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Will Ferguson’s 419 wins Giller

As a humourist and travel writer, Will Ferguson is already well known to Canadian readers. After winning this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Calgary author is poised to become even more renowned for his work as a serious novelist.

Ferguson won the $50,000 prize, handed out in Toronto Tuesday night, for his third novel, 419 (Viking Canada), a fast-paced thriller that delves into the world of Nigerian email fraud. It is a thematic companion of sorts to his previous novel, Spanish Fly, which follows a gang of con artists in 1930s America.

Before winning the Giller, Ferguson was best known for his humour books and travel memoirs, which include Beyond Belfast, Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw, and Canadian Pie. He alluded to this eclectic background in accepting the award, thanking the jury – which comprised authors Anna Porter, Roddy Doyle, and Gary Shteyngart – for “taking books on their own merit, without any preconceptions.”

In addition to thanking his family, Ferguson singled out his editor, Vancouver freelancer Barbara Pulling, and his publisher, Penguin Canada, saying, “I am proud to be a Penguin, I must say.”

Porter said the jury was conscious of breaking with precedent in awarding the prize to 419, which she compared to the work of John le Carré. “I think it’s got both great story and literary values,” she said.

When asked if the novel was the jury’s unanimous pick as the winner, Porter said that all three jurors “unanimously loved the book” and that “from the very beginning, we all unanimously agreed that it would be on the shortlist.”

Speaking to Q&Q after the announcement, Ferguson emphasized his gratitude for the support he has received throughout his writing career. “My publisher took more of a risk than I did, to be honest, when I switched to literary fiction,” he said.

Ferguson added that he views 419 as a companion to his previous novel. “Everyone’s saying it’s a departure, which is understandable, but I think it’s a continuum with Spanish Fly,” he said. “I didn’t think of it as out of the blue.”

For her part, Penguin Canada publisher Nicole Winstanley described Ferguson as “a man who wears several hats. He’s an author who knows how to tell a remarkable story in an interesting way.”

Winstanley added that the book will be reprinted in hardcover into the new year. The title has also been added to Pintail, a U.S. imprint for Penguin Canada titles with sales potential south of the border.

As for his next book, Ferguson plans to return to his earlier passion with a travel memoir about an upcoming journey through Rwanda.

“When I started out my dream was to work for Lonely Planet,” said Ferguson, who wrote one guide book before realizing he couldn’t hack it. “My initial dream was to be a hardcore travel writer, but I write what grabs my attention.”

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Anna Porter on Scott McIntyre, king of the independents

On the occasion of last year’s 40th anniversary of D&M Publishers, Anna Porter reflected on the career of her former colleague and competitor Scott McIntyre, the man who built the most successful Canadian publishing house west of the Rockies. From the November 2011 issue of Q&Q:

Scott McIntyre (Photo: Doug Nicholson)

I’ve known Scott McIntyre for so long, sometimes it feels like we are siblings. Separated but never very far apart. We first met when I arrived at McClelland & Stewart in 1968. Scott was, I think, manager of advertising and promotions, but titles were loosely applied in those days. He had been there a couple of years and seemed very much a part of the high-voltage excitement of the place.

It’s hard to image now, 43 years later, just how wild-eyed, inspired, and young we were at the tail end of the 1960s, when the success of Canadian literature seemed to be a certainty and we were all part of that magnificent experiment. Hollinger Road, in the messy, industrial hinterland of East Toronto, was hardly the Camelot of dream-­fulfillment, but there were moments. We were visited by, among others, Irving Layton, Earle Birney, Al Purdy, Margaret Laurence, and Mordecai Richler, and Pierre Berton was still young enough to berate us with his wisdom. We were star-struck. Scott still talks of the energy, the “opulence of those days,” when he could share a half bottle of whiskey with Margaret Laurence and talk about her stories, and the time he took a fast look at a Leonard Cohen manuscript. I think we were searching for a suitable cover.

McIntyre with Greg Gatenby and Margaret Atwood in 1991 (Photo: Scott McIntyre)

Scott was a cheerful, blond, bushy-haired,­ slender guy with a ready smile and an eagerness to show that he would excel at whatever was thrown his way. And there was a lot thrown in those days. I remember when he decided to rewrite some of Berton’s copy and slammed into the ire of the redoubtable Elsa Franklin, Pierre’s lifelong manager, and when he presented Peter C. Newman’s The Distemper of Our Times at a sales conference, and Newman argued about something that sent Jack McClelland into a modest rage (he had some immodest rages, but that wasn’t one of them). “I never knew where I stood with Jack,” Scott says. As if anyone ever did.

Scott left midway through 1969 to work with Jimmy Douglas on the West Coast. He was, after all, a B.C. boy, never fully at home in Toronto. Jimmy was a legend in the book world – a hard-working, charming, tough Scot with ambition and a fine sense of the ridiculous. A sales rep, he represented the best of the Eastern publishers in the West. He was beloved by booksellers and librarians (some of whom were in love with him), and he was a master of the fast, critical judgment – as in, “Won’t go past the Rockies,” or, “We’ll do about 3,000, send the author out.”

Oh, in 1969, Scott was Scotty and no one called Jim Douglas anything but Jimmy.

Scott was a fast learner. I used to see him at sales conferences, taking notes, paying close attention, leaning forward, arms crossed, head tilted to one side, that boyish enthusiasm for the bookish world we both inhabited. But what he was most eager to learn was publishing.

J.J. Douglas’s first small list was launched in 1971 with two regional titles – books no one expected would sell on the other side of the Rockies, but they did well enough for Scott to feel encouraged that one could create a viable publishing enterprise on the West Coast. The little company’s first major success was Johann’s Gift to Christmas by Jack Richards, with illustrations by Len Norris. Scott says it sold “hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide,” and it was made into a cute movie.

McIntyre at the 2007 Giller Gala with Elizabeth and Anne McClelland (Photo: Scott McIntyre)

I was editorial director at M&S, and I remember holding the book in my hands, thinking it would have made a great M&S title. Jealous, I called Scott and congratulated him anyway. I felt the same way when he published former M&S stalwart Max Braithwaite’s A Privilege and a Pleasure, a wonderful, funny novel by a guy who could still lighten some of our heavier days. But no one else at that time could have published Chuck Davis’s Guide to Vancouver, or the  beautiful photography book The Unknown Island – a vast, risky investment for any publisher, but it paid off. As did Scott’s cautious determination to continue making a living from the sales agency – renamed McIntyre & Stanton, after Jimmy decided to devote all his time to publishing. The two lines of work offered Scott the chance to learn how to serve more than one master, an ability he would need throughout his career. Even today, 40 years later, Douglas & McIntyre (renamed as such in 1978, and now known as D&M Publishers) sells for a fine U.S. literary house (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and keeps the home fires burning with its own high-profile lists. Along the way, Scott has developed a successful social studies program for Grades 1–6, started the Greystone Books imprint with Rob Sanders, and formed a lasting alliance with Patsy Aldana, founder of Groundwood Books, the children’s publishing company.

Through the 1970s, while I was busy enjoying my own multitasking years with babies and Bantam and Doubleday, Scott published some beautifully crafted art books, culminating in a stunning bestseller, Doris Shadbolt’s The Art of Emily Carr, and D&M’s long-term partnerships with the Vancouver Art Gallery and Art Gallery of Ontario.

My sibling rivalry with Scott continued after the birth of Key Porter Books in 1981. We vied for the same authors during the 1980s, trying to best each other in growing to what we each concluded was the right size for a Canadian publishing company – around $10 million in sales – and bidding at agents’ tables for what we saw as the best and brightest of the soon-to-be bestsellers. Neither of us wanted to be left in the dust by those self-congratulatory multinationals that had more money to spend.

Each of us lost some and won some. My first victory was Allan Fotheringham, the wicked wit of the West, the political guru Scott saw as the prototypical D&M author. But Scott won Jack Webster (damn it, Scott, he was my friend; or so I thought), Marjorie Nichols (whom I loved and still do), and Major-­General Lewis Mackenzie.

I tried to hire Rob Sanders before Scott offered him the best deal on the West Coast. Under the Greystone imprint, Rob has since built a distinguished list of nature and conservation books by Candace Savage, David Suzuki, and Wade Davis, as well as publishing brilliant authors like Paul Quarrington.

Patsy’s list has won more awards than any other publisher’s in Canada. We tried to build up a children’s line at Key Porter and, for a while, it looked promising, with Margaret Atwood’s Rude Ramsey and the Roaring Radishes and Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut, but we never reached the Olympian heights of the redoubtable Aldana.

McIntyre with colleagues at the 1989 Association of Canadian Publishers’ AGM (Photo: Scott McIntyre)

Now Groundwood has been sold to House of Anansi Press, and Key Porter went into receivership some five years after I sold my shares, but Scott, with a new investor in Mark Scott and multi-year support from the B.C. government, is still going strong. Last year he passed another landmark with the paperback publication of Johanna Skibsrud’s Scotiabank Giller Prize–winning The Sentimentalists, and before the end of this year, he expects Bookriff, Mark Scott’s digital and print-on-demand publishing venture, to make its debut on the market.

Scott is also the publisher of my last two books, Kasztner’s Train and The Ghosts of Europe. Our conversations, which used to revolve around the fragile industry whose furrows we both ploughed, are now mixed with publisher-author subjects. Fortunately, the addition of new topics along the lines of, “Do we really need an index?” and, “Too long, really?” have not dampened our enthusiasm for each other’s conversation.

When I ask him about close, personal friends in the business, he looks dumbfounded. “I have lived my life so that the greatest gift we have is not to be with people,” he says, looking at his wife, Cork, for confirmation. “Never had time to make friends.” After 40 stellar years as the king of independents, this was, nevertheless, a sad note, I thought.

And yet, when I visited D&M’s modest Quebec Street headquarters in Vancouver last August, passing by the familiar sight of brightly painted walls, low dividers, cardboard boxes, and framed awards, I wandered into Scott’s airy office and found it surprisingly tidy. A smattering of photos lines the top of a low bookcase. Among them there is a shot of the cutest little grandson (except, of course, for mine), a photo of Scott with Atwood and Greg Gatenby, a Giller group picture, and others of his Canadian and international colleagues (Bill French, Peter Mayer, David Godine). Also, a photo of Bob Sessions pushing me in a wheelchair at the Frankfurt Book Fair some 12 years ago.

So, I raise my glass to D&M’s anniversary, and to Scott – oh yes, for sure, a friend!

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Scotiabank Giller Prize announces 2012 jury: Gary Shteyngart, Anna Porter, and Roddy Doyle

Jack Rabinovitch, founder of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, has announced the jury for 2012 is Gary Shteyngart, Anna Porter, and Roddy Doyle.

Shteyngart is an American writer whose most recent novel, Super Sad True Love Story, is a New York Times bestseller and winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize in the U.K.

Canada’s Porter is the former publisher and founder of Key Porter Books, and an award-winning author of fiction and non-fiction. Her book Kasztner’s Train won the Canadian Jewish Book Award and the Writers’ Trust Non-Fiction Prize.

Irish novelist and screenwriter Doyle’s most recent books include Bullfighting and A Greyhound of a Girl. His novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha won the Booker Prize in 1993.

The Giller Prize longlist will be announced Sept. 4 and the shortlist will be unveiled Oct. 1. The winner will be announced Oct. 30 at a gala ceremony in Toronto. The award is worth $50,000.

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TPL union names winners of lunch with Atwood contest

The Toronto Public Library Workers Union has announced the winners of its “Why My Library Matters to Me” personal essay contest. Each of the 44 winners will have lunch and tour a local literary landmark with a participating author — Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Linwood Barclay, Joy Fielding, Judy Fong-Bates, Sylvia Fraser, Vincent Lam, Robert Rotenberg, Susan Swan, Anna Porter, or Jeremy Tankard.

The contest is part of the union’s Project Rescue campaign to prevent library funding cuts as proposed by the municipal government. (Q&Q has previously reported on the contest and Project Rescue.)

In an e-mail to Project Rescue supporters, TPLWU/CUPE Local 4948 president Maureen O’Reilly says more than 500 submissions were received in a span of two weeks. The winning entries are now posted at the contest website, including this homage to Charlie Chaplin.


Toronto Public Library union to hold read-in

The Toronto Public Library Workers Union will hold a read-in Sunday, Aug. 28, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Nathan Phillips Square. The event is being held in support of local library branches that have been threatened with closures, service reductions, and cuts to operating hours.

According to the group’s Facebook event page, the union aims to “gather all book lovers young and old alike to show their love for the free services provided by your local library…. Together let’s send a strong and loud message to [mayor Rob Ford and city councillor Doug Ford]: our public library is not for sale!” The notice goes on to invite the public to join library staff and members of Toronto’s literary community with a book and a blanket for a family-friendly afternoon of storytelling and communal reading.

The read-in is the latest in a series of public outreach initiatives organized by the union, including information pickets at North York Central Library and the Toronto Reference Library, and  the union’s widely publicized Project Rescue campaign. So far the campaign includes an online petition with over 46,000 names, and a personal essay contest supported by the likes of Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, and Anna Porter, which launched Thursday.

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Writers’ Trust turns spotlight on political books

Spurred by the recent federal election, The Writers’ Trust of Canada has partnered with Samara, a non-profit organization that seeks to strengthen citizen engagement in Canada’s democratic system, to launch a project called The Best Canadian Political Books of the Last 25 Years.

In a press release, the WTOC describes the project as an opportunity to “highlight books that have captured the Canadian political imagination and contributed in a compelling and unique way to how Canadians understand a political issue, event, or personality” — and they want everyone to join in.

The public is encouraged to nominate their top three titles in Canadian politics via Samara’s online nomination form before June 23. A longlist will be announced July 1 (Canada’s most patriotic of day of the year, of course).  Throughout the month of July, Canadians will again be encouraged to vote and comment on the list, with the winning books announced Aug. 1.

WTOC and Samara have asked a few notable Canadian political writers and activists to nominate their favourite books. Here are a some of the titles already in the ring:

Anna Porter’s Nominees:
The Player: The Life & Times of Dalton Camp by Geoffrey Stevens
Harperland: The Politics of Control by Lawrence Martin
Right Side Up: The Fall of Paul Martin and the Rise of Stephen Harper’s New Conservatism by Paul Wells

Terry Fallis’s Nominees:
King John of Canada by Scott Gardiner
Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography by Chester Brown
Just Watch Me: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Volume II: 1968–2000 by John English

Tim Cook’s Nominees:
The Worldly Years: Life of Lester Pearson, Volume II: 1949–1972 by John English
Memoirs: 1939–1993 by Brian Mulroney
Empire to Umpire: Canada and the World into the 1990s by J. L. Granatstein and Norman Hillmer

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Book biz round-up: Anna Porter on the “shaky state” of Canadian publishing, and more

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Anna Porter, Tim Cook among Shaughnessy Cohen nominees

The Writers’ Trust of Canada has announced the finalists for the $25,000 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, awarded annually to a non-fiction book that has the “potential to shape or influence Canadian political life.” This year’s nominees, as chosen by journalists L. Ian MacDonald, Rosemary Speirs, and Paul Wells, are as follows:

  • Tim Cook for The Madman and the Butcher: The Sensational Wars of Sam Hughes and General Arthur Currie (Allen Lane Canada)
  • Shelagh D. Grant for Polar Imperative: A History of Arctic Sovereignty in North America (Douglas & McIntyre)
  • Lawrence Martin for Harperland: The Politics of Control (Viking Canada)
  • Anna Porter for The Ghosts of Europe: Journeys Through Central Europe’s Troubled Past and Uncertain Future (Douglas & McIntyre)
  • Doug Saunders for Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World (Knopf Canada)

The winner will be announced on Feb. 16 at the Politics and the Pen Gala in Ottawa.

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Bookmarks: Mamet directs Anne Frank, Anna Porter visits the Y, and more

Some book-related links:

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Hey, M&S, happy birthday

Judy Stoffman has a piece in today’s Star about M&S. As she points out, her story runs the same day that the publishing house will be celebrating its 100th anniversary at Harbourfront.

Stoffman’s main point is that, with Random House’s 25% ownership, “the historic firm … has been reconfigured in the past six years in ways that might be causing Jack McClelland to spin in his grave.” Stoffman spoke with a handful of Canadian publishing types, including Anna Porter, who worked at M&S with McClelland back in the 1970s. “‘Is (M&S) an imprint of Random House?’ says retired publisher Anna Porter. ‘That’s the way it functions.’”

Stoffman also spoke with M&S president Doug Pepper:

“‘What does independence mean?’ Pepper asks rhetorically. ‘I’m allowed to decide what books we buy, how much advances we pay, what royalties we offer, how many we print, the marketing terms. I make the decisions in consultation with the board.’”

Related links:
Read the rest of Stoffman’s article here

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