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Strong Beginnings

New series: Strong beginnings in literature

The mind is a fertile playground. So let's have a picnic!

Toronto's Luminato is a festival of the mind—a celebration of music, theatre, dance, visual arts, literature and film. One of this year's offerings is a Literary Picnic on the theme of "beginnings". We thought we'd take a page from their book and explore the theme on Canada Writes. 

For the next two weeks we are going to be looking at strong beginnings in contemporary Canadian literature. How do writers attack the blank page? How do they decide where to start?

We'll be hearing from Andrew Kaufman, Grace O'Connell, Matthew Tierney, Sally Cooper, Miranda Hill, Jessica Westhead, Lauren B. Davis, and Patrick de Witt on the subject. We will also be excerpting the first pages to some of their latest works to illustrate the choices they made.

And finally—with the help of our friends at Luminato—we will wrap the series on Friday, June 21st with one of our Twitter Challenges.

How well do you know your first lines? Take our CanLit Quiz.

To start off the series, we asked writer Michael Redhill about the importance of strong beginnings in literature. He is Curator, Literature, Thought & Ideas for Luminato.


1. How important are strong beginnings in literature?
The first line in a book is as important as the front door on a house. It makes you decide whether you want to enter or not.
 
2. In today’s Internet age, with our ever-decreasing attention spans, how quickly must a writer hook his/her reader?  
It depends on the genre and the format. I have much more patience with a novel than I do with a blog. And almost no patience for a tweet. If I'm not hooked by the ninth character on a tweet, I give up. 
 
3. You write in many different genres - literary fiction, poetry, playwriting, and crime fiction - how different do these genres differ in terms of how you start them? 
They don't, really. It's just a matter of tone. The beginning of a work establishes first a voice, then a setting, and it has to start the questions rolling in the reader's mind. The main question is what's going on? and often that's enough. 
  
4. When you start a new work of fiction, do you know where you will begin? Does that beginning change as your write it? 
I often begin with a line that draws me in to something. Or an image. My beginnings don't usually arrive until very late in the writing process. The image that is currently torturing me is the image of a transcript being received by an interstellar intelligence that has sent the transcript back out into space to be interpreted by an English speaker, a language that the intelligence is not certain still exists in the universe.
  
5. What are the key elements to a strong beginning? 
This is so various and so many beginnings work that I can't think of any key elements.
 
6. Are there any “don’ts” when it comes to beginnings?
None, as far as I'm concerned.
 
7. What advice do you have for someone out there struggling to find where to begin their work (whether they are starting with a blank page or 400 pages of text)?
Sit still.
 
8. Luminato will be celebrating strong beginnings at the Literary Picnic. Tell us a bit about this event.
The Luminato Festival's Literary Picnic is a first in the city of Toronto, a strong beginning in and of itself. It will gather over sixty writers on three stages for a festival of reading and discussion. There will be tables of books—some new, some used—the Toronto Public Library Bookmobile will be present, and there will even be an area where the public can sit on picnic blankets and have one-on-ones with many of the writers present at the picnic.


Follow Michael Redhill on Twitter @michaelhredhill
Follow Luminato on Twitter @Luminato


Luminato runs from June 14-23, 2013 in Toronto. The Literary Picnic is free and features more than 60 authors. It takes place from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 22 in Trinity Bellwoods Park.


Literary Picnic photo credit: Chen Yung-Hsien



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