International Festival of Authors


by Gary McWilliams (aka Festival Nomad)

Off To Harbourfront…

Judi was going to see her sister in Newmarket and I wanted to go to hear one of my favourite authors read from his newest book. I like company when I go on these outing. In other words, I didn’t want to go alone!

My normal alternative, aka my grandson, was not keen on going to a festival of authors, so I invited my friend Paul instead. If you knew Paul, you would know that this was a really good choice! Not only is Paul very companionable, he is a frustrated novelist! If fact, Paul is working on writing a mystery right now!

Hopefully he will have it published one day and I’ll visit him at the International Festival of Authors and hear him read from his “new novel”. But, that’s another story! I picked Paul up at about 10:00 AM. We wanted to get to Toronto and the Harbourfront Centre in time for the start of a discussion panel call “It’s Irish”.

With a name like McWilliams, I must have some Irish in me somewhere! The start time was 12:00 noon. Fortunately the traffic was steady and we arrived at the Centre with time to spare. After parking the car, we followed the crowd into the Harbourfront Centre. We went straight to the reception area and picked up our tickets. There were a total of four sessions we were going to attend today. All set with our tickets, we joined the long line up to enter the theatre.

I wondered with such a long line if there would be enough room for everyone. I needn’t have worried, because the room was quite large and easily accommodated the large crowd. We found seats and waited for the session to begin. Finally the moderator walked on stage. It was time to get IRISH!

Two Panel Discussions…

The International Festival of Authors is a 11 day event. Authors from across Canada and indeed the world gather together to present their latest works and ideas.

They share these with other authors and with the interested public. Each day is filled with panel discussions and readings. Our first session started at 12:00 noon and the topic was “IT’S IRISH! The History of Ireland”. The panel was made up of the moderator, Colm Toibin and two other speakers, Diarmaid Ferriter and R. F. Foster.

The room was packed! After the moderator has come on stage, he went to the podium and introduced the topic and then each of the speakers. Needless to say it was a lively discussion about Ireland’s history and its politics! The audience responded, after the formal presentation, with plenty of questions! The session lasted longer then had been scheduled, but no one in the audience was upset. They had loved the discussion! After it was all over, we hurried to our second panel discussion which had already started. We had missed about 30 minutes.

The panel consisted of four speakers, David Benioff, Joe Dunthorne, Rikva Galchen and Owen Sheers. The moderator was Susan G. Cole. The topic was “Life as Material”. Each author had written books based on real life experiences. Each author discussed their book and its origins. The moderator then started the discussions with questions from herself, but more from the audience. The discussion was insightful and wide-ranging.

The audience was very appreciative of the candor of the speakers and left the discussion with a much greater knowledge of writing from within. Our next session wasn’t until 3:00 PM, so we have a lot of time to fill. Since it was lunch time, we headed to the Harbourfront Centre’s cafeteria.

America Votes – A Discussion

We knew it was going to be an interesting discussion! The American elections were only a few weeks off and the whole world was talking about it! The panel in this session, America Votes: New York Review of Books/Guardian America, was going to discuss it too. The Moderator was Michael Tomasky.

He came onto the stage and walked behind the podium. He was there to introduce the topic and the other participants. He was also there to set up the discussion tone! It was obvious that Michael was no shrinking violet and that he was going to add his two cents worth to the discussion! With that the other participants came onto the stage, Hugh Eakin, an economist and Jeff Madrick, a terrorism expert.


First up was Jeff. He had written articles and books on the world of terrorism. Michael asked Jeff his opinions on terrorism after the US elections. The discussions then started in earnest! Each panel member, including the moderator, shared their thoughts and opinions. The economy, through Hugh, was brought into the discussion and the exchanges continued. It was clear that each of the panelists was concerned about the United States future, but each had ideas on how to solve the U.S.’s various challenges.

Although there was urgency in the discussion, there was also hope. The panelists seemed to agree that Barack Obama would win the upcoming election for President and that that would help. Most of the audience seemed to feel the same. After the formal discussion was over, the floor was open for questions. As with the panel, the audience participation was lively and informative! After some time, the moderator reluctantly wrapped up the session. Paul and I now had more time to wait. Our next International Festival of Authors session didn’t start until 7:00 PM!

The Fantastic Four…

Our final session for the day was a reading. We were going to be treated to readings by 4 fantastic authors from their latest creations! The room was set up differently from the other sessions we had attended. There were little round tables for the audience member to sit around.

Two tables had been reserved for the four authors and the moderator. The setting was much more informal. The moderator, John van Driel, came on stage to explain the program and to introduce the authors.

Ross Raisin. Ross, from the UK, was introduced first. He told us about himself and about the background of the book, “Out Backward”. He then started reading a chosen passage to the audience.

The story was about a “disturbed but basically well intentioned rural youngster”. The reading was chilling yet fascinating! The next author to be introduced was Donna Morrissey. From the reaction of the crowd, Donna had a lot of fans and friends in the audience! Donna, from Newfoundland, wrote “What They Wanted”.

The novel goes from the shores of Newfoundland to the oil fields in Alberta. The book talks about the passion of a mother and the guilt of a daughter and the conflict between them. Donna read two passages from her book. The first was about the conflict in Newfoundland and the second was about hope in Alberta. The audience applauded enthusiastically at the end of her reading. A short intermission then took place. I stood up to stretch my legs and walk around the room. I noticed a poster on the stage and took a photo of it. The poster was of ZARGANA, an international writer, who has been wrongfully jailed in Burma. PEN Canada has made him a Honorary member in recognition of his persecution.

The moderator came back on stage. It was time for the final two readers.

The third reader was David Ebersholf. David, a native of the U.S.A., wrote a fascinating novel titled, “The 19th Wife”. This was a tale of polygamy. The story begins with Brigham Young and moves to the present day. The story talks about a wife leaving the polygamist life and starting out new, on her own. David told us about his research and how he was “shut out” by the community he was researching. An epic tale that moved from courage to murder! The final author, one of my favourites, was thrill writer, Jeffrey Deaver.

Many of Jeffrey Deaver’s novels feature CSI expert, Lincoln Rhyme and his companion, Amelia Saches. Between the two and a cast of many, they investigate and solve the most heinous of crimes! Deaver’s novel, “The Bone Collector” was made into a movie starring Denzel Washington, as Lincoln Rhyme. His newest book is “The Broken Window”, which again features Lincoln and Amelia. Unlike the other readers, Deaver’s started to immediately read from his book. He took us right to the edge and then stopped! He told us that he wrote for a living and was a mystery writer! We would have to buy his book to find out what happened next! Jeffrey then told us about himself and finished off with a final reading from his book. With that, the session was over.

We walked out into the lobby beside the theatre. This was where the book signings took place. The line up to purchase these authors book was already very long. The line to have them signed was even longer! It had been a long day for Paul and me at the International Festival of Authors, so we decided to call it a day. We wearily climbed into the car, ready for the long ride home!

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