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Junction Reads

A Prose Reading Series.

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Junction Reads

This is a reading series where prose writers present their work. We are dedicated to promoting new work and prose published by Canadian independent publishers.

NOVEMBER READS

We have a busy month ahead with four great books and four fabulous authors joining us for conversations about their new books.

Subscribe to our Youtube channel because if you miss any of our live events, you can find the videos there.

Register for our Junction Reads events, and you might win a copy of the book from the publisher. Follow us on Instragram @thefirstthirty and @junctionreads and join us for our live events,


On November 10, I am going to chat with Elaine McCluskey about writing her varied and vibrant collection of stories, Rafael has pretty eyes. from Goose Lane.

The seventeen stories in Elaine McCluskey’s latest collection, Rafael Has Pretty Eyes, follow characters who have reached a four-way stop in life; some are deciding whether to follow the signs or defy them; others find a sinkhole forming beneath their feet. Set in the Maritimes but transcending regional boundaries, McCluskey’s stories are experimental, sometimes provocative, and often about those living on the margins. Smart, compassionate and unsparing, Rafael Has Pretty Eyes explores the absurdity and interconnectedness of a life adrift.

Purchase your own copy, directly from the publisher or your local independent book shop.

On Sunday November 13 at 5:00pm EST, Margaret Nowaczyk returns to Junction Returns with her latest book, A Memoir of Genetics, Mental Health and Writing, Chasing Zebras from Wolsak and Wynn.

“From leaving Communist Poland to enduring the demands of medical school, through living with a long undiagnosed mental illness to discovering the fascinating field of genetics, plunging into the pressures of prenatal diagnosis and finally finding the tools of writing and of narrative medicine, Margaret shares a journey that is both inspiring and harrowing. This is a story of constant effort, of growth, of tragedy and of triumph, and most of all, of the importance of openness. In the end, Dr. Nowaczyk invites us all to see that “life is precious and fragile and wondrous and full of mistakes.” And to keep trying.”

Register on EventBrite. PWYC. Tickets are $0-20 and all proceeds to the author. You could win your own copy from the publisher.

On Thursday November 17 at 7:00pm EST, join us on Instagram Live, for a conversation with Nataša Nuhanović about writing and her delicate and heartbreaking love story, The Boy’s Marble from Guernica Editions..

“A boy and girl promise to meet at midnight on a bench halfway between their apartments, and run away together, only the boy never comes. Twenty years later in Montreal, she meets someone who reminds her of the boy and wonders whether it could really be him. A brilliant anti-war story that wakes the reader in hope and love, and helps understand just how useless, meaningless and absurd war really is.”

Follow us and share @junctionreads and @thefirstthirty.

On Sunday November 27 at 5:00pm EST, we welcome back Catherine Graham with her latest novel, The Most Cunning Heart from Palimpsest Press.

“In the early 1990’s, Caitlin Maharg, grieving the loss of her parents, leaves everything she knows in Canada for Northern Ireland to pursue her love of poetry while living in a cottage by the Irish Sea. Feeling like a child again in a distant land still affected by the Troubles, she is haunted by the secrets her parents’ deaths unearthed. In her longing for emotional closeness, she befriends Andy Evans, a well-known poet with a roguish charm. Their attraction soon leads to a love affair. Flouting the paisley headscarf of respectability, she plunges into a relationship that gives her an entry to the literary world, but at a price. Filled with insights into grief, longing and creativity, The Most Cunning Heart is a novel about how a quiet heroine learns to navigate deception, love and loss.”

This is a PWYC event. Register and you might win a copy of the book from the publisher.

Featured post

Interview with Anna Dowdall

The end of last season was a rush. We were all racing to the summer and the relaxing sunny days ahead. If you missed our event with Anna Dowdall on May 5, you can check out the video of our event here.

APRIL ON PARIS STREET was released by Guernica Editions in October 2021.

“In April on Paris Street, a Montreal private investigator of half-Abenaki heritage takes a case that looks like old-school damsel in-distress rescue but that then turns into something unnervingly different. The narrative weaves working class Ashley Smeeton’s personal story (trying to connect with her Abenaki relatives, the death of a grandmother she’s hardly known, an ill-considered fling with a handsome vaurien) into the story of the privileged young woman, Mirabel Saint Cyr, whose fashion mogul husband hires her.” It is a gorgeous novel that takes the reader on a journey through Montreal and Paris.


APRIL ON PARIS STREET is filled with incredibly complex and duplicitous characters. The story itself feels like background to the lively characters. It is much like an Agatha Christie novel, where you can imagine each character having a novel to themselves. You also mention the Orient Express at one point. I wonder if you’d talk about any literary or creative influences?

How can I deny the influence of Agatha Christie and why would I want to?  Utterly without pretension and highly accessible, her books are genius.  But my influences are probably a real mix of this and that. I love Ursula Curtiss, and my first book, After the Winter, meant to read fallaciously like mid-century romantic suspense, is a tribute to her.  Then there’s Rebecca West, for the admirable subtlety of her female characterizations. Lucy Montgomery is probably partly responsible for my love of immersive setting. And if Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins can have all over the place “run on” plots, why can’t I?  And, finally, there is nothing UK screenwriter Sally Wainwright has done that I haven’t wanted to imitate. 

The women you write are strong and determined, even when others think they’re indecisive or weak. Creating a book filled with very different multi-dimensional women must be a challenge.

Can you talk about characterization and how, as a writer, you approach character development?

I’ve been drawn to writers whose female characterizations are considered ground-breaking or at least in some way unusual. In crime fiction, it is so easy to fall into sexist gender tropes. There is a prevalence of female victims in books by both male and female writers.  I cracked a Canadian hard-boiled crime story recently, saying I’d stick with it if the first female character wasn’t a hooker. Not only was she a hooker, but she also didn’t show up until page 81. In some ways what I do is almost elementary. I try to create female characters who don’t stab each other in the back; don’t talk about men all the time; take centre stage in the book; have a wide range of human preoccupations, and whose behaviour can be very unexpected. In crime fiction, this latter element is part of how a writer can misdirect the reader. You hit the nail on the head in your question, and the depths and strengths of women in my books are part of the reveal. My three novel endings one way or another are meant to be feminist repliques to commercial crime fiction with its voyeuristic female victims and typical endings.          

There are several doubles in the novel. Some we cannot mention, but near the beginning of the novel, there are two women named Mira, thugs described only as Thug One and Thug Two and other paired characters who work together to bring the story to the page. Can you talk about this in APRIL ON PARIS STREET, and how doubles work to amplify the tension and conflict in the writing?

A probing question. I’m not sure I can answer it fully. I have had a lifelong obsession with doubles. Maybe I am a little double myself, one way or another? But…having dumped all the doubles I could think of, related to form, plot, setting and character, into April on Paris Street, I guess I can stand back and say, almost as a reader, that they add to the uncanny feeling of the story, of things not being ever quite what they seem.  Maybe almost philosophical, as if I want to portray an uncertain world of ramifying and duplicating realities, even of eternal returns.  However, I hope I’m not as nuts as Nietzsche, although everybody should be a little bit crazy once in a while.  

Ashley is a working Private Investigator, and the Saint Cyr case is not her only job. In many novels with a PI as the lead character, we don’t get to see other cases they are working on. I couldn’t help but wonder if the ones in APRIL may appear again in a future novel. Can you talk about your choice to include such detail with the other cases?

It was part of my need to embroider motifs of doubleness wherever I could. The other cases are like mini plots, reflecting on and modifying the main plot and the theme, ie, betrayal where you least expect it. The neighbour’s wrong un boyfriend isn’t such a wrong un. The overworked pediatrician’s husband on the other hand exemplifies the double life. Etcetera. My second book, The Au Pair, explores a theme of tragic plagiarism and I also work in snippets of another plagiarism case, with comic overtones, to foreshadow the direction of my main plot. I do this type of thing almost automatically. I’m like a bower bird sorting my objects and colours, only they are themes and variations on themes. I could easily use these in future books! April on Paris Street ends with Dominique of the bright green eyes gone missing in the mysterious east (end.) Maybe Ashley will be hired to look for her.   

You do such a fine job of describing in vivid sensual details the surroundings in the novel: the cold, the wind, the darkness. How does physical space play a role in your storytelling?

Thank you for your kind words. The “place” of the story is the world I need to wander around in as I write. Again, it’s not a deliberate choice as much as a natural predilection. Even as a kid, I always preferred books that built a very complete world, in both its natural and human-made aspects. The interplay between setting and character fascinates me, as it is subtler than the tango between character and plot and captures the impalpable via mood. In crime fiction in particular, setting’s menacing and unknown aspects are a gorgeously ambiguous interactive frame for the unfolding story. Place, in my estimation, is what contributes magic to stories.

Paris and the Parisian Carnival really come alive in the book. Have you spent time there? Have you gone to Carnival? Have you been to a masquerade party? I’d love details on the research.

I was raised in a French-Canadian community and participated in many local Carnavals as I was growing up. I once won a prize as a Pierrette on skates. I love Paris, who doesn’t, and have spent much time there, in modest hotels in sketchy parts of the city. And I did spend five days in Paris, just researching Carnaval. I went to the research centre of the Archives Nationales de Paris, the archives of Le Figaro, a Musée Carnavalet special exhibit, and there were relevant collections at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Musée Bourdelle too.

Ashley meets her father’s family for the first time in APRIL ON PARIS STREET and it is a complex relationship, given she didn’t grow up with Abenaki traditions and culture. How much will you dive into this with her if she appears in the next novel?

I don’t know! But probably quite a bit if she is to feature in a future book. However, to keep things fresh, I might invent a mysterious and just discovered half-sister, who dies in problematic circumstances perhaps. Just to add a wrinkle. That, by the way, is a contrivance of my first book, After the Winter. No matter how detailed my characterization, I like to place my rounded characters adjacent to fairy tale and fable plot elements. I’ll never write social issue novels, although I adored reading them when I was younger.


From Guernica Editions:
Anna Dowdall was born in Montreal and recently moved back there, which surprised no one but her. She’s been a reporter, a college lecturer and a horticultural advisor, as well as other things best forgotten. Her well-received domestic mysteries, After the Winter and The Au Pair, feature evocative settings and uninhibited female revenge, with a seasoning of moral ambiguity and noir. She reads obscure fiction in English and French and thinks Quebec is an underrecognized mise en scène for mystery and domestic suspense.

Hard stories make big hearts

Ivan Baidak comes to Junction Reads on Sunday October 2 at 5:00pm EST. On Zoom.

I was at the Guernica Editions launch for Ivan Baidak’s novel, (In)visible, on September 18, and was so moved by his introduction to the reading. He talked about the almost 2 million Ukrainians who live with disabilities and that the majority of them live indoors, away from the public’s gaze. They live in fear of being seen, being mocked and feel safer indoors.

As the mother of a kid with a facial difference, this was hard to hear. There have been many times in his life that I felt we shouldn’t go outside, especially when he was very young and had spots all over his face from laser surgery. But we went anyway; we went shopping at IKEA where he played with other kids in the ball area; we went to the park where kids could see him and he went to school. We did this for no other reason than he deserves to live like everyone else. I didn’t think about the other side of it until years later when my very young niece told her best friend (who was staring at her cousin’s port-wine-stained face), “Don’t worry, after a while you won’t even notice.” She was right. The more people hang out with him, the more they see he’s loving, caring, empathetic and funny as hell. The more they see him, the less they see the birthmark because he is more than his face. My kid needs to be seen; people with disabilities, both visible and invisible, need to be seen.

In the first section of Baidak’s novel, the characters, who are members of a support group for individuals with visible differences talk about their reactions to people staring and inquiring. Anna, a character with a large hemangioma on her cheek says, “I wish they didn’t notice us at all…or rather ignored us.” Eva says, “I usually joke about it. Whenever someone asks me about patches on my skin, I pretend I have no idea what they’re talking about. Patches? What Patches?” The conversation turns when the group’s facilitator says, “Don’t be hard on others. They might just need a bit more time to get used to you.” This upsets Eva, who is angry she can’t ever hope to make a good first impression and that no one will ever fall in love with her at first sight.

This is the heart of the story, for me. We live in a world where our physical bodies, our faces, our hair and how we move in the world, are judged at first sight. Unless my son decides to hide inside, the images he shares on social media will be commented on by those who will see his birthmark first, and then, hopefully notice his beauty. This world is exponentially more difficult for him and for people with visible disabilities because the first impression will always include their differences. What I like about Baidak’s novel is, his characters are allowed to speak their own experiences and share their own opinions about what they should be doing and what the general population should be doing.

This novel explores the experiences of four characters with visible differences. From Tourette’s to alopecia to a facial hemangioma and vitiligo, Adam, Marta, Anna and Eva confront their own fears and trepidations as they move toward a new place in their lives. They are each courageous and confident as they learn “patience and resilience” on their journeys of self-discovery.

In the final chapter, Adam says: “Each of us is fighting our own battle…Whenever I meet someone for the first time, I feel like I’m opening a new book. I am not familiar with this person’s story…but I know…they might be struggling with something…So, I try to be kind to them.” We need more books like (In)visible in the world. We need more people to see others as they hope to be seen. We are all struggling. We come “in many different shapes and forms” and it is only when we look beyond the book cover – beyond the faces and bodies – that we will understand each other. I cannot say enough how important it is for people with differences to live inside the books we read. At the reading, before Ivan stopped talking, my son said, “I need his book.” He wanted – he needed – a book that spoke to his own experiences. Ivan dedicated the book to Duncan with the words: “Hope you have a wonderful life.” Isn’t this what we should want for everyone?

I hope you will join us on October 2, but in the mean time, please read Ivan’s book. Find resources and follow groups and individuals on social media.

Suggestions: AboutFace Canada an excellent group for individuals and families living with facial difference. Face Equality International, an organisation of many fighting for face equality as a human rights issue. Tourette Canada, a fundraising and support organisation raising awareness. The Canadian Skin Patient Alliance, “a national non-profit organization that improves the health and wellbeing of people across Canada affected by skin, hair, and nail conditions through collaboration, advocacy, and education.”

Junction Reads is growing!

We are so excited to share the news that Sarah Campbell is joining Junction Reads. The best news? She will be our Social Media Coordinator and I cannot be more thrilled to have her join the team! Look out for more posts with recommended reads, reading events and other bookish things.

Sarah Campbell is a writer, a Roots Of Empathy Instructor and a lover of all things pop culture. When she isn’t reading she also writes book reviews for 49th Kids (kids.49thshelf.com.) Most recently, she has been published in the Quarantine Review. She and her husband, their two sons and dog Bingo live in Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow her at Pink Fish Reads.


New Season, New Readings!

We have made the decision to continue with online readings. I keep thinking (and saying) it was a difficult decision, but truthfully it was an easy one. Without funding and a venue space (Anansi is not yet open to in-person events), it seems the best decision for us. Also, we get to welcome so many great writers from across the country with the very accessible digital interview. I hope you’ll join us when we kick off the new season on September 11 with Kamloops author, Katie Welch and her debut novel, MAD HONEY from Wolsak and Wynn.



We’ve shortened the list of authors as well because I have decided to make some time for my own writing and with Cayley’s promotion at Simon and Schuster, we will both be a bit busier. That being said, we are also excited to welcome Sarah Campbell to the team. She is going to support us with marketing and event stuff. We have also invited some guest hosts to join us, so you’ll get some new and fresh perspectives on writing and the gorgeous books we have this season.

Check out the Upcoming Events page for more details.

We will also continue with our Instagram Live writers’ series, THE FIRST THIRTY, with random Thursday evening events on the gram, where we will talk to authors about writing those challenging openings. They will share new work and new ideas, so all the writers out there should stay tuned. Follow us @junctionreads and @thefirstthirty.

We hope you’ll like, follow and subscribe. (The last link is for Eventbrite) Also check out Cayley’s fantabulous Insta @cayleyisreading!!

Last reading of the season!

And what an end it is? Or is it the beginning of something else?

On June 19, K.R. Wilson joins us for our final event of the season. It’s going to be epic!

From Guernica Editions, Call Me Stan is a Tragedy told in Three Millennia, that is also very very funny!

“When King Priam’s pregnant daughter was fleeing the sack of Troy, Stan was there. When Jesus of Nazareth was beaten and crucified, Stan was there–one cross over. Stan has been a Hittite warrior, a Roman legionnaire, a mercenary for the caravans of the Silk Road and a Great War German grunt. He’s been a toymaker in a time of plague, a reluctant rebel in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, and an information peddler in the cabarets of post-war Berlin. Stan doesn’t die, and he doesn’t know why. And now he’s being investigated for a horrific crime. As Stan tells his story, from his origins as an Anatolian sheep farmer to his custody in a Toronto police interview room, he brings a wry, anachronistic perspective to three thousand years of Eurasian history. Call Me Stan is the story of a man endlessly struggling to adjust as the world keeps changing around him. It is a Biblical epic from the bleachers, a gender fluid operatic love quadrangle, and a touching exploration of what it is to outlive everyone you love. Or almost everyone.”

K. R. Wilson grew up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where he obtained a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Calgary. In 2018 his debut novel, An Idea About My Dead Uncle, won the inaugural Guernica Prize for unpublished literary fiction, and was published by Guernica Editions in 2019. He lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada with his wife and daughter. Call Me Stan: A Tragedy in Three Millennia is his second novel.

It’s always sad when Junction Reads comes to an end, but it is especially meaningful this year, as we are saying goodbye to two years of our bi-weekly virtual events. It was wonderful to be able to speak to authors from across Canada and it this experience that has made us see how important it is to maintain these online and accessible readings. Stay tuned for more information about next season. We hope to return to the Anansi Book Shop once a month, which we hope to livestream, and we will continue our online events welcoming authors and audiences from all over the world.

Register for this event and you might just win a book from Guernica Editions. PWYC. $0-$20.

Follow Kevin on Instagram and Twitter @krwbooks.

Interview with Stephen Henighan

On April 10, I sat down with Stephen Henighan to chat about writing and his latest novel, THE WORLD OF AFTER from Cormorant Books. You can check out the video of our conversation on our YouTube channel.

The World of After is about three men and a tragedy that binds them together while also tearing them apart. It is a journey to freedom and of self-discovery in a post-Cold War world.


The relationships in The World of After are complicated. Sometimes, it feels like their friendships exist out of obligation rather than mutual love and at one point in the book, it is said that Canadians living in Oxford are just expected to be friends. How do you see the friendships at the heart of the novel? What did you hope a reader might feel?

This novel falls into what I would call the “trans-Atlantic” category.  The characters’ behaviour, including their friendships is conditioned by the fact that they are overseas. It’s a situation where the Canadians feel they should be friends with each other even though they often don’t have much in common and are probably people who wouldn’t spend time together at home. At the same time, the emotional stakes in the central friendship triangle, between Kevin, Alex and Leon, are rendered more intense by the three young men’s intellectual competition, their arguments over poetry and Russia’s direction under Boris Yeltsin. And it’s more complicated, of course, because Leon isn’t Canadian.  His identity as an East London Jew from a traditionally Communist family prompts strong but complicated responses in both Kevin, the Montrealer, and Alex from Toronto.

I don’t think directly about reader response. I work to make the characters as true as they can be, and hope that their humanity will draw the reader in, whether I’m writing about people with few opportunities in life or about intellectuals who are receiving a privileged graduate education, as is the case in this novel.

I tried to craft a novel about the 1990s as a “long decade,” beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and concluding only in 2001 or 2003—a decade of uncertainty and unleashed energy but also of a kind of freedom to explore the world with fresh eyes.

Stephen Henighan

Zed, states toward the end, as a historian, “small decisions do change large destines”. This reflects on Kevin’s and Leon’s misstep in the novel, but also speaks to the great historical themes in the book. Can you talk about that?

One of the conundrums with which the novel presents the reader is that Zed, a conservative, traditional historian, sees the morality of an individual’s acts as a decisive factor in shaping capital-h History, while Leon, the radical analyst of social class, downplays the role of the individual. In light of the novel’s events, the reader has to ask: is Leon taking this position out of intellectual conviction, or out of discomfort with confronting his role in the tragedy that breaks up their triangular friendship and dispatches the three young men on their journeys through the Europe of the 1990s?

At the same time, as your question suggests, Zed’s statement has resonances for the rest of the novel.  To what extent is the war in ex-Yugoslavia in the 1990s the result of the actions of a particular individual, Slobodan Milosevic, and to what extent is it a product of a historical watershed: the end of the Cold War and the rise of ethno-nationalism? (Likewise today: would any Russian president have invaded a fast-Westernizing Ukraine, or is the war the product of Vladimir Putin’s particular personality and decisions?)

There’s an ongoing debate about these questions throughout the novel.  Zed gets the last word, which in some ways is close to my heart, though I’m still not absolutely certain that he’s right.

At one point Leon says: “You know what I say? I say don’t worry, new divisions will come along and you’re not going to like them one bit. The West will be gripped by some new oppressive ideology that’s even more repellent than anti-communism.” Feels like a premonition. What are your thoughts given the current situation in Ukraine?

It’s funny, throughout the novel the characters follow, and argue about, the disastrous government of Boris Yeltsin, which ushered Russia into Western capitalism in a position of almost supine weakness—a negative experience that opened the door to a “strong leader” like Putin who would withdraw Russia from the Western system or use it to his own advantage. Until Russia invaded Ukraine in February, I had actually forgotten how much there was in the novel about the Yeltsin government –the long-distance cause of the present catastrophe.

When Leon says that, I actually think more about the idea of the 1990s as the ambiguous borderland between the Cold War, which wound down between 1989 and 1991, and the West’s anti-Islamic fervour, which began to crank up after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. When the Berlin Wall fell, there was a hope, in Europe at least, of a rebirth of the cultural diversity of Central and Eastern Europe—that all those ethnic minorities living alongside each other would emerge and remind us of the value of linguistic and cultural multiplicity.  Also, for people brought up in the 1970s and 1980s, the old binary, us-or-them ways of perceiving the world, travelling in the world, interacting with people from different places, became new and uncertain.

Here I was playing, in my own mind at least, with the British historian Eric Hobsbawm’s idea that the 19th century was a “long century” in that it began with the French Revolution in 1789 and ended only with the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. In a similar vein, I tried to craft a novel about the 1990s as a “long decade,” beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and concluding only in 2001 or 2003—a decade of uncertainty and unleashed energy but also of a kind of freedom to explore the world with fresh eyes. I would read Leon’s warning about future oppressive ideologies as referring to Islamophobia and the War on Terror, though perhaps, in light of the invasion of Ukraine, one could read it in other ways as well.

I love how all the characters are so fixated on each other’s political leanings. Is that an accurate portrayal of life at Oxford at the time? Or perhaps even now?

I’m not sure.  My impression from talking to people who are still there is that Oxford became much less politicized after the year 2000 or so.  The ferment of the 1990s waned. In the novel, part of the fixation comes from the central characters belonging to a small graduate community where people inevitably peel off into groups that caricature each other’s views, in one of the minority of Oxford colleges known for liberal or leftist politics.

Kevin reflects that he had no desire to return to Montreal and an easier life, and that he longs for a “post-war condition whose Central European heart seemed to offer a kind of hope.” I can’t help but think about all the people immersed in academia at the time. Where do you think Kevin would be right now? Or Leon? Alex?

Kevin isn’t much of an academic, as his struggles at Oxford demonstrate.  Part of the attraction of a potentially revived Mitteleuropa –a Central Europe that might bring back the cultural diversity of, say, the Austro-Hungarian Empire– is that it provides him with a destiny that can be defined in vague, rather misty, terms that don’t require the sort of precise, even pedantic, definitions of which academia is so fond. 

Where would they be today?  Leon would be a highly successful academic, Kevin would continue to grind along as a rather mediocre Cégep teacher in Montreal. And Alex? Well, we see where he ends up at the end of the book…..  He might be involved in laundering money for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, or, given that he betrays very powerful people near the novel’s conclusion, he might no longer be alive.

Each time I finished a new, shorter draft, I let it sit for a year or two until I was able to return to it and see it clearly enough, I hoped, to notice which bits of each sentence stuck out awkwardly.

Stephen Henighan

Let’s talk about the length of this novel. The World of After was originally over 800 pages. Knowing, The Path of the Jaguar and Mr. Singh Among the Fugitives was a quarter that length and your short stories display your mastery of telling great stories with fewer pages. What was different about this story? And how did you manage to cut so much?

To reduce the 800-page manuscript to the current 450 pages, I eliminated some slightly preposterous subplots; but mostly I focused –very consciously so—on the skills I’ve tried to develop in writing short stories and columns for Geist magazine: making every word count, cutting unnecessary words out of each sentence, trying to convey more than explain. It was very much a chopping and compressing process that I undertook paragraph by paragraph.  That’s why it took me eight or nine years. Each time I finished a new, shorter draft, I let it sit for a year or two until I was able to return to it and see it clearly enough, I hoped, to notice which bits of each sentence stuck out awkwardly.

This isn’t the first long or longish novel I’ve written: my first novel, Other Americas (1990) and my third one, The Streets of Winter (2004), are both over 300 pages. I think The Path of the Jaguar and Mr. Singh Among the Fugitives were shorter because I was, quite conspicuously, writing about protagonists who were from cultural backgrounds very different from mine. It’s not that I had less to say about their humanity, but rather that I had to vet each word or reaction to make sure it sounded plausible. Writing in the first-person as Kevin I was able to let myself go in a way that I wasn’t quite able to do when I was writing in the first person as Mr. R. U. Singh.

Kevin is quite different from me: he’s a lifelong Montrealer, a fifth-  or sixth-generation Canadian while I’m an immigrant who grew up mainly in the Ottawa Valley but moved around a lot, too. Kevin is less middle-class than I am, and he has never been to England prior to his arrival in Oxford as a graduate student.  By contrast, I had already lived about four years of my life in the U.K. when I went to study there, and had grown up with a British mother and stepfather.  There were things about British society which  I understood intuitively that Kevin has to learn.  Still, the mere fact that he’s a straight white male with an Irish surname who belongs to the same generation as I do probably emboldened me to assume I could guess his reactions to most situations which, in the end, made for a more expansive story.

It would be impossible to not talk about the women in the novel. Kevin is quite the Lothario: a bit judgmental of all the women, sexually, and yet pursuant, regardless. At times, I felt sorry for him because it was clear and I think he even admits to this, that he could not connect emotionally with many of them. Who do you think, of all the women, he loved most?

Definitely Catherine.  She’s the would-be soulmate with whom his ultimate incompatibility is most painful.  At the same time, I’m not sure I’d accept the Lothario designation. The novel covers twelve years of Kevin’s life, from the ages, roughly, of 32 to 44.  Would we designate a single man who, between 32 and 44, has three serious relationships (I’m counting Camille, Kumiko and Catherine)  and three or four other affairs a “Lothario”?  I think the compressed space of the novel may make Kevin appear more assiduous in this regard than we might consider him to be if he were one of our friends. Yet, at the same time, you’re not wrong: there IS a kind of post-fall-of-the-Berlin-Wall release of energy at an emotional and sexual level that runs parallel to his intellectual and political discovery of the world of 1990s Europe and which, I hope, enriches and illuminates his wayward quest.

The women in the novel are all pretty independent; most of them resemble Kevin in not being particularly monogamous. Each embodies a different reaction to the cultural shifts of the time:  Camille’s support of Québécois nationalism, Kumiko’s quest for a shared expatriate bond—until she realizes she will have to return to Japan and “become Japanese again” in order to work in her field; Leonie’s dedication to being a single female academic while pursuing her passion for working-class men and her refusal to take seriously anyone from North America; and most significantly to the novel’s themes, Catherine’s   “Ostalgie”—her nostalgic longing for the communal and traditionalist elements of Cold War Eastern Europe—which frames the whole book.

A question from our audience: I’m so impressed with you being able to work on 5 different projects at once! How do you manage all those stories in your head? Are they all very different stories so that you can keep them straight?

Please don’t be impressed!  I really don’t keep them all in my head. In fact, that’s the benefit of having lots of unfinished manuscripts on your desk.   By the time I return to the one that’s too long and too thin or just not working in some way I can’t put my finger on, so much time has passed –often two or three years—that rereading it is like reading the work of a stranger. And that makes it easier to edit it and, eventually—after many more drafts, alas—make it better (at least that’s what I keep hoping).

Are you ever surprised to suddenly understand something a character does?

I think this works the other way around: I’m often surprised by what my characters do. I have a plot nicely organized, I know what’s supposed to come next, then they just go off in a different direction and I no longer have a plot but a mess. As part of that mess, I sometimes start to understand why the characters have refused to act as I wished them to. And that may lead to greater comprehension of my characters—if I’m lucky.

What are you working on now?

I’m never not writing short stories so inevitably there are a couple of mangled short story drafts on my desk. I have a book of essays that’s two or three essays away from completion and a second draft of a John le Carré-like novel set in Egypt during the build-up to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. My pandemic project has been to try to finally finish a long academic/ non-fiction book on the relationship between history and literature in Angola. I’ve been writing little snippets of this book since 2005.  In March 2020 I started working on it full-tilt.  I’ll finish it in the next few months if I’m lucky—and if I’m not distracted by something else!


Stephen Henighan is the author of five novels, four collections of short stories, and four books of essays. His work has been published in PloughsharesThe Globe and MailGeist Magazine, and The Walrus — to name a few. He has translated novels into English from Portuguese and Romanian and is the General Editor, Biblioasis International Translation Series. He is currently a professor of Spanish and Hispanic Studies at the University of Guelph. You can follow him on Twitter @stephenhenighan

May Readings

The month of May is the pleasant time; its face is beautiful; the blackbird sings his full song, the living wood is his holding, the cuckoos are singing and ever singing; there is a welcome before the brightness of the summer.

– Lady Gregory


It feels like the closer we get to summer, the more these months become my favourite. I love May because it feels like it is the period at the end of a long run-on, unpunctuated winter sentence. I love May because I start to pull together my summer reading list and look at our schedule for next year. May is exciting!

This month, we welcome two more authors to share their work.

On May 8, Charlotte Mendel joins us with her young adult fiction novel, Reversing Time from Guernica Editions.

In Reversing Time, one boy’s quest to change history “the odds are definitely against Simon, racing home from school every day a step ahead of the school bullies–until he finds the talisman. Even as the talisman begins to destroy his family, Simon discovers that he belongs to a tribe of people with the power to travel along the length and breadth of their own life lines. Simon is shocked to learn that they expect him to help halt humanity’s destiny: extinction. A fast-paced fantasy YA novel, Reversing Time tackles vital themes in today’s society–such as climate change and the environment–within the context of an exciting page-turner.”


“Charlotte Mendel was born in Nova Scotia and spent three years travelling around the world, working in France, England, Turkey, Israel and India. She is the author of Turn Us Again (Roseway/Fernwood, 2013), which won the H.R. Percy Novel Prize, the Beacon Award for Social Justice, and the Atlantic Book Award in the Margaret and John Savage First Book category. Her second novel, A Hero (Inanna Publications, 2015) was shortlisted for the 2016 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, and was a Finalist in the 2016 International Book Awards in the General Fiction category. Charlotte currently lives in Enfield with twenty chickens, four goats, three sheep, two cats, two children, one husband and thousands of bees.”

Register for our event here. PWYC. All proceeds go to the author.


On May 29, Anna Dowdall will read from her latest novel, April on Paris Street. From Guernica Editions, this mystery introduces us to Ashley Smeeton, private investigator.

“The basic damsel-in-distress gig sounds perfect to private investigator Ashley Smeeton, who’s got her own personal and professional struggles in Montreal. Against the backdrop of the winter Carnaval, the job first takes her to Paris where she’s drawn into an unsettling world of mirages and masks, not to mention the murderous Bortnik brothers. When she returns to Montreal, a city rife with its own unreasonable facsimiles, the case incomprehensibly picks up again. Convinced she’s being played, Ashley embarks on an even more dangerous journey into duplicity. In a world of masks behind masks, it’s hard to say where the truth lies.”

“Anna Dowdall was born in Montreal and recently moved back there, which surprised no one but her. She’s been a reporter, a college lecturer and a horticultural advisor, as well as other things best forgotten. Her well-received domestic mysteries, After the Winter and The Au Pair, feature evocative settings and uninhibited female revenge, with a seasoning of moral ambiguity and noir. She reads obscure fiction in English and French and thinks Quebec is an underrecognized mise en scène for mystery and domestic suspense.”

Register for the event here. PWYC. All proceeds go to the author.


Only four more readings of the season. Why not join our mailing list? We’ll send monthly invites and news about our new upcoming in-person events and our continued online events. Are you an author looking for a place to share your work? Contact us today for more information. junctionwrites@gmail.com

…some form of April hallelujah 

“Spring is made of solid, fourteen-karat gratitude, the reward for the long wait. Every religious tradition from the northern hemisphere honors some form of April hallelujah, for this is the season of exquisite redemption, a slam-bang return to joy after a season of cold second thoughts.”

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

It has been said that April is the cruelest month, but I do not, I cannot, have faith in such a statement. It’s kicked off with laughter (if your foolish joke lands) and it ends with a very real promise of warm sun on your face (not like the now you see it, now you don’t sunshine of March).

April at Junction Reads is going to be great. We’ve got Cary Fagan joining us for #TheFirstThirty with GREAT ADVENTURES FOR THE FAINT OF HEART (follow us on Instagram for more details). Stephen Henighan returns on Sunday April 10 with THE WORLD OF AFTER and Edith Blais joins us with her incredible memoir, THE WEIGHT OF SAND.

This month, we’ve got two very different books to talk about and we cannot wait.


On April 10, Stephen Henighan returns to Junction Reads with his latest novel, THE WORLD OF AFTER. It might make you think about an April Fool’s joke that went horribly wrong and it might make you think about those important friendships you once had, but that ended or fizzled out.

Stephen has published several novels, short stories, and non-fiction titles. “For his fiction Stephen has won the Potter Short Story Prize and a McNally-Robinson Fiction Prize.  For his non-fiction he has been a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Canada Prize in the Humanities, a National Magazine Award and a Western Magazine Award.”

From Cormorant Books: “When Kevin, an Irish Montrealer, attends graduate school at Oxford University in the early 1990s he meets Leon, a London Jew from a Communist family, and Alex, a Soviet defector’s son raised in Toronto. As the trio begins to form a complex and conflicted friendship, Alex pulls away and spends more of his time tutoring a charming, yet troubled, upper-class undergraduate and less of it with Kevin and Leon. In a fit of jealousy, Kevin and Leon play a prank on Alex and the undergrad, a prank with dire consequences.

Ultimately, the three young men go their separate ways, but what happened that night binds them together and helps lead them to freedom and self-discovery in a post-Cold War world.”

You can register for the event today. PWYC. All proceeds to the author. All attendees are entered into a raffle for a chance to win a copy from Cormorant Books.

This reading is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and The Writer’s Union of Canada Public Readings Program.


On April 24, we will meet Edith Blais, who will share a reading from her incredible memoir about her kidnapping and 450 days of captivity and her incredible escape in March 2020. In The Weight of Sand, “Edith Blais describes her harrowing hostage experience for the first time—and reveals that writing poetry in secret helped save her life.

Edith recounts the prolonged terror of her months as a hostage, enduring violent sandstorms, constant relocations, grueling hunger strikes, extreme isolation, and the unpredictability of her captors. She also shares the luminous poems she wrote in secret with a borrowed pen, which became a lifeline of creativity and one of the few possessions she smuggled out in her escape, strapped to her leg under her clothes.”

From Greystone Books:Edith Blais is a chef and self-taught writer and artist who chooses to lead a simple life. In 2019, she and her traveling companion, Luca Tacchetto, were taken hostage by an Islamic militant group in the Sahel region of Africa. Her writings during her fifteen months of captivity became the basis for her first book. Edith escaped her captors in March 2020 and currently lives in Sherbrooke, Quebec.”

You can register for the event today. PWYC. All proceeds to the author. All attendees are entered into a raffle for a chance to win a copy from Cormorant Books.

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