A sneak peek at Heather Babcock’s debut novel Filthy Sugar

Heather Babcock photo by Astrid Monge. Filthy Sugar cover design by Val Fullard.

 

Two years ago, I had the honour and pleasure of getting a sneak peek at Heather Babcock’s debut novel Filthy Sugar after she approached me to give it a read and write a review blurb. Published by Inanna Publications, it’s set to be released on May 26—and was to have its official launch in Toronto at Queen Books the same day; but since brick and mortar book stores have had to move online, and with events cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, authors and book sellers are now relying on virtual shout-outs and online book sales.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Filthy Sugar (and think it would make a great movie); and hope that Babcock will get to celebrate the launch of the book with colleagues and loved ones soon. Here’s my review blurb:

Filthy Sugar takes us to the mid-1930s, from the struggles of a working-class slum, to the hustle and excitement on and off the burlesque stage. Here, we follow redheaded heroine Wanda Whittle’s rise and fall from fame in a journey of self-discovery that reveals desires and reserves of strength she never knew she possessed. Erotic, compelling and full of richly textured characters, Heather Babcock’s storytelling is equal parts moxie and poetry—tinted with the heartbroken nostalgia of memory and lost dreams; and sparkling with striking, evocative imagery. More than a backstage pass into this world, Filthy Sugar shines a light on the challenges faced by working-class women. Dancing as fast as they can in order to survive, they must navigate the unapologetic misogyny and hypocritical social codes that govern their bodies and behaviour as they pursue their hopes, dreams and desires. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?

You can pre-order Filthy Sugar online at your favourite book store website (I’m a big fan of indie book stores like Queen Books and Glad Day Bookshop) or on Amazon.ca

It will be some time before we’ll be able to attend readings and book launches in person again; in the meantime, you can get your own sneak peek at Filthy Sugar with Babcock’s excerpt reading on YouTube:

And if you’re a fan of 1920s and 1930s film and pop culture, check out Babcock’s blog Meet Me at the Soda Fountain.

Literary family snapshots told with unflinching candor & wry humour in Pamela Williams’ Evelyn’s Stories

Cover photo of Evelyn by Pamela Williams.

 

I had the pleasure of attending the launch of Pamela Williams’ new book Evelyn’s Stories at a reading to a packed room on Sunday at the Tranzac Club. Known mostly for her beautiful, haunting black and white photographs of cemetery sculpture, Williams has assembled a collection of brief stories, as told to her by her mother Evelyn—and some handed down to Evelyn by her mother—in a series of short vignettes. Evelyn’s Stories are literary snapshots of family across time and space, ranging from 1900s Glasgow, to 1930s Thornbury and into the 1970s and beyond.

Told with unflinching candor, sharp detail and wry humour, Evelyn’s Stories is a window on moments of personal history and experience; inviting us for brief peeks (the stories are postcard-sized or slightly longer) inside the world of Williams’ family, as told to her by her mother, and to her mother by her grandmother.

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Pamela Williams reads at the launch of Evelyn’s Stories

It’s family biography as comedy and drama, with eyebrow-raising tales of marriage and infidelity (“When Hector Married Stella” and “Keep Toby Out, England, 1907”); charming and funny childhood shenanigans and observations (“Bathtub Visitor” and “Divorce”); memories of brutal and sweet elementary school teachers (“Mrs. Pinch” and “Miss Chalk’s Replacement”); tragic loss (“New Spectacles, Glasgow, 1906”); hilarious social interactions (“That’s Why I Asked You” and “At the Cinema”); and harrowing but comical senior driving mishaps (“Two Motorcycles” and “A Ride on the Wild Side”).

As the family tales shift from poignant, to comic, to tragic, to saucy, Evelyn’s Stories captures the heart, lives, loves and experiences of generations of family who crossed the ocean from Glasgow, Scotland to settle in rural/small-town Ontario, Canada.

Check out Williams’ book collection online, including her photography books; order via email.

 

 

Fierce ambition & passion in Elizabeth Ruth’s third novel Matadora – book launch

First off, I need to admit some personal bias: I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Ruth’s writing, so I was thrilled to receive word about the launch of her third novel Matadora, hosted by This Is Not A Reading Series (TINARS) and Cormorant Books at the Gladstone Hotel ballroom last night.

The ballroom was packed – so much so, the Gladstone folks had to open up the panels that separate it from the café space. Not surprising, given that there’d been a line forming outside the ballroom, all the way to the entrance of the hotel, shortly after 6:30 p.m.

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Flamenco dancer La Mari

By the bar were some canvasses by Alex Flores, painted in a style reminiscent of Frida Kahlo, the portrait of a woman particularly striking. A slide show of Ruth’s trip to Spain flickered across a screen upstage, featuring stunning colours and sights, including images of a bullfighting ring and bullfighters. Introductions from TINARS and Cormorant Books, and then we were treated to the sights and sounds of Flamenco: dancer La Mari, with singer Maria Assunta and guitarist Juan Dino Toledo. A passionate spectacle, the music and voice haunting and powerful, the dance strong and proud.

The “main event” started with Anju Gogia interviewing Ruth about the book, discussing process and how the story evolved. Many of the points of discussion can also be found in this Quill & Quire Matadora piece.

The thing that struck me most was Ruth’s reference to “chasing your talent.” Even though a writer may not realize what exactly the book is about, and not know what he/she is doing, with time and practice – and, like her heroine Luna, ambition – the process of coming to the page to put these stories, these lives, on paper brings the journey to the book to its conclusion.

Ruth read a short piece from the book, then opened up the floor for a Q&A. I asked how her feelings about bullfighting had changed over the course of researching and writing the book. Earlier, she had mentioned that it was a book about bullfighting that wasn’t really about bullfighting, but about class, feminism and gender – and that universal longing and drive to rise above socially imposed limitations. In loving her subject, Luna, she found herself looking at bullfighting with respect and void of judgement. While bullfighting is blood sport to some, it is art form to others, with views divided along sociopolitical lines in 1930s Spain, where bullfighting eventually became associated with the Franco regime. But, like boxing, bullfighting offered an opportunity to rise from poverty – and, in Luna’s case, it was a chance to pursue her passion and ambition in a profession that was closed to women.

This was a fantastic, vibrant event – extremely well-attended and crackling with excitement. Whoever said Canadian publishing was dead sure would have changed their tune last night. I’m really looking forward to reading Matadora. As part of last night’s festivities, we got to see the book trailer. It was shot and edited by Erin Reilly Clarke, who I had a chance to chat with briefly after the Q&A. She’d seen a late draft of the book and was already in love with it and looking forward to reading the final product – and we both speculated on how Matadora would make an amazing feature. The trailer features actor Joanne Vannicola, with original music by Evalyn Parry:

If you missed the launch, you can catch Ruth reading from Matadora, followed by an interview with NOW Magazine’s Senior Entertainment Editor Susan G. Cole at the Toronto Reference Library in the Elizabeth Beeton Auditorium on May 15 from 7:00 – 8:15 p.m. Admission is free. In the meantime, you can check out Cole’s review of Matadora.