Take It Outside: Talking Eden Mills Writers Festival with Guest Authors Andrew Kaufman & Alix Ohlin
We've written about what a unique and fascinating festival the Eden Mill Writers' Festival is, tucked away in its pastoral setting outside of Guelph, Ontario, and with the 2019 festival just around the corner (September 6-8), we are counting down the days.
To celebrate the upcoming fun, today we are speaking with two of the acclaimed authors appearing at the festival: Andrew Kaufman, whose newest book The Ticking Heart (Coach House Books) is a witty modern fable about a man who finds himself in a strange world, tasked with locating a husband's missing heart for a distraught wife; and Alix Ohlin, whose new novel Dual Citizens (House of Anansi Press) tells the story of a complex sister relationship as Lark, after a lifetime of feeling overshadowed by charismatic Robin, re-discovers their relationship in the wake of a crisis.
Andrew and Alix tell us about what they'll be reading at Eden Mills, their tips for creating a great public reading experience, and their own favourite, hidden Ontario retreats.
You can see Andrew and Alix in person at the festival: on September 8 (festival Sunday), Andrew will be part of the "Out of the Ordinary" set at The Mill from 12:30pm-1:30pm and Alix will be part of the "Family Portrait" set at The Meadow from 1:45pm-2:45pm.
Have you participated in the Eden Mills festival before? If so, do you have a favourite memory from the festival, and if not, what are you looking forward to this year?
My first job out of university was working for a newspaper in Guelph. One Saturday I went down to the Bookshelf and the place was packed – rain had forced an Eden Mills events to relocate. To my utter delight I stumbled into my one of my favorite readings of all time, Leon Rooke reading from The Happiness of Others. When I walked into the Bookshelf I’d never heard of Leon Rooke and when I came out he was one of my favourite writers.
This will be my first time in Eden Mills! The setting looks so beautiful and I’m really excited to see it. My favourite part of any festival is meeting readers. So much of a writer’s work is done in isolation, and going out into the world and talking with people who care about books is a real privilege.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you'll be reading at the festival this year?
The Ticking Heart about a man who can’t get over his divorce, who’s somehow gets transported to a magical city called Metaphoria where everything is metaphorical. Here he finds himself a private eye and his first client hires him to find her husband's heart. She then cuts out his heart and replaces it with a bomb, ensuring that he’ll give the case his full attention. It’s way funnier then it sounds.
I’ll be reading from my new novel, Dual Citizens, which is about sisters, film, wolves, piano, reality television, and how we take our passions and form our lives around them. It follows two sisters, Lark and Robin, from their childhood in Montreal through adulthood, as their paths diverge and then life brings them back together. It’s a love story between the two sisters, and also a tale of their quest to be artists and to redefine what a family can be.
What makes a great reading event in your opinion? Do you have any rituals for getting ready for a public reading, or any tips you'd share with emerging writers?
Great readings demystify writers for me. I have a habit of making my favourite writers giant mystical larger-than-life forces. It’s great to see them wearing running shoes and appearing a bit nervous. And then, the next time I read their books I see them this way, as everyday people and their work gets even more intimate.
I think a great reading event is one where you can sense the whole audience united in a shared experience—whether it’s a silence that shows they’re attentive and moved, or ripples of laughter. It’s such a palpable, special feeling. And at a festival you’ll sometimes have this experience of events that build on one another, or talk to each other in exciting ways, so that the collective conversation takes on a shape of its own that wouldn’t exist anywhere else. For me, I’m a pretty shy person and it’s taken me a while to get used to doing readings. I usually try to pretend what I’m reading was written by another writer and that makes it easier! I also practice in advance, and I recommend to other writers that they do the same. Right before I go on, I think of some of the best readers I’ve seen—Zadie Smith and Michael Ondaatje come to mind—for inspiration.
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Eden Mills as a festival is unique for its beautiful, natural setting. Do you have a favourite outdoor spot in Canada that you've found inspiring?
Drive out of Wingham, Ontario towards the lake. At Lucknow, turn right. In about five minutes you’ll come to the 12th. Turn right and take this road until it ends at the lake. It’s gravel and there’s a lot of hills, so take your time. Park at the top of the hill, then sit on the cliffs and watch the sun sink into Lake Huron. But don’t tell anybody I told you about it. It’s a local secret.
I grew up in Montreal and spent my summers going to Girl Guide camp near Morin Heights in the Laurentians. To me that leafy forest landscape in summer, buzzing with birds and insects, is the loveliest place in the world. Once when I was a young teenager at camp, I was coming back from the latrines (ugh) and happened upon a songbird singing frantically, beautifully on a fallen tree branch in the early morning light. I thought to myself, I need to remember this forever, and I memorized it. I still think about it whenever I need comfort, or peace, or a reminder of beauty.
Andrew Kaufman was born in the town of Wingham, Ontario. This is the same town that Alice Munro was born in, which makes him the second-best writer from a town of 3,000. He is the author of international bestseller All My Friends are Superheroes, The Waterproof Bible, ReLit Award–winner The Tiny Wife, and Born Weird, which was named a Best Book of the Year by The Globe and Mail and was shortlisted for the Leacock Award for humour. Andrew Kaufman lives and writes in Toronto.
Alix Ohlin is the author of four books, including the novel Inside, which was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, Best American Short Stories, and many other publications. Born and raised in Montreal, she lives in Vancouver, where she chairs the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia.
Every September since 1989, the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival has been offering readers a showcase of established and emerging Canadian writing in the village in Eden Mills. A hamlet of 350 residents with century-old stone buildings nestled along the Eramosa River, Eden Mills is 15 minutes east of Guelph and 1 hour west of Toronto. On festival day, village streets are closed to traffic, and the community of festival goers lounge on the grass, on blankets, or in lawn chairs to enjoy readings from some of Canada’s very finest writers and most exciting new talents. Accessible, shaded seating is also available at every venue. The festival features food trucks and vendors, a licensed patio, and a book market along the main street that includes an authors’ book signing tent. Approachable and welcoming, the village festival offers readers an idyllic outdoor setting to laze away an early autumn day in the grass among friends and in the company of authors.
The festival presents 40 to 50 established and emerging Canadian writers every year including fiction writers, poets, nonfiction writers, playwrights, spoken word poets, young adult and children’s authors. It also features the winners of the festival’s writing competitions for new talent, Guelph-area writers, and MFA students from the Guelph/Humber MFA in Creative Writing.
For more information about Eden Mills Writers' Festival and a complete author line up, visit their website.