INVERNESS: Literary heavy weights recently gathered at the Inverness County Centre for the Arts to share their work and talk about the way living in Cape Breton influences their writing.
The event was called “Beyond the Page: A Cape Breton Reading,” and the Celtic Colours-related event, held on October 18, featured five writers who now call the island home. Organizing the event were the folks behind the Cabot Trail Writers Festival.
Moderating the show was Rebecca Silver Slayter, a literary heavy weight in her own right as anyone who read her debut novel, In the Land of Birdfishes, already knows.
“I’m curious if you have any insight on the way you write or what you write changed by coming to Cape Breton?” she asked the guest writers, all of whom came to Cape Breton from other parts of the world.
Among the guests was Mona Knight, a former community columnist. She also worked as a correspondent with third-world sponsorship groups and was a finalist in the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia’s annual writing competition. Knight is originally from Central Ontario, and she read from her novel Banjo Flats.
“When I moved to Cape Breton, I went to work for The Victoria Standard and I learned a lot there” she said. “You really had to get your act together. You only had so many words, so much space, and I think I learned a lot about Cape Breton there.
“I’ve always been writing short stories, and I come from a family of storytellers. There were always lots of people in my parents’ house; there were always story telling sessions. I wanted to get back to that.
“Here, there are so many writers, so much artistic talent, that it’s kind of contagious. A creative energy grows here.”
Bill Conall was reading from his short story collection Some Days Run Long, which was shortlisted for the 2019 Alistair MacLeod Prize for Short Fiction. His The Promised Land: A Novel of Cape Breton won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour in 2014. Originally from Brockville, Ontario, Conall now lives in Victoria County.
“I’ve listened to a lot of people tells stories around here, and there’s a fluidity of language. It’s fascinating,” he said. “People around here are much more forthcoming. They’re willing to sit down over a cup of tea, philosophize and follow threads, and really open up about who they are. That made me a better writer.
“I sat down with Gordon Kennedy, the sculptor, and we talked for a good two hours about how life was different here in Cape Breton. People who came here do whatever they have to do to stay here.”
Poet Susan Paddon, whose work won the J.M. Abraham Poetry Award and made her a finalist for the Raymond Souster Award and the ReLit Award for Poetry, offered a section from a prose work she’s working on. Now living in Margaree, she’s originally from St. Thomas, Ontario.
Sarah Faber and Oisín Curran rounded out the panel. Faber is originally from Toronto, and her first novel, All is Beauty Now, won the 2018 Margaret and John Savage First Book Award for Fiction. She’s also appeared in high-end literary magazines like Matrix and Brick.
Curran, originally from Maine, won the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award in 2018 for his second novel, Blood Fable, which was one of the most-anticipated books of 2017.
“[Living in Cape Breton] changed my writing, but I’m not sure if I can articulate it fully,” he said. “There’s more appreciation for literature here than other places I lived.”
He agrees that the island seems to draw a large number of artistic people, maybe due to romanticism about the ruggedness of the land, the remoteness, and the culture.
“Even though, when you live here, it’s not always romantic,” he added.