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Writing for the Public, Writing for the Self

“Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice; journalism what will be grasped at once, and they require separate techniques.” I’m still on about the long-gone British critic Cyril Connolly, having started to read him when I remembered his famous quote about the pram in the hall being the enemy of art. The one about journalism and literature is far smarter, and tied to another of his famous aphorisms: “Better to…

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Aphorisms and Where to Find Them

Speaking of Cyril Connolly. Even though he isn’t much read anymore, we still remember more than his “pram in the hall” aphorism. But are any of them true? “Whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first call promising.” I was recently in the supermarket when a kid of maybe eight or nine asked her father why she couldn’t have a bag of delicious non-food — BBQ chips, I think — and it was a genuine…

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The Pram in the Hall

There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall. – Cyril Connolly My son Gabe and his wonderful partner Anna got married this summer. It was a joyous wedding, a moving ceremony they wrote themselves performed by a good-humoured officiant. Afterwards came a reception hosted by Anna’s brother. Good choice, to marry the sister of a professional comedian. Then to dance away the night. A few months later, here…

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Check it Out: Audio Book Program for Indie Writers

Once upon a time, audio books were recorded (somewhat mysteriously to a writer) by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. There was always a clause in your publishing contract giving the CNIB the right to record. After you signed off, that was the last you heard of it, except if someone randomly remarked, Hey, my cousin’s been listening to your novel. She’s blind? Disclosure: although I was happy to grant them the rights, like…

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How to Record an Audio Book

So there I was in the studio, listening to actor Pascal Langdale tape the narration of my novel Mad Richard for an audio book. Born in England, educated at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, Pascal has a jaw-dropping range of accents and tones ready to deploy. Here was the soft voice of Charlotte Brontë, the hesitancy of artist Richard Dadd—the Mad Richard of the title—already locked up in Bedlam. Ahead was the…

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Hockey Stalking

I’m a big advocate of writers carrying notebooks. You can jot down thoughts, overheard conversations—I’m a terrible eavesdropper—sights you want to call up later. Recently, a father was trying to coax his daughter out of a car parked on our street. “If you could move at any speed beyond painfully slow, that would be very helpful, honey.” That’s just a funny to share on social media, but there are also the sorts of incidents I…

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Finding Your Material — and Billie Holliday

The question is, how does a writer recognize what is uniquely her material? Save herself from wrong turns, dead ends, dead writing? The subject has always been central to me—an obsession—and years ago, I was able to ask two very distinguished men how it had played out in their careers. One was John Hammond II, the legendary music producer and scout who discovered Billie Holiday singing in a bar when she was eighteen years old.…

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Flanny on the Danny

Walking out recently, being a flaneuse on the Danforth. A flanny on the Danny. At Pape, a pigeon flies down from a store awning into the path of people heading for the subway. Turning, it flies close to the face of one woman, who doesn’t even flinch, before winging around the head of a serious-looking young woman in glasses. I don’t think she even notices the pigeon, which has calibrated its trajectory neatly and cants…

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Need a Trick for Writing Screenplays?

I’ve been trying a new way to rewrite a feature film script. A bit of a trick. Steal it if you think it might be useful. A few years ago, I wrote the script on spec, basing it on a story I’d heard of a real-life death. It may or may not have been murder, and the prime suspect (who may or may not have been guilty) turned out to be sitting on a huge…

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So you want to Bird in Sedona

A day and a half in Sedona: it wasn’t much time, but our hockey team made the best of it. The pools, the hot tubs, the meditation classes and massages. Then there were the hikes. For me, hiking involves looking for birds and wildlife. That means I try to get out with a guide at least once when I’m travelling, hiking trails I otherwise might miss and hoping to spot elusive local birds. (Endemic species,…

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