Speeches for Home Before Dark

Introduction to Toronto launch-party speech on May 1st, 2014

Thank you to my daughter Stephanie for her kind introductory remarks. Because I had Steffi at such an early age and she possessed from childhood a wisdom and maturity beyond her years, I was never quite sure who was bringing up whom. Her sunny nature and her enthusiasm, as well as the clarity of her vision, have greatly enriched my life.

I would also like to thank my husband Edgar for being here today. If you have had the chance to greet Edgar, you might notice that he looks as if he has just been in a prize fight. Or perhaps that I have beaten him up. I can assure you that neither is the case. An emergency root canal he underwent last Friday in Sarasota caused a severe allergic reaction. I am very gratified for his presence despite his disfigurement and pain.

I must admit at the outset that I was initially reluctant to foist my rather inane and frivolous daily recordings on my friends and family, the chosen readers for these diaries. When one reaches the fairly exalted age of 67, there exist many reasons why one’s ruminations should not see the light of day, much less be inflicted upon an unsuspecting public. Nevertheless I have chosen to go ahead, consequences be damned, and I am very grateful to you all for being here today to help me celebrate. One of the unalloyed pleasures of publishing this book is the chance to see many of my old Toronto friends. Although I would not change my quiet rural life in the small town of Brockville for anything, I still sometimes miss the history and camaraderie I had with people here and I am happy to get a chance to relive some of those moments this evening.

I am also grateful to be sharing the historic Toronto Club with you. The club itself was founded in 1835. This heritage building and its beautiful wood panelling and furnishings imported from overseas were bought in 1889 for a total cost of $100,000. Restored in 1984 with the proceeds from the sale of the land and density rights it owned east of the building, the club with its extensive art collection remains a bastion of the Toronto old guard and a meeting-place for modern-day business leaders, international financiers and even royalty.

I would like to thank Ben McNally for coming here tonight to sell my books. Ben owns perhaps the most charming bookstore in Canada located on Bay Street near Queen. The books on its shelves have been as carefully chosen as its tasteful décor. If you haven’t entered its premises, I strongly advise a visit.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my project manager, Heidy Lawrence, for her unfailing courtesy and efficiency. And last but not least, my endorsers, several of whom are here tonight. Some of the others will be attending my Ottawa and Brockville launches. I think you will agree, when you see my book, that I have assembled a very prominent group of Canadian writers to give advance praise for Home Before Dark. I am highly honoured that they have lent their names to this project, as well as their articulate and generous words.

Introduction to Ottawa launch-party speech at the Rideau Club, May 8th, 2014

Thank you, Michael, for your kind words. As some of you perhaps know, Michael Bate has fairly recently revived Frank magazine, a publication he both co-created and was instrumental in making so successful in the 1990’s. It has come back both digitally and in paper and is well worth the read.

I would also like to thank Books on Beechwood for coming here tonight to sell my books. Books on Beechwood is an independent bookseller located in New Edinburgh which was bought last year by a trio of interested bibliophiles who saved it from closure. Long may it continue to thrive!

Je voudrais remercier le juge Robert Décary. Il a aussi écrit un livre et, par coincidence, il tient aussi une réception ce soir. Il a généreusement prolongé la fin de sa réception afin que les juges francophones puissent assister aux deux soirées. Je suis très heureuse de voir des juges francophones ici ce soir car Edgar a toujours aimé travailler avec vous. De plus j’ai grandement apprécié d’avoir eu l’occasion de faire la connaissance de vos épouses.

Introduction to Brockville launch-party speech June 19th, 2014

Thank you, Peter. I am indeed grateful to have a Canadian writer of the stature and talent of Peter C. Newman here today to introduce me. You have been a model and example for me all my writing life. And thank you for bringing your lovely wife Alvy along with you.

Edgar and I have lived here in Brockville, first on weekends and more recently for longer periods of time for more than two decades. We consider ourselves the very fortunate custodians of a piece of Brockville history, this wonderful old stone house called Thornton Cliff on the St. Lawrence River. As many of you may know, this house was given by Senator Fulford, the inventor of Pale Pills for Pink People, to his oldest daughter upon her marriage to Arthur Hardy who became the Speaker of the Senate. The Hardys lived here for sixty years, from approximately 1900 to 1960, and were instrumental in upgrading the premises, adding wings to the house and converting it from gas to electricity. We are delighted to have a group of Brockvillians here today to share our beautiful historic surroundings and to meet with such a celebrated Canadian author.

I would like to extend a thank you to Courtney Sadler, the owner of Leeds County bookstore, who has kindly agreed to sell my books here tonight. I would also like to thank my friend Marsha Lindsay for her invaluable help with this party. Edgar and I are indeed grateful to have the friendship of Marsha and her husband Ardis whose advice and support have sustained us since we have moved here. One of the most important things they have done is introduce us to our ingenious contractor Vince Johns who is here tonight with his partner Lisa. Vince has spent the past month or so restoring the ice-house down by the river which he has virtually rebuilt from crumbled stone.

In the restoration process, Vince and his team discovered a basement under the ice-house and in the basement the intact skeleton of a cat they have named Fifi. Near the old ice-house there exists an underground passage from the river leading up to the basement of our house, undoubtedly a route for smuggled liquor to be brought across the border during prohibition, a period in Canada’s history which Peter documented so well in his book The Bronfman Dynasty. If you haven’t done so already, please feel free to wander through the grounds and down to the river. You will come upon a black chimney sticking out of the ground on the west side of the property and below that you will see the door to the underground passage which we have boarded up.

Also, please take the opportunity, if you are interested, to explore the house, all three of its floors. If you climb the circular steps in the turret up to the third floor, you will come upon the part of the house where the Hardy children and their governess had their bedrooms. One of these bedrooms is now my office. You may also take note of the difference between the west side of the house where the family resided and the east side with its low ceilings, small windows and inferior woodwork where the servants were quartered. The Hardys in their heyday had a staff of 20, many of whom lived in cottages around the grounds. Edgar and I have a staff of two: I am the maid and he is the handyman. Generally it works out pretty well, though I must say I could use a butler or two at Christmastime!

Main body of speech: I suppose it is not too surprising that I would become interested in writing a diary. Ever since I can remember, I have been engrossed in and enchanted by, in equal measure, the journals and letters of writers. I think my favourite diaries of all time are those written by Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables. What attracts me about these diaries, besides their eloquence, is their honesty and lack of guile. Montgomery pours her heart out to them, her growing alienation from her husband who is subject to fits of religious mania; her struggles with her oldest son who ends up betraying her; her quarrels with the household help; her difficulties with the sometimes thankless role of a minister’s wife in the small insular communities she inhabits; her growing bouts of depression as she ages.

I have always followed the maxim: write what you know- no matter how trivial or unimportant it may seem at the time. That way you are giving your present reader a glimpse into your world and your future reader a glimpse into a past slice-of-life which may prove illuminating. Roughing it in the Bush, an 1852 memoir by Susanna Moodie, is still read by many who are enthralled by what the pioneer women of early Canada had to endure. Perhaps readers 150 years from now will find my struggles with daily household chores and skirmishes with technology as antiquated and antediluvian as we find Susanna Moodie’s misadventures today.

Other famous diaries and letters I have read and been inspired by include those of Samuel Pepys, James Boswell, George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, E.B. White and Susan Sontag. Upon editing and re-reading my diaries, I have noticed that several themes occur again and again. The main threads that seem to run through them are as follows: 1. Coming to terms with aging and its attendant frailties and illnesses; 2. Challenges in uprooting and moving to Ottawa; 3. Coping with a previously busy husband home more often; 4. Family dynamics and the mother-daughter relationship; 5. Dealing with a third generation- grandchildren- in this laissez-faire culture; 6. The joys and perils of travel, from a scenic trip to Italy to a sojourn on Florida’s Fisher Island to fishing on the Restigouche River in New Brunswick; 7. Politics on the court; 8. Attempting to achieve a work-life balance; And finally 9. My obsessive reading habits.

Does everyone who reads end up writing? No. But most everyone who writes started off by reading. And, of course, everyone has his or her own preferred reading choices. Some readers may favour non-fiction over fiction even if the latter is considered closer to art. Matthew Weiner, the creator of the popular television show “Mad Men,” said in an interview in last weekend’s New York Times: “It’s worth mentioning that I love diaries and letters, and not just those of famous people. Nothing gives you insight into the human experience at any time in history more than the things people write to themselves.” I raise this point as a reminder that there is perhaps an abundance of readers, like Matthew Weiner and me, who are intensely attracted to diaries. For there are many different levels of consumers out there. In the television industry, there is a market for the Jerry Springer Show and afternoon soap operas and Dr. Phil, as well as for opera and ballet and classical drama. For booklovers there is a market for pulp fiction, comic books and romances as well as for Munroe and Shakespeare and Chekhov. Hopefully my musings, though nearer to the former than the latter, fit somewhere in between.

I would like to conclude with a quote from writer Phyllis Rose in her Introduction to the Norton Reader which excerpts many of the best women writers of our time: As this anthology abundantly proves, women do write memoirs and autobiography. Some manifestly think themselves worthy of special interest, but many do not, women, as a group, having a lot of humility. So it’s probably time to revise the image of the autobiographer. In classic theory, which held that autobiography was connected with individualism, the buried model of a typical autobiographer was a boastful man, vaunting his achievements. But perhaps autobiography also results from the social side of human nature, and the buried model of the autobiographer can change from the boastful man to the confiding woman. Sharing her experience with friends, she may be gossipy, artful, tutorial, cool, forthcoming, evasive, maternal, childish, stoic, narcissistic, boastful, or modest, depending on her mood, but at some level she always feels the autobiographer’s characteristic urge: the urge to preserve herself by giving herself away.” Thank you very much.