Letterbox, Edition 17
Bookish + Filmish
In Dublin’s Fair City
The Dublin book launch of Pull Focus, post-poned last fall due to Ireland’s strict Covid lockdowns, has been re-scheduled for July 12th.
I’m entirely delighted.
As readers of this newsletter know, I hold dual Canadian and Irish citizenship, and have spent a lot of time in Ireland over the years, visiting friends and family (and my father’s grave, who’s buried in his hometown of Mallow alongside my grandparents).
I also partially wrote Pull Focus during two residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie at Annaghmakerrig, a magical artist’s centre in County Monaghan (located in Ulster, right near the border with Northern Ireland). So, it feels particularly poignant to be heading back for the first time post-Covid, and to have opportunity to present my book in a city and country which mean a great deal.
Hodges Figgis – the famed bookstore hosting my book launch – was founded in 1768 and is thought to be the third oldest bookshop in the world. It sits at the heart of any literary pilgrimage to Ireland.
The bookstore has withstood changes in ownership and location over the centuries, yet its singular focus on selling books remains unchanged (other than a brief tryst with a ground floor coffee shop, which was removed in 2002 to make more room for…wait for it…books).
Now owned by the UK chain Waterstone’s, the store still feels like an indie, with knowledgeable staff taking the time for in-depth conversations with customers, and book launches and talks happening once or twice a week.
The multi-story building stocks 70,000 titles (with a million books on the premises at any given time) and is amongst the highest performers of Waterstone’s 280 locations.
Manna from heaven for bibliophiles. In a country where literacy rates are 99%, the education system performs far better than the EU average, and 75% of the population regularly reads books.
Ireland has a minimum living wage for writers, a very active arts council, a monthly book club for library books clubs and readers hosted every monthly by its Laureate for Irish Fiction, Colm Toibin, and a slew of additional initiatives which support and embody the country’s love of, and commitment to, the written word.
Hodges Figgis has made cameo appearances in novels ranging from James Joyce’s Ulysses to Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends:
What she? The virgin at Hodges Figgis’ window on Monday looking in for one of the alphabet books you were going to write. Keen glance you gave her. – James Joyce, Ulysses.
The next day there was a book launch in Hodges Figgis and Bobbi wanted to go and get a copy of the book signed.” – Sally Rooney, Conversations with Friends.
I was lucky enough to be in Dublin years ago for Bloomsday, and participate in the events at Hodges Figgis.
For those of you who don’t know, Bloomsday is a celebration that takes place in Ireland and around the world, commemorating 16 June 1904, the day at the heart of Ulysses, when protagonist Leopold Bloom (along with characters Stephen Dedalus and Molly Bloom) wander around Dublin in a modernist parallel to Homer’s Odyssey.
Bloomsday celebrations include readings and performances at the locations and establishments referenced in the novel. People often dress up in the clothes from the era, including the infamous straw boater hat.
Consuming what Leopold Bloom ate, The Bloomsday Breakfast, is also popular (the full Irish fry, sometimes with liver and kidneys) although not one for me, given my squeamish appetite for animal flesh and in particular, offal.
It’s altogether a fantastic day (now really a week – the Irish know how to party).
I hope you’ll join us at Hodges Figgis, 56-58 Dawson St, Dublin 2 on 12 July, 6-7:30pm for my book launch. Either because you live in Ireland OR because you’ve always wanted to go and now you’re Googling flights as you read this newsletter.
We may have missed the official Bloomsday this year, but we can still walk ‘streets broad and narrow’ and have ourselves a grand time. And for you hardy Canadians, I do love to follow Ulysses characters Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligen into the ‘scrotumtightening sea’ at the Forty Foot in Dublin Bay. It’s chilly, but so is Georgian Bay early in the season 🥶
The inaugural MotiveTO crime & mystery festival, launched by the Toronto International Festival of Authors, took place earlier this month. I had a blast hearing – for the first time – many writers I read. I also moderated a book event with two American thriller writers, Wanda Morris and Chris Pavone.
All Her Little Secrets is Wanda’s debut novel, which depicts a Black corporate lawyer who finds herself in the middle of an unsettling situation when she discovers her boss (who is also her secret lover) dead. This taut, sleek thriller recently won a Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery Novel and is nominated for an Anthony. Wanda’s second novel, Anywhere Your Past Will Find You, drops this October.
Two Nights in Lisbon, Chris’s fifth international thriller, published last month, immediately hitting the NYT bestseller list. Stephen King tweeted: “As close to unputdownable as you can get. Tight suspense, more twists and turns than a mountain road in Colorado.”
MotiveTO featured Canadian writers including Anna Porter, Nita Prose, Amy Stuart, Shari Lapena, Marissa Stapley, and many others. Amongst the international writers was one of my favourites, Adrian McKinty.
I’ve written previously about McKinty in Letterbox. His Inspector Duffy series, set in Belfast during the height of The Troubles, is as good as any novel I’ve read (of any genre) on the sectarian war.
McKinty told a disturbing story during his MotiveTO appearance. When asked why there had been no Sean Duffy book since 2017, he spoke about the legal struggles with his publisher.
For ten years, McKinty earned little money from his writing (a truism familiar to any writer on this list). An Oxford University alumnus, he supported his wife and kids by working at a bar and driving Uber, but when they received an eviction notice, he took it as a sign. Great critical reviews weren’t paying the rent.
He posted a note to readers on his blog that he was giving up. Don Winslow, whose own success came after years of critically acclaimed but low-selling novels, stepped in to help, introducing McKinty to his agent. McKinty’s first commercially best-selling book, The Chain, appeared soon after and is now being turned into a feature film.
If life imitated art, cue the happy ending. But not so fast in the cutthroat world of publishing. Because McKinty, desperate to get published and without an agent, had earlier signed a contract he didn’t fully understand, one that gave the rights to his main character to his publisher.
Here McKinty was, with a readership large enough to finally guarantee a decent living from writing, but his publisher had the upside and the control. So, instead of releasing another Inspector Duffy book, McKinty sued to regain the rights to the character he’d created in the first place. Sadly, he lost and eventually had to buy back the rights. Another instalment in the series will now appear, and this time on his own terms.
A cautionary tale for writers everywhere.
New & Gossips
Looking forward to not only reading singer Martha Wainwright’s recently published memoir, Stories I Might Regret Telling You, but also hearing her speak at the Edinburgh Book Festival this August.
Her family is musical royalty – mother Kate McGarrigle of the McGarrigle sisters, father Loudon Wainwright III and brother Rufus. And Martha herself is one of my favourite singers. It was an eclectic childhood to say the least, and I’ll looking forward to digging into the book.
Amazon’s list of the best books of 2022 (so far) includes three Canadians. The enormously successful debut cozy mystery, The Maid, by Nita Prose. (Who is so nice it’s easy to root for her success.) Also, Sea of Tranquility by NYC-based Emily St. John Mandel and, I’m delighted to say, Such Big Dreams by Diaspora Dialogues alumni Reema Patel. This novel was workshopped through our mentoring programs.
Excited for this week’s debut of another DD mentorship alumni, Sheila Murray, whose Finding Edward is being released by Cormorant Books.
Netflix’s economic woes – it’s lost 70% of its value and 220,000 subscribers – and increasing competition from Disney+, Peacock and HBO Max, have led to another round of layoffs, as well as cancellations of some projects in development.
I’ve started to go back into cinemas (albeit masked) for films such as Dune or Batman, where the experience is just not replicable on the small screen. My fellow audience goers seem modest so far in number, although US box office is on the rise, driven by big releases such as this past weekend’s Top Gun: Maverick, which had the highest grossing opening weekend EVER for a Tom Cruise movie.
It feels so good to be once again in the immersive experience of a darkened theatre, without the distraction of the iPhone on the couch beside me, or someone knocking at the door. Very much looking forward to the full Toronto International Film Festival experience being back this year (Sept 8-18, 2022). Ticket packages now on sale!
Bye for now. Thank you for joining me for this seventh issue of Letterbox. Please remember to: