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Writing with Four Hands

Travels in Cuba, like the other books in the Travels series, was written with four hands. Readers are always curious about how we do this. There is piano music for four hands, so why not books? But do the writers sit side by side as if on a piano bench and write with the same rhythm? What happens if they disagree? We know that creative people are solitary creatures with large egos and a need to control their creative process. So what happens when two very independent authors with very different ways of seeing the world begin working together?

Actually, we were surprised at how smoothly it went. Marie-Louise has worked in children’s theatre, writing plays and designing sets, including large puppets. She knew what it was like to work with a team. The two key ingredients are a dash of compromise and criticism of the constructive kind. And David has worked writing and directing documentary films, and filmmaking is the collaborative form par excellence.

Also, the idea behind the very first book we did, Travels with my Family, came out of our shared experience. These were the family journeys we made together with our two boys. And, of course, we don’t sit side by side looking over each other’s shoulders. As the story is coming together, many, many versions of the m …

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The Places We'll Go

In a year where much of what we’ve come to expect of the world has been shut down, it remains a simple truth that books—for better or worse—can always transport us to places we’ve never been before, or destinations to which we long to return. Aren’t we all yearning for a little adventure? Hasn’t the global pandemic confined us to the worry-filled square footage of our homes? My third thriller, The Hunted, steps right into this gap, taking readers on a journey down the coast of eastern Africa, to a tiny, idyllic island just south of Zanzibar. On Rafiki Island, Tanzania, there’s a beautiful dive camp, trustworthy people, and a chance to really kick back and relax. Doesn’t it all sound great?

But pack your fictional bags at your peril, because I’ve found a great list of Canadian travel adventures that all have a sting in their tail. We’re thriller writers, after all, and the mission is to take you on paradise vacations and terrify you while you’re there.

Here are my picks for how to travel the globe with a renewed love and appreciation for the safety of your own armchair.

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Let's Get Out of This Town: Literary Travel

Journey through place and time with this collection of new and forthcoming travel books, spotlighting some of the best travel writing and a few of the most amazing places on earth.

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Our Trip Around the World, by Renate Belczyk (Coming in September)

About the book: A spirited 1950s travelogue that takes the reader around the world during a time when two independent young women travelling alone was considered almost revolutionary.

Renate Belczyk was born in Dresden, Germany, in 1932. When she was three years old her family moved to Berlin, where they settled into a small apartment building on the outskirts of the city. It was in this building that she met another adventurous girl, Sigrid, with whom she would travel around the world as young women after the Second World War.

Having spent most of their childhood and teenage years climbing trees, swimming, cycling, hiking, and adventuring around Germany the two young women attended a talk by the German writer Heinrich Böll.

During his presentation the renowned author suggested to the crowd that they all travel to different countries and make friends with the locals whenever they could, as this would help prevent another war. Renate and Sigrid took this advice to heart, and from that point their adventures together to …

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Great Literary Getaways

These days under lockdown, it's books that can let us travel and explore the world. There's something here for every kind of reader, with journeys to every continent, memoir and fiction, thrillers and dramas. Where is literature going to take you next?

*****

India

Keepers of the Faith, by Shaukat Ajmeri

About the book: Keepers of the Faith is set within a small Muslim sect of India, ruled by an avaricious priesthood that demands absolute submission while enforcing archaic social customs. When a section of the community rebels, it is summarily excommunicated, shunned by friends and family and denied religious rites. The peaceful community is split into two.

The novel follows the fates of two blissful young lovers, Akbar and Rukhsana, in the historic city of Udaipur. When the communal split occurs, their families are on opposite sides; the lovers' dream of a happy life together is shattered, and they are forced into separate destinies. Akbar, from the rebel group, goes on to become a writer and family man in Mumbai, while Rukhsana gets married to an immigrant engineer from the United States fanatically devoted to the priesthood.

Years later, Akbar's and Rukhsana's paths cross again. Much has changed and much has not, and they are presented with soul-destroying choices a …

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The Chat with Kate Harris

Kate Harris

TREVOR CORKUM cropped

A few years ago, Kate Harris hopped on a bike to travel the Silk Road with a friend, following the journey of Marco Polo. Her reflections on the journey and the life lessons she learned along the way are documented in Lands of Lost Borders, a memoir.

Pico Iyer famously blurbed the book, saying "Kate Harris packs more exuberant spirit, intrepid charm, wit, poetry and beauty into her every paragraph than most of us can manage in a lifetime.” In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews calls it “exemplary travel writing: inspiring, moving, heartfelt, and often breathtaking.”

Kate Harris is a writer and adventurer with a knack for getting lost. Named one of Canada's top modern-day explorers, her award-winning nature and travel writing has featured in The Walrus, Canadian Geographic Travel, Sidetracked and The Georgia Review, and cited in Best American Essays and Best American Travel Writing. She has degrees in science from MIT and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and in the history of science from Oxford, where she studied as a Rhodes schol …

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11 Books that Write the World

These books take their readers beyond Canadian borders to portray the rich lands, cultures, and adventures that can be discovered in other parts of the world, as well as the devastation caused by wars and other conflicts. Travel with these Canadian writers to Thailand, Syria, Rwanda, Bali, Palestine, Turkey, Iran, and other places, letting these perspectives inform your own sense of home. 

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Homes: A Refugee Story, by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah & Winnie Yeung

About the book: In 2010, the al Rabeeah family left their home in Iraq in hope of a safer life. They moved to Homs, in Syria—just before the Syrian civil war broke out.

Abu Bakr, one of eight children, was ten years old when the violence began on the streets around him: car bombings, attacks on his mosque and school, firebombs late at night. Homes tells of the strange juxtapositions of growing up in a war zone: horrific, unimaginable events punctuated by normalcy—soccer, cousins, video games, friends.

Homes is the remarkable true story of how a young boy emerged from a war zone—and found safety in Canada—with a passion for sharing his story and telling the world what is truly happening in Syria. As told to her by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah, writer Winnie Yeung has crafted a heartbreaking, hopeful, and urgently nece …

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Get Away From It All: New Travel Books

Book Cover Full Moon Over Noahs Art

All books are transporting, but none more so than these volumes, which are books that take you places and even books you take when you're taken to places. Whether you're venturing locally or further afield, these great new titles will come in handy for summer travel, vicarious or otherwise.

*****

Visit Mount Ararat and Eastern Turkey

Full Moon Over Noah's Ark, by Rick Antonson

About the book: Mount Ararat is the most fabled mountain in the world. For millennia this massif in eastern Turkey has been rumoured as the resting place of Noah’s Ark following the Great Flood. But it also plays a significant role in the longstanding conflict between Turkey and Armenia.

Author Rick Antonson joined a five-member expedition to the mountain’s nearly 17,000-foot summit, trekking alongside a contingent of Armenians, for whom Mount Ararat is the stolen symbol of their country. Antonson weaves vivid historical anecdote with unexpected travel vignettes, whether tracing earlier mountaineering attempts on the peak, recounting the genocide of Armenians and its unresolved debate, or depicting the Kurds’ ambitions for their own nation’s borders, which some say should include Mount Ararat.

What unfolds in Full Moon Over Noah’s Ark is one man’s odyssey, a tale told through many st …

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Nisha Coleman and Busker: Stories from the Streets of Paris

Book Cover Busker Nisha Coleman

There are two reasons why right now is perfect time to be telling you about Nisha Coleman's Busker: Stories from the Streets of Paris. One is that we're focusing on oddballs and misfits this month here at 49th Shelf, in this misfit month with its 29 days, and Coleman encounters so many of these characters during her time busking in Paris living on the city's cultural fringes. And the second is that Valentines Day is on the horizon, and Coleman's memoir shows the City of Love like you've never seen it before. Busker is also very much a love story in its own right—just not the kind you're probably used to.  

 *****

Kerry Clare: There are so many compelling bits of your memoir, and one of them for me is the way you write about loneliness of your life in Paris in the beginning, about your longing for just an ordinary friend. You meet so many characters in your daily life—the man with the moustache, the guy with the sex songs, Michel the kisser. Was there really such a dearth of ordinary folks? Are they just not approachable? Is normal too boring to write about? Is there such a thing as normal at all? 

Nisha Coleman: I don't believe in normal! I longed for an ordinary friend, but not a normal one. What I lacked in Paris was the kind of closeness that lets you relax i …

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Rosalind Chan: Around the World in Cake

Of all the international themes that we're considering this month, it all keeps coming back to food. Cookbooks and food books are fascinating ways to learn about other culture, and our own local food movement has only awakened interest in how food culture works in other places. However, world-renowned cake decorator Rosalind Chan's new book is a spin on global food quite like no other. 

Creative Cakes features 14 cakes inspired by by the symbols and flowers of places Chan has visited on her travels, with recipes that teach some of the most sought-after skills in cake making, plus how-to photos, templates, full-page images, and a variety of cake and confectionery recipes.

The wonders of the world have never been so sweet. 

 

*****

Russia

Russian Faberge Beauty

 

Russia’s national flower is the chamomile. Looking very much like a daisy, the chamomile symbolizes energy. Russia is known for its famous jewelled eggs, made by the House of Faberge from 1885 to 1917 for the Russian imperial family.

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India

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Intrepid Travellers: Canadian Women in the World

This month at 49thShelf, we're Writing the World, exploring travel guides and memoirs, and books with global issues and international themes. And this week in particular, in the run-up to International Women's Day, we're celebrating women's stories, beginning with this cross-genre list—memoir, fiction, and poetry—of Canadian women's travel tales.

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Book Cover Outside of Ordinary

Outside of Ordinary: Women's Travel Stories, edited by Lynn Cecil and Catherine Bancroft

Thirty-two Canadian women writers—including Alison Pick, Sharon Butala, and Lorna Crozier—tell their travel stories in this anthology of stories in which lives are challenged spiritually, physically, emotionally, and otherwise, as well as deeply enriched. Elaine K. Miller cycles across the Southern United States, Janet Greidanus climbs to Everest Base Camp, and Jane Eaton Hamilton, on vacation in Mexico with her partner, contemplates whether to join the fight for same-sex marriage in Canada. For it seems that travel doesn't just change one's view of the world, but it changes also how one sees one's own self, and also notions of home. 

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Marie-Louise Gay and David Homel on Bringing Their Kids Into Their Books

Marie-Louise Gay David Homel

Marie-Louise Gay, the beloved author and illustrator of the Stella and Sam series, and her husband David Homel, Governor-General-Award-winning translator of over 30 books, have combined forces in the last little while to write and illustrate the Travels series based on their family's vacations—and "stay-cations." The result has been a family affair: their kids' voices have informed the series and also the real, often funny conversations they have about the books in it.

*****

When our youngest son read Travels with My Family, the first of our Travels series, he couldn’t believe he’d survived his own childhood. “You guys did so many dangerous things with me!” he complained. “I should have called Youth Protection Services.” Then he made a play for a share of the royalties.

“No,” we told him. “Characters in books don’t get royalties. Only writers do. Write your own book.” Now we’re afraid he will!

Our oldest, meanwhile, showed up at our Montreal launch and happily co-signed copies of the book with us, adding “The Narrator” under his signature (more on that in a minute).

Nostalgia usually doesn’t lead to anything worthwhile, but our series of Travels books is the exception that makes the rule. We would sometimes linger at the table after din …

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Beyond Borders: Linda Holeman on Travel and Writing

St Petersburg

I grew up in Winnipeg, in a Russian-Irish family deeply rooted in the Manitoba prairies. But for me it was a struggle to stay put; I was never content. It seemed I was born with an ache to know what lay beyond the borders of my life in both the physical and emotional sense. The opening line of Josephine Hart’s novel, Damage, speaks loudly to me: “There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives.”

As a young adult, when I first left Winnipeg to explore the world my father looked at me with a puzzled expression. “Why do you want to leave home when you have everything you need right here? What are you looking for?” And my answer, the only one I could come up with was: “I don’t know—and that’s why I have to go.” All that wide, open space and the big sky of my home proved claustrophobic for me. I always wanted out, away from the safety of what was a sure thing. And, as often as I could, I plunged myself, many times on my own, into the busy loneliness of foreign cities and incomprehensible languages and unidentifiable food.

It is this search which defines me as a person, and as an author defines what I write. I fully embrace that my need to understand the world – and my own internal landscape—has le …

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