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A Prose Reading Series.

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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 In 2018 his debut novel, An Idea About My Dead Uncle, won the inaugural Guernica Prize for unpublished literary fiction, and was published by Guernica Editions in 2019.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.

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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

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…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.

Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

As we start a new year, you may have your to-be-read list in front of you and you might be thinking about all the books you want and need to add to that list. Have you set yourself a challenge? Will you read 50 books this year? Will you read over 200? Or, like, me, do you set a time per day or week that you dedicate to reading?

However, you choose the words you’ll read, Junction Reads is a source for recommended books. There are short story collections, memoirs, novels, personal essays and not only do we have a vault of past readers (with videos and interviews) to choose from, we have upcoming authors with newly, or yet to be, released books that you will definitely want to add to your TBR list.

On January 9, we kick off the new year with Nic Brewer and her powerful debut novel, SUTURE. It is innovative story-telling with provocative prose and great characters. From Book*hug Press: “Suture shares three interweaving stories of artists tearing themselves open to make art. Each artist baffles their family, or harms their loved ones, with their necessary sacrifices. Eva’s wife worries about her mental health; Finn’s teenager follows in her footsteps, using forearm bones for drumsticks; Grace’s network constantly worries about the prolific writer’s penchant for self-harm, and the over-use of her vitals for art. The result is a hyper-real exploration of the cruelties we commit and forgive in ourselves and others. Brewer brings a unique perspective to mental illness while exploring how support systems in relationships—spousal, parental, familial—can be both helpful and damaging. This exciting debut novel is a highly original meditation on the fractures within us, and the importance of empathy as medicine and glue.”

Register now and pay what you can. All registered attendees have a chance to win their very own copy from Book*hug.

On January 23, Ceilidh Michelle joins us with her humorous and lyrical memoir, VAGABOND, Venice Beach, Slab City and Points In Between. From Douglas & McIntyre: “At twenty-one, Ceilidh Michelle was homeless, drifting through countercultural communities along California’s coast, from Venice Beach to Slab City to Big Sur. This restless and turbulent time began when she was sleeping on her sister’s couch in Vancouver and decided to become a yoga disciple in California. Denied entry at the US border in Washington state, and stuck overnight in the Greyhound station, her already shaky pilgrimage began to take another direction, away from the inward sanctuary of an ashram and toward the sea and light and noise of Venice Beach, and eventually up Highway 1 to the desert.” Register now and pay what you can. All registered attendees have a chance to win their very own copy from D & M.

Follow us here and check out all the Junction Reads events on our EventBrite page. Subscribe to our YouTube channel and get all the interviews of past events.

An Interview with Wayne Ng

On November 21, I had the honour of sitting with Wayne Ng to talk about his new novel, LETTERS FROM JOHNNY. Published by Guernica Editions, the epistolary novel has Johnny at its centre. “Set in Toronto 1970, just as the FLQ crisis emerges to shake an innocent country, eleven year old Johnny Wong uncovers an underbelly to his tight, downtown neighbourhood. He shares a room with his Chinese immigrant mother in a neighbourhood of American draft dodgers and new Canadians. In a span of a few weeks his world seesaws. He is befriended by Rollie, one of the draft dodgers who takes on a fatherly and writing mentor role. Johnny’s mother is threatened by the “children’s warfare society.” Meany Ming, one of the characters by the rooming house is found murdered. He suspects the feline loving neighbour, the Catwoman. Inspired by an episode of Mannix, he tries to break into her house. Ultimately he is betrayed but he must act to save his family. He discovers a distant kinship with Jean, the son of one of the hostages kidnapped by the FLQ who have sent Canada into a crisis.”

I loved the strikethroughs, language mistakes and run on voice of Johnny. How difficult was it to learn to speak with Johnny’s voice? Particularly choices like “verses you to a fight” instead of challenges to a fight. It feels so perfect and I imagine little Johnny’s finger scrolling through his new dictionary as the story moves forward.

I love talking to children and youth and of course I’ve been doing it for the past 30 plus years as a social worker. So, to be honest, tapping into that voice, especially when coupled with my biographical elements, made Johnny-speak feel natural and easy. I was essentially channeling much of my childhood and the many characters who’ve dotted my day job.

There is honesty in letter writing, particularly to a complete stranger like a pen pal and it also feels like we’re watching Johnny mature through his writing. What is it about the epistolary voice that drew you to it as the best choice for LFJ?

I had tried 1st and 3rd person POVs. But given that so much of the novel is based on biographical elements, they felt like artificial barriers, neither giving me the voice, the intimacy nor confessional tone I was looking for. I also wanted to give readers a natural, authentic experience that wasn’t hindered by an authorial presence. Letter writing comes with great risks, rendering the writer completely vulnerable. That sort of stripping away of Johnny’s boundaries and privacy felt exactly like where I wanted the reader to be – up close and completely immersed.

The novel is set in the middle of the October Crisis. Communism and an underlying anti-“the man” theme run throughout. There is Rollie, the draft dodger and the repeated run-ins with the principal and Children’s Aid. Was it a deliberate mash-up of historical events and personal crises, or was this a time in your own personal history that stood out?

Most of us have poignant memories of our childhood if not whole stories worth sharing. When LFJ was first written as a short story, it was very much about him and Henry St. Years later I returned to it and felt that I had more to say. I saw broader themes of change and coming of age, not only for Johnny, but the community around him, and the country. Like most children, I looked for heroes, and a sense of belonging. I was only eight during the FLQ crisis but I remember how it consumed people. Situating it within the crisis and during the early days of Toronto’s branching out from WASPY-ways became deliberate. It gave me an historical backdrop to amplify and parallel an immigrant boy’s story with a community and a nation trying to grow up.

Most of us have poignant memories of our childhood if not whole stories worth sharing.

Wayne Ng

Your childhood neighbourhood (Henry Street) and the neighbours, play a big role in the novel. But there is also this bigger backdrop of separatism and the Felquistes planting bombs and killing people. The Irish police woman sums it up nicely, “sometimes a country is like a family. We don’t always get along. Sometimes neighbours don’t either.” How did community and your own personal history influence the story?

Just about every character in the story is a derivative of someone from my childhood. The tree-lined urban oasis of Henry St. was a ghetto of rooming houses for draft dodgers, students, immigrants and more established residents. We grew up with very little, including parental supervision as I was very much free-ranger, roaming the streets and alleyways of Chinatown and downtown Toronto. Really, I thought it was the best place to live. Thus, the setting is integral to both my childhood and LFJ.

How can I not ask about hockey? Have you been in touch with Dave Keon or his son? I’d love to think about Dave Keon reading little Johnny’s letters.

Dave Keon’s persona was that he is a humble, gentleman, in it for the team, a real sportsman who believed in fairness and respect. He’s also a very private man. It would be disrespectful of me to publicly share his thoughts and feelings about anything. I respect him too much to do that. What I am prepared to say is that he personally answered every piece of fan mail, and that the persona I spoke about is not a facade. He really is a class guy if that doesn’t sound too archaic.

Letter writing comes with great risks, rendering the writer completely vulnerable. That sort of stripping away of Johnny’s boundaries and privacy felt exactly like where I wanted the reader to be – up close and completely immersed.

Wayne Ng

The sequel has been shortlisted for the Guernica Prize. The Family Code finds Johnny years later in another important moment in Toronto history. How did you discover Johnny’s more mature voice? How is life for Johnny in your new novel?

The Family Code is a completely different novel actually.

The sequel Johnny Delivers, is still being drafted. The voice hasn’t come as easily but I’ve extrapolated that street-wise, independent wanderer child into a parentified 18 teen year old. Thus, he’s rather cocky, believing he’s ready for prime-time. Why shouldn’t he believe that? He’s a master at holding everything and everybody together. The challenges in his life are edgier, the stakes are much much higher for him. Bickering family, mah jong, egg rolls, drugs and a very seedy Yonge St. form the backdrop. But he’s not quite ready for the big show, and won’t be until he reconciles his own infallibility. Shadows replace the child-like charm as he’s learned to spell, write and drive a car. Plus a first love. Can’t be 11 forever. Readers will grow with him.

Some have described your novel as YA and others see it as a novel for adults. Who do you think about when you imagine a reader of Letters from Johnny? Did you find it difficult to write or incorporate the very adult themes (FLQ crisis, murder, child welfare) while narrating from a child’s point of view?

I wrote LFJ for the generation who lived through and with the cultural references of 1970. I imagined only they would appreciate the many pop references and understand the tectonic societal shifts happening at that time. The child’s perspective was a shameless hook to our love for nostalgia and our romantic notions of childhood innocence, even if they are imagined. Honestly, I didn’t anticipate nor even consider the younger readers enjoying it as much as they have. However, a child’s perspective allowed me to use humour, dramatic irony and the unreliable narration to indirectly and perhaps more effectively tackle some of the sub themes–whether they were about race, class or dislocation. I love how a child’s lack of filtration and innocence allowed us to see things that might otherwise obfuscate truth.


Wayne Ng was born in downtown Toronto to Chinese immigrants who fed him a steady diet of bitter melons and kung fu movies. Ng works as a school social worker in Ottawa but lives to write, travel, eat and play, preferably all at the same time. He is an award-winning short story and travel writer who continues to push his boundaries from the Arctic to the Antarctic, blogging and photographing along the way. Wayne was recently nominated for the Guernica Prize for his latest book, THE FAMILY CODE.

Toronto Arts Council is the best!

We are proud to say we are now sponsored by the Toronto Arts Council. Junction Reads could not be produced without the support of the City of Toronto through the Toronto Arts Council!!!

Our New Season has got us excited!!

I hope you can join us on October 16 as Carol Giangrande, April Ford, Jesse Gilmour, Nathaniel G Moore and Stephen Henighan take the stage!

Edit: Our new location Axis Grill and Gallery has an incredible basement space that is going to be our perfect new home!! And we get a sandwich board to increase foot traffic. #soexcited

I knew this year was going to be fantastic when a flood of requests filled the junctionwrites inbox after only a few emails were sent out to publicists and publishers.

I also got a little more excited when they delivered my Little Free Library (Charter #37775) and I stuck it on the front lawn (well the handyman did) and then I painted it (my Mum painted it, okay okay, I just paid for it and will keep it filled!).

See, I try and purchase every book presented by our authors, and although it is super hard for me to pass them on to others, I simply feel too selfish hanging on when so many people could get pleasure from reading them. So after taking the stage at Junction Reads , our authors’ books will find a home in our little library (after I have finished reading them).

We will host a special YA reading on April 29. Spaces are still available. Otherwise we are full booked, with one spot left in May of 2017.

 

 

February 22nd at 3030 Dundas West

We are excited to finish our first year with a great line up. 3030 is a super venue with a fantastic menu and delicious indie beers on tap. The Junction just happens to be the coolest place in Toronto to live and work.

Hope we see you there! 4-7pm 3030 Dundas West, Toronto.

February 22, 2015

Aggrey Sambay

Ron Schafrick

Peter Norman

Nancy Jo Cullen

Michael Winter

We will be off the month of March and will return April 26th.

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