Alison M. York – A Serendipitous Book Launch

By Stacey Lupky

Warm, inviting energy greeted the standing-room-only crowd gathered for the book launch of Alison York’s novel, Tartan Threads: Serendipity In Scotland. Throughout the event, hosted by the Manitoba Writer’s Guild, of which Alison is a member, Scotland played a welcoming role in bringing the crowd together. Scottish-themed dainties such as shortbread, scones and jam were on offer, while Scottish music gently lilted in the background. At the front of the room at Artspace, the Scottish flag draped over a table filled with memorabilia from ancestors whose lives played a pivotal role in the shaping of the novel.

MWG volunteer Jessica Smithies welcomed all with the land acknowledgement and housekeeping. Our attention was then drawn to Aiden, a videographer, who captured the event for posterity online. We were introduced to Alison’s husband, Roger York, who was an immense help to her writing and with his Toastmaster-trained voice, provided a reading from the novel.

Among the many thanks in Alison’s opening speech, she spoke of the close relationship she developed with her editor, Jenny Yates. Jenny spoke to the attendees briefly and brought up the important point of the trust relationship between an author and their editor. Authors must be open to suggestions and they must be courageous enough to take a germ of an idea and develop it.

Admitting she is a “pantser,” meaning she doesn’t strictly follow an outline, Alison said the story was borne out of a grade seven English Language Arts class assignment. Her student needed encouragement, so Allison wrote a short story alongside him. Gradually expanding her story into a novel, she wanted to see her book in print. Allison was told the market was swamped with new writers seeking publication, and that the process would take two years or more. Being eight years in since she began, the author decided to publish independently.

Alison’s reading introduced us to the character of Clare Wood, a young woman in 1978, who decides she “needs to go somewhere and some place that stretches her as a person”. That place is the Highlands of Scotland and Alison’s sense of humour and wit shine through the dialogue between Clare and her mother as Clare decides she needs to learn more about her extended family.

Roger York then took the podium and delivered a lively reading as the character Jim Bernie, complete with Scottish brogue. The novel involves aspects of time travel via a special geode, and in one of the readings, Jim considers an offer from his distant cousin to immigrate to America. The dialogue is sensitive and dramatic, conveying tender emotions.

There were few questions for Alison York in the Q & A portion, but someone did ask about the framed black and white photo of a gentleman on the display table. This was Alison’s great, great grandfather on her maternal side. The family is from the Isle of Lewis and while there are no real-life resemblances to the family in her fictional novel, some of the family names were used. The memorabilia on the table also featured a photo of her grandparents in the early 20th century gathered for a photo of the Gaelic Society of Winnipeg.

Another question came from someone asking about an inevitable sequel. Alison, a fan of MWG critique circles, said the novel originated from two separate stories that were combined into one on advice from the critique group. She is already hard at work on the next part of the saga. We may just see her again next year for that sequel launch!

The afternoon capped off with a prize being rewarded to people who had green tape on their chairs which led everyone scrambling to see if they had the lucky chair. Attendees who did were gifted a pin.

It was a marvelous launch which showcased the community of beta readers and editors, as well as family and friends it takes to commit oneself to the craft of writing. Attendees lingered to chat and meet the author who graciously signed copies of her book. How serendipitous that my first attendance of a book launch would be such an overwhelming delight.


By barb janes

This is the last time, I promise. Maybe you’ve heard those words, heard them with hope, heard them with cynicism. Maybe you’ve spoken those words aloud, or in your head full of self-recrimination, meaning it, knowing you are lying. These prose words spoken and heard by many, were turned into poetry by Spenser Smith.

A glorious spring afternoon found twenty-some folks gathered in Art Space in Winnipeg’s Exchange to listen to well-chosen words at a poetry reading featuring Spenser Smith’s A Brief Relief From Hunger, ably supported by two other poets, Sarah Ens and Hannah Green.

The event opened with the thoughtful and thought-provoking Manitoba Writers Guild land acknowledgement, a content warning, and the offer of quiet space outside the room for those who might need it, and the commitment that someone would check on you if you were that person in need. I appreciate the care on offer.

Sarah Ens opened with “The Sacredness of Sleepovers,” producing some giggles and fond memories at her mention of “candy-fuzzed tongues.” Another offering, “Orbit,” captured adolescent angst and wisdom with the phrase “we diagnosed each other astrologically.” A third poem, from Flyway, explored the complexity of Ens’ heritage: “the fleeing, farming Mennonites” who escaped one Empire only to participate in the colonization of this country.

Imagine watching the same horror movie every night, was Hannah Green’s hook of an opener from her collection, Xanax Cowboy. With edgy energy, Hannah’s readings provided an appetizer for Spenser’s addiction-themed poems. Who but one who knows This is the last time, I promise could acknowledge “my ribs stick our like rows of excuses”? And wisely reading a room full of readers, Hannah read, “I think about becoming a Heather O’Neil character.” 

Two themes spiralled through Spenser Smith’s offerings: toxic masculinity and addiction. “‘Men’ is both a single word and a thousand cultures,” he states in “Hundreds of Men: A Case Study.” Several poems in A Brief Relief are assembled from Facebook comments: “Crime rate is dropping like junkies. Love it” and “ban the [naloxone] kits let mother nature take its course”. Another poem in the collection, “Comment Section” repeats the word “comment” in a long, overwhelming column, ensuring we know the source of those cruel comments. Reflecting on those who offer unconditional love, “Daydreaming” offers: “Some of us have grandmas who drop ice cubes in our soup. Some of us live with burned tongues….Let me be a man who cools to that which is too hot to slurp.” 

“Write about what matters most,” was Spenser’s response during the Q&A. The Manitoba Writers Guild launch events expose us to what matters most, not only in the offerings of featured writers, but in the care the Guild uses to shape these events. While the content of the poems at this event was provocative and daring, all three poets were young and White – and, as far as I could tell, the audience, while of various ages, was entirely White. I look forward to the day when a more diverse mix of writers and a more diverse audience is found at Guild events.

An Enchanting Book Launch

By Steve Oetting

The energy in the room was palpable. In spite of the bitter March wind that whistled through the streets of the Exchange District, the room reserved at ArtSpace on March 17 was well-populated by members of the Manitoba Writers’ Guild with a shared fondness for the book’s author. It was the book launch of Andy Dutfield’s Death at the Point.

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A Celebratory Finale to the MWG Spring 2023 Series of Book Launches

By Sharon Hamilton

More than 30 participants made a special effort to attend the launch of Elizabeth Struthers’ historical novel, A Prayer for Thérèse. Several of those who attended had already purchased and read her book. So why did they spend this warm, sunny spring afternoon in the cozy Board Room of Artspace? The answer lies as much in the author as it does in the novel.

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D. G. Valdron’s Book Launch of the 2-book Elf Chronicles

By Sharon Hamilton

Saturday, April 15 dawned cold and sunny. Would the cold prevail or would the sun? As the audience of 25 gathered into the warmth of the Artspace Boardroom, the spring sun filtered through the window. Participants helped themselves to hot coffee. The presentation, meticulously planned and orchestrated by author Den Valdron, began. With the deft touch of an all-too-familiar scam telephone call, Den lured us into a cold, unfeeling, remorseless world that obliterated the strong beams of light streaming through the window.

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Between a Mass of Ice and a Rage of Water

By Sharon Hamilton

On March 24, Roxane Anderson, author of Moving the Flood, took her audience through an historical journey of Manitoba floods, particularly of the acreage of Lot 95, north of Selkirk, where she has lived for many years. It wasn’t flooded in the Great Flood of 1826; it wasn’t flooded in the Flood of the Century in 1997. But it was flooded, for the first time ever, in 2009. Why?

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