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From the Authors Blog

Covering the best and worst of the small screen and the silver screen
Justin Sorbara-Hosker

Justin Sorbara-Hosker

Thursday, 01 December 2011 18:45

Alan Bradley, on I Am Half-Sick of Shadows

"A Peek Behind the Scenes"

By Alan Bradley

The Indigo Blog is pleased to present this guest post from Alan Bradley, author of I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, the latest Flavia deLuce adventure.

I am ethically bound not to tell readers much about it (this is a mystery, after all), but look at that cover – this is an ideal Christmas gift for the mystery lover.  Alan Bradley didn’t start writing until reaching his 70’s, and plans to write seven of these novels – I Am Half-Sick of Shadows is the fourth.

Flavia is not your average 1950’s girl.  She’s a precocious, whip-smart eleven-year-old, living with her eccentric family in Buckshaw, a decrepit English country home.  Something of a genius, Flavia’s life would be odd enough - even if she weren’t seemingly running across bodies everywhere.  In this new novel, Buckshaw becomes the backdrop for a movie shoot.  Of course, it isn’t very long before a corpse turns up.  Unfortunately for Flavia, she  must abandon her plan of capturing Santa Claus, and focus her energy on  exercising her wits and solving the crime.

We’re pleased to share this exclusive blog post on this new novel by Alan Bradley himself.  

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To those of us who were born and grew up in other countries, there is something half-mythical and something half-magical about a snow-covered England.

And Christmas? All the better!

With the invention of Mr. Pickwick, the Cratchit family, and Ebenezer Scrooge, Charles Dickens embedded the snowy Christmas so deeply in our inner hearts that it has become part of our natural essence.

In later years, abandoned by literary novelists as too hackneyed, the winter setting was joyfully seized upon by mystery writers. Dorothy L. Sayers opened her classic The Nine Tailors with an automobile accident in a blizzard, and Agatha Christie’s The Sittaford Mystery is still thought by some to be the last word in snowy homicide. Ngaio Marsh, too, made something of a specialty of the country house cut off by the elements from the outside world.

For many years I’d wanted to write something of a tribute to these masters of mystery, and decided rather early on that the fourth book of the Flavia de Luce series would be devoted to a reconstruction of classic winter crime.

Buckshaw, the de Luce family estate, seemed perfect as a Christmas setting, its dark paneling and threadbare carpets restored to a sort of half-glory by a visiting film crew.

The time is 1950 – the golden age of the British film: a time when stars like Alec Guinness were cranking out – almost without effort, it seemed – an endless string of timeless classics.

The pattern for such a tale is well established: the country house … the guests … the storm … the severed communications … the murder … the arrival of the police … the investigation … the alibis - and the final confrontation with a murderer.

This time, though, I managed to introduce a couple of new twists: the eleven year old investigator with a passion for poisons, from whose viewpoint the story is told; a fascinating amount of obscure chemical knowledge, and the light it all sheds on the secret life of Flavia’s father, Colonel Haviland de Luce, who, ten years after the fact, is still grieving the death of his wife, Harriet, Flavia’s mother.

The snow itself, I think, functions as its own character in this character-driven plot. Flavia thinks of the snow as a chemical concoction, full of mystery, yet full of wonder.

Again in I Am Half-Sick of Shadows as in the second book of the series, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag I was able to draw upon my own memories of working in the behind-the-scenes world of film and television.

Research for the Flavia de Luce series is not only crucial but also, to me, one of the most enjoyable parts of the writing process. I delight in digging through old texts in search of the perfect chemical curiosity. In this case, a couple of Victorian books devoted, in great detail, to the manufacture of fireworks turned up far more material than I could ever use, and it was great fun revisiting the disastrous history of one of the first performances of Handel’s “Music For the Royal Fireworks” in 1749.

Everyone loves a Christmas story (especially one with corpses), and early reviews indicate that I Am Half-Sick of Shadows has struck a powerful chord with readers round the world.

So come with me, if you please, back into late December of 1950.

Look! I think it’s beginning to snow …

The Indigo Blog is pleased to present this piece by Anne DeGrace, author of Heather’s Picks Treading Water and Sounding Line, on her new book, Flying With Amelia.  Anne shares some thoughts on writing; specifically on writing her latest novel.

An excerpt follows to whet reader appetite on this novel that the Globe and Mail recently dubbed "a beautiful achievement, by a gifted writer."

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How many times have you wished you could go back, knowing what you know now?

In our episodic day-to-day lives we don’t get to see how the convergence of outside events influences our unfolding stories. We might have a pretty good idea where things are headed, but like a novel, we don’t get to know how it all turns out until the end.

I guess that’s why I love to write stories that allow me to look at things through an omniscient lens. I get to see how historical events—things beyond individual control—might shape lives in ways that can’t possibly be known at the time. It gives me an edge on empathy, because I can see where things are headed.

My characters aren’t the movers and shakers of history but instead those carried along its current. The trick for me, when writing these stories, is to let the narrative unfold as it might in life, so the reader is surprised by turns of events as they affect the characters just as we are, when we can’t see what’s coming around the corner.

And sometimes, as the writer, I’m surprised too. Because I do know what happened in history: I know that the stock market crashed in October 1929, I know what happened to Pierre Laporte during the FLQ crisis of 1970, and I remember how people prepared for the perceived threat of Y2K (and what didn’t happen in that case). But I don’t always know how my characters will behave, or what twists and turns their stories may take, and that’s where the magic comes in for me.

Writing Flying With Amelia involved a lot of research—the things I came to know—and a great deal of trust. I loved immersing myself in details of German P.O.W camps in Canada or learning about the climate and culture of Herschel Island. Research takes me places in time, space, and geography far beyond the writing studio, until I emerge, blinking, hours later with the fire out in the woodstove. Trust takes me into situations in the narrative where I have to believe in the characters I’ve created and have faith that they know best. It’s an alchemy that seems to work for me, and I admit I’ve become a little addicted to it all.

If I can pull it off, then my characters will be just the sorts of people who, at the end of the story, would love to go back—knowing what they know now.

-Anne DeGrace

****

September 23, 1934

 

Dear Mr. Penner,

I am writing in response to your advertisement in the Yarmouth Herald for a pen pal. You requested a woman, and I guess I fit the bill.

I started this letter four times, trying to find just the right tone, and no matter what I do it comes out awful, formal. This was my best try so far. So I think I will just keep it at that, but this time I’ll go on in what I hope will be a friendlier tone. If we are to be pen pals, then it seems important that we strike the right tone, and that it be an honest one. And so I will pledge, Mr. Penner, to be as honest and forthright as I can be if you will promise the same. Honesty is the least we can give one another in these times, generally speaking, and quite often it is probably the most. Although things are for sure a little better here than they are for you there, where I hear the farms are dust if they’re not grasshoppers. I’ve seen the newsreels at the movies, and I’ll tell you, I won’t complain about the weather. Can’t buy a new pair of shoes, but at least there’s always a fish in the pot.

But see, I’m nattering on, which is what my friend Sally says is my very worst trait. Sally works at the desk right next to mine at the Herald, which is how I saw your notice, right away before it was even printed, because I have become right good at reading backwards and in reverse. In fact, at our last Christmas party at the newspaper we had a contest to see who could read our publisher’s editorial for the next edition (which of course, was still set in its lead type, and so reversed) the fastest, and without stumbling, which I can tell you was hilarious, especially with some of the men who just might have consumed a little too much eggnog. I won, which tells you I have one talent, at least.

So now you know two things about me: that I live in Yarmouth (but you knew that, didn’t you, or did you place your advertisement in all of the Nova Scotia papers?) and that I work at a newspaper, and I’ll tell you now that I’m not doing anything glamorous but simply typing letters to the editor (outrage at the state of things, mainly) that have come handwritten so that the typesetters can read them to set them (this is harder than you’d imagine. Or maybe not, since my mother tells me my own penmanship leaves something to be desired) as well as letters to advertisers who have not paid their bills (and I do hope that you are not among them. Wouldn’t that be funny?) and other dull things right short of any kind of interest or creativity.

And what else do you know about me? Well, if you’ve skipped to the bottom of this page (and I suppose you might have. I would have) you know my name is Peggy McGrath. And you know that I read the papers and watch the newsreels and that I have a good idea what’s going on in the world, not like some. I hope you do, too, Mr. Penner, because correspondence can be such a lot of fun when you really get to discuss things.

Now, I think I’ve said enough. If you really want to correspond, you will have to tell me enough about yourself for me to be convinced that you will be honest and forthright. And you will need to be very clear about your position (by this I mean whether or not you are married, because if you were I would not continue writing), your age and occupation, your intentions as far as this correspondence goes, as well as your thoughts and dreams.

I await, with anticipation, your reply.

Sincerely,

Peggy A. McGrath

Yarmouth, Nova Scotia

 

October 1, 1934

Dear Miss McGrath,

I can’t begin to tell you how delighted I was to get your letter, and to get to know so much about you all at once! I will tell you right off that my intentions are honourable, friendship through correspondence my only goal.

You sound like a very charming and very intelligent young lady …

 

Wednesday, 30 November 2011 17:45

Pulphead: Essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan

It’s rare to find a writer this hard to pigeonhole who is simultaneously the kind of writer that is up there on the high wire – and doing just fine, thank you very much.  The blurb on the back of Pulphead compared John Jeremiah Sullivan to Hunter S. Thompson and Joan Didion.  To be honest, after finishing the collection, I don’t understand the Thompson comparison, besides the fact that they both hail from Kentucky.

Skimming the table of contents, you’ll notice essays on Michael Jackson, the fall of Axl Rose, obsessive blues music archivists, and a visit to Bunny Wailer.  I immediately pegged John Jeremiah Sullivan as the next Chuck Klosterman – only, unlike Klosterman, Sullivan has not written for Spin magazine.  Not that he couldn’t – after finishing Pulphead, the first conclusion a reader can draw is that this cat has chops, and could write for anybody.

The further I got into this collection, I realized I was wrong – Sullivan is not just for fans of Klosterman (or that other great music writer, Greil Marcus).  Pulphead feels a little like David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Funny Thing I'll Never Do Again, a nonfiction collection that I enjoyed much more than any of Wallace’s fiction.  Indeed, Sullivan reviewed Foster Wallace’s posthumous novel for GQ  – it was there I discovered that Sullivan almost wrote one of my favourite Foster Wallace essays, ‘Roger Federer as Religious Experience.’  Essays run the gamut from fun, light pieces on pop culture, to more serious academic prose – and do so flawlessly, conveying the author’s intelligence and curiosity with a style that is not as dense as Foster Wallace’s.

And then I read even farther into the collection, finding articles on obscure French naturalists, Mississippi caves, and a very disturbing essay on the increase of animal violence (I should be clear – animals are the perpetrators, not the victims).  These essays on science and the natural world echoed another famous nonfiction writer who explored wide-ranging topics, John McPhee.

At this point in his career, Sullivan has been published in magazines and journals as varied as GQ, The Paris Review, Harper’s, and The Oxford American – the latter of which is a great magazine that focuses on the American South (and is an entirely appropriate vehicle for Sullivan to explore his own Southern roots).  It's clear that Sullivan could compose an article worthy of The New Yorker just as easily as he could produce a piece for Rolling Stone.

In many collections of nonfiction, the focus is generally pretty narrow.  Authors have their subjects and themes, and rarely do they stray far from that comfort zone.  Not that this is a bad thing. The last great collection of nonfiction I read was David Grann’s The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, which suffers not in the least from having one single theme (namely, crime and obsession).  In regards to subject matter, Sullivan’s comfort zone seems to be everything, and he manages to convey a sense of passion as well as an impressive expertise in every subject he tackles.

What’s fun about Pulphead is that going through this collection, you literally have no idea where Sullivan is going to take you next, and not just geographically.  Mississippi.  North Carolina.  Jamaica.  Post-Katrina New Orleans.  Which reminds me – there’s also politics, in small doses. Sullivan touches on politics in a small piece on the aforementioned Katrina as well as a more probing piece on the Tea Party movement, where I appreciated the fact that Sullivan does not immediately reveal his own opinion – and when he does, it is with a sense of balance (as in, there is no axe grinding on a soapbox).  In reading this feature, I found myself checking the book's acknowledgments and asking, “Didn’t this guy write for Harper’s? Shouldn’t he be crushing Tea Party members?”

There are biographical pieces such as the essay on the near-death experience of a family member, a complicated relationship with a professor, and the author renting his new house to be uased as a set for the TV show One Tree Hill.  Even the works that are not explicitly biographical have a little of the author's experiences bleeding into the writing, making for very personal and intimate readings.

These are witty, erudite, smart essays.  There is education as well as humour, highbrow and lowbrow subjects.  The only thing wrong with this collection is that there is not more of it.  This is not hyperbole –  Pulphead does not contain all of John Jeremiah Sullivan’s magazine writing, which means that hopefully we can look forward to another anthology, and soon.  Collections like this don’t come along very often.

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If you’d like to sample Sullivan’s work, some of his pieces from GQ are still online.  ‘Upon This Rock’ describes Sullivan's experiences attending a Christian rock festival (as well as thoughts on his own faith) and can be found here, and you can find ‘The Final Comeback of Axl Rose’ here.

 

Any fans of creative nonfiction should check out David Grann’s The Devil and Sherlock Holmes.  Previously covered in the Indigo Blog here.

Pulphead

From Stephane Reynaud, bestselling French author of Pork and Sons, Terrine, and French Feasts, comes his new work, Rotis:  Roasts For Every Day of the Week.  If you’re bored of your go-to roast chicken, tenderloin and vegetable recipes, Reynaud is here to help.  I shouldn’t neglect fish, lamb, beef, veal, and game - pretty much anything you’ve ever wanted to season, throw in a pan, & roast.

Let me break it down for you.  The book is subdivided like this:

  • Monday is roast beef
  • Tuesday is roast veal
  • Wednesday is roast chicken and game
  • Thursday is roast pork
  • Friday is roast fish
  • Saturday is roast lamb
  • Sunday lunch is roast game 
  • And, Sunday evening is "all the rest" - pasta, shepherd’s pie, salads, stuffed vegetables...

… And there are multiple recipes options in each chapter.  As well as a chapter on sides and accompaniments to go with the main you’ve chosen.  Also handy is that it’s further subdivided, by time – roasts that take 15, 20, 30 minutes, etcetera –  so you can tackle one based on how much time you have.  There is also a 7 hour lamb recipe, so plan ahead.

Christmas is coming, and if you’re tired of turkey, may I humbly suggest some of the alternates you can find in Rotis:  Whole Roast Duck with Sugared Almonds, Lyonnaise-style Roast Rabbit, Duck magrets stuffed with porcino muchrooms and foie gras, roast pigeons with mixed vegetables. Or perhaps you’re not afraid of steering away from birds?  In that case, there’s Roast Beef on a Bed of Onions, Roast Tuna with Serrano Ham and Basil, Roast Pork Loin with Endive and Orange – and 93 more recipes for you to consider.

This is no-nonsense rustic and traditional food, great and hearty meals to enjoy with family and friends.  And if you’re new to roasting, there are helpful instructions (with informative illustrations) on how to season, marinate, stuff, truss, and perhaps that most mysterious aspect of roasting: "done-ness."


Let me share some recipes and images, in case you’re not yet convinced:

 

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If this cookbook appeals to you, here are some previous blogs that might as well:

Libbie Summers on the Whole Hog Cookbook

The Art of Living According to Joe Beef

An Indigo Q and A with the Guys from Joe Beef

 

 

A guest post by the Director of Non-Fiction, Sebastian Hanna

As her many readers know, Margaret Atwood has long been passionate about ‘speculative fiction.’  She examines, demonstrates and extrapolates in a fictional world, the consequences and trajectories of behaviour we see within our own world – whether recently with environmental failure in the novels Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, or earlier, when she made vivid women’s subjugation in The Handmaid's Tale.  Her readers know as well that she has insisted on distinguishing ‘speculative fiction’ from what is popularly known as ‘science fiction’.  However, what’s less well known is how deep her feel for the form has been as a critic, nor how early her efforts began as a writer.  In Other Worlds offers in a single volume never before published accounts of Atwood’s provocative interest in ‘speculative fiction’ as well as her reviews, prose, lectures, and lastly, tributes.

We’re pleased to be able to present the "Introduction" to the new book, to whet the appetites of Atwood’s fans.

 

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Introduction

I’m a fifty-three-year-old writer who can remember being a ten-year-old writer and who expects someday to be an eighty-year-old writer.
-
Octavia Butler 


In Other Worlds is not a catalogue of science fiction, a grand theory about it, or a literary history of it. It is not a treatise, it is not definitive, it is not exhaustive, it is not canonical. It is not the work of a practising academic or an official guardian of a body of knowledge. Rather it is an exploration of my own lifelong relationship with a literary form, or forms, or subforms, both as reader and as writer.

I say “lifelong,” for among the first things I wrote as a child might well merit the initials SF. Like a great many children before and since, I was an inventor of other worlds. Mine were rudimentary, as such worlds are when you’re six or seven or eight, but they were emphatically not of this here- and- now Earth, which seems to be one of the salient features of SF. I wasn’t much interested in Dick and Jane: the creepily ultra- normal characters did not convince me. Saturn was more my speed, and other realms even more outlandish. Several- headed man- eating marine life seemed more likely to me, somehow, than Spot and Puff.

Our earliest loves, like revenants, have a way of coming back in other forms; or, to paraphrase Wordsworth, the child is mother to the woman. To date— as what I am pleased to think of as an adult— I have written three full- length fictions that nobody would ever class as sociological realism: The Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood. Are these books “science fiction”? I am often asked. Though sometimes I am not asked, but told: I am a silly nit or a snob or a genre traitor for dodging the term because these books are as much “science fiction” as Nineteen-Eighty-Four is, whatever I might say.  “But is Nineteen-Eighty-Four as much “science fiction” as The Martian Chronicles?”  I might reply.  I would answer not, and therein lies the distinction.

Much depends on your nomenclatural allegiances, or else on your system of literary taxonomy. Back in 2008, I was talking to a much younger person about “science fiction.” I’d been asked by the magazine New Scientist to answer the question “Is science fiction going out of date?” But then I realized that I couldn’t make a stab at the answer because I didn’t really grasp what the term science fiction meant anymore. Is this term a corral with real fences that separate what is clearly “science fiction” from what is not, or is it merely a shelving aid, there to help workers in bookstores place the book in a semi- accurate or at least lucrative way? If you put skin- tight black or silver clothing on a book cover along with some jetlike flames and/or colourful planets, does that make the work “science fiction”? What about dragons and manticores, or backgrounds that contain volcanoes or atomic clouds, or plants with tentacles, or landscapes reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch? Does there have to be any actual science in such a book, or is the skin- tight clothing enough? These seemed to me to be open questions.

This much younger person— let’s call him Randy, which was in fact his name— did not have a hard and fast definition of “science fiction,” but he knew it when he saw it, kind of. As I told New Scientist, “For Randy— and I think he’s representative— sci- fi does include other planets, which may or may not have dragons on them. It includes the wildly paranormal— not your aunt table- tilting or things going creak, but shape- shifters and people with red eyeballs and no pupils, and Things taking over your body.” Here I myself would include such items as Body Snatchers— if of extraterrestrial rather than folkloric provenance— and Pod People, and heads growing out of your armpits, though I’d exclude common and garden- variety devils, and demonic possession, and also vampires and werewolves, which have literary ancestries and categories all their own.

As I reported in my New Scientist article, for Randy sci- fi includes, as a matter of course, spaceships, and Mad Scientists, and Experiments Gone Awfully Wrong. Plain ordinary horror doesn’t count— chainsaw murderers and such. Randy and I agreed that you might meet one of those walking along the street. It’s what you definitely would not meet walking along the street that makes the grade. Randy judged such books in part by the space- scapes and leathery or silvery outfits on their covers, which means that my speculations about jacket images are not entirely irrelevant. As one friend’s child put it: “Looks like milk, tastes like milk— it IS milk!” Thus: looks like science fiction, has the tastes of science fiction— it IS science fiction!

Or more or less.  Or kind of.  For covers can be misleading. The earliest mass- market paperbacks of my first two novels, The Edible Woman and Surfacing, had pink covers with gold scrollwork designs on them and oval frames with a man’s head and a woman’s head silhouetted inside, just like valentines. How many readers picked these books up, hoping to find a Harlequin Romance or reasonable facsimile, only to throw them down in tears because there are no weddings at the ends?

Then there was the case of the former Soviet Union. No sooner did the Wall come down in 1989 than pornography flooded across the one- time divide.  Porn had hitherto been excluded in favour of endless editions of the classics and other supposed- to- be- good- for- you works, but forbidden fruit excites desire, and everyone had already read Tolstoy, a lot.  Suddenly the publishers of serious literature were hard- pressed. Thus it was that The Robber Bride appeared in a number of Soviet- bloc countries with covers that might be described as— at best— deceptive and— at worst— as a Eurotrash slutfest in flagrante. How many men in raincoats purchased The Robber Bride edition sporting a black- satin- sheathed Zenia with colossal tits, hoping for a warm one- handed time in a back corner, only to heave it into the bin with a strangled ‘Foiled Again!’ curse? For the Zenia in my book performs what we can only assume is her sexual witchery offstage.

Having thus misled readers twice— inadvertently— by dint of book covers and the genre categories implied by them, I would rather not do it again. I would like to have space creatures inside the books on offer at my word- wares booth, and I would if I could: they were, after all, my first childhood love. But, being unable to produce them, I don’t want to lead the reader on, thus generating a frantic search within the pages— Where are the Lizard Men of Xenor? — that can only end in disappointment.

My desire to explore my relationship with the SF world, or worlds, has a proximate cause. In 2009, I published The Year of the Flood, the second work of fiction in a series exploring another kind of “other world”— our own planet in a future. (I carefully say a future rather than the future because the future is an unknown: from the moment now, an infinite number of roads lead away to “the future,” each heading in a different direction.)

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Excerpted from In Other Worlds:  SF And The Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood .

Copyright © 2011 by Margaret Atwood.

Excerpted by permission of Signal. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Thanks to our friends at Random House of Canada for sharing this excerpt.

 

Friday, 18 November 2011 15:46

(two more of) 100 Days That Changed Canada

Since Indigo’s inception, we have been proudly stating that “The World Needs More Canada.”  So, how could we not highlight this title in the Indigo Blog?

From the creators of 100 Photos That Changed Canada comes their newest work, 100 Days That Changed Canada – a work that provides concise and compelling histories of turning points in Canadian history.

Charlotte Gray on the Gold Rush.  Ken McGoogan on the claiming of the Northwest Passage.  Adrienne Clarkson on the death of Norman Bethune.  Peter Mansbridge on Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s colour barrier with the Montreal Royals.  Lawrence Hill on Halifax’s destruction of Africville.  Plus, 95 other days that changed how Canadians live.

Our friends at Harper Collins Canada have previoulsy given us a couple of excerpts, telling the story of four of those 100 days.  Today’s installment focuses on two game-changing moments in the sporting world: Don Newman on Habs goaltender Jacques Plante, and Brian Williams on Donovan Bailey’s 100 metre victory in the 1996 summer Olympics.

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Saving Face

November 1, 1959—Montreal’s masked man changes hockey.

Don Newman

He won six Stanley Cups and seven Vezina trophies as the best goaltender in the National Hockey League. The all-star netminder was also the first to control a game by leaving his crease to play rolling pucks on the end boards. But Jacques Plante’s game-changing moment came on November 1, 1959, during a mid-season tilt between his Montreal Canadiens and the rival New York Rangers.

Hit with a booming shot that broke his nose and left a gaping cut on his face, Plante was forced to the dressing room. When he returned, no one in the crowd could see the tape job and stitches the team’s trainers had used to pull together the damage—because Plante was wearing a protective face mask.

In 1930 goalie Clint Benedict had briefly worn a leather protective covering over his nose after being hit by a puck. After his nose healed, the protection disappeared. Plante, meanwhile, had been wearing his mask for about four years in practice, and was determined to change the very way the game was played. Plante played in the era of bare-knuckled hockey. No players wore protective helmets, and skaters cut by pucks or sticks were expected to return to the ice as soon as the bleeding stopped and their wounds were stitched. Teams carried only one goalkeeper. If he was cut during play, the game was halted just long enough to sew him up and get him back on the ice.

Plante’s coach, the legendary Toe Blake, didn’t like him using a mask at all and forbade the netminder from wearing it in games. In fact, the night before the fateful November 1 game, Plante had been cut and stitched up, and then returned to the game. But on this specific night, the severity of the cut—plus his success as a star on a team full of stars—convinced Plante to defy his coach. And he got away with it. The Canadiens won that night, and Blake grudgingly agreed to allow Plante to wear his mask in games until his injury healed. The team then went on an eighteen-game winning streak, so Blake kept his complaints to himself. In March, however, Blake asked his goalie to play a game against Detroit without his mask. Plante reluctantly agreed—and the Canadiens lost 3–0. The next game, Plante’s mask was back for good.

At first Plante was the only goalie willing to wear a mask. But over the next decade, fewer and fewer netminders played barefaced. And it wasn’t just goalkeepers’ equipment that changed. Eventually the NHL decreed that all players—at every position—had to wear helmets. Today, many position players wear protective face visors as well. As for goalkeepers, they all now wear full-coverage masks that bear colourfully painted symbols and team insignias that personalize their protection.

There is nothing more Canadian than hockey. It took a star player with a sense of invention and self-protection, and also the courage to defy his coach and the traditionalists in the game, to change hockey—and in doing so, change Canada.

 

Gold Standard

July 27, 1996—Donovan Bailey owns the podium in Atlanta.

Brian Williams

The Winter Olympic Games are officially the games of ice and snow. Being a cold-weather country, Canada is certainly competitive in the glamour sports of winter.

It is a somewhat different story in the Summer Games. The centrepiece is the men’s 100 metres in athletics. And prior to the centennial Games, in Atlanta in 1996, Canada had won only one gold medal in the 100 metres.

Nelson Mandela once said, “Politics divides a country, sport unites.” There is no question that hockey has long united this country. And our recent success at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games highlights that Canada’s new can-do attitude has extended far beyond the rink. Few realize, however, that it was Donovan Bailey—at the 1996 Games in Atlanta—who planted the seed of the pride and passion that would change how Canadians felt about themselves and their country.

For Bailey, and for the nation, the Atlanta Games were first and foremost about redemption. Bailey prepared for and competed in Atlanta under the shadow of the Ben Johnson steroid scandal eight years earlier. Even though Donovan Bailey competed clean, he was always under a microscope of suspicion and never truly received the recognition he deserved. The scrutiny extended far beyond Canada, because the men’s 100 metres is arguably the most competitive sports title in the world.

In the post-Vancouver 2010 era, we hear so much about a new confidence and pride among our athletes. This is the essence of the Own the Podium program, credited—and for good reason—with the amazing performance of the Canadian team in Vancouver. Well, Donovan Bailey was Own the Podium before the program was a twinkle in the eyes of Canadian sports officials. Not only did Bailey possess unique athletic ability, but also, like most sprinters, he was supremely confident. As he famously stated following Atlanta, simply participating was not an option—he had been determined to win the Games’ glamour event. At the time, this attitude was new and not always well received by Canadians. To put it simply, it was un-Canadian.

With his July 27 performance, and the now famous victory photograph as he crossed the finish line on that Saturday night in Atlanta, he had indeed set in motion a change in our country.

The exclamation point on this new attitude came exactly one week later. On a typically warm Saturday night in Georgia, Bailey and his teammates, Bruny Surin, Glenroy Gilbert, Robert Esmie, and alternate
Carlton Chambers, won the gold medal in the 4-x-100-metres relay—an event that had been dominated by the United States in the modern Olympics.

For some, Bailey’s triumph in the 100 metres rankled. Following his gold-medal performance, some American commentators maintained that the title of the “World’s Fastest Man” belonged not to the winner of the 100 metres, as had been the case for one hundred years, but to the winner of the 200-metre race, who just happened to be American Michael Johnson.

This further fuelled Canadian passion and pride, and led to a 150-metre match race between Bailey and Johnson in 1997 at Toronto’s SkyDome, which Bailey easily won.

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Thanks to our friends at Harper Collins Canada for providing this excerpt.

For more, previously in the Indigo Blog:  two other days that changed Canada:  July 25, 1984 and November 22, 1944.  See here.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, 21 November 2011 15:42

Ron MacLean’s Cornered

This blog courtesy of former Indigo Bookseller and current sportswriter John Chidley Hill.

Don’t bother reading Ron MacLean’s memoir Cornered if you’re hoping to read putdowns or gossip of Don Cherry, his co-star on Hockey Night in Canada’s Coach’s Corner.  Read Cornered because it’s an entertaining look behind the scenes of Canada’s most popular sports show that offers some insight into the more controversial episodes of Coach’s Corner.

It’s predictable that, aside from some good-natured ribbing, MacLean doesn’t take shots at Cherry. After all, they are colleagues and good friends off the air.

But that doesn’t mean Cornered is without its own fair share of dirt – as well as more about Ron himself than most people know.  The memoir begins with MacLean’s childhood, moving all over Canada with his parents, as his military father is stationed at different bases across the country. He details his parent’s unconventional background, as well as his courtship and marriage to his wife Cari.

MacLean then details his entry into radio broadcasting straight out of high school. He relates his formative experiences in the media, first as a disc jockey in Red Deer, Alta., and later as a TV weatherman.

Soon he was a sportscaster for the CBC’s affiliate in Calgary. When Dave Hodge was fired for putting down the CBC’s coverage of sports, he was promoted to working in Toronto on Hockey Night in Canada.  This, of course, is the meat of Cornered.

MacLean’s on screen persona is much like his real-life personality. He’s naturally inquisitive and intellectual. He enjoys reading academic works about politics and philosophy, and that’s where he gets into trouble with Cherry on air.  As Cornered explains, many of the more infamous segments in Coach’s Corner history were started not by Cherry’s antics, but by MacLean egging him on or even raising hot button issues.

The best example of this is when MacLean debated Cherry on whether or not Canada should join the United States in its War on Terror and help with the invasion of Iraq.  Cornered cites the Coach’s Corner transcript verbatim and it’s clear that it’s MacLean, not Cherry, who pursues the topic.  MacLean cops to being an inveterate troublemaker, but also tries to explain his behaviour and provide context to his – and Cherry’s – outbursts.

Although MacLean’s on-air sparring partner is spared any really nasty comments, the book does take runs at some key figures in hockey’s establishment, especially NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.  Bettman and MacLean have had some very contentious interviews, particularly over the NHL’s lockout of its players in 2004 and the ongoing financial troubles of teams like the Phoenix Coyotes.

MacLean’s disagreements with the NHL – and Bettman in particular – are the focus of the final third of Cornered .  He outlines his problems with the league’s current labour situation, the ongoing concussion issue and the NHL’s expansion into the Sun Belt.

His final chapter serves as an outline of what he’d do if he was king of hockey for a day, making changes to the rules and adjusting the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

Unsurprisingly, the host of Hockey Night in Canada has a lot of interesting stories to tell, and many colourful opinions to share.  Ron MacLean’s Cornered is the must-read for any Canadian hockey fan.

 

A guest blog by Biography Buyer Michael Nicholson.

It’s been ten years since Alexandra Fuller’s memoir Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight was published to great and well-deserved acclaim. This winning and unforgettable debut told the story of her upbringing as a young white girl amidst the upheaval of the Rhodesian civil war. Telling her story through the eyes and language of her younger self we appreciate how challenging it was to be a young person coming of age in the midst of political instability and how fortunate she was to be protected throughout by her caring, resourceful, yet eccentric, parents. Against the well developed backdrop of 1970s Africa we meet the larger-than-life characters who surrounded her. Most especially her mother, whose personality and ingenuity gave Fuller's life a sense of adventure.  Fuller's voice throughout is engaging and companionable, even when the tone of the story becomes darker and the threats more direct.

Finally, after publishing two other books, Alexandra Fuller has returned to the story of her family in and out of Africa.  While her first book centered on her experiences as a young girl, Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness features her mother and father’s lives amidst the changing political landscape.  As white farmers in Africa during the civil war they are directly involved in the upheaval. Her mother, Nicola, is the focus of this book and she makes a big impression. Handicapped by a love of drink and a bipolar disorder, yet assisted by a big heart and quick temper she more than holds our attention. This book tells the story of her parents and the partnership that survives mental, emotional and physical threats both from without and within. The author is forgiving in describing a mother who demands extra attention but who offers unwavering support.

This is a touching and humane book. It offers an honest and picturesque look at a tumultuous time in recent history featuring a cast of unforgettable characters. It is a worthy sequel to her remarkable debut.

 

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An excerpt from:

Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness

By Alexandra Fuller

To begin with, there are these scattered and unattached recollections: a snake in the honeysuckle creeper behind our house; Vanessa perspiring in her school uniform, valiantly persisting in her refusal to read; a rustling carpet of dead insects being swept off the veranda each morning; a lamb being slaughtered in a kraal under some eucalyptus trees where I hear, for the first time, Afrikaans being spoken; the taste of roasted maize in the compound where the language is Shona. (And words from both Shona and Afrikaans breaking into my everyday English: nyoka, lekker, maiwe! voetsek, huku.)

But my first consistent memory is of a farmhouse outside the small town of Karoi. “A lot of rooms strung together under a hot tin roof,” I say. “And wasn’t it flat and very dry, and the lawn was full of paper thorns?”

Mum puts down her teacup. “Well, yes. It wasn’t much of a house, but the farmer who owned the place was very kind and generous and he let us stay there rent free.” Mum gives me a look. “And he used to have terribly wild parties, something to do with blowing a feather across a sheet until all your clothes were off. We never understood it because we were very innocent, weren’t we Tim?”

“What’s that?” Dad says.

“INNOCENT,” Mum shouts, “WE WERE VERY INNOCENT.”

Dad lights his pipe. “Oh yes,” he says. “That’s right.” A cloud of smoke wraps around his head. “Absolutely.”

The three of us are sitting under the Tree of Forgetfulness on a Sunday afternoon one recent May, in what passes for autumn in the Zambezi Valley. I’ve chosen this time of year to travel from Wyoming to visit my parents because although it’s still hot, it’s not unbearably so. Between the extremes of the seasons (the earth neither flooded nor parched), their farm has taken on a genuinely bucolic air: geese and sheep cropping rhythmically around the fish ponds; an occasional cockerel from the nearby village hollering to his hens (the sound reminds me of childhood afternoons, waking up after a heat-drugged siesta); birds squabbling at the fruit feeder in Mum’s garden. “Look at that,” she says, “a black-collared barbet.” She cocks her head and talks to him, “Too-puddley, too-puddley, too-puddley, too-puddley….”

And then, as if still addressing the bird, Mum returns to her memories, “Well, we never planned to stay in Karoi anyway. It was already too taken, too settled for us, wasn’t it, Tim? We wanted land that came with a swath of wilderness, somewhere a bit more out of the ordinary.” So on Sundays Dad brought the weekly newspaper home and my parents laid the classifieds out on the dining room table next to a map of Rhodesia and they searched for a farm the size and shape of the dream they had in their heads.

By 1930, all Rhodesia’s land had been officially apportioned by the colonial government. Unsurprisingly, designated European areas coincided roughly with the high-rainfall, fertile areas; Tribal Trust Lands lay more or less in the dry periphery; and the tiny allotment of Native Purchase Areas were farther away in the oppressively hot, tsetse-fly–prone zones. European settlers gave no sign that they considered their allotment as either immoral or dangerously unsustainable. For one thing, there was a very strong sense that God had given the settlers two holy thumbs-up (“Onward Christian Soldiers” was a popular enough hymn to wear out the relevant keys on Protestant church organs across the country). For another thing, many whites considered blacks so childishly inferior that taking their land was considered a justified occupation of virgin soil. “I don’t wish to be unkind,” Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith said in 1970, “but sixty years ago Africans were uncivilized savages, walking around in their skins.”

Smith and his followers seemed determined to deny the country an African history prior to the arrival of Europeans. They rejected, for example, the evidence of what the Rhodesians called Zimbabwe Ruins, a complex of conical towers and massive stone walls in the southeastern part of the country concluded to be the royal enclosure of a medieval Shona empire. Undulating over eighteen hundred acres, it is the largest ancient structure south of the Sahara. Archaeological excavations uncovered shards of pottery from China, and Arabian beads pointing to an undeniable level of civilization. To get around this awkward fact, Smith’s government put enormous pressure on archaeologists to deny that the structures could ever have been constructed by black Africans. At least one prominent archaeologist, Peter Garlake, was forced to leave the country when he refused to do so.

Nor did the Rhodesian government appear to register the irony that, for such avowed anti-Communists—“The war against Communism is ultimately a religious war in which the very thing that makes life worth living is at stake” *—their policy of land allocation put much of the country, namely, the Tribal Trust Lands, into communal ownership. By default, this forced millions of black Rhodesians into massive collectives where their every move could be monitored and controlled by an increasingly militaristic and paranoid government. Still, most of the two hundred fifty thousand or so white Rhodesians were unwilling or disinclined to question an official government policy that gave them preferential treatment over six million blacks, instead preferring to believe that theirs was a just and justifiable life of privilege. Critics accused these whites of belonging to the Mushroom Club: “Kept in the dark and fed horseshit.”

 

****

Excerpted from Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller Copyright © 2011 by Alexandra Fuller. Excerpted by permission of Random House of Canada. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. 

Alexandra Fuller was born in England in 1969. In 1972 she moved with her family to a farm in Rhodesia. After that country’s civil war in 1981, the Fullers moved first to Malawi, then to Zambia. Fuller received a B.A. from Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada. In 1994, she moved to Wyoming, where she still lives. She has two children.

Interested readers can check out Alexandra’s website:  http://www.alexandrafuller.org/node/1

Wednesday, 16 November 2011 22:21

Star Wars: The Blueprints

I know, I know – you’re thinking, “What, another Star Wars book? What could there possibly be in here that I haven’t seen before?” Well, lots, actually, you scruffy nerf-herder.  This might actually be the best Star Wars book of all time.

If you’ve always thought that your car was all right, but how you really wanted to get around was on Jabba’s Flying Skiff (now that is traveling in style), this book will show you how to build it.  Or maybe you’d prefer a landspeeder? This book has you covered there as well.  And you probably want R2-D2 to navigate, so again – you'll need this.  Also good to have in case you wanted to build your own Death Star … and I could go on and on.  

But I'm being a little glib. These blueprints are not like the stolen file that R2 carried, detailing the plans of the Death Star. Star Wars:The Blueprints details how the props and sets were built, making this a fascinating piece of Hollywood history.  This book has hundreds of drafts, blueprints, illustrations, photos and tech specs by the actual production designers from all six films.  

There have been plenty of books on the creatures, worlds, and characters of Star Wars. But, one of the central appeals of the Star Wars universe has always been the technology of those worlds – ships, blasters, droids – and that is the focus of Star Wars: The Blueprints: Inside the Production Archives.  An appropriately epic book for an epic saga.

So move fast - Star Wars:The Blueprints is a very special piece. It is in a limited edition, available only online, and once it’s gone, it maybe gone …

 

 

Wednesday, 16 November 2011 14:30

Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design

At the risk of opening this piece sounding like a grumpy old man, it feels like no modern directors pay attention to the credit sequence anymore[i].

From the late 1950’s on, American film benefited from the work of a master, one who composed the memorable opening credit sequences for several iconic films:  Vertigo, Anatomy of a Murder, North By Northwest, Ocean's Eleven, and many more.  The creator of them all? Iconic designer Saul Bass.

And not just the title sequences – Bass acted as visual consultant, designer of posters, lobby cards, soundtrack albums.  By the early 1960’s, Bass had become recognized as a true artist of title design - and more than just a title sequence creator, he was a filmmaker in his own right. 

But to label him merely as a credits designer is to sell him short – Bass is remembered as a visionary in American graphic design.  A giant in film, Bass was also recognized for his output in advertising and corporate branding.  This work from a visionary in graphic design is now catalogued in an epic and stunning new book.

In Saul Bass:  A Life in Film and Design, Bass’s daughter Jennifer collaborates with design historian Pat Kirkham, to provide an all-encompassing look at his body of work.  Truly indispensible for the fan of Bass’s work – or any graphic designer – the work provides background on the genesis of ideas, frame by frame explanations of their intent, and how the works were perceived and appreciated.

In his introduction, Martin Scorsese puts it best:  “This book, so carefully designed and lovingly assembled, is a fitting tribute to a great artist.  A giant.”

Here is a piece from publisher, Laurence King, that shows how a book of such high quality design is created:

And here is some work from the man himself:  

This is an iconic sequence, from collaboration with Otto Preminger, in 1955.  Frank Sinatra starring in Nelson Algren’s The Man With The Golden Arm:

This is a classic sequence, from perhaps my favourite Hitchcock film, Vertigo – always better when paired with the music of Bernard Herrmann (as is the next sequence):

And here’s some more recent work, from Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear -  the titles may well be better than the actual film.  Kudos to both of them for retaining the original Bernard Herrmann score.  I’d share the credits from Goodfellas as well, but … let’s just say that not everyone wants to see what happens to Billy Bats.  It’s not pleasant.

The opening credits from Casino (Las Vegas as Dante's Inferno):

 

From Kubrick's epic Spartacus:  

 

And of special interest to the fan of Saul Bass,  the best collection of Saul Bass title sequences online I’ve ever seen is here, at the Movie Title Stills Collection

Also worth a look: Art of the Title and Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

 



[i] Apologies to David Fincher – who remains an exception to this rule.

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