Playing with the Literary Big Boys, or, News for March at PQL

The pattering sound you hear is not hail at the windowpanes. That rumbling roar is not the howl of the bitterly cold wind in the eaves. For once, those gasps are not caused by winter weather stealing the breath from people’s lungs.

Actually, the pattering is applause—thunderous, sustained applause. The roar is the cheer of a congenial crowd, well pleased. The gasps are gasps of surprise and excitement. Ladies and gents, this week, we had the singular pleasure of experiencing one of the biggest, most exciting literary awards in Canada, and let me tell you, it was something.


Nothing like a good prize nomination to make you feel like a million bucks. It sure is nice to be noticed!

As you all know, we were very pleased, indeed, when Ian Hampton’s memoir, Jan in 35 Pieces was longlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize, and were further thrilled when it made it to the shortlist of five finalists. We are so proud that our plucky first-time author was on par with established writers whose books were published by big-name imprints. And along with the honour, there was also the widespread media attention that the prize was able to generate for Ian’s book. Not to mention the fabulous events full of delicious food and drink—those were quite enjoyable, too!

The prize luncheon took place at the Omni King Edward Hotel in Toronto on Monday. It was an elegant affair—a large, opulent room, tasteful floral decorations, swanky table linens, and of course, well-dressed literati. The wine flowed readily, the food was delicious, and I consumed what I now consider to be the most delicious chocolate dessert I’ve ever encountered. With good food and great company, it was an afternoon well spent, even though our book didn’t take the prize.

We send out hearty congratulations to Kate Harris (who grew up just outside Erin Village, incidentally), the winner of the 2019 RBC Taylor Prize, and we salute Ian Hampton, for all his hard work in writing, publishing and promoting his fantastic book. Many thanks, as well, to the Taylor Prize executive and the 2019 jury, not only for organizing another successful year of the prize, but also for helping Canadian readers to honour the best in the country’s literary non-fiction.



What’s happening this month…


Now that the awards business is over and The House on Major Street is printed, we’re moving full steam ahead into preparing and printing our Spring 2019 list. Up next on the docket are Joe Rosenblatt’s Bite Me! and The Essential Douglas LePan. Look for these two poetry collections in the coming weeks.

In the World.

Omigosh! I can’t believe it’s happening. This is crazy. I don’t know what to do. March 9 is apparently … Panic Day! Keep yourselves on high alert, people. Aaaahhh!

flowers in garden

Did you know that March 12 is Plant a Flower Day? Does anyone else feel, with the weather the way it has been, that this holiday is going to end in disaster?

And finally, March 29 is National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day. You know, now that I think about it, the Porcupine’s Quill could technically be considered a mom and pop shop. Feel free to support us on this day … and every day!


From the porcupette’s corner

It’s everyone’s favourite time of the year—tipsheet time! With substantive edits to do and the Taylor Prize luncheon to enjoy, this year’s tipsheet deadlines crept up on me. But I’m glad to say that we’re fully on track for another five brilliant books for the fall, including some new fiction, a sprinkle of poetry, and a healthy dash of illustration. Stay tuned for more details soon!

Once that’s off the plate, it’s time for some fun stuff—substantive edits for fall titles, copyediting an upcoming book for our spring list, and then catching up on any number of other little promotional and administrative tasks. I’m really looking forward to clearing off the old to-do list and starting fresh. Spring cleaning, am I right?


PortraitHope you learned a little something new in this month’s newsletter. Wish us luck as we embark upon a new and exciting season of fantastic fiction, nonfiction and poetry!


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PQ Weekly Roundup: 01 Mar 2019

Every Friday, the PQ Weekly Roundup collects the most shared links in our social media network—bookish articles, reviews, quizzes, recommendations and more—in convenient digest form.



Hope you enjoyed this somewhat comma-filled roundup. Plus, don’t forget to tune in to The Agenda with Steve Paikin tonight–at 8:00 p.m. or 11:00 p.m. on TVO. He’ll be interviewing Ian Hampton and his fellow Taylor Prize finalists!

Happy Friday,

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PQ Weekly Roundup: 22 Feb 2019

Every Friday, the PQ Weekly Roundup collects the most shared links in our social media network—bookish articles, reviews, quizzes, recommendations and more—in convenient digest form.



Thanks for visiting the PQL blog to catch up on our best book links this week. See you soon!


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Remembrance of Author Visits Past, Or, When I Learned Authors Were from ‘Round Here


I grew up in a suburb far from the literary stronghold of the GTA. We did not have a plethora of indie bookstores to browse on a Saturday afternoon, or a quiet weekday evening. We were not a must-visit destination for the vast majority of authors looking to hawk their wares in new venues. When I was a kid, at least, we did not have what you would call a lively literary scene. What we had was Arnie McCallum.

Arnie McCallum was an author of a great many picture books, who for many years tirelessly toured county schools reading his poems and sharing his stories. I was reminded of his positive influence on the community when I heard the sad news of his recent passing.

I think I was in the fourth or fifth grade when McCallum came to visit my class. This was a time before home Internet was a necessity of modern life. Before every kid over the age of ten had an iPhone and access to practically limitless information at their fingertips. Before social media became ubiquitous and used to broadcast everything from author appearances to cat memes.

In those days, I knew nothing about authors that I couldn’t find in their author bios. The concept of seeing one in the wild, so to speak, was foreign to me. Bookish as I was, writers were from another time and place, entirely removed from my day-to-day life.

McCallum was the first author I’d ever met. I’m pretty sure his was the first autograph I’d ever received. He was a literary luminary in my eyes, and for a book lover obsessed with reading, it was positively breathtaking to me that someone from around here had succeeded in adopting that most impressive of professions—that of a writer. His visit to my class was the first time I realized that books didn’t just happen, that authors weren’t just people from far-off galaxies like “New York” and “London”. It was, perhaps, the first time I realized that literature could be local, that a future reading and writing books ways kinda, sorta, maybe possible.

So cheers to Arnie McCallum, a local legend, but also an inspiration—to myself and to many.


Thanks for stopping by for my musings of a bookish childhood. I’d be interested to hear about your own literary experiences as a kid that may have influenced you as a reader or writer.


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PQ Weekly Roundup: 15 Feb 2019

Every Friday, the PQ Weekly Roundup collects the most shared links in our social media network—bookish articles, reviews, quizzes, recommendations and more—in convenient digest form.



Thanks for stopping by to get a load of this weeks bookish links. Be sure to pick up your copy of The House on Major Street!

Have a great weekend!

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Pulled from the Pages: The House on Major Street by Leon Rooke

I can’t even adequately describe how excited I am for the upcoming publication of Leon Rooke’s The House on Major Street. It is such a brilliant, crazy, surreal novel full of heart—and literary references. I’ve read it a few times by now and every time I do I find something else to enjoy in the story.

The book follows a colourful cast of characters–all neighbours on Toronto’s Major Street in the Annex. One day, Zan accidentally runs over her crush, Tallis, while riding her bike. Tallis ends up in a coma, leaving his parents crushed and Zan full of guilt. What follows is a wicked coma dream, a media circus, a slow descent into madness, and more.

What could be better to explain just how unique and wonderful this book is than an excerpt? Keep reading and you, too, will fall in love with The House on Major Street!

* * *

Early in the morning a lady with a lapdog showed up at the house on Major Street. She said she was looking for a former cavalry officer, Ryabovitch by name, whom she understood had struck up a friendship with a young boy presumably residing at this address. Ryabovitch was in fact upstairs at the time, contemplating flight through a window. He had heard the yapping dog. He could leap to the porch roof, possibly without breaking a leg, and make his escape. Romance had not come easily to him. It surprised him that it had come at all. That Anna Sergeyevna was a glorious woman he had no doubt. But intense, my word!

Emmitt Haley, father of the young boy, answered the woman’s anxious summons. He wore only pajama bottoms, his feet bare, the day brutally cold, boasting a sombre blue cast. Rainfall, intermittent. It took him some time to understand what the harried woman was saying. Her accent was unfamiliar, her manner troubling. Sorry. What? Who?

Ryabovitch. I know the snake resides here.

A snake?

Da, and a snivelling rat.

Finally, Emmitt comprehended that this snake, Ryabovitch, Ryabovitch the pig, had trampled on this woman’s heart. How distressing. But it was difficult to concentrate on her words. An icy wind was blowing. His feet were numb, fingers getting there.

But, but, but. Now rain was falling harder. Icy pellets striking his toes. The visitor appeared not to notice the rain. He was trying to tell this berserk woman that no one bearing the name Ryabovitch lived in this house. Friend of my son? This minute upstairs in bed, comatose, and conceivably never to emerge! Not possible. Lady, you have the wrong house. But his tongue was tied. He ached with cold. He ached to say to the woman, Lady, I am not up to this ordeal: a bad, sleepless night after so many. You come at a bad time.

At that moment the woman let out a shriek. She had seen, inside the house, a speeding blur. Descending the stairs. A speeding blur.

There he is!

Such was her shriek. Shrieks. An instant later, she was scrambling to get past him. To get through the door.


A variety of shouts, random noises—pandemonium—brought Emmitt’s wife, Daisy, to the door. She had been in the kitchen dully watching eggs boil in a pan of water. It could be admitted that she had been watching this boiling water for some duration. Sooner or later those eggs will find their way into the garbage. She was partner to a pill-induced slumber, let’s say. Xanax, perhaps. Lorazepam. What else? She has her secret stash. She has her reasons—her beautiful son may never again waken to the real world.

So here she is, on this cold wet morning, shoving her husband aside. Actually punching him—hair not yet combed, dingy gown about to fall off her—a slattern! What has this once-attractive woman done to herself? A professor of English literature, for God’s sake! On medical leave, just now. Appalling developments here at 2X8 Major. She, too, is yelling: ‘My God, Em, why are you making that woman cry? Have you lost your senses? My God, Em, let the woman come in!’

For some minutes, the dog had been yelping. She was a nervous dog, strongly opinionated. Pomeranian by appearance. Not that Emmitt or Daisy knew a Pomeranian from a sheep dog or any other. The Pomeranian dog could have told everyone the scoundrel Ryabovitch had been in there. She hadn’t seen the blur, but had smelled him. Now he was gone. The whole business had been a waste of time. Her mistress always fell for rotters. Consider that rotter husband back in Russia, for instance. A flunky, a lackey. Consider that dolt Gurov she succumbed to in Yalta. Such has been her whole life’s story. The Pomeranian loved her mistress, but God knows Anna Sergeyevna did not make this loving easy. No more than did that other dolt, Chekhov, when he set out to write the true-life story of a good dog . And got everything wrong. Sitting in Varney’s pavilion, Gurov saw, walking on the sea-front, a fair-haired lady of medium height, wearing a beret, a white Pomeranian dog running behind her. A lie. The few times she’d allowed herself to run behind Anna it was solely so she could nip at her heels. Hurry her along. The time the lazy author was writing about she’d been splashing through blue waves, chasing a seagull. Never trust an author was the Pomeranian’s motto. In fact, in her estimation a wise Pomeranian—herself—while the most sociable creature on earth, trusted no one.

What might an erudite scholarly wag say of this hodgepodge lacerating 2X8 Major?


Help, help!

Ours is a house occupied by the blind, the deaf, the mute, the totally helpless! We are lame, we are crippled, we are maimed and tormented, socially inept, bunglers of the first rank, mental midgets bereft of hope! We crawl about on hands and knees, we cry out (help, help!). We crouch in dark corners, entreating our captors: What have we done? Why are you doing this to us? Mercy! Mercy!

Hurry, friends, with news of our desperate plight. Inform the police, the military, the press, the very topmost, exalted despots of our great country. Barons of the left, moguls of the right, pillars of the very centre-most centre. Our dye is cast, our pigment set.

Oh, help us.

Forget latitude, longitude, write down this address: two-x-eight (2X8) Major, a stone’s throw from Bloor Street’s best. Heart of the heart’s heart. A scholar’s digs. Known land of the Mississauga Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee and Wendat peoples. Turn where you see the Bloor SuperSave. You have passed Trinity Church. Go back. One two three, how many doors south. Red brick house (renovated not, and no plans to). Lacy windows, how many bodies buried in the basement, beaten shrubs by the front walk, rubbish today swirling, snow a mile high. Rain, intermittent.

You can’t miss it. Extreme measures are called for, don’t even think negotiation. Too late, too late! Beseech our liberators to arrive with tanks, flame throwers, scud missiles, pots and pots of chicken soup; have phantom jets strafe our house and thousands of enraged crusaders lay siege to our door. Be warned, bad news awaits …

Be cool.

Hang easy.

Save us. We perish by the hour.

* * *

PortraitI hope you enjoyed this sneak peek of The House on Major Street. We should have print copies available in just a few weeks, but if you can’t wait, digital editions are available now right here.

Happy reading!Steph

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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.