Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Inspired by Place

Two weeks ago I returned to Toronto after an entire summer in Greece, the Peloponnese near the island of Spetses to be exact. The writer and the historian in me are both inspired by place and in Greece the ancient landscape speaks to anyone who is willing to listen, be it a moss-covered column drum from a once beautiful temple, or even the shiver of the leaves on a single branch of olive along a country road. The voices of the past speak readily and from those voices come a wellspring of inspiration.

Now that I am back 'home' with the subway rumbling my flat and the idle of buses thrumming in the background, my longing is far more acute and I try to conjure up the images of this past summer as vividly as possible, in a way no digital picture can replicate. Sights, sounds, smells, textures, tastes, all of it. Right now I'm in danger of going off on a philosophical tangent but I can't seem to help myself. It is both exciting and humbling to set foot in a place where legends have trod, where gods were worshipped and heroes sailed (you can still find the occasional flower or olive branch carefully laid in offering on many ruins). I supposed the awe is something akin to what one feels upon entering the place of worship of his or her particular divinity; for this writer, the sea, the landscape, the very air of these ancient places are a sort of temple. The key however, is to leave.

I am constantly reminded of a quote by the writer John Fowles who used the island of Spetses as the setting for The Magus. In his forward to a later edition of The Magus, Fowles gives a phrase he and other artists of the time used to describe how they felt after returning home after a spell in Greece: the "Aegean Blues".

Fowles goes on to say:

“One has to be a very complete artist to create good work among the purest and most balanced landscapes on this planet, and especially when one knows that their only conceivable human match was met in a time beyond re-entry. The Greece of the islands is Circe still; no place for the artist-voyager to linger long, if he cares for his soul… I had escaped Circe, but the withdrawal symptoms were severe. I had not then realized that loss is essential for the novelist, immensely fertile for his books, however painful to his private being.”

The above words certainly ring true for myself after my long sojourn in the light, and colour and heat of the Mediterranean world. It has also been so after visits to Tunisia where Roman cities lie in wait in the most out-of-the-way corners, and in Britain, where I also dwelt for a spell, and in whose green landscape so many tales of Arthur were born and embellished upon.

One thing I discovered is that one can take things for granted in even the most beautiful spot in the world and so when it comes to place loss definitely is essential for the novelist.

And so, now that I am back in industrial and extremely flat southern Ontario I am seeking to remedy my case of "Aegean Blues". My heart is aching but my pages are all full.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Word on the Street

Yesterday I attended an event held in Toronto called Word on the Street which involved author readings, signings, musical performances etc. etc. This literary festival is a nice addition to the fall season. As a first-time author I headed out with my writer's bag, containing all the usual acoutrement of a hopeful tale spinner, to see what publishers were present and see a couple of talks. The publishers were just there to sell books and besides, most publishers won't deal directly with writers anymore, only agents.

I did attend one talk by a very helpful agent and a panel discussion by three fiction writers all of whom write what is called (and not in an entirely positive sense) Genre Fiction. Now, as a genre fiction writer myself, I was curious to hear what they had to say about the perceptions of genre writing today and how genre writing stands up to say, literary fiction. All three of these writers (paranormal, sci-fi, and crime/thriller) are bestsellers at home and abroad, including the New York Times list.

When asked if they thought that there was a prejudice against genre fiction the answer was yes, but that it is changing. In fact, many literary writers are dabbling in genre writing even though they might not intend it that way. These writers also said that they were not worried about genre fiction being looked down upon because, at the end of the day, they write what they love and want to write and do rather well at it. All of them were doubted by their agents or publishers at the beginning but luckily folks on the business end of things took a chance on each and it paid off for all of them.

As one audience member stated, it shouldn't be about this or that genre but rather about enjoying a good story and a good read. Heartening words and a great event for writers and readers, young and old. Good on ya, Toronto!


Greetings and welcome to the first blog. As a sort of rookie blogger I don't yet have a grasp of all the tricks and tools that can be used to jazz up this site but soon I hope to have many beautiful photos of some of my favourite ancient and medieval sites along with some virtual tours.

As can be read in my profile, I am a writer and historian and marrying the two things has been one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling things I have done, a never-ending adventure to be sure. Another adventure is trying to get an agent in order to get published in the current economic climate and as many writers will tell you, it is not easy out there. Yet, I remain hopeful and determined. This will be something I shall speak to quite a bit.

I guess with this whole blog thing, folks can send me e-mails or comments so, if you have something you would like me to discuss at some point, let me know and I'll say a few words for what they're worth.
Just for fun
I'll try to post a new picture each time I write. Can anyone guess where this one is from? No prizes, just a virtual laurel wreath on your brow!