Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Handover nominated for Governor General's Literary Award

I am humbled to announce that my latest book, The Handover, has been nominated for the Governor General's Award for non-fiction

Learn more about the award and check out the competition here: http://ggbooks.ca/

The winner will be announced on November 1st, 2017. Good luck and congratulations to everyone nominated.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Handover Part III

The Handover is stirring more comment. Please listen to the radio piece done by CBC's The Current which includes an interview with me and with directors of the Association of Canadian Publishers and The Writers' Union of Canada. It also features the emailed responses of Penguin Random House of Canada, the University of Toronto, and the Minister of Canadian Heritage.

The issues raised in The Handover will need to be addressed by the current Minister of Canadian Heritage when she brings forward her new cultural policy in the fall. I look forward to something more interesting from the Department at that time, something more substantial than its current comment on the M&S debacle (sorry, the Investment Canada Act means we cannot speak to specific cases) and something from the University of Toronto explaining why it got nothing from the gift of M&S, and a minimal display of courage from executives of Penguin Random House: it would be nice if they would speak directly to reporters instead of only offering up emails asserting legality. We know the handover of M&S to Random House and Bertelsmann was made legal by the Minister of the day--that is exactly the problem. The Minister said yes when she should have said no, and Ministers of Canadian Heritage have been saying yes ever since.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The Handover, Part II

No one ever knows what to expect when a book is launched into the world. In the case of The Handover, knowledgeable people said things like "Elaine, who do you think is going to read this book? Two people?" One former publisher, who is a central figure in it, said no one would. Another guessed maybe a few hundred publishing nerds might pick it up. Apparently, the one big bookstore chain in the country agreed with that estimation. Beads of sweat could be seen on my publisher's brow as he sent it to press.

I said Kaddish for it.

And then a few people spoke to a few more people, who spoke to a few more, and when we held a book launch in a smallish bar on Toronto's Danforth, the place was packed with all sorts of people interested in the history and future of publishing in Canada, authors, agents, publishers, critics, and reporters.Some of them were people I had tried to interview for The Handover who had been too scared to speak with me, even off the record. Some of them whispered in my ear new bits of information that hammered home the facts I had managed to gather.

Since the launch, in early June, there has been remarkable coverage of a project I was sure would enter the world already dead, starting with a really good job of reporting and reviewing by Brian Bethune in Maclean's Magazine; a long interview podcast by Jesse Brown on Canadaland; a full page lead review in the Globe and Mail by Roy MacSkimming; a story about the launch and the making of the book by Mark Medley also in the Globe and Mail; an interview in Quill & Quire; three mentions in the US based Publishers' Lunch; another story this weekend in the Globe and Mail by Kate Taylor and a long excerpt in The Walrus all in the first ten days. Suddenly bookstores scrambled to get the book on front tables.

For me, the most interesting feature of this aftermath has been the number of leading writers and publishers who have contacted me with stories to tell--but who are still afraid to tell them in public.

The Handover has exposed exactly how controlled the marketplace for ideas in Canada has become, and exactly how frightened people in the business are to say that out loud.
The Minister of Canadian Heritage, Melanie Joly, basically ignored the issues of publishing while doing her so-called public consultation on Canadian content in a "digital world"  last year, in preparation for her brand new cultural policy to be delivered this coming September. Yet publishing was the point of origin for that policy, and publishing everywhere is in serious trouble, especially newspapers, thanks to years and years of governments signing off on ludicrous mergers and acquisitions. On the book side of things, the government of Canada has created a marketplace utterly dominated by one foreign-owned publisher whose main preoccupation is publishing works originated elsewhere that will sell in very large numbers, and one Canadian-owned bookselling chain whose choices are driven by the same requirements. In newspapers, there is only one major chain left, and it is in terrible trouble. That's why even the Toronto Star is frightened about the future. The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage just asked for the government to tax Netflix and Google in order to be able to divert some of the money they suck out of this country into the creation of decent Canadian journalism. Before the ink was dry on the Committee's report, the Prime Minister himself shot that recommendation down. Canada's major newspaper association has also asked for a $350 million public fund to support journalism-- though Joly stomped all over that idea back in the winter.

We're in trouble.

The Handover shows how we got there.

If you are a democrat and care about this country, have a look at it.

Friday, 5 May 2017

The Handover

Readers of this blog may recall that in the summer of 2015 I wrote a few posts about something I called a CanLit Mystery.  I had begun to poke into how Canada's longest-lived and best independent publisher, McClelland &Stewart Ltd. (which brought us works by Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Margaret Laurence, Michael Ondaatje, Peter C. Newman, Mordecai Richler, Leonard Cohen, and other leading lights of CanLit), ended up in the hands of a foreign entity, Bertelsmann. The largest publisher in the world, Bertelsmann now owns what remains of M&S in spite of Canadian law and policy forbidding such transactions.(The law says they can only be done in specific circumstances with the approval of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, yet year after year, deal after deal, the law has been interpreted by bureaucrats with all the creative flair of Hollywood accountants.) I wanted to know how Avie Bennett had managed to get the company off his hands while remaining the chairman of its board for 11 years. I knew--everybody in the book business knew--that the first part of the deal involved Bennett giving away 75% of the shares of M&S to the University of Toronto in 2000. The U of T's press release at the time implied that it would act as the Canadian steward of M&S for the future benefit of all Canadians, thanks to Bennett's generosity. But the other 25% was sold to Random House of Canada, a Bertelsmann subsidiary. Random House also entered into an administrative and financial services contract with M&S to run the company. Only a few seemed to find this odd, though one had to ask: why would Random House, M&S's most formidable competitor, work hard to keep M&S in tip-top form? When questions were raised at the time, especially about the legalities, the word was put out that Ottawa had given its blessing in advance.

And that was all that emerged in public about this curious transaction for the next 11.5 years, until Random House announced it had acquired all of the U of T's shares, giving it 100% ownership of CanLit's best backlist,something forty years of policy and many millions in grants had aimed at preventing.

Nobody managed to find out how this happened, or why.

A few years later I found myself with some spare time and some real concern about the state of Canadian publishing. What is spare time good for if not to poke into things that seem odd? And everything about the M&S deal seemed odd.

So I made some calls, wrote some emails. I soon learned that the Canadian Heritage Minister in 2000, Sheila Copps, did not think that this matter had come before her. And then I found out that U of T had transferred its M&S shares to Random House for the sum of $1--suggesting that this country's literary inheritance had somehow been reduced in value to zero.

Only in Canada, you say?

So I did some interviews. After learning from Avie Bennett that control of M&S had passed to Random House long before the actual shares did, and discovering that M&S's former President, Doug Gibson, wasn't too sure whether the millions in grants M&S had won as a Canadian owned -and- controlled company were appropriate, I wrote a few posts.

But then some fascinating documents landed in my lap. I couldn't write about them until I'd done a whole lot more digging.

Last week, I took down those old CanLit posts, right after Biblioasis, a highly regarded Canadian independent publisher, sent my new book on this subject to press. It's called The Handover. It's not just an inside baseball book about Canadian publishing: it lays out the story of how our nationalist cultural policy became the third rail of Canadian politics-- not touchable in public, but gotten around over and over again behind closed doors. Pursuing the M&S story opened up a much larger one about how power really works in this country. The Handover, in other words, is a sharp astringent to the sweet stories about to pour forth for Canada's 150th birthday party.

If you're a globalist, you're going to want to read it. If you're a nationalist, you're going to want to read it. If you just want to know how we really do things as opposed to how we say we do things, you're going to want to read it.

The Handover should be in bookstores shortly, but if, as I suspect, our dominant book store chain is not too keen to stock it, try an independent. If push comes to shove, order it on Amazon.ca.


"Anyone who cares about Canadian culture needs to read this bombshell of a book. Elaine Dewar takes us on her journey as she uncovers the sad truth that Canada's preeminent book publisher was handed on a silver platter to a transnational conglomerate while taxpayers footed the bill. The Handover puts an end to our assumption that laws promoting Canadian culture are any longer enforced." - Maude Barlow, author of Blue Gold

"The Handover reads like the best mystery novels. It is the single most important book about Canadian publishing, authors, culture, and sovereignty published in 50 years. It is an exceptionally well-researched and documented trail of how the wealthy, powerful, and some government officials used high-priced lawyers, accountants and institutions to bypass the intent of Canadian government policy and ideals...Essential reading for everyone who cares about our country." - Jack Stoddart, O.C.

"Intrepid reporter Elaine Dewar writes with clarity and passion, and in her hands the story barrels forward, peeling away the layers of the M&S debacle. Through interviews with the major players and by diligent research, she uncovers the startling truth of how The Canadian Publisher fell into foreign hands." - Jack David, Co-publisher & Founder of ECW Press

Friday, 17 March 2017

Wilderness, Wildlife and Finding Common Ground

Just in time for March break, the Cochrane Ecological Institute held a symposium in Cochrane, Alberta. The leaders of this environmental charity, responsible for the re-introduction of the Swift Fox, an extirpated species, to southern Alberta and the northern US, invited me to be one of the speakers.

I wondered: Why me?

Two other speakers (Ted Chamberlain and Sharon Butala) are Officers of the Order of Canada and have made their names writing about nature. Another speaker, Mark Winston, a bee specialist at Simon Fraser University, won the Governor General's award for his book Bee Time. Sian Waters teaches at Durham in the UK and studies the Barbary macaques of the Rif Mountains in Morocco. The speakers also included a bear specialist and a woman who owns an oil company which she insists will make "clean hydrocarbons," an idea she dreamed up while brainstorming at Richard Branson's island retreat (to which only the very clever rich are invited).

Apparently I was included because the second book I wrote, while escaping from the legal woes of my first, interested CEI's leaders. They have long memories. Cloak of Green was published in 1995, before the Internet connected everyone to everything, before Google, Facebook, Uber, self driving cars, robotic handmaids, delightful drones, and before Silicon Valley folk made millions inventing software for the CIA, as others linked our souls to the NSA. Several leaders of Canada's environmental movement were featured in Cloak of Green doing surprising things--okay, improper things-- with donated money. Clio Smeeton and Ken Weagle, founders of CEI, are environmentalists of another kind. They found the book useful. It helped explain to Smeeton why World Wildlife Fund Canada refused her request for a grant for a Swift Fox re-introduction program--until she was able to arrange a boot to that organization's back side (courtesy of Prince Philip?). Weagle had once worked for CIDA [Canadian International Development Agency] as well as the federal Department of the Environment. Some of the reportage in Cloak of Green resonated with his experiences.

It's nice to be useful, especially when it begets an invitation to an event so unique as CEI's second symposium.

Cochrane, Alberta is a very small town/bedroom community about a half hour northwest of Calgary, the Houston of the North. On a clear day in Cochrane you can see the spectacular snow-capped Rockies lording over the grasslands where buffalo once roamed, where the Blackfeet and the Blood once held sway. Just off its main street, in the hills above the town, lies the Cochrane Ranch House, a post and beam structure where the symposium was held.

I got a ride to Cochrane from Calgary with author Sharon Butala O.C. who gave a talk about how she and her now deceased husband, Peter Butala, gave the Nature Conservancy a huge swatch of ranch land in southwestern Saskatchewan. Peter Butala had inherited it from his family who had been there as ranchers since the 1880s. The land was never plowed and so still retains the biodiversity of the old Prairie before European colonizers (such as my grandparents) homesteaded and tore it apart. Neither Butala nor I knew much about CEI or what to expect from the symposium other than that Blackfoot elders would start the day with a ceremony. We had never met Smeeton or Weagle. We were invited to their home, the base of CEI and a Whale watch organization as well as an allied operation called Happy Tails Animal Retreat (which pays the bills), for dinner. We knew roast buffalo was on the menu. But nobody mentioned that relatives of those buffalo would be visible through CEI's back windows, lounging in the snow.

It was bitterly cold. The snow crunched underfoot, the sound of deep winter. CEI is off a township road about twenty minutes north of Cochrane, a slippery road because it was minus twenty, and narrow enough that I wondered if we'd find ourselves climbing out of a ditch. Though it was still light, the light was fading.  We hoped for a bright moon to find our way back to the hotel. We had just overshot CEI's gate when I spotted a large moose grazing beside the road on the wrong side of a fence. On the proper side, there was a small moose herd. What the hell, I said to Butala. I've never seen a herd of moose before, have you?

We opened the gate, drove along a track that wound through a forest of spruce and ended in a parking area in front of a house and a barn-like structure. There were open fields beyond. There were buffalo out there. People were carrying trays of food into the house. We followed. It was a ramshackle wander of a place. There was wood everywhere, wooden walls, floors, stairs to a living room loft, the whole place the work of human hands. A tall woman with short grey hair and a certain reserve stood in the main hall to greet us--Clio. She was a model in London during the Carnaby Street era and she is still a long, tall noodle of a woman. All I knew of her had been gleaned from a few emails, one explaining that her parents were great travelers, that there'd been a homestead in BC before this land was bought, but mainly that Clio grew up on the family boat sailing around the world until she fetched up in art school in London.

Her stories of her mother had intrigued me utterly: Beryl Smeeton was born into the English aristocracy, married a man 14 years her senior and ended up in Imperial India with him, unhappy. She left him after ten years and headed out of India for the UK overland: that's when for her life of adventurous travel began. She journeyed alone, in 1935, from India overland through what was then Persia under the new Shah, then across the Soviet Union on trains, without any real language skills, and with nothing but a few clothes and determination to meet people as they are, to immerse herself in the way others live. She was invited into home after home, protected, defended, entertained from Asia to Europe. She wanted to see Japan, China, southeast Asia. She met up with her brother who was in the military and was being transferred to Japan and traveled with him by train and ferry to Japan, which had just invaded Manchuria. She walked from village to village over a famous Japanese hiking trail, staying in the small hotels along its path, a strange and barbarous foreigner, then went on to China, where she traveled on foot, train, bus, and boats-- up and down the Yangtze River and west and south to the Mekong and finally out to Burma. She communicated with gestures, goodwill and a few words written in splendid calligraphy on cards, her few clothes tied up in bag and a small pack. After meeting the man she would marry next, she sailed the world, then homesteaded in British Columbia, and took off once more, with Clio in tow. They bought the land where CEI resides in 1971-- for $50 an acre. Clio picked up the adventure gene and found herself fetching a white rhino back from Africa to the Calgary Zoo where she was soon offered a job..

Clio had mentioned in an email that her mother had written about these travels.

I'd like to read that, I said.

Clio had a copy of her mother's book ready for me. It was published by a small BC press, and it should be better known. The title is  Winter Shoes in Springtime. I read it all the way home.

Sharon and I walked into the Smeeton/Weagle den, a large room with grand yet battered arm chairs set around a wood stove. A fire roared behind its glass door, tended by Ken Weagle. I had pictured a smallish man because his emails were apologetic. He turned out to be about six foot three, broad, white haired, an extremely able person who spent years in the north where he became very familiar with dogsled travel.

Why did you organize this symposium, I asked, because this setting didn't have any of the familiar symposium qualities. There were no stuffy academics to be seen, no whiteboards, just the particularity of handmade lives, some interesting pictures, many, many books, not to mention an old sextant once used by Clio's parents to find their way across the oceans of the world. What's a sextant? one of their volunteer/ students wanted to know. Is it like GPS?

We wanted to get ideas moving,Weagle explained. While they had sold lots of tickets to the symposium to raise money for CEI and were planning a "gala" dinner ( with two stand-up comedians down from Edmonton for entertainment) and a silent auction, this symposium, like last year's, would not do much to fill CEI's coffers. Though ideas matter, they take time to percolate. It will likely be the 10th CEI symposium, or the 20th that turns this into an environmentalist's version of TED.

Stories were handed round with the sherry and the wine and the gin and tonic. In the the center of the room, a large mattress was suspended by chains from the ceiling, with a giant stuffed toy for a pillow, a place for a tall person to lie down and read by the fire. The ends of the mattress appeared to have been chewed. By what? I was told to go and look out the door to the back deck. There, a moose was chowing down on dinner provided by Ken and Clio because it is recovering from injury. We stared at each other, the moose and I. Apparently that moose that had found its way into this room and had its way with the mattress.

The house was full of volunteers who helped put the symposium together, several of them young students, two learning animal care techniques as part of their degrees from European universities. They'd helped make and lay out a perfect array of smoked buffalo meat in elegant strips, buffalo meat balls, salmon and cream cheese in a mound, carrots, salads, several kinds of hummus, pita, dips, desserts. The smoked buffalo came from an animal which was once part of the herd out back. Their land can only support so many and when they had too many they gave some to the Blackfoot who had to ferry them to the reservation in cattle trailers which rocked and rolled through rush hour Calgary to the terror of the drivers. When there were still too many buffalo, Ken asked an elder of the Blackfoot named Francis to help them kill a few and take some of the meat .

I spoke in the morning, got it over with. [If you want to know what I spoke about, click here for the pdf. It was about how wilderness and wildlife are bad ideas that should have died in the 19th century and that we need to recognize that we humans are not singular organisms above nature, but meta-organisms which do the bidding of the bacteria, Archaea and fungi whose cells outnumber our own ten to one in every one of us.] At noon, Ken and Clio were asked to step down onto the stage because the Blackfoot had decided to give them Blackfoot names, to bring them into the Blackfoot community.

Francis, the elder, sat on the stage, his feet in moccasins, with his eagle headdress firmly set on his head. He is a big man, broad, with a big belly which he cupped in his hands.  He instructed a younger elder on where Ken and Clio should stand, and how their blankets should be be wrapped -- over their clothes, over one shoulder and under the other, almost as a Roman toga was once worn. Francis told us the story of why these names were being given. The Swift Fox reintroduction was part of it, but really it was more about the reestablishment of the buffalo. When Ken called Francis to offer him some, Francis had been ill, barely able to imagine getting himself up to Cochrane and CEI let alone helping with the kill, but he'd called around and found help. Francis explained that at that time he had had many ailments, especially diabetes. Yet when the buffalo meat was given to him, the buffalo having once been everything to the Blackfoot, their meat, sinew, bone, hide, all of it used either as food, or for making tools, or for making homes, or for making clothes, his health problems just vanished. He spoke of the Creator and of spirits. He sang.

For some reason that I can't quite explain, Francis' s ideas and stories were the most affecting of the day, not that this naming and the beauty of it really needs an explanation.

It just needs to be shared.

So here is a picture of Clio and Ken getting the names they have earned in their long and fruitful lives upon this earth.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Friday, 9 December 2016

Read my new serial novel That Woman (free) part XIII (the finale!)

And now for final piece of That Woman, part 13.


Drew and Jason wake up only  to find themselves trussed up in test suits with minds of their own, suits that are carrying them toward the worst kind of trouble. A. J. has Marsha exactly where he wants her.  Or so it seems. Find out who does what and to whom in the final episode of That Woman. 

Learn all about That Woman here and read all the parts.