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First-time playwright adapts Yann Martel’s Beatrice & Virgil

Lindsay Cochrane

When Toronto teacher Lindsay Cochrane first read Yann Martel’s allegorical, multi-layered novel Beatrice & Virgil (Knopf Canada), she was convinced it would make a fantastic theatre production.

Four years later, the first-time playwright’s adaptation is having its premiere at Toronto’s Factory Theatre. Directed by Sarah Garton Stanley and starring Damien Atkins and Pierre Brault, the production runs from April 12 to May 11, with an opening night performance on April 17.

Q&Q spoke to Cochrane about her experience.

How did this adaptation come to be? When the book came out four years ago, there was this incessant voice in my head saying that it needs to be adapted into a play. I felt the action between the taxidermist character and Henry the writer was inherently dramatic and would work well on stage. I also thought a lot of the book’s themes would translate, especially the idea of being silenced and finding a voice.

How did you get Yann Martel’s permission? I didn’t have any playwriting experience, but I felt someone needed to do this. On a whim, I emailed Yann Martel a draft of a couple scenes and an outline. I didn’t really expect anything to come of it. His initial response was that he thought it sounded pretty ridiculous but he would take a look at it. A few months later there was a message from Yann on my voicemail giving me permission to adapt it. I was probably the least qualified person to take this on. I teach French immersion at an elementary school.

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Martel, Munro join campaign for treeless paper

Sustainable paper advocate Canopy has two new high-profile faces to add to its conservation initiative. Yann Martel and Alice Munro have partnered with the Vancouver-based not-for-profit to release special, signed editions of Life of Pi (Knopf Canada) and Dear Life (McClelland & Stewart) on “treeless” paper.

The collectors’ editions will be printed on the company’s straw-based paper, created from a blend of wheat straw, flax straw, and recycled paper. Dubbed Second Harvest Paper, it is made from straw left over after the grain harvest, and its production uses fewer chemicals and less energy and water than traditional paper.

The Martel and Munro reprints are part of a campaign to create an alternative to logging forests for paper. But they aren’t the first novelists to draw attention to the initiative. In October 2011, Margaret Atwood partnered with Canopy to print a special limited edition of In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (M&S), which became the first book in North America to be printed on straw paper.

The success of the collection prompted Winnipeg-based Prairie Pulp & Press to produce a similar paper for consumer use. Manufactured in India and made from 80 per cent straw and 20 per cent Forest Stewardship Council–certified wood fibre, Step Forward Paper became available in Staples stores in August.

Martel and Munro’s books are available exclusively via Canopy’s online store. Life of Pi was released today, while Dear Life (which can be pre-ordered) will be available by mid-April.

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Life of Pi sells 1.5 million copies since film release

Even if Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi doesn’t receive a single Academy Award on Sunday night, the film is already a winner for the author.

According to a press release from Martel’s agency, Westwood Creative Artists*, the novel has sold more than 1.5 million copies via its English-language publishers, Canongate in the U.K., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the U.S., and Random House Canada, which published a movie tie-in version of the book under its Vintage Canada imprint.

In an email interview with Canadian Press, Martel recommends reading the book prior to seeing the film. “One should start with the original work,” he says.

Life of Pi enjoyed an initial sales bump in 2002 after winning the Man Booker Prize. Prior to the film’s release, international sales in all languages were reported to be in excess of nine million copies, with 812,000 copies in Canada alone.

The film is up for 11 Academy Awards, including an adapted screenplay nomination for David Magee.


*Update Feb. 22: A previous version of this post did not mention Westwood Creative Artists.

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BookNet bestsellers: Canadian fiction

Lawrence Hill takes three spots on this week’s list for Canadian fiction.

For the two weeks ending July 8, 2012:

1. The Cat’s Table, Michael Ondaatje
(Vintage Canada, $22 pa, 9780307401427)

2. Room, Emma Donoghue
(HarperCollins Canada, $10.99 mm, 9781443413695)

3. Secret Daughter, Shilpi Somaya Gowda
(HarperCollins Canada, $10.99 mm, 9780062203960)

4. The Virgin Cure, Ami McKay
(Vintage Canada, $22 pa, 9780676979572)

5. The Wild Zone, Joy Fielding
(Seal Books/Random House Canada, $10.99 mm, 9781400025794)

6. Half-Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan
(Thomas Allen Publishers, $24.95 pa, 9780887627415)

7. The Witch of Babylon, D.J. McIntosh
(Penguin Canada, $13.50 mm, 9780143175735)

8. A Good Man, Guy Vanderhaeghe
(M&S, $22 pa, 9780771086083)

9. The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt
(House of Anansi Press, $22.95 pa, 9781770890329)

10. A Trick of the Light, Louise Penny
(St. Martin’s Press/Raincoast, $16.99 pa, 9781250007346)

11. The Headmaster’s Wager, Vincent Lam
(Doubleday Canada, $32.95 cl, 9780385661454)

12. The Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill
(HarperCollins Canada, $10.99 mm, 9781443408981)

13. Spell Bound, Kelley Armstrong
(Vintage Canada, $17.95 pa, 9780307359032)

14. Secret Daughter, Shilpi Somaya Gowda
(HarperCollins Canada, $19.99 pa, 9780061974304)

15. Life of Pi, Yann Martel
(Vintage Canada, $21 pa, 9780676973778)

16. The Winter Palace, Eva Stachniak
(Doubleday Canada, $24.95 pa, 9780385666565)

17. Ru, Kim Thúy; Sheila Fischman, trans.
(Random House Canada, $25 cl, 9780307359704)

18. Any Known Blood, Lawrence Hill
(HarperCollins Canada, $17.99 pa, 9781443409100)

19. The Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill
(HarperCollins Canada, $17.99 pa, 9781443409094)

20. Everybody Has Everything, Katrina Onstad
(M&S, $22.99 pa, 9780771068980)

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Book links roundup: is U.S. publishing born from piracy, visually impaired Canadians address copyright committee, and more

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Yann Martel lands cameo in Life of Pi

Ang Lee’s film version of Life of Pi isn’t due in theatres until late next year, but anticipation is running high. In a feature interview in today’s Globe and Mail, author Yann Martel – who is scheduled to speak with one of the film’s stars, Bollywood actress Tabu, in Vancouver on Friday – discusses his involvement in making the film, which recently wrapped after 100 days of shooting.

Martel didn’t write the screenplay but says he was “kept in the loop” as the project cycled through directors. He also expresses his approval of Oscar winner Lee, who shot the film in 3-D.

Martel tells reporter Marsha Lederman:

“[Lee] is a perfect director for this kind of story…. He’s good at both the emotional detail but also he’s very adept at making complicated movies that demand special effects. So he’s good at the tight angle and the wide shot…. And I like that it wasn’t someone who had the bluster that some American directors might have brought to the project.”

Martel says that under Lee’s direction, he expects the technology will contribute to, rather than overshadow, the storytelling. “The danger of 3-D would be I guess that it looks spectacular, but it feels hollow. That’s why I was happy to have someone like Ang Lee, who is too sensitive a director and too ambitious to want to do something that just looks good but is clunky and has no heart.”

Martel also discusses the surreal experience of appearing as an extra in the film, and of meeting actor Tobey Maguire, who plays the role of a journalist who records the story of Pi, a 16-year-old boy who spends 227 days on a raft with a Royal Bengal tiger. Maguire had grown out his curly hair and scruffy beard to resemble the famed Saskatoon-based author when the two met in Montreal.

“It seemed unreal that this is what’s become of a story that I wrote when I had no money. I mean two years before I finished Life of Pi, my declared income was $6,000. I was way under the poverty line. … But every morning my office had a tiger in it and I had to keep it alive and that was my main concern.

“So I was flabbergasted at the extravaganza of the production,” he continued. “It’s delightful. It’s amazing that a product of my mind should 10 years down the road lead to this.”

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Book biz roundup: Yann Martel calls it quits; HarperCollins “friends” teen talent; playwrights get a hand from Harold Pinter; and more

  • Yann Martel, “tired of using books as political bullets and grenades,” quits his book club
  • Jeff Lemire, Kate Beaton, and Conundrum Press among nominees for Joe Shuster Awards
  • HarperCollins to publish crowdsourced novel by teen
  • Apple’s App Store gives Sony the boot
  • London’s Royal Court Theatre announces new Harold Pinter Playwright’s Award
  • This Saturday is Save our Libraries Day in England. “We Love Libraries” is a video made to fuel the flames of protest. It’s even got a hip-hop soundtrack…
  • Authorities in Idaho finally catch up to the condiment bandit, the natural enemy of state-wide library drop boxes

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Book biz round-up: the latest links

Sundry links from around the Web:

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Books of the Year 2010

There’s no formula for choosing the books of the year. Some break ground, some tackle familiar themes with new energy. Some represent the best work from established authors, some introduce us to important new voices. And some are simply in-house favourites we feel deserve a little more attention. Together, these 20 books made the biggest impact in 2010.

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Books of the Year 2010: Fiction and Poetry

There’s no formula for choosing the books of the year. Some break ground, some tackle familiar themes with new energy. Some represent the best work from established authors, some introduce us to important new voices. And some are simply in-house favourites we feel deserve a little more attention. Here are the Fiction and Poetry books that made the most impact in 2010.
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Hall of Honourers

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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Eva Stachniak poses with a copy of her book, Empress of the Night

Tea and snacks inspired by Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Rimma Burashko with author Eva Stachniak

Eva Stachniak talks to the audience about the best and worst of Catherine the Great's favourites

Eva Stachniak smiles as she signs a copy of Empress of the Night for a fan

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