Our Hero Disbelieving

Our Hero Disbelieving

Monday, March 28, 2016

Meet Louie Kamookak: champion of the Inuit oral tradition

Wonderful to see that my friend Louie Kamookak -- Inuit historian, Franklin expert, and public speaker -- has set up a website (click here). I'm looking forward to catching Louie in Ottawa on April 12, where he will participate in a panel discussion about Franklin and the Inuit oral tradition. It will be hosted by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.  My own favorite story about Louie harks back to 1999. It starts with us beating south along the west coast of Boothia Peninsula in his motorboat. We were returning to Gjoa Haven after placing a plaque honoring  explorer John Rae. Louie said that, before we recrossed Rae Strait, he wanted to check out a spot he knew, where sometimes the hunting was good.  We entered a small bay, hauled the boat up onto a sandy beach, and climbed a ridge to scan the horizon. I saw nothing, but suddenly Louie said: “Caribou!” The animal must have been 120 yards away. Louie dropped to one knee, put his gun to his shoulder, and fired. Nothing happened. I thought he had missed. But then, the caribou dropped down dead where it stood. We raced across the tundra. Louie was jubilant: “Straight through the heart!” He skinned that animal, put the massive carcass on his back, and staggered with it back to the boat. “Meat will last all winter,” he said. And that's just a part of who Louie is. To the great tradition of Inuit explorers, adventurers, interpreters, and story-tellers -- a lineage that includes Eenoolooapik, Tattannoeck, Ouligbuck father and son, Tookoolito, and Ebierbing -- today we can add another name: Louie Kamookak.

Friday, March 18, 2016

We're voyaging Into the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada. Are we excited yet?

Three Facebook friends from different corners of the world have drawn my attention to a call for presenters aboard a celebrity sailing in the Arctic. While I really do appreciate their thinking of me, this does make me wonder if I haven't made sufficient noise about how, this August, Sheena and I will be voyaging Into the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada.  We'll start in Greenland and sail north into Smith Sound (Elisha Kent Kane country) and then west, stopping at Beechey Island before pushing on to Winter Harbour, visited by William Edward Parry in 1819. Reaching that site will be a first in contemporary expedition cruising. And forget rolling and heaving across Davis Strait in one of those cramped and boxy old Russian tubs. We will sail aboard a supremely comfortable vessel, the Ocean Endeavour, which boasts comfortable cabins and no fewer than 20 zodiacs in which to zoom about. So, yes, we're excited about the travel itinerary and the ship. But above all, we are thrilled by the expert staffers (our fellows) who will be leading talks and workshops. We're talking Juno-award winning musician Susan Aglukark; archaeologist/ author Robert McGhee; culturalist/ author David Pelly; filmmaker John Houston; seabird biologist (and Canada Research Chair) Mark Mallory; photographer and wildlife biologist Dennis Minty; veteran Arctic explorer David Reid; field botanist Carolyn Mallory;  marine mammalogist Ree Brennin-Houston; and Inuit leader Tagak Curley -- yes, the man who appears in the docudrama based on my book Fatal Passage, and who, indeed, steals that particular show. Late last year (2015), I wrote (and evoked, through Sheena's photos and paintings) what one of these voyages is like. This year, we are happening August 26 to September 11. If you're thinking "Arctic," Adventure Canada is the way to to. Tell 'em Ken sent you.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Real Canadian can pretend to be Irish on St. Patrick's Day

Gotta love a column by Peter Shawn Taylor that turned up today in the Waterloo Region Record -- one week in advance of St. Patrick's Day. Faithful readers will appreciate that I am a man without bias, ahem, but I do believe Taylor hits his stride when he invokes Celtic Lightning and, all right, paraphrases Our Hero. "With more than a quarter of Canadians tracing their ancestry back to Scotland or Ireland, McGoogan claims these ancient Celtic precepts were gradually inserted into our cultural DNA and have today come to define Canadians of all backgrounds. From this perspective, anyone who celebrates their Irishness on March 17 — whether genetically valid or not — is simply acknowledging the inherited meaning of Canada. McGoogan's theory thus offers some important lessons for those who attack Canada's history or feign outrage whenever anyone "appropriates" the symbols of their ancestors.
"The striking lack of complaints from Irish voices over the culture appropriation of St. Patrick's Day — particularly when the popular stereotype tends to emphasize drinking, fighting and swearing — reflects those admirable Celtic attitudes of good cheer, open-mindedness and inclusivity. All are welcome to join in the fun. Surely that's healthier than shouting "racism" at the drop of a hat.
"Every culture should similarly seek to define itself on the basis of accomplishment and aspiration as opposed to victimhood. Those many waves of Scottish and Irish peasants faced plenty of discrimination, poverty, marginalization, colonialism and hardship when making their way to Canada. As McGoogan points out, Sir John A. Macdonald, the father of Confederation, was a third-generation refugee whose family was evicted during the Highland Clearances of the 1700s. And while religious strife was once a defining characteristic of Ireland and Scotland, any sectarian connotation to St. Patrick's Day (or Robbie Burns Day for that matter) has long since been swept away by an all-embracing Canadian mosaic. It is the party that remains.
"If you want to know what it means to be Canadian, just pretend to be Irish on St. Patrick's Day."
You can read the whole column by clicking here. Go ahead. You know you want to!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Authors for Indies set to party at Book City in the Beaches

It's happening again. The Great Canadian Book Bash is coming to a bookstore near you. On Saturday, April 30, roughly 700 Canadian authors will turn up at more than 100 bookstores across the country. It's called Authors for Indies and, yes, we do it to show our support for Canada’s independent booksellers. We want them not just to survive, but to flourish. You can read all about it at www.authorsforindies.com
Above, a photo from last year entitled The Calm Before the Storm. Here we see Our Hero at Book City in the Beaches with two fellow authors -- Glenda McElwain and George A. Walker -- and also veteran bookseller Ian Donker.
Shortly after Sheena Fraser McGoogan snapped this photo, a mob descended, clamoring for photos, counsel, and signatures on books. Donker, general manager of the Book City stores in Toronto, reeled around this outlet, slapping his forehead: "I've never seen anything like it."
This year, Book City has invited authors to pick three "desert island" reads for possible hand-selling. I said let's go with  White Eskimo by Stephen R. Bown, Empire of Deception by Dean Jobb, and What Lies Across the Water by Stephen Kimber. Book City will also stock a few extra copies of my latest opus, Celtic Lightning, and of a few tomes from my backlist . . . Fatal Passage, Lady Franklin's Revenge, How the Scots Invented Canada. 
Hey, we're talking win-win-win. Besides, it's lots of fun. Maybe see you April 30.

Friday, January 29, 2016

MFA Program in Creative Nonfiction is one of a kind in Canada

I've mentioned the low-res MFA program in Creative Nonfiction at King's College in Halifax? One of a kind in Canada? I serve as a mentor therein, so I may be biased. But I think it's spectacular. It may be cheating, since this is MY blog. But I'll cede the floor to my colleague Stephen Kimber, who does a superb job of summarizing recent fun and games . . .   
(Above: Alana Wilcox from Coach House Press talks to MFA students)
Students in the King’s College MFA in Creative Nonfiction program had a chance to meet, mingle with — and even pitch to — more than 30 of Canada’s top publishers, editors, agents and authors during this year’s Winter Publishing Residency in Toronto from January 17th to 23rd.
The annual publishing residency — which alternates between venues in Toronto and New York, North America’s publishing capitals — is a key component in the two-year limited residency program jointly offered by The University of King’s College and Dalhousie University. The program is the only one in Canada to focus exclusively on nonfiction.
Ben McNally of Toronto’s Ben McNally Bookstore meets with students.
Among the many highlights of this year’s Toronto residency: field trips to the Kobo Canada headquarters for a briefing on the evolving landscape of ebook publishing; to HarperCollins Canada where the publishing company’s nonfiction editors offered a panel on what they’re buying and why, followed by a mix-and-mingle reception; and to the Ben McNally Bookstore, where owner Ben McNally offered insights into the world of bookselling.
PenguinRandomHouse’s digital and social media staff conducted a special author-platform-building workshop specifically for MFA students, while senior staff at independent Canadian publishers Book Thug, Coach House Books, House of Anansi Press and ECW Press offered their insights into the business. Award-winning Canadian authors Lynn Thomson, Sylvia Hamilton, Stephen Brunt and Dean Jobb talked about their work and life. (Hamilton and Jobb are also members of King’s Journalism faculty.) And five of the country’s top literary agents were on hand to talk about their roles in the publishing process.
HarperCollins nonfiction editors discuss the latest trends in nonfiction books.
The week-long residency culminated with “Pitch Day,” during which each of the program’s 38 students got to practise-pitch their book-project-in-progress to two different Canadian editors or agents — and get constructive personal feedback.
The King’s MFA in Creative Nonfiction program — which one graduate described as “a combination MBA for writers and creative writing boot camp” — is currently accepting applications for admission for 2016-17. The semester begins in August with a two-week summer residency at the University of King’s College in Halifax.
This year’s residency will feature HarperCollins author-in-residence Charlotte Gray and PenguinRandomHouse editor-in-residence Diane Turbide.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Creative Nonfiction online? Through U of T? Still time to come aboard . . .

He's back! And this time (see photo) he's at the house of explorer Roald Amundsen, just outside Oslo. In response to a raucous clamor, the Dr. Jekyll in me has clawed his way onto your screen to announce an online course in Creative Nonfiction. It's called The Art of Fact: An Introduction to Writing Nonfiction, and it's available through the University of Toronto. We launch on January 25, 2016 . . . and quite a few folks have already come aboard from hither and yon. Just sayin'.  The particulars look something like this: "The hallmarks of Creative, Literary or Narrative Nonfiction are truth and personal presence. The genre includes subjective and objective streams, and encompasses memoir, autobiography, biography, history, adventure, travel, and true crime. The writer of nonfiction employs memory, imagination, analysis, and research, and adapts literary techniques from fiction, journalism, and the essay. This craft-oriented course aims to enhance your ability to tell true stories." You can find out more at the link above.  In the past, folks have "attended" from as far away as Japan and Uganda. Oh, and we do have a favourite text: Textbook: The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism, edited by Kevin Kerrane and Ben Yagoda. (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-684-84630-6).  Wherever you are, come on out. (Special welcome if you know who Amundsen is!)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Enough about me. Let's talk about YOU. What do YOU think about me?

Looking back as the year winds down, I discover that this has been a great month for the ol' blog. Second highest number of visitors ever. Yes, we are talking thousands. No big mystery, of course: people were keen to read about our Adventure Canada voyage Out of the Northwest Passage. And let's not kid ourselves: folks loved the related photos and, above all, the paintings by Sheena Fraser McGoogan, like the one to your left. Lots more turn up on Sheena's website.
To move into the number two spot, December 2015 narrowly edged out September 2014. That was when I found myself talking about the discovery of the Erebus, and also about John Rae entering Westminster Abbey -- my most visited post ever. As for the number-one month, that remains October 2013. Does anyone remember the 50 Canadians, Ocean-to-Ocean, Book Tour Extravaganza sponsored by VIA-Rail and Harper Collins Canada. Complete with a contest featuring a travel voucher worth $5K? From Toronto, we traveled by train first to the Pacific and then to the Atlantic. It was all in aid of 50 Canadians Who Changed the World.The most popular post during that run, and second most popular of all time? Three reasons why I hate Calgary. Go figure. But hey, that's enough about me. Let's talk about YOU. What do YOU think about me?