Skip to content

7th Annual Reading! December 2, 2018

November 22, 2018

7th annual reading

An evening with Bianca Marais and Reema Patel

April 24, 2018

Bianca Marais and Reema Patel

Bianca Marais and Reema Patel both began their first novels while they took courses at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies. Bianca says she wrote many atrocious novels that were all rejected before she started Hum If You Don’t Know the Words, one of the Globe and Mail’s Best Books of 2017. Reema, a lawyer by training, was inspired to write Justice for All after working as an intern in a street child-focused NGO in Mumbai.

Their working styles are very different. Reema “plots everything,” while Bianca is a confirmed “pantser” who can’t stand the idea of planning ahead. Both had valued readers who provided feedback on early drafts and both found agents who were instrumental in helping to shape their novels.

Reema pitched to lots of agents and was signed by The Transatlantic Agency. After working with her agent to make revisions she sold the book to McClelland & Stewart. Just this week, she received edits from the publisher.

Bianca pitched to five agents. One expressed interest, conditional on Bianca making major revisions before signing. However, she got lucky when Cassandra Rodgers at The Rights Factory picked Hum from the slush pile. Cassandra said she could see the gem in the story. “It made me cry.” Her boss, Sam Hiyate, President of The Rights Factory, said, “You cry, you buy!” Cass signed Bianca and together with her colleague Olga Filina, helped Bianca rework the manuscript. After more than 100 rejections, Hum was bought by Putnam.

Both Bianca and Reema write about characters whose lives are very different from their own. Bianca’s novel features two narrators: Robin, a white South African child and her black maid, Beauty, while Reema’s features Rakhi, a young woman from the slums of Mumbai. Both authors talked about their struggles to respectfully represent their characters and shared qualms about appropriation of voice. Reema is of Indian background, but grew up in Toronto. Her struggle is with how to respectfully and thoughtfully represent issues of poverty. Bianca said it proved harder to write from the perspective of Robin, the white child, because she was forced to take a very hard look at her own life in order to be honest about the racism she was part of.

After answering questions from the audience, the authors were invited to sum up with  “elevator pitches” for their novels.  Reema described Justice for All as the story of Rakhi, a former street child working at a human rights NGO, who is preoccupied with guilt over something she did during her childhood when her life is upset by the arrival of an entitled intern. Bianca just laughed and said she’ll always use 150 words when 5 would do.


Plotter or Pantser?

February 1, 2018

The writing world is divided between people who meticulously plot their novels in advance and those who fly by the seat of their pants. JK Rowling recently tweeted:

I fall somewhere in between. In a class with YA writer, Robert Paul Weston, I developed a broad outline for a young adult novel as a class assignment. It seemed useful and KM Weiland’s book, Outlining Your Novel, inspired me to add more detail.  I wasn’t sure I’d actually stick to the outline, but over time, it proved to be an invaluable map that kept me from straying off-course to follow exciting but unproductive subplots.

And now that I’m finished draft one, (small cheer), I face the real work of refining the story. Following the sage advice of Anita Morris  I’m developing a reverse outline based on the Story Grid template developed by Editor, Shawn Coyne. This outline helps keep track of characters, motivations, conflicts, time, setting and more. Coyne actually recommends using this method to plan a novel in from the beginning, but, there is still a pantser in me! I even have trouble committing to the level of detail he recommends for a reverse outline. So, now I’m experimenting with my own outline categories. So far, it seems useful to keep track of:

  • Chapter, Scene, word count
  • Date, time, setting
  • Key events
  • Characters on and off stage with physical detail
  • Conflicts
  • Questions raised or answered

I guess I’m plotting my pantsing….if that makes any sense at all.


Some people get everything right

December 4, 2017

The sixth annual reading was loads of fun! This year, each of us started with the same first line to create seven short stories and one poem. From a long list of 75 famous first lines, we chose, “Some people get everything wrong,” from Alice Munro’s story, “Pride,” in Dear Life. But clearly, we got everything right in choosing friends and family who gave up a sunny afternoon to hear us read. Thank you, everyone, for your ongoing support!

The Bathurst Muses: June Rogers, Anita Morris, Alison Girling, Valerie McDonald, Michelle Adelman, Shila Desai, Alison Colvin, Lynn Horton