known internationally but what about all the others?

A challenge, find an author you don’t who lives across your border and track down a book of theirs, order it in and give it a read. If you like their work invite them on up to give a reading in your town.

In The Newspapers

Top 10 Canadian Novels For Canada Day

Thirty years after the National Conference on the Canadian Novel in Calgary picked the 100 most important works of fiction in Canada, the Globe and Mail has five experts pick their top ten Canadian novels. The 1978 Calgary conference also picked their top ten. They were:

The Stone Angel (1964) Margaret Laurence.

Fifth Business (1970) Robertson Davies.

As for Me and My House (1941) Sinclair Ross.

The Mountain and the Valley (1952) Ernest Buckler.

The Tin Flute (1947) Gabrielle Roy.

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959) Mordecai Richler.

The Double Hook (1959) Sheila Watson.

The Watch that Ends the Night (1959) Hugh MacLennan.

Who Has Seen the Wind (1947) W.O. Mitchell.

The Diviners (1974) Margaret Laurence.

Anonymous Bookshelf Uncategorized

Anonymous Bookshelf #1



Photographing writers is not new. Many other photographers have specialized in images of authors.

Two photographers who introduced me to the idea of photographing writers were John Reeves and Sam Tata.

Reeves, a Toronto photographer who works with a large format camera, is known for his images of people connected with the arts, including writers. He shoots tightly cropped images of faces. His book About Face was published by Exile Editions.

The late Sam Tata, a contemporary and friend of the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, published several books showcasing his images of writers. Tata immigrated to Canada in the fifties and lived in Montreal working mainly for magazines.

Every artist tries to be original in his or her work. Reeves, through use of a different camera format and a studio setting, creates images that look far different from mine.

Tata, however, worked with 35mm and shot in available locations so I probably feel more of an affinity with him

I did not meet Sam Tata until very near the end of his life. He was suffering the effects of several strokes and a normal question and answer conversation was not possible. However when we looked through his scrapbooks, the memories took over and anecdotes about the images and people came out.

Currently the biggest name in writer photographs is the American Marion Ettlinger. Her stylized black and white portraits grace many book covers. A collection of her images was published as ‘Author Photo’.

Two British photographers, who worked for London newspapers, Sally Soames (The Times) and Jane Bown (The Guardian) are also noted for their pictures of writers. Soames has a collection of her photos out titled simply ‘Writers” and Bown has had a number of books out that include her writer portraits.

Finally, the grand dame of writer portraiture is New Yorker Jill Krementz, a photographer who loved the subject so much she married one her subjects, the late Kurt Vonnegut.