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The Chat with Jessica Westhead

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Jessica Westhead’s work is well known to fans across Canada. She returns to The Chat this month to talk about latest novel, the psychological thriller Worry.

Taking place over 48 hours in remote cottage country, it explores the complex relationship between best friends Ruth and Stef.

Quill & Quire says “Westhead is a concise wordsmith; Worry is a quick and engrossing read."
 
Jessica Westhead’s fiction has been shortlisted for the CBC Literary Awards, selected for the Journey Prize anthology, and nominated for a National Magazine Award. Her short stories have appeared in major literary journals in Canada, the US and the UK, including Hazlitt, Maisonneuve, Indiana Review and Hamish Hamilton’s Five Dials. She is the author of the novel Pulpy & Midge and the critically acclaimed short story collections Things Not to Do and And Also Sharks, which was a Globe and Mail Top 100 Book, a Kobo’s Best eBook of the Year and a finalist for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. Westhead is a creative writing instructor at the Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University.

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Trevor Corkum: Worry is such a fraught novel, tense in so many ways. What made you want to write this kind of psychological thriller? In what ways would you say this is a

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The Books Behind WORRY

Worry is Jessica Westhead's new novel, a compelling and unsettling story about threats real and imagined—and where one draws the line. Kim Fu calls it "an irresistible novel from its first pages to its devastating end." 

In this recommended reading list, Westhead names titles that informed her work as she conceived and developed her novel. 

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In Lands and Forests, a superbly stark and brooding short-story collection by Andrew Forbes, the wilderness is a constant presence. It offers hope to the disillusioned, broken men and women who populate Forbes’ bleak and beautiful stories, and fills them with reverence, peace and awe. But it can just as easily fill them with unease and dread. In Worry, the lake and forest (ha, see what I did there?) is a constant presence as well, offering my characters the promise of a fun, carefree vacation and a welcome break from rules and responsibilities, but also awakening long-dormant grief and fear in Ruth, my main character. Lands and Forests is also adorned with some of the most ravishing cover art (designed by M …

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The Chat With Jessica Westhead

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Jessica Westhead has an uncanny ability to combine humour and despair in her writing. In her latest collection, Things Not to Do, we meet folks at the end of their rope who still manage to unearth wry and gorgeous moments in their day-to-day lives.

The Toronto Star agrees, stating, “Westhead brings empathy and humour to everyday absurdities with believable and recognizable characters.” Steven Beattie, writing for the Globe and Mail, says her writing “is infused with a generosity that is infectious: It draws a reader in and demands an emotional accounting.”

It’s a pleasure to speak to Jessica about her new work.

Jessica Westhead’s fiction has been shortlisted for the CBC Literary Awards, selected for the Journey Prize anthology, and nominated for a National Magazine Award. She is the author of the novel Pulpy & Midge and the critically acclaimed short story collection And Also Sharks, which was a Globe and Mail Top 100 Book and a finalist for the Danuta Gleed Short Fiction Prize.

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THE CHAT WITH JESSICA WESTHEAD

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Huge Savings on Six Incredible Books

How can you resist a 35% discount on acclaimed fiction by great Canadian writers? We're not the only ones to say these books are amazing, as you'll see below. Head over to the Members' Lounge to grab yourself one or all of these ridiculously priced beauties while you can.

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Pulpy and Midge, by Jessica Westhead (Coach House Books)

What It's About

Brian Lembeck – ‘Pulpy’ – takes life slow and steady. He likes his office job, and he likes his gentle, figurine-collecting boss, Al. He even likes the bitter receptionist, though he’s the only one who does. He likes his wife, Midge, too, and their ice-dancing lessons. Midge works as a candle-party hostess – she quit her office job when Al’s dog ate her pet pigeon and Al promised Pulpy a promotion.

But when Al retires and the tyrannical Dan takes over, the promotion vanishes. And then Dan’s oversexed wife, Beatrice, takes a shine to Pulpy, and Dan starts to think Midge is one hot tamale. Soon, the receptionist is smitten with Pulpy, Midge can’t get rid of Dan and Beatrice, and Pulpy’s job is in jeopardy. For once, Pulpy just might have to take a stand.

Reviews

"Westhead may have a claim to being CanLit’s Woody Allen.”—Quill & Quire

"Westhead is adept at providing caustically funny snapshots of lives tha …

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Friend. Follow. Text: Shawn Syms on Stories From Living Online

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Twitter lit? Facebook fiction? Here at 49th Shelf, we use the online realm to bring books and readers together. A new book, Friend. Follow. Text. #storiesFromLivingOnline, really takes this idea to heart. It consists of stories where the ways we connect online—chat sessions, Facebook status updates, website comment threads—are incorporated directly into the narrative. We asked editor Shawn Syms to talk about some of the stories in the book and the ways in which contemporary writing is being increasingly enhanced by the language and format of social media.

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How we meet each other, talk to one another, experience our lives together: it’s all changing. The possibility of being constantly online—while dancing in a big, sweaty crowd or standing alone on a quiet, snowy mountaintop—has started to permanently alter how we communicate as a culture. Whether we’re talking about sharing photos, trading tweets or texting exes, some find this delightful, others disconcerting.

This shift has affected us as readers. Curled up in bed reading 1984 on a tablet or getting breaking news while sitting on the bus, our eyes scan more information of myriad types in many different ways now. And it’s starting to affect how authors construct their works, too. Is there a plac …

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The Best Book Trailers We've Seen Lately

When creating a book trailer, it certainly helps to have a good book to start with, not to mention a friend with strong video-editing skills. But otherwise, there really is no formula when it comes to making a book trailer great, although it seems the great ones have no truck with formula in the first place.

All Jessica Westhead has to do is read her book, and the story sells itself. With the assistance of some 1960's stock footage of a hotdog casserole, of course. From And Also Sharks:

 

Vintage footage is also used to great effect in the trailer for Mark Lavorato's novel Believing Cedric:

 

The trailer for Suzette Mayr's Monoceros is a less formal affair, but underlines the truth that we've all suspected for some time: it is impossible to have too much kitsch.

 

Erin Bow's award-winning Plain Kate has a spectacularly animated trailer whose music and images create a perfect atmosphere for the book:

 

Put two writers together in a car and keep them there for a couple of months and it's more than likely that you'll get a book. And a book trailer too, for Wayne Grady and Merilyn Simonds' fabulous Breakfast at the Exit Cafe:

 

And it's good music coupled with a nice dose of self-deprecating humour that makes the trailer for Doug Harris' YOU comma Idiot.

 

Any other great trailers we missed? Tweet us your favourites @cdnbookshelf with the #booktrailers hashtag.

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Jessica Westhead on Ottawa's Octopus Books

Jessica Westhead's latest book is the story collection And Also Sharks, and she is also author of the novel Pulpy & Midge. In her Canadian Bookshelf guest post, she celebrates Ottawa's Octopus Books and Lisa Greaves, the woman at its helm.

I first met Lisa Greaves in fall 2007, on a Coach House book tour stop at the Plan 99 Reading series at the Manx in Ottawa. After I read from my then-new first novel, Pulpy & Midge, a grinning blonde woman made my night by telling me how much she’d enjoyed the excerpt. She introduced herself and said she owned a bookstore in town, and would I like to read there some time? I said I’d love to.

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We hatched a plan for me to visit Octopus Books that spring, along with local author and Octo-pal Jennifer Whiteford. On Wednesday, March 19, 2008, embraced by crammed, colourful bookshelves and a small but very friendly crowd, Jennifer read from her awesome young adult novel grrrl, and I read from Pulpy. Then we launched into an impromptu Q&A session and animated literary gabfest, fuelled by Lisa’s wine and her giddy enthusiasm for both of our books.

I saw Lisa and Jennifer again at Octopus Books’ 40th birthday celebration the following year. That’s right—this independent book …

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YOSS Guide for Novices

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Even before a passionate group of writers and readers declared 2011 the Year of the Short Story (YOSS), Canadian short stories had been enjoying some time back in the spotlight. Sarah Selecky’s This Cake is for the Party and Alexander MacLeod’s Light Lifting were both much celebrated and made the Giller Prize shortlist last year, and Katrina Best’s Bird Eat Bird won Best First Book for the Canada/Caribbean Section of the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Online initiatives like Joyland and Found Press are giving short stories new life online.

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And now the YOSS itself has delivered some remarkable new short story collections, all of this an absolute boon for those readers devoted to the form, and has surely also brought about a few converts. But there remain those readers upon whom all the celebration is lost, those who’ve tried and fail …

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