We (WordFest) are having an event next Thursday evening in our Engagement Lab at Memorial Park library and wanted to extend an invitation to your members. Cecilia Ekback is a Swedish mystery writer, whose first book was published to wide acclaim. She’ll be at Wordfest presenting her new novel, The Midnight Sun.
A link to the event and some reviews of Cecilia’s work can be found here:
Lee Kvern was born in Red Deer, the daughter of an RCMP officer. She earned a Fine Arts degree in Graphic Design and Illustration. Lee will finish her residence with the CPL shortly, but starting in April, she will be the Writer-in-Residence at the Alexander Centre, a writer’s workshop/retreat in Calgary.
Lee Kvern was an interesting and engaging speaker. She started writing in 1990 and had some early success followed by 10 years of rejections, during which time she accumulated a husband and two children. Later, she enrolled in writing classes and courses which were valuable to her in honing her craft.
From 2000 until the present, Lee has published three books:
After All, which she calls “my funny book”
The Matter of Sylvie, which she says needs to be read with a box of tissues at hand. It is loosely based on her severely disabled sister. Lee revealed that her sister is a resident of the Mitchener Home. Lee became an activist, fighting to keep the home open.
7 Ways to Sunday is a collection of 16 short stories, sort of the “best of…” Lee’s writings.
Lee then read from The Matter of Sylvie and After All, following which she participated in a lively question and answer session with the Club members. She mentioned that she dreamt The Matter of Sylvie and that she wrote it for her mother. She said she is a “seat-of-the-pants” writer and doesn’t use an outline. She just knows the beginning and where it will end. She said writers are readers and her early influences were Alice Munroe (hugely inspirational), Flannery O’Connor and Ernest Hemingway. She mentioned that her husband, an artist, designed her first book cover. Lee still exercises her artistic side by paining on furniture.
As part of our 110th Anniversary Celebrations, we had a very special guest, Calgary author and playwright Clem Martini. He focused on sharing his special insights into how writing becomes therapeutic… for the writer and the audience.
Clem Martini has been awarded three Alberta Writers Guild Prizes and has won the National Playwriting Competition. In 2008, he was appointed head of the drama department at the University of Calgary, and teaches playwriting, screen writing, and theatre for young adults. He writes fiction, non-fiction and plays.
Mr. Martini’s presentation focused on the therapeutic aspects of writing. He read excerpts and discussed his works from two of his books: Too Late– a novelette written while working with Wood’s Homes, a residential treatment centre for troubled youth, where he taught drama and playwriting, and One Hundred Stories for One Hundred Years – an anthology that also reflected his time spent working at Woods Homes. During his 15 years there, Martini met and worked with marginalized young people who were often at odds with their families and frequently felt trapped in criminal lifestyles. The imprint of these troubled youth appears in Martini’s writings, which frequently features conflicted characters seeking release and struggling to discover their true selves.
In 1987, while at Wood’s Homes, he was asked to create a summer stock theatre in association with the Canadian Mental Health community. His mandate was to create plays that the Wood’s Homes kids could write, produce and perform. He explained how very successful this summer stock was for the youth who not only had come from dysfunctional backgrounds, but who were experts at failing in every aspect of their lives. We were delighted to hear stories about how these troubled youth were able to use this theatre experience to reconnect with their families and feel good about themselves through their writing, producing and performing “their” play.
In 1977, Mr. Martini’s youngest brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and then committed suicide. 10 years later, his older brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia. In 1987, the director of the National Film Board of Canada asked him to talk about schizophrenia publicly in a film. His whole family would have to participate and he would have to write the narration. All of his family agreed to talk except his dad because mental illness was considered so shameful. His mother was apprehensive because of the guilt inflicted on the mothers of those suffering with mental illness. The film, “Shattered Dreams,” was a good experience both for his immediate family and for those around the world who were impacted by the honesty and open dialogue of their family’s story.
Mr. Martini read an excerpt from “Upside Down“ – a guide to dealing with mental illness for junior high youth.
Writing has the capacity to understand and can heal hurts. His book, Bitter Medicine chronicles his family’s 30-year struggle with schizophrenia, and is illustrated by his brother, Olivier, who suffers from schizophrenia. Bitter Medicine was part of the Common reading program – every first year student coming into U of C in 2012 was required to read it. The students then had the opportunity to participate in online and group discussions, enter contests and participate in various programs over the rest of the summer and during Fall Orientation. At the launch of Bitter Medicine for this Common Reading Program, with 300 people in attendance, Olivier was super nervous, but when they applauded, he was delighted. After they got a standing ovation, Olivier said, “This is great; this is the best experience of my life.”
Martini explained that he has learned much about mental illness over the years – some intentional and some unintentional. But the biggest thing he has learned is that mental illness changes the family dynamics. He has learned that schizophrenia is a like a wrecking ball that hits everything – and it keeps swinging.
Aritha Van Herk’s meditation on Calgary in turbulent times is recommended reading, for our members or anyone who wants a deeper understanding of our city. Thanks, Aritha Van Herk, CBC News and Mavis who has invited Aritha to join us!
As usual, we will gather at the Memorial Park Library on Tuesday, March 1st. We’ve scheduled this meeting to begin at 1:30pm thus allowing time to celebrate the 110th anniversary of our club which began in 1906.
As listed in the program, Clem Martini from the U of C will be our guest speaker. A Calgarian by birth, he is an award winning playwright and novelist. You can find out more about him by clicking here.
Following his presentation, we will enjoy tea/coffee and birthday cake from 2:30-3:00pm and hear a brief overview of our club’s history given by Ruth Hilland.
I hope you have reserved the date to be with us. Bring a guest and/or just come and be part of getting 2016 off to an auspicious start.
Author L.R. Wright (“Bunny” to family, friends and colleagues) resided in Calgary only from 1970 to 1977. However, she honed her writing skills here, as journalist and under the mentorship of W.O. Mitchell – and she developed into an acclaimed writer, nationally and internationally. A Chatelaine article labelled her “Canada’s Queen of Crime Fiction.” Her crime series has often been compared to P.D. James and Ruth Rendell, no less! Her books delve deeply into character and human behavior. She was quoted as saying that she wanted to write fiction “…because you can tell more truths in fiction”.
Born to write, by age 14 Bunny realized that a novelist couldn’t necessarily earn a living and decided instead on a career in journalism. She took secretarial courses to learn to type and enrolled in night classes in creative and non-fiction writing. At 19, she sold her first article to the Globe and Mail about what it was like to be a teenager in Germany.
In 1959, she found a job at the small-town British Columbia weekly, the Fraser Valley Record. Although she loved newspaper work, she decided California was the place to live, found a job in an advertising agency and became involved in amateur theatre productions. In 1961 Bunny returned to Vancouver to attend the UBC Summer School of Theatre, where she met John Wright. They both performed with Canada’s first touring theatre company for young audiences, before marrying in 1962.
As in her growing-up years, her family was nomadic, following job opportunities from city to city throughout western Canada and California. Bunny worked at odd jobs, putting her husband through graduate studies in drama at Stanford and raising two daughters. She didn’t return to journalism for almost ten years, until 1968, when the family moved to Saskatoon and she worked as a reporter for the Star-Phoenix.
A year later the Wrights moved to Calgary where Bunny worked as a reporter for the Albertan and the Herald, and later as Assistant City Editor at the Herald. Johnna Wright wrote the following:
“It’s my impression that our time in Calgary had a great impact on Mom’s development as a writer. The Calgary Herald supported her to study fiction writing under W.O. Mitchell at the Banff School of Fine Arts, and it was after that that she completed her first novel. She always said that being a journalist had a huge impact on her fiction writing… It made her an extremely conscientious researcher and fact-checker, and also taught her to meet deadlines.”
L.R. Wright shared her writing techniques in an article “The Truths of Fiction” (Books in Canada, April 1992). “W.O. Mitchell has a way of teaching that he calls ‘freefall’. It’s stream of consciousness: you sit at the typewriter and just kind of write. And I found that very freeing.” Even so, she was still stuck until she phoned her husband and he advised her to pretend she was someone else, just as when she was an actress. Another W.O. Mitchell technique is called “sense memory” where one tries to recall an incident, second by second, drawing on all five senses to evoke it. Bunny said, “That is what I learned in Banff, and I have been using it ever since.”
The family then moved to Edmonton, and Bunny was able to leave journalism and write. She won the Alberta Culture Search-for-a-New Novelist competition, which allowed her to work with an editor at MacMillan to complete and publish her manuscript. Neighbours is about a mentally disturbed woman and the people around her. Much like Alfred Hitchcock stories, what is disturbing or terrifying is that the settings and people seem “everyday”. As Western Canadian readers, especially, we know these characters and settings and people very well – or do we?
Soon after, the family moved to a suburb of Vancouver, where the family stayed. Wright’s next two novels, The Favorite and Among Friends, were published by Doubleday in 1982 and 1984. These provided income but they were not well received by literary critics.
It was with her fourth novel, The Suspect, that Bunny achieved national and international attention as a crime novelist, winning the 1986 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel. It was translated into 8 languages and optioned for movie rights. The book was the catalyst for the Karl Arlberg and subsequent Edwina Henderson series. She continued to write mainstream novels but they never did as well as the mystery novels.
After publishing The Suspect, L.R. Wright completed an MA degree, taught writing extensively, travelled across Canada and the U.S. promoting her books and attending conferences, served as Chair of the Crime Writers of Canada. She was a juror for numerous literary awards and granting bodies. L.R. Wright’s novels have been published in Canada, the USA, Great Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Spain and Sweden. She wrote adaptations of several of her books for CBC Radio drama and for film and television, often in collaboration with John Wright. Her daughter Johnna Wright is currently working on a stage adaptation of The Suspect.
Janet Halls presented the Calgary writer L.R. Wright on October 20, 2015
Having just discovered Shaun Hunter’s blog on Calgary through writers’ eyes, Carol Blyth shared this event with local authors Sharon Butala, Brian Brennan and Ruth Scalp Lock, to be moderated by Shaun Hunter on February 8.
Full disclosure: I know Shaun and she is worth meeting in her own right!Janet Halls