Spotlight on Local Authors

Eden Mills and the surrounding area of Guelph and Wellington County have a rich literary history, and many writers call the area home.

There's a strong interest in writers and writing in our backyard: there's our annual festival, of course, which showcases, celebrates, and supports writers, founded by former Eden Mills resident Leon Rooke; The Bookshelf, Guelph's flourishing indie bookstore; the Creative Writing MFA Program at the University of Guelph; Vocamus Writers Community, and countless writing groups who meet regularly to critique each other's work and cheer each other on toward the completion of one chapter after another.

In celebration of this incredible literary community, we spoke to local writers Kim Davids Mandar, Candace de Taeye, Wendy Gruner, Lisa Hirmer, Marilyn Kleiber (aka J.M. Tibbott), Jean Mills and C.S. O'Cinneide as well as publisher Jeremy Luke Hill of Gordon Hill Press about their new releases, the inspiration for their work, and what's coming up next for them.


In | Appropriate
By Kim Davids Mandar

Published by Gordon Hill Press

In | Appropriate is a collection of interviews with Canadian authors, exploring how they work through questions of difference, identity, and appropriation in their writing.

Edited by Kim Davids Mandar, and introduced by Daniel Heath Justice, the collection features interviews with Ian Williams, Ayelet Tsabari, Sanchari Sur, Eden Robinson, Jael Richardson, Waubgeshig Rice, Amanda Leduc, Chelene Knight, Mahak Jain, Wayne Grady, Alicia Elliott, Farzana Doctor, Michael Crummey, Arif Anwar, and Angie Abdou.

The interviews address questions of appropriation that go beyond race and culture, extending also to gender, sexuality, ability, age, and other categories of difference. They ask how writers work to represent an increasingly diverse and complex culture in ways that avoid falling into appropriation.

"Guided by the wise and generous Kim Davids Mandar, In | Appropriate is the conversation about writing that we need right now. A collection as compelling as it is urgent, these nuanced and intimate discussions with some of our brightest writers together act as a wayfinder in what has been, to this point, uncharted territory. Through empathy and experience, In | Appropriate offers a way to move forward." – Emily Urquhart, author of Beyond the Pale

Kim Davids Mandar holds degrees in applied linguistics and music therapy. She is now a full-time MSc student at the University of Guelph, writing a thesis on the role of theatre in building intercultural sensitivity. Her Certificate in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph is a capstone course away from completion.

Kim co-hosts Bookish Radio at CFRU 93.3 FM in Guelph, with Anna Bowen, Tamara Jong and Dan Evans. She has self-published There is Beauty Here Because You are Here, a children’s story about global migration illustrated by Alura Sutherland. Her writing has been published in Sustenance, ed. Rachel Rose (Anvil press, 2017), Rhapsody (Vocamus Press, 2018), and Prairie Fire literary magazine (2018).


Q & A with Kim Davids Mandar

What was the inspiration for your book?
This work was inspired by conversations I had with Jeremy Luke Hill about cultural appropriation in writing. What does it mean?  Where are the boundaries? What are the implications and consequences? How can we, as participants in the literary community, contribute to an evolving process of increasing respect related to this topic? As an emerging writer, I felt that I didn’t have satisfying answers to these questions and that a greater understanding of the issue was necessary if I were to continue writing. I turned to some great writers to invite their insights, and along with Gordon Hill Press, created this collection of conversations to share. All royalties will support the Festival of Literary Diversity (F.O.L.D.). [more can be read here]

Do you have any new projects in the works? 
While enjoying the literary refuge of participating in two writing groups with some stellar writers (one for Creative Non-Fiction and another for Children’s Books), my first priority is to complete my MSc Thesis [December, 2020]. It is a case study of MT Space Theatre in Kitchener, Ontario which explores the emergence of Intercultural Competence within this community network. The work has led to further collaboration with Dr. Ric Knowles in his research and writing pertaining to International Theatre Festivals. In addition, artifacts and interviews from my 2017 research journey to South Africa remain sequestered in a box in my garage. A dive back into that material for future writing will be a precious graduation gift.


The Ambulance Act
Written by Candace de Taeye
Illustrated by Holly Crain
Published by Frog Hollow Press

In The Ambulance Act many of the poems draw from pre-hospital care medical protocols, standards and legislative acts as well as the colloquial quotes of patients, graffiti, signage and other source texts. It hopes to mimic the fast-paced collage and varied tonality that a 12 hour Paramedic shift in the city produces. Food, opportunistic creatures, tragedy and apathy are recurring themes, as well as many Toronto specific references. Some later poems reflect on the medicalization of the author's own female body- through the use of personal medical reports as sources texts.

Candace de Taeye has had poetry most recently published in Arc, BAD NUDES, CNQ, CV2, Grain, Joypuke, Meat for Tea and Vallum. She has a chapbook titled Roe from PS Guelph. During the day and more often at night she works as a paramedic in Toronto’s down-town core. She lives in Guelph with her husband, two young sons, two dogs, three cats, four elderly tree frogs and a very large tortoise.


Q & A with Candace de Taeye

What was the inspiration for your book?
My inspiration for the poems in this chapbook come from the lived experience of working as a Paramedic in downtown Toronto for more than a decade.  It is a literal 'Doors Open' experience into people's homes, workplaces and places of worship. Once you've asked people to detail their medical history for you they often continue with anecdotes about their life. It gives one a unique perspective on life and the city itself. I know of many doctor-poets but no other medic-poets.

Do you have any new projects in the works?
I am set to start classes with the Guelph-Humber Creative Writing MFA in September. I plan to use that time to further flesh out the full manuscript that The Ambulance Act was drawn from. More specifically I have been working on a series of poems about Covid-19. No doubt many writers are transcribing their personal experiences with the pandemic, but I'm not sure how many of them are first responders.


Children of a Faraway War
by Wendy Gruner
Published by Iguana Books

Children of a Faraway War tells the story of Wendy and Robbie, two Australian-born sisters now in their seventies, and their life-changing quest to learn the truth about their father who died in England during World War II while serving as a wireless operator in Bomber Command. Because of their mother’s reticence and their reluctance to probe her grief, they grow up knowing very little about the man who could have been a father to them. Separated by half a world, Robbie in Australia, Wendy in Canada, they plan a trip to England as a kind of homage to this missing dad.

This journey of discovery, undertaken so late in their lives and guided by the one artefact they have, his wartime diary, leads them the length and breadth of the UK. Their travels, ranging from the hilarious to the serendipitous to the deeply moving, allow them to recreate their father’s story and the horror that was Bomber Command. Undertaken almost casually at first, their quest grows into a search for identity and an affirmation of the profound power of family, love, and memory.

Wendy Gruner was born and educated in Australia. In her twenties she travelled, as many young Australians do, to the UK and explored Europe. She then drifted to Canada. There she stayed, marrying a Canadian and raising a family of three daughters. She taught high school English for thirty years, always writing, accumulating unfinished manuscripts and using the excuse of a busy life not to pursue publication. Retirement, a course at The Humber School for Writers, and a trip that demanded documenting resulted in a book.

She now lives in Guelph, Ontario, where she continues to write.


Q & A with Wendy Gruner

What was the inspiration for your book?
I have been writing on and off all my life…finishing and pursuing publication was spotty at best. Then, on the cusp of turning 70, I went on a journey with my sister to discover our father. He had died in the UK during World War II while serving in Bomber Command. For reasons which I explore in the book, we knew little about him. We did, however, have his wartime diary. Our aim was to travel to the UK and visit every place he had been as he trained, went on leave, served, and died. This journey, moving and often very funny, turned into a book. Through the journey and our research we managed to contact number of men with whom he had served and they shed wonderful light.

Do you have any new projects in the works?
At the moment, and this is not ideal, I have three projects on the go: a sailing journey I made with my husband, a novel set in the Thousand Islands, and a children’s book. I am hoping for the discipline to finish.


Gordon Hill Press

Gordon Hill Press is a feisty upstart publisher of poetry, literary criticism (especially concerning poetry), and fiction that is stylistically innovative. We strive to include a wide diversity of writers and writing, particularly writers living with disability. We want to publish exemplary writing.  

Q & A with Jeremy Luke Hill
Publisher at Gordon Hill Press, Publisher and Managing Director of Vocamus Writers' Community and Vocamus Press

How do you choose what works to publish? 
The books Gordon Hill Press publishes are mostly selected by my business partner, Shane Neilson, who is the editor of the press. He chooses all the poetry and non-fiction, and I handle some of the fiction. Both Shane and I are, of course, first and foremost looking for exceptional writing, but with the few titles I select I'm also looking for writing that comments on our culture in stylistically innovative ways. For example, our first fiction title, Geoffrey Morrison & Matthew Tomkinson's Archaic Torso of Gumby, engages with some of the curious cultural artefacts of capitalism through a series of wildly varied essays and stories linked by the figure of Gumby. That kind of serious playfulness is really attractive to me.
Do you feel that there is a particular readership in the local Guelph area? Do you try to cater to a specific audience?
Gordon Hill Press doesn't focus particularly on publishing to readers from the Guelph area, though we do see part of our mandate as connecting Guelph to the larger community of Canadian literature. In my work with Vocamus Writers Community, however, I have noticed that Guelph has some quirks in its reading tastes. Food books, especially ones that focus on conservation and local foods, seem to do well around here, for example.
You are also a writer – when did you decide to get into publishing?
I didn't so much decide to get into publishing as I stumbled into it by total accident. More than a decade ago I started exploring self-publishing options for a book I wrote for my kids and wanted to make into Christmas gifts. Other people in the area started asking me to help them do the same, and that turned into Vocamus Press and Vocamus Writers Community, which both focus on supporting local book culture. Then Shane proposed that the two of us buy an existing small press, which never happened, so we turned the preparations for that purchase into a new venture, which became Gordon Hill Press.
What do you feel have been your greatest successes?
Given the economics of small press publishing and the additional challenges presented by Covid, I think just surviving would have counted as a success, but our books have also had a tremendous critical reception, much more than I could have imagined. From our first two seasons, just six titles, we've already won a national book award (Roxanna Bennett's unmeaningable, winner of the 2020 Raymond Souster Award), and three provincial awards (Roxanna Bennett's unmeaningable, winner of the 2020 Trillium Book Award for Poetry; Danny Jacobs' Sourcebooks for Our Drawings, winner of the The Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick Book Award for Non-Fiction; and Amy Leblanc's I know something you don't know, winner of the 2020 Lieutenant Governor of Alberta's Emerging Artist Award).


Forests Not Yet Here
by Lisa Hirmer
Published by Iguana Books

Forests Not Yet Here is an assemblage of writings by artist Lisa Hirmer that explore the movement of matter through and between bodies, particularly those of trees and humans. The book is a proposition about how to live during this fraught, catastrophic ecological era and looks towards a world full of porous relationships across time and space, where boundaries are less fixed than often imagined and permeability stitches the world together. Taking the form of scores, these poetic invitations ask the reader to perform simple tasks, implicating them in the activation of the work beyond the pages of the book. It was created through the Thread Residency program with Musagetes and launched at the ArtsEverywhere Festival in Guelph in January 2020.

Lisa Hirmer is an interdisciplinary artist who works across visual media, particularly photography; social practice; performance and occasionally writing. She is primarily concerned with collective relationships: that which exists between things, rather than simply within them—particularly in relation to collective beliefs and in human relations with the more-than human world. Her work finds home both in traditional gallery settings and in other, unconventional public spaces. It has been shown across Canada and internationally including at Art Gallery of Ontario, University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, Doris McCarthy Gallery, Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, Harbourfront Centre, Art Gallery of Guelph, Art Gallery of Mississauga, Peninsula Arts, Cambridge Galleries and Flux Factory among others. She has received numerous grants and residencies for her work including from Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, Culture and Animals Foundation, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Camargo Foundation. She holds a Master of Architecture from the University of Waterloo and is currently based in Guelph, Canada.


Q & A with Lisa Hirmer

What was the inspiration for your book? 
This book is inspired by how permeable being is, the way our edges aren’t really edges at all. It is also inspired by emergency (though written before the pandemic) and what it means to be living within one. The book is created out of various texts written for gallery-based projects and is based on the idea that the pieces need to be activated in the world by the reader.

Do you have any new projects in the works? 
I’m continuing to work on the ideas in the book in various forms, including a project about moths with the Culture and Animals Foundation and new writing as part of a Thread Residency with Musagetes.


The Arrival
by J.M. Tibbott
Published by Sun Dragon Press

A computer whiz trapped in a tech-free world. Can she save a this strange land from a savage civil war?

Video game designer Kat Karim has never been much of a team player. So when her attitude causes friction at the office, her boss sends her on a forced vacation with instructions to think hard about her future. But while exploring ancient ruins in the Virgin Islands, she accidentally transports herself to an enchanted realm.

Desperate to return home, Kat strikes a bargain with the local leader to help uncover troublemakers in exchange for a way back to her home. But amid vicious creatures and enemies lurking around every corner, she must defend against a villain with sinister plans for the power she doesn’t know she possesses.

Can Kat survive in a land hurtling towards destruction?

The Arrival is the thrilling first book in The Pridden Saga epic fantasy series. If you like unstoppable female protagonists, seductive companions, and action-packed quests, then you’ll love J. M. Tibbott’s extraordinary journey.

Marilyn Kleiber, a Sun Dragon Press author, is a prize winning author with an extensive list of skills. She has written for newspapers and magazines, produced newsletters, including the editing of an online newsletter. Writing as J.M. Tibbott, her published works by Sun Dragon Press Inc. include The Arrival: The Pridden Saga: Book 1, The Healers: The Pridden Saga: Book 2, The Warriors: The Pridden Saga: Book 3, and we will be releasing her fourth Pridden Saga novel in early 2020, The Pleasure Seekers.


Q & A with Marilyn Kleiber (aka J. M. Tibbott)

What was the inspiration for your book?
I have always been an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy novels as part of my library of books.

Sometimes concepts come to me during dreams or meditation. So when I accepted the idea of the world of Pridden, I set about recording the plans of the world, snippets of conversations and visions of weird creatures. I commenced to write the first couple of chapters, and realised very soon into the process that I am not a ‘pantser’ but a ‘plotter’.

I spent the next two years designing the world and then worked on the premise for about three months. During this time, I became aware that I could not do justice to my idea in only one book. The main book expanded to three novels, and then finally to seven books for me to do justice to my initial image.

Since I must also hold a job in order to spend much of my time writing, it usually takes about a year to complete each novel.

I am currently working on Book 4 in the series, which is planned to be released in early 2021.

Do you have any new projects in the works? 
Even when writing this series, I am unable to stop ideas from flowing toward me. So three projects are currently in progress: a book of humorous short stories; a book of horror short stories: and a series of mystery/detective novellas.

Each of these will have to wait until the 7th book in the Pridden Series is finalised and sent to the printer.


Larkin on the Shore
by Jean Mills
Published by Red Deer Press

Sixteen-year-old Larkin Day is fragile and struggling after a difficult year at school and home. Sent to spend the summer with her grandmother in Nova Scotia, she finds herself caught up in Granne’s project to open a new café in Tuttle Harbour. Slowly, Larkin’s life begins to improve. She meets people – including Will, the kind boy next door - and becomes part of a group of local kids who hang out at nightly campfires on the back shore and whose relationships and interest in Larkin are both exciting and confusing.

But when she is caught up in a disturbing incident at the still-unfinished café that might involve her new friends, especially Will, Larkin is forced to decide who she trusts and how she wants to live.

Jean Mills grew up in Toronto and went to Queen’s University and earned two degrees in English (BA, MA), with a specialization in Medieval and Old Norse literature. Her first job was writing promotional blurbs for CTV Television and while there, started to focus on writing stories for children.

Jean has been writing for a very long time, and Skating Over Thin Ice is her first novel published by a mainstream children’s publisher.


Q & A with Jean Mills

What was the inspiration for your book?
The inspiration for the book was actually the setting. Larkin on the Shore is set on the shores of the Northumberland Strait in Nova Scotia, which is where I live for part of the year. We look out over a beach and the sandbars, and we’re surrounded by fields. It's idyllic.

A walk on the shore at low tide is the cure for pretty well anything that’s worrying you. So the idea of a troubled teenager finding healing on the shore was just a natural progression.

As for Larkin herself, years ago a character popped into my head – a fragile teenager, struggling with her emotions so much that reading books could make her cry. Yes, even in the classroom, even in public. What was she so worried about? How could she find her way? I hung on to that character for a long time, and she became Larkin, finding strength and healing on the shore.

Do you have any new projects in the works? 
I just finished another YA novel, this one following an injured teen hockey player, forced to move to a small town, who finds an outlet when he lands a job as a sports media intern at a local radio station. It has been enthusiastically endorsed for possible publication in 2021, fingers crossed.

I’m currently working on a YA novel about a girl who knits. She’s a math wiz as well as a good friend and a helpful daughter (her parents have a knitting store that strongly resembles All Strung Out in Guelph!), but she’s discovering life doesn’t always unfold like a knitting pattern.


The Starr Sting Scale
by C.S. O'Cinneide
Published by Dundurn Press

A hard-drinking former hitwoman agrees to help catch a killer — though the murderer might just be her.

Candace Starr likes to think of herself as retired since she got out of prison. That’s until society maven Kristina Corrigan tries to hire her to permanently remove her daughter’s barnacle of a boyfriend, Tyler Brent, from their lives. The only catch? Tyler is seventeen years old. Even Candace usually draws the line at taking out a target who doesn’t shave yet.

But when Tyler turns up dead at a river gorge with a broken neck, people start asking questions. Detective Chien-Shiung Malone, the ambitious cop assigned to the case, has more than a few of her own. Candace is not about to provide any answers though — until Malone makes her a proposition she cannot refuse. Candace signs on as Malone’s unofficial partner to find Tyler’s murderer, despite the possibility she my have killed the boy herself.

With scandalous wit and cocky satire, the first novel in the Candace Starr series provides full-throttle thrills as Starr and Malone race down the dark and dangerous road to the truth. Everyone along for the ride will be scrambling to call shotgun.

C.S. O'Cinneide (oh-ki-nay-da) is a writer and a blogger on her website, She Kills Lit, where she features women writers of thriller and noir. Her debut novel, Petra’s Ghost, is a dark literary thriller set on the Camino de Santiago in Spain, where a woman has disappeared. The book was inspired by real events that occurred when the author walked the ancient five-hundred-mile pilgrimage in 2015. Petra’s Ghost was a semi-finalist in the 2019 Goodreads Choice Awards.

O’Cinneide’s second novel, The Starr Sting Scale, is a tongue-in-cheek noir and the first book in the Candace Starr crime series. It follows the adventures of Candace Starr, a six-foot-three former hitwoman who is enlisted to solve a murder she may well have committed herself. Published in February 2020, The Starr Sting Scale has been recommended by Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and The Globe and Mail. The next installment in the series, Starr Sign, is expected in March 2021 through Dundurn Press.

C.S. O'Cinneide lives in Guelph, Ontario with her husband, an Irish ex-pat who remains her constant muse.


Q & A with C.S. O'Cinneide

What was the inspiration for your book?
I’ll be honest, I wrote The Starr Sting Scale because I was angry. The manuscript for my first novel, Petra’s Ghost, had recently been returned by an agent who felt it was wonderfully written, but not commercial enough. I sat myself down at my writing desk and thought, I’ll show you commercial!

It is from this creative tantrum that The Starr Sting Scale was born. I wanted to write an action-packed but witty noir that challenged the typical clichés of hard-boiled crime fiction. In particular, I strove to create a strong female lead who was neither femme fatale nor ingenue. Candace Starr, the stunning six-foot-three former hitwoman who the story and series is centred around is neither of these. An unapologetic alcoholic, foul mouthed, and inherently violent, she’s also a sucker for chick flicks and any solid advice you can give her about eyebrow threading. Candace is an action figure avatar for any woman who has ever wanted to slam a bad guy against a slushy machine at the 7-11 when he got out of line.

But anger is not enough inspiration to carry a novel. When I added Detective Chien-Shiung Malone into the mix, I really enjoyed exploring her developing friendship with Candace. The two are an unlikely pairing as partners or friends, but they become both as the story progresses. Women’s friendships were an underlying theme in my novel, Petra’s Ghost, as well.

So, I suppose you could say that both rage and relationships inspired me to write The Starr Sting Scale, along with a keen desire to pen something totally different. All of this went into the making of the novel, and I have that first agent who rejected my work to thank for it all!

Do you have any new projects in the works?
When I contracted with Dundurn Press to publish The Starr Sting Scale, they requested a three-book deal. Starr Sign, the second book in the series is due out in March 2021, and I have just completed the structural edits for it. In the book, Candace is effectively ambushed by a thirteen-year-old half sister she never knew she had. Their mother has disappeared while visiting with her estranged mafia family, and the two sisters set out to find her. Trouble ensues.

The combination of Candace’s hard-boiled lifestyle with an eye-rolling adolescent gave me lots of opportunity for comedic moments, which I like to use to balance the darker aspects of noir. As in the first novel, Candace remains firmly in the role of an “anti-hero with a conscience”, providing commentary on larger social issues like gender identity and racism through her snarky rhetoric. This novel may prove to be the most controversial one I’ve written. But if I told you why, it would be a spoiler. I guess you’ll just have to wait until March 2021 to find out.