Musings on Place, Travel, Books, Literature, Poetry, Literary Criticism, Collecting, Media, Life and the Arts
April 14th, 2014 • Posted in Authors and Books

Bethel Business and Community Development Centre, Lesthoto

Here’s a video my brother just produced for a worthwhile educational facility in Southern Africa

February 6th, 2014 • Posted in Wales

Dinefwr Literature Festival back with a bang June 20-22, 2014

Dinefwr Castle

The Dinefwr Literature Festival is back with an eclectic programme of national and international writers, award-winning poets and emerging English and Welsh literary talent, along with ground-breaking comedy, music, art, cinema, cabaret and creative activities for children, June 20-22, 2014.

Among the first names to be announced are: the Welsh singer and songwriter Charlotte Church; BBC Radio 1 DJ and writer Huw Stephens; comedian Bridget Christie; the 2013 Costa Award-winning debut novelist Nathan Filer; the writer and poet Owen Sheers; Adrian Edmondson & The Bad Shepherds; Gillian Clarke, the National Poet of Wales; and Helen Dunmore, British poet, novelist and children’s writer.

The weekend’s music is curated by SŴN’s John Rostron, who brought The Staves, Gruff Rhys and Ghostpoet to Dinefwr in 2012. This year’s full music line-up is yet to be announced but early names confirmed include Carmarthenshire’s beguilingly intimate Welsh pop duo, Trwbador, the Alex Dingley Band and alternative folk band, Plu.

There will be English and Welsh-language events taking place over the weekend, with confirmed writers from Wales including: Cynan Jones; Aneirin Karadog, the Welsh language Children’s Poet Laureate; Deborah Kay Davies 2009 winner of the Wales Book of the Year; and Rhian Edwards, multi-award winning poet and musician.

Dinefwr Literature Festival prides itself on being family-friendly, so there’ll plenty of entertainment throughout the weekend for children including the brilliant Wimpy Kid Show in which host Alastair Watson brings to life Jeff Kinney’s international bestselling children’s books. The festival also welcomes Nicola Davies, former presenter of the Really Wild Show and Sarah Kilbride, author of the Princess Evie books.

Lleucu Siencyn, Chief Executive of Literature Wales comments: “We’re very lucky to have the use of such a beautiful venue to host our festival. The backdrop of breathtaking views and the rich cultural history seeping from the ground makes it a magical place where great things can happen. With new names being added to the line-up every week the programme is getting better and better, we can’t wait until June.”

The Dinefwr Literature Festival is organised by Literature Wales in partnership with National Trust, Cadw, and University of Wales Trinity Saint David and is supported by Arts Council of Wales.

January 7th, 2014 • Posted in Literary Tourism

As fine a pastime as bird watching is for the bird lover

Chez Piggy sign on King Street in Kingston, Ontario.

Dipped into Simon Garfield’s Just My Type over the holidays, during several lengthy airport stops. Here are some choice quotes/facts from it:

  • Apple used a typeface called Chicago for its menus,  all the way up to the early iPods.
  • ” ‘desktop publishing’  marked a glorious freedom from the tyranny of professional typesetters and the frustrations of rubbing a sheet of Letraset”
  • Today there are more than 100,000 fonts to choose from.
  • Edward Johnson’s ‘Underground’ font has a diamond dot on the i
  • Times New Roman was designed in the early 1930s by Stanley Morison.
  • Book designer William Addison Dwiggins is credited with having invented the term ‘graphic design’.
  • The world’s first font: Gutenberg’s Textura
  • Only sixteen complete Gutenberg Bibles are known to exist. Twelve paper and four vellum
  • Two places that Eric Gill’s Gill Sans font made early appearances: in Capel-y-ffin, Wales on signposts for tourists, and on Douglas Cleverdon‘s book shop sign in Bristol.
  • “Letters are things, not pictures of things.” ” Legibility, in practice, amounts simply to what one is accustomed to.” Eric Gill
  • The science of proportional spacing between letters is known as kerning.

I’ve never paid much attention to fonts, but it strikes me that ‘font spotting’ constitutes a fine literary tourist pastime, wherever it might happen to take place – on the street, in a bookshop, in a cemetery…at the airport; as fine a pastime as bird watching is for a bird lover. 







January 5th, 2014 • Posted in St. Paul

F. Scott Fitzgerald Walk in St. Paul, Minnesota

I was in Minneapolis over Christmas. It was a bit too cold to do this literary walk comfortably, but as soon as it warms up…

…take the Dale Street Exit off Hwy 94. Go south on Dale about 6 blocks to Laurel. Turn left. Go two blocks. (If you will be walking, park your car near MacKubin.)

Print a map to guide your walking tour.

On Laurel, between MacKubin and Arundel, find:

481 Laurel


Notice the twin buildings. The builder called them San Mateo Flats. Scott was born at home in 1896 in the left building. Sadly, his two sisters, ages one and three, had died from influenza shortly before his birth. Probably because of this, his mother, Mollie McQuillan, became overly protective of Scott. The family lived here for another year, but then Scott’s father, Edward, lost his job as a wicker furniture salesman. He moved the family to New York where a daughter Annabelle was born. Imagine this neighborhood without electric lights. Some houses were not electrified until 1911. Imagine groceries, coal and ice being delivered by horse and wagon.

Continue on Laurel to Arundel. Turn right. Go four blocks to Summit. Turn right, and as you turn, the next house is on the corner.

445 Summit

(Side view from Arundel) Built in 1882, this house belonged to real estate developer Herman Greve. His daughter Alexandra Greve Kalman and her husband were lifelong friends of Scott and his wife Zelda. Alexandra was the realtor who helped them find several homes when they returned from New York in 1921. She rented them a house in Dellwood, but they were evicted after the pipes froze because they left the house unheated while they were away partying. They also had to leave an apartment at the White Bear Yacht Club because of their partying.

Go a short distance to:

475 Summit

This was the home of one of Scott’s best friends, Marie Hersey. Scott fell in love with her cousin, Ginevra King, when he was eleven, and he kept in contact with both girls through college. When Scott and Zelda were first married, Scott objected to Zelda’s fluffy Southern style wardrobe. He asked Marie to help Zelda choose clothing more appropriate to New York City.

Go one block to:

513 Summit

The Queene Anne style house pictured at left was Mrs. Porterfield’s boarding house. Scott visited several other young authors here while he was revising his novel. One of them, Donald Ogden Stewart, later wrote screen plays in Hollywood with Scott. Across the street, at 516 Summit Ave.,

lived Sinclair Lewis. He was supposedly writing a book about James J. Hill, but it was never published.

Go about one block to:

593/599 Summit

Scott’s family had moved to this Romanesque brownstone building while Scott was away at school. They lived in two apartments here, 593 and 599. His grandmother had died, leaving an inheritance to pay for Scott’s education at Princeton. Scott did poorly in college, but his participation in writing and acting in plays made him popular. He got sick one semester, either with malaria or Tuberculosis, and dropped out. When he returned to class his poor grades made him ineligible for rejoining his favorite clubs. Unhappy at school, he joined the Army just as World War I began. He partied and danced well, but he was a poor officer. He met Zelda when he was stationed near her home in Alabama. Each thought the other was rich, but neither was. When Scott got out of the army and got a job as a poorly paid copywriter in New York, their romance cooled. Unable to afford New York city, Scott returned to his parent’s home in this building, which he described in a letter as “A house below the average on a street above the average.” Here he rewrote his novel, hoping to win Zelda’s love back by getting a book published. In 1919, when he received word that the publisher accepted it, he ran up and down Summit Avenue, stopping traffic to tell drivers of his success. He and Zelda were married shortly after the publication of “This Side of Paradise”, but they had many unpaid bills. Scott bought a huge ledger to start keeping better track of his money. He used that same ledger until his death at 44, carefully recording his novels, magazine stories, expenses and brief summaries of each year.

623 Summit

Across Dale Street, we can see one of Grandma McQuillan’s houses, built after her husband died in 1877. She might have had a horse and carriage there. Summit Avenue was thought of as just a wide country lane upon which people exercised their horses each day, stopping to chat with their neighbors on the way. Some people stabled their horses on Maiden Lane by the Cathedral. Others boarded their horses at Kittson’s Stable and Racetrack at Snelling and University Ave.

Turn right onto Dale Street.

25 North Dale

As you walk two blocks to Holly, notice the Academy Office Building across the street with a new Fitzgerald statue created by Aaron Dysart. The building was formerly St. Paul Academy, the private school Scott attended.

Turn right at Holly.

586 Holly

586 Holly was a boarding school for girls — Mrs. Backus’ Boarding School. Scott was enrolled in a dancing school for boys and girls here. Scott kept a diary from age 14 on. He wrote about wanting to be better in sports, but he found his success in writing skits and acting in plays. His grades were so poor that his parents decided to send him to a Catholic Prep School in New Jersey. So, from age 15 on, Scott was only in St. Paul for holidays, after a long train ride from the East.

Go one block to:

509/514 Holly

When Edward lost his job out East, the family returned to the safety of Grandmother McQuillan’s money. They lived in three different houses on this block. One has been torn down. The five years Scott lived on this block were important because he later wrote about his childhood activities in the magazine stories that he sold to Scribner’s and the Saturday Evening Post. In the 1910 census, the family lived at 514 Holly. Edward was 56, Molly 48, Scott 13, and Annabel, 8, with one servant living in their household. They also lived in the apartment pictured at  509 Holly.

Go one block to:

472 Holly

This sturdy brownstone house is the home of Scott’s grandmother, Louisa McQuillan. Her husband, Philip Francis McQuillan, died in 1877 at the age of 43, twenty years before Scott was born. Mr. McQuillan began as a bookkeeper in a wholesale grocery business. He soon owned the company and also the tallest building in downtown St. Paul. Mrs. McQuillan’s brother, John H. Allen, had been a partner in the business. He eventually assumed control, and built a large home at 335 Summit Ave. 472 Holly is one of Mrs. McQuillan’s smaller houses. The largest house was downtown on 10th Street, where 500 guests could be entertained. The McQuillan’s also maintained a winter home in Washington D.C., which is where Edward Fitzgerald and Molly McQuillan were married in 1890.

Continue on Holly to Western. (Stop sign.)

Commodore Hotel

Scott and Zelda lived here when their baby girl, Scottie, was born. There are many stories about their drinking and partying at the bar here, and also at the University Club. Their realtor friend Alexandra Kalman insisted they move into another of her rental homes, 626 Goodrich, about eight blocks away. The hotel was remodeled into offices and condos after a fire damaged it in 1978, with the entrance moved to the side of the building.

Turn left. Go two blocks.

Angus Hotel

Scott’s parents eventually moved back to Edward’s home state of Maryland, but Molly lived at the Angus Hotel for a short time after his death. It’s now the Blair Arcade, with shops and condos.


W.A. Frost

Scott may have had cokes and ice-cream sodas here when this was the neighborhood drugstore instead of a restaurant. The tin ceiling inside has been preserved.

Turn left on Selby. Walkers: Walk through or around the Blair Arcade building to the parking lot. Cut through the parking lot to Arundel, to Laurel, past 481 Laurel, back to your car.

This walking tour was developed by Bill Caudle.

December 31st, 2013 • Posted in Minneapolis

Literary Tourist likes Books and Bars

On the way into the Republic bar, near Magers and Quinn

bookstore in Minneapolis I came across a sign promoting Books and Bars, which led me to this:

Books & Bars is an open public book club show featuring “fun people, good food, social lubrication (liquid courage) and lively discussion about interesting authors.” Next time you’re in the Twin Cities, check it out.  Join moderator Jeff Kamin and other spirited characters the first three Tuesdays of each month at a selection of fine drinking establishments.

December 29th, 2013 • Posted in Nigel Beale's Biblio File Interviews

David Esslemont’s Door Bell

Hoping to interview David Esslemont out here in Iowa today about the Gregynog Press, and possibly Thomas Bewick

December 25th, 2013 • Posted in Peterborough, ON

A Timeless Record of a Quintessentially Canadian Experience

As a result of my recent trip to Peterborough & the Kawarthas, and exposure to the works of Catharine Parr Traill and Susanna Moodie, I’ve been reflecting lately on the immigrant experience in Canada.

I was born in Toronto, but moved to England with my British parents when I was five years old. We returned by ship seven years later  on the S.S. Maasdam. Although I’d already been here, my memory is of having arrived in Canada as if for the first time.  I’ll never forget the experience of coming up on deck early one morning with my father and sighting land –  a collection of tiny, sun-lit Canadian islands.  Everything seemed bathed in gold.  

Moving to a new country is an emotion-charged experience, one that, while different in each case, shares certain common characteristics.  According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, people who immigrate typically go through the following stages:

Stage 1: Happiness and fascination.

Just before or shortly after arriving in Canada you may:

Have high hopes and expect great things
Feel this is a very exciting time
Feel everything is new and interesting
Feel confident and that they can easily cope with problems and stress
Tend to focus on what is similar between Canada and the culture and country you come from

Stage 2: Disappointment, confusing feelings, frustration and irritation.

During the first six months you may:

Feel happy about the challenges you have overcome
Feel frustrated, confused and disappointed
Feel very positive one day and very negative the next
Focus on the differences between yourself and Canadians
Miss your family and feel no connection to Canada
Have difficulty going to work or looking for work
Feel loneliness for your country and loved ones
Feel guilty about leaving family members behind

Stage 3: Gradual adjustment or recovery.

During this stage of adjustment you may:

Feel more in control of your life as you gain a better understanding of Canada
Feel more confident in your language skills
Gradually get involved in the community
Have a better understanding of how to adapt to life in Canada
Have a better sense of what you need to do to get what you want in Canada

Stage 4: Acceptance and adjustment.

During this stage of adjustment you will likely:

Feel more comfortable in Canada
Have made some friends and be more involved in your new community
Understand better how things are done in Canada
Be studying, planning to return to school or working at better jobs
Generally feel content about having come to Canada


Pretty well all of these feelings and experiences are captured, often beautifully, in the works of Parr Traill and Moodie who, together with their husbands, immigrated to Canada in 1832.

Catharine’s books, notably The Backwoods of Canada, reflect a positive approach to the adventure of coming to this country; a resolute acceptance of fate combined with a practical, can-do attitude. In the face of mounting debt, a house full of kids and a husband incapacitated by depression,  she cheerfully and determinedly took care of business, and, on top of all of this, continued to write. Her children’s books carry much the same positive message, encouraging ‘plucky and dignified’ survival.  

Susanna on the other hand was less the optimist. Her book Roughing it in the Bush, gives us a fuller more realistic picture of life in the backwoods of Upper Canada during the 1830s. As Michael Peterman puts it in his marvelously illustrated book Sisters in Two Worlds, “At first, [she] looked at her backwoods surroundings “with jaundiced eyes.” She felt alienated by ‘the cheerless waste,” which she found “murky’ and “reeking.”

Times were particularly tough. A harsh climate, malaria fever, economic depression, political unrest, all combined to make life very difficult.  However, as Peterman tells it: “With all those around her suffering from the ague and with no servant available, Susanna managed to see to her family’s needs, despite her own weakness…Among the many things that Susanna learned in the bush was how to draw on her physical strength in ways she had never before thought possible.”

In showing how pioneer women cared for each other, shared the joys and burdens of motherhood, dealt with poverty and tamed the elements,  Roughing it in the Bush serves, among other things, as an inspiring primer for dealing with and overcoming hardship. This and its honesty, no doubt, explain why it speaks to readers today in ways, ironically, it did’t to Moodie’s contemporaries. As she puts it in a letter to her publisher Richard Bentley:

“It is difficult to write a work of fiction, placing the scene in Canada, without rousing up the whole country against me…Will they ever forgive me for writing Roughing It? They know that it was the truth, but have I not been a mark for every vulgar editor of a village journal, through the length and breadth of the land to hurl a stone at, and point out as the enemy of Canada…”

(quote from in Sisters in Two Worlds)

Far from being Canada’s enemy, Susanna Moodie is its representative.  As Margaret Atwood puts it in the afterword to The Journals of Susanna Moodie, she has “become the spirit of the land she once hated,” an extraordinary woman whose honesty, talent and determination enabled her to create a timeless record of a quintessentially Canadian experience. 

In association with

December 23rd, 2013 • Posted in swansea

Christmas in Swansea

“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.” Dylan Thomas, from  ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’.

December 17th, 2013 • Posted in Authors and Books, Newfoundland

Why Newfoundland is much the most interesting in March

John Tenniel

“The March Hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps as this is May it won’t be raving mad – at least not so mad as it was in March.” Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 

I just got off the phone with Rex Brown. He’s been organizing The March Hare Festival for decades. It’s  a “unique trans-island celebration of words and music, involving seven events in three towns over five days, attracting writers from all over Canada and indeed the world, and featuring the best traditional musicians in Newfoundland and Labrador.” We talked about a bunch of things, including the joy he’s had organizing these events over the years – meeting and getting to know some great authors – and  what an outstanding experience it would be for a literary tourist to participate in the tour, share in the fun.

So, if you love good music, and books and travel, and reading and connecting with authors, here’s a tip: get over to Newfoundland in March 2014 between the 11th and the 16th, and follow the itinerary that Rex has put together East to West from St. John’s to Corner Brook. Not only will you see some beautiful country, you’ll also get a chance to truly engage with some accomplished authors and musicians, and their work, behind the scenes, off the stage, in the real world.

Now understand, Rex is no travel tour operator. Rather, he’s the festival’s project manager. Talk to him about what you can gain from attending events during the week. Then, if you’re fired up enough, start planning your trip. You can reach Rex at

Stay tuned for a line-up of participating authors and musicians.   

December 17th, 2013 • Posted in Kingston, ON

Why go to Kingston in February?

…to snuggle up ‘under the bright lights of some of the most recent additions to Canada’s literary firmament’ of course.  Where? At ‘An Afternoon with the Governor Generals’, February 2, 2014, from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm, at the Holiday Inn Kingston Waterfront..

Moderated by Jared Bland, the books editor for the Globe and Mail, this Kingston WritersFest event will feature these authors (and their books):

Carolyn Abraham.  The Juggler’s Children meshes memoir and journalism: the family history of her adventurous great-grandfathers and the analysis of her own DNA, and was Carolyn’s second nomination for the GG for non-fiction. She is the senior medical reporter at the Globe and Mail.

Kenneth Bonert. Debut novel, The Lion Seeker, was nominated for the 2013 GG for fiction. Set between the World Wars in South Africa, it follows the life of a young Jewish immigrant, Isaac, as he struggles toward manhood. The Lion Seeker was the only title on the 2013 Knopf Random House’s “New Face of Fiction” list.

Katherena Vermette North End Love Songs is an ode to Winnipeg’s North End – a neighbourhood she has called home for much of her life and where she lives with both love and lossThis first collection won the 2013 GG for poetry.

‘Bask in the glow of great writing and warm conversation’