Wordfest: Friday Night Showcase – Ones to Watch

Pitched as a showcase ‘custom-made for early adopters of literary talent,’ Wordfest, Calgary’s Literary Festival, hosted Friday Night Showcase: Ones to Watch on October 14.

Around 80 avid Calgarian readers packed into the Arts Common’s Big Secret Theatre in downtown Calgary to take part in the event with some of North America’s up and coming authors.

The authors in attendance were Rowan Buchanan (Harmless Like You), Teva Harrison (In-Between Days), Jay Hosking (Three Years with the Rat), Affinity Konar (Mischling), and Andrew F. Sullivan (Waste).

During the panel discussion, Konar explained what was the reason behind her starting to write Mischling, a novel set in Auschwitz, at 25 and then stopping for years before picking it back up again.

“I think there were so many issues in writing this book.

“Obviously the first, most intimidating one is making any fictionalisation of the Holocaust.

“There was also the question of how to make the book bearable for the reader and at the same time still honour the experience of survivors.

“That alone sits with you forever.”

Affinity Konar, right, listens as Jay Hosking explains the writing process behind Three Years with the Rat.

Hosking, whose novel Three Years with the Rat is set in a contemporary Toronto, also knows something about having a place leave an impact on his writing.

“Toronto is not necessarily a geographical beauty, but the cities I fall in love with are the cities full of secrets.

“These cities are the ones where you can walk down the street and not know what restaurant you should try.

“I lived in Toronto for about 5 or 6 years solid, and it left a strong impression on me.”

For Buchanan, the impression that made her write Harmless Like You was left on her by her mother.

“One of the two main characters is the same age as my mother.

“She was living in London, and I got a call from my dad saying my that she didn’t remember who she was anymore.

“He found her on the kitchen floor, and she didn’t know where she was, or who she was, but she says she remembered him.

“He made her a bagel, and she kept saying ‘this is a delicious bagel’ only to repeat herself five minutes later.

“She was taken to the hospital, and she recovered.

“It made me think ‘who am I without my mother?’

Harrison, on the other hand, started her creative process as a way of coping with life.

“I love books, I’ve always read a lot of books, but I wasn’t planning on writing one.

“I was drawing to pull myself out of the depression of a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis.

“I was initially just drawing pretty pictures; then it turned into comics, and then a few friends suggested that I showcase them to help others going through the same thing.”

(From left to right) Teva Harrison, Rowan Buchanan and Andrew F. Sullivan goof off at the Friday Night Showcase: Ones to Watch event.

Harrison put her comics online and within a month she had the offer to migrate them to The Walrus, a Canadian interest magazine that publishes  fiction as well as long-form journalism.

“About a month after that I got a note from my publisher saying, ‘I think you have the beginnings of a book here, do you want to come and talk?'”

Those talks eventually led to her graphic memoir In-Between Days.

“For me, it was an unusual process, the talks went from what it was to what it could be, but I was coming from this point of thinking about myself of being an artist first.”

Sullivan had a very different way of thinking when he went into Waste.

“Where it came from was I use to work a lot of afternoon and night shifts in warehouses, and it came from the stuff that goes on and how men try to tell each other their feelings.

“It was a lot of layers of how many whiskies’s the drank, how many girls they slept with, and so on and so forth.

“I lived that for maybe four or five years, and I had a fondness for how they lived, and where they ended up.

“So I decided to write based on asking ‘Let’s say everything you guys say is true and what do we get?’

“The answer is a Lucian nightmare version of southern Ontario.

“We get a lot of frustrated, lonely, and desperate white boys who shave their heads because they think it makes them look tough.

“The situations are created by more than the people themselves.”

Each panellist was also invited to read a passage of their respective books, enticing many in the audience, following the showcase, to head over to the pop-up bookstore to purchase the books featured.

Allen Spence, a resident of Airdrie that travelled to Calgary for the event, left the showcase with Three Years with the Rat and Waste.

“I don’t read much but having the authors talk about their works made it more enjoyable.

“The authors seemed likeable, Sullivan was incredibly funny, and that made purchasing his novel even easier.

“Hearing the excerpts, particularly Hosking’s, made me want to find out more.”

Attendee Karen Ball was surprised with the variety of different mediums represented, in particular with Harrison’s graphic memoir.

“In today’s day and age of e-readers, there are still some books you have to buy in paper.”

A look at Wordfest’s picks for Noth America’s up and coming authors

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