Literature
Stories About Storytellers
Hugh Maclennan
Stories About Storytellers

Stories About Storytellers, by Douglas Gibson with illustrations by Anthony Jenkins (Copyright © Douglas Gibson, 2011 Published by ECW Press)

This is an excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Othersrunning every Friday. The following is from the chapter on Teacher, Novelist, Essayist , and Cottager, Hugh MacLennan.

One of the things I liked best about Hugh MacLennan — and there were many things to like — was his easy democratic touch. He loved to tell the story from his earliest days about his household in Cape Breton being wakened by a crowd of men fresh from an altercation. When his doctor father threw up the window to make enquiries, a voice floated up. “We’re sorry to disturb you, Doctor, but the gentleman I was fighting with has bitten off my nose!” (I once told that story in Alistair MacLeod’s presence, and Alistair — a proud son of Cape Breton — was not pleased. I hope he’ll forgive this repetition, with its marvellous use of the courteous “gentleman,” which Robert Louis Stevenson’s Alan Breck would have understood completely, and which Hugh relished.)

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Literature
Stories About Storytellers
peter-c-newman-header
Stories About Storytellers

Stories About Storytellers, by Douglas Gibson with illustrations by Anthony Jenkins (Copyright © Douglas Gibson, 2011 Published by ECW Press)

This is an excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Othersrunning every Friday. The following is from the chapter on Refugee and Power-Seeking Missile, Peter C. Newman.

“That bastard Newman! You can’t ever trust him!” It was 1968 and my boss, David Manuel, was furious. The letter in his hand contained bad news. Despite the existence of a signed contract, Peter Newman was cancelling his plans to provide Doubleday with his next book, which was certain to be a bestseller. He was cancelling the contract with regret, and returning, without interest, the money that had been advanced to him some years earlier.

But it wasn’t just that. The letter to David — announcing, and feebly explaining, this decision — was a copy, and the envelope contained an original, signed letter from Peter to Jack McClelland, saying, in effect: “This should fool those guys at Doubleday.”

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Literature
Stories About Storytellers
Robert Hunter
Stories About Storytellers

Stories About Storytellers, by Douglas Gibson with illustrations by Anthony Jenkins (Copyright © Douglas Gibson, 2011 Published by ECW Press)

[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Othersrunning every Friday. The following is from the chapter on Greenpeace founder, writer, and Very Merry Man, Robert Hunter.]

That sounds like Bob, all right, with only the infectious little hehheh- heh chuckle missing at the end. But that’s only a tiny part of this guy’s life. Let’s try to do better, raising awareness of a man who would have been an icon in many other countries, but who was much too Canadian to take himself seriously, even when Time magazine in 2000 named him as one of the century’s Top Ten Eco-Heroes. Others on the world list — like Rachel Carson and Jacques Cousteau — are probably better known all over Canada than he ever was.

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Literature
Stories About Storytellers
Charles Ritchie
Stories About Storytellers

Stories About Storytellers, by Douglas Gibson with illustrations by Anthony Jenkins (Copyright © Douglas Gibson, 2011 Published by ECW Press)

[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Othersrunning every Friday. The following is from the chapter on diplomat, diarist, and charming dissembler, Charles Ritchie.]

Charles Ritchie should have been a spy.

By day, he worked as a diplomat: dispassionate, discreet, and diligent (apart, of course, from those afternoons when he slipped out to the movies). In his diplomatic role — in the words of the old Elizabethan joke, as “a man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country” — he was very effective at producing shrewd dispatches, as one of those legendary external affairs men whose sheer skill and dedicated professionalism allowed Canada to punch well above its weight in the international ring. By night — even when he was our ambassador to jfk and lbj’s Washington, or to Bonn, or to London — he emerged from his dark-suited carapace to become a wildly indiscreet diarist, a role that allowed him to be a gossip, a boulevardier, a ladies’ man, and a gifted writer with a novelist’s eye and ear, and an insatiable appetite for life.

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Literature
Stories About Storytellers
Val-Ross
Stories About Storytellers

Stories About Storytellers, by Douglas Gibson with illustrations by Anthony Jenkins (Copyright © Douglas Gibson, 2011 Published by ECW Press)

[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Othersrunning every Friday. The following is from the chapter on journalist, author and Maker of Rules, Val Ross.]

The byline was Goderich, Ontario, but the setting of the Globe and Mail piece was the neighbouring town of Blyth, where a fundraising dinner was being served to benefit the local theatre. The story began:

“Excuse me, but I hear there’s a famous lady writer who lives near here,” said the man in the Blyth Hall, summoning an alert-looking, sixtyish waitress to his table. “I hear she sometimes comes to this festival.”

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Literature
Stories About Storytellers
Jack Hodgins
Stories About Storytellers

Stories About Storytellers, by Douglas Gibson with illustrations by Anthony Jenkins (Copyright © Douglas Gibson, 2011 Published by ECW Press)

[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Othersrunning every Friday. The following is from the chapter on Islander, teacher, and inventor of words, Jack Hodgins.]

“Jack Hodgins, he got curly hair” was the first recorded comment by my daughter Meg (aged two) on one of my authors, after Jack had visited the house for dinner. (I remember fondly that at a return engagement at Jack’s house outside Nanaimo, his kids, Shannon, Gavin, and Tyler, kindly took me outside to see their pullets in the yard overhung by arbutus trees.) Jack’s hair was curly then in 1976 and it’s curly now, although it’s less springy, and a purist would notice that it has gone grey. But Jack is still impossibly boyish, lean, and active. And he’s still shy, in a stooping sort of way that allows him to rear back with a sudden smile or a laugh, as the conversation — or the instructive talk about the craft of fiction — demands it. Those who have seen him in action in a classroom know that he is that very rare blend of a shy person who is also a natural teacher.

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Literature
Stories About Storytellers
Peter Gzowski
Stories About Storytellers

Stories About Storytellers, by Douglas Gibson with illustrations by Anthony Jenkins (Copyright © Douglas Gibson, 2011 Published by ECW Press)

[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Othersrunning every Friday. The following is from the chapter on writer and voice, Peter Gzowski.]

I may have counted him as a friend, but Peter was never easy to work with, if “easy” means automatic agreement with the publisher’s plans. We sparred over contracts, where I was shocked to discover that he liked to get his own way, and he was a perfectionist over the book’s contents. He was, in other words, a pro, and I enjoyed working with him over the years. I was distressed almost beyond speech when I first visited him at the Toronto waterfront apartment he shared with the faithful Gill, and found him with his walker and oxygen tank. Some of my McClelland & Stewart colleagues who had the misfortune to be taking a relaxing cigarette break outside the building that afternoon still recall, no doubt, my explosive return by taxi from seeing Peter laid low by nicotine.

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Literature
Stories About Storytellers
R.D. Symons Stories About Storytellers
Stories About Storytellers

Stories About Storytellers, by Douglas Gibson with illustrations by Anthony Jenkins (Copyright © Douglas Gibson, 2011 Published by ECW Press)

[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Othersrunning every Friday. The following is from the chapter on cowboy, writer, and conservationist, R.D. Symons]

Robert David (Bob) Symons was born in England in 1898, the son of artist William Christian Symons and pianist Cecilia Constance Davenport. He was educated at home (“I never saw the inside of a school”) in a rural Sussex household. There, visitors like artist John Singer Sargent (his father’s friends also included Whistler and Monet) and Rudyard Kipling made the wider world of the British Empire seem ripe for exploring. His father died in 1911, and with six brothers and two sisters Bob knew that the family, while rich in many things, could not afford to keep him indefinitely. At the age of sixteen his sense of adventure took him to the Canadian West, determined to be a cowboy.

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Literature
Stories About Storytellers
James-Houston
Stories About Storytellers

Stories About Storytellers, by Douglas Gibson with illustrations by Anthony Jenkins (Copyright © Douglas Gibson, 2011 Published by ECW Press)

[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Othersrunning every Friday. The following is from the chapter on artist, author, hunter, and Igloo Dweller, James Houston.]

When James Houston received an honorary degree from York University in 2001, as his publisher I was asked to summarize his career for the lunchtime crowd of special guests. “James Houston,” I began, “is the most interesting group of people you will ever meet.”

The list of characters includes: accomplished artist, instructed as a boy growing up in Toronto by teachers including Arthur Lismer; soldier, as a long-serving member of the Toronto Scottish Regiment and the illustrator of the Canadian Army’s Second World War marksmanship training manual, Shoot to Live — (he was such a marksman that an old friend at his funeral told of asking him just how good he was — Jim shyly mentioned that he could hit a playing card at a hundred paces, and when the friend was underimpressed, Jim moved his hand from palm out to hand-edge out, adding, “Sideways”); and a serious art student in post-war Paris (until, he said, his mother became suspicious), who returned to set up a commercial artist’s studio in Grand-Mère, Quebec, its deliveries handled by a kid on a bike named Jean Chrétien.

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Literature
Stories About Storytellers
W.O. Mitchell
Stories About Storytellers

Stories About Storytellers, by Douglas Gibson with illustrations by Anthony Jenkins (Copyright © Douglas Gibson, 2011 Published by ECW Press)

[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Othersrunning every Friday. The following is from the chapter on W.O. Mitchell.]

But there is no doubt that W.O. was the opposite of the typical author, who likes the quiet, private life of a writer, but has to be pushed to do any promotion. W.O. so loved the promotion tour that he gave the impression of doing the troublesome writing stuff just as a preliminary for the real thing, the promotion tour, the interviews, and the readings.

His public performances, of course, are legendary. All of the doubts that he associated with the lonely act of writing (“like playing a dart game with the lights out,” he once famously observed), were removed by the instant response of the audience. As a one-time actor, he loved “the immediate thrust of a live audience as it responds to story magic,” and it showed. His performances were immaculately professional: voice husking or thundering, fist raised, white hair flying, mouth creased in a foxy grin, or eyes wide in innocent astonishment at a double entendre raising a laugh. His performances, now fortunately captured on audio cassette, were unforgettable, and he himself was perhaps the most outrageous character he ever created.

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Literature
Stories About Storytellers
Morley_Header
Stories About Storytellers

Stories About Storytellers, by Douglas Gibson with illustrations by Anthony Jenkins (Copyright © Douglas Gibson, 2011 Published by ECW Press)

[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Othersrunning every Friday. The following is from the chapter on novelist, short story writer and Torontonian Morley Callaghan.]

On this occasion Morley phoned me at the office in a fever of excitement. He’d just finished a novella, and he was pleased with it, and could I come by his house in Rosedale and read it? Well, I argued strongly against such a visit, using words like “unprofessional.” But this was Morley Callaghan, now a widower, and around the age of eighty, and not only a legendary figure but my friend, and very insistent. So I gave in, and went that evening to the big house that I knew well.

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Literature
Stories About Storytellers
Paul_Martin_Header
Stories About Storytellers

Stories About Storytellers, by Douglas Gibson with illustrations by Anthony Jenkins (Copyright © Douglas Gibson, 2011 Published by ECW Press)

[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Othersrunning every Friday. The following is from the chapter on former Prime Minister Paul Martin.]

So what went wrong? What turned the man whom many would hail as the country’s best minister of finance into a disappointing prime minister? What occurs to me is the two-word answer . . . Jean Chrétien. First, we should recognize that the long, secret, underground war with the Chrétienites was an amazing success. History affords few examples of a sitting prime minister with a winning record, a comfortable majority in the House, and a good standing in the polls, being forced out by a palace coup from inside his own party. And all without stilettos or machine guns.

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