For many former Denman Readers and Writers Festival loyal fans, there’s a temptation to regard authors who have come to the festivals over the years as “our” authors. We seem to have a kind of proprietorial attitude towards folks we’ve shared meals with in the Back Hall, who have stayed in our homes, or have given workshops to small groups of us. Call them part of the extended Denman literary family, if you like.
So, I was thinking recently about some of the wonderful writers who’ve been at the Festival since I started attending the event about 12 years ago. When they were here, of course, they read from books they’d recently published. But since then, most of them have written new books. Here’s an update on six marvellous women authors whose new books are definitely worth the attention of Festival website readers.
Pauline Holdstock came to Denman in 2014, reading from her historical novel Into the Heart of the Country, set in Churchill, Manitoba back in the 19th century. Her most recent book is Here I Am!, told from the point of view of a 6 year old boy whose mother dies suddenly, after which he stows aboard a trans-Atlantic liner in the hope of finding his father. Adventures follow. The boy is smart, observant and perhaps a bit autistic. I’m always impressed when writers can switch from one type of genre to another, and Holdstock creates wonderful dialogue and plot situations in this new novel.
Caroline Adderson was also at the 2014 Festival, reading from her novel Ellen in Pieces. For the last four years Caroline has been leading the intensive five-day Writing Week, with the most recent one in July being offered virtually. Her latest novel, A Russian Sister, was published in August and takes a creative look at the family and loves of the Russian writer Anton Chekov. Viewers of the Denman virtual mini-fest can see Caroline describe her research before writing this novel, and can hear her read excerpts from this dazzling new work of fiction.
Aislinn Hunter was part of our line-up in 2015, when she shared with our audience her novel The World Before Us. Her latest is called The Certainties and describes the entwined fates of two very different types of refugees – those fleeing Nazi persecution in 1940 and those forced by different circumstances 40 years later ….. with the inevitable connections between the characters from the two eras. I’m reading it now and find it a powerful combination of historical and speculative fiction.
Marina Endicott joined us in 2018 with her whimsical novel, Close to Hugh. Her most recent book, out a year ago, is The Difference, an historical novel from early in the 20th century, featuring a Nova Scotian merchant ship on a voyage to the South Pacific. The two main characters, Kay and Thea are half-sisters who find themselves exploring differences related to class, age, culture and ethnicity. It’s rather an old-fashioned (and that’s a compliment!) adventure story with fascinating characters.
Emily St John Mandel is, in fact, one of Denman’s ‘own’, having grown up on this island. She’s been to the Festival twice, first in 2010, and more recently in 2018 with her international best seller, Station Eleven. In 2019, she brought out another novel with direct relevance to the real world, The Glass Hotel, a contemporary story inspired by the 2008 Bernie Madoff ponzi scandal and featuring characters and settings that will be eerily familiar to BC residents.
Esi Edugyan came to national attention with her break-out novel Half Blood Blues about the same time she came to Denman in 2013. Then in 2018, she won the Giller for her masterful Washington Black, the saga of a young man who escaped from slavery in the Caribbean and who went on to a series of adventures around the world. Another book I read virtually without stopping!
I am confident that former Festival attendees will be inspired by reading these six new works by authors who undoubtedly were themselves inspired by being on Denman. Maybe it’s immodest to say, but I think we can take a small amount of credit as well as pride as we continue to follow the literary careers of these outstanding writers.
And next month, in the interest of gender balance, I will write something similar with six male authors who have written new books since coming to the Denman Festival.