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Sunday, March 28, 2004

Maggie Helwig Reading

Maggie Helwig will be reading from her latest novel, "Between Mountains" April 1, 2004 at 7:30 PM at Collected Works on Wellington in Ottawa.

Friday, March 26, 2004

The Factory Reading Series at Gallery 101

"The Factory Reading Series at Gallery 101 - featuring some of the best writers in Canada" sure lived up to its billing. We were treated to two interesting writers last night. Well, I have to be honest, there were only two people that made up the audience at the reading... myself included, who were not involved in writing as a 'profession'. There were about 6 or 7 in all at the reading from the Ottawa writing community. I was pleasantly surprised to hear Michael Blouin's novel in progress. It is the story of two children of alcoholic abusive parents. Seem that he is up to over 25,000 words so far in the process, and the chapters or 'vignettes' he read last night show that they are very polished pieces. He certainly has found the voices for his characters. The audience even reacted with hoots and laughter at certain humours passages throughout (which is funny in itself in that the subject is about an alcholic - abusive - family... not much to laugh at I admit, but trust me it was a knee-slapper.) I am sure that a publishing deal would be sure thing (no jinx) for this book.

span-o (the small press action network - ottawa)

The Factory Reading Series at Gallery 101
featuring some of the best writers
in Canada

Thursday, March 25th, 2004 at 7:30pm

readings by Michael Blouin (Ottawa)
& Andy Brown (Montreal)

Gallery 101, 236 Nepean Street, Ottawa (1/2 block west of Bank Street)
lovingly hosted by rob mclennan


Michael Blouin was born the same year that Marty Robins had a hit single
with El Paso and Pittsburgh beat the Yankees 4 games to 3 to win the
World Series. He has taught for many years and is presently a Principal
with the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario. He has had a
play workshopped at the Stratford Festival as well as numerous magazine
publications for poetry and short stories, including Grain, Queen's
Quarterly, Descant, and Arc. In 2003, he won the Diana Brebner Prize for
poetry, sponsored by Arc magazine.. He is currently at work on a third
novel for which he holds much higher publication hopes than he did for
the first two. He enjoys the Tree reading series, and disagreeing with
small children and large dogs which, as a father of three and the owner
of a large dog, he finds a surprising amount of time for.

Andy Brown is the sole proprietor of conundrum press. He co-edited You &
Your Bright Ideas: New Montreal Writing (Vehicule) with rob mclennan, and
Running with Scissors (Cumulus) with Meg Sircom. He has performed his
stories and chapbooks in Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver and Montreal. He is a
contributing editor for Matrix magazine, and recently edited their "Public
Domain" issue. I can see you being invisible is his debut "real" book.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Hubert Aquin Memorial Library Pics

I have uploaded a few pics of my home office library.

Saturday, March 20, 2004



Sunday, March 14, 2004

Aquin Suicide Anniversary

Twenty-seven years ago, on March 15, 1977, Quebec novelist committed suicide in Montreal. The man and the event were inspiration for the recent work by Gordon Sheppard, "HA! A Self-Murder Mystery" McGill-Queen's University Press 2003.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Crash kills 'warm and loving' couple

Wed, March 10, 2004

Crash kills 'warm and loving' couple


A Kanata man who ran in the last municipal election and his wife of nearly 30 years died on the weekend in a head-on collision on Hwy. 60 in the west end of Algonquin Park. Killaloe OPP said Grant Johnston, 53, and his wife, Elizabeth, 48, died at the scene of the crash at around 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

"They were warm and loving and resourceful," said their daughter Julie Johnston, 23, from her parents' home last night. "They were just wonderful, beautiful people."

Johnston said her parents were on their way home from Barrie where they had stopped to visit their son Andrew, 21, his wife Courtney and their 10-month-old son Eric.


Police said Colin Gill, 21, of Sterling was driving a 1993 Ford Explorer westbound on the highway when he lost control on a curve. The vehicle swerved into the opposite lane, colliding head-on with the Johnstons' 2001 Chevrolet Malibu.

Gill and his passenger, Levi Wannamaker, 21, of Marmora received non-life-threatening injuries and were transported to Huntsville Hospital.

In the recent municipal election, Grant Johnston, a contracts manager and former auditor, ran on a fiscally conservative platform with a cautious approach to development.

The Cobourg native lived in Kanata for 16 years before taking his first run for elected office.

Elizabeth had worked at the Nepean Hearing Centre helping the hearing impaired before being laid off in December.

The Johnstons had been together for nearly 30 years and met as high school sweethearts.

Julie, who attends York University, said her parents were downsizing and looking for a new home in the Toronto area so they could be closer to family and friends.

She said she last saw her parents on Saturday night when they visited her in Toronto.

"They were just starting on the second phase of their life," said Julie. "It's heartbreaking."

Municipal politicians remembered Grant Johnston as someone who wanted to improve his community.

"Grant was somebody who was full of ideas and full of solutions to problems and was eager to share them," said Alex Munter, who knew him through his former role as Kanata councillor.

Johnston was incredibly informed about hydro electricity and rates and was "passionate" about the subject, said Munter.


"He was the kind of person who really like to get into the nuts and bolts -- an intellectual mechanic," said Munter.

Johnston had an arts degree from York University and had experience in cost-accounting and finance.

Kanata Coun. Peggy Feltmate said Johnston was brimming with ideas.

"He had specific ideas he wanted to put forward for his community," she said. "He did that and demonstrated that kind of care for the residents of Kanata."

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Brought to book: the biggest book-stealing operation Britain has ever seen

Brought to book
Ronald Jordan has been described as a latter-day Fagin. He's the man behind the biggest book-stealing operation Britain has ever seen. But how did his very public criminal activities go unpunished for so many years?
By Robert Hanks
09 March 2004

Booksellers being, by and large, restrained, undemonstrative types, passers-by on London's Charing Cross Road may not have noticed a wave of euphoria passing down the street. But there almost certainly was one on the day that Ronald Jordan was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court to 30 months in prison for conspiracy to steal and handling stolen goods.

For more than five years, Jordan had made the lives of booksellers and publishers a misery. From his stalls at Dominion Street in the City, and under the arches between Waterloo station and the Royal Festival Hall, he had run the biggest book-stealing operation Britain has ever seen. He sold on average 100 books a day, seven days a week, all the year round. (Jordan is nothing if not a hard worker: during the week, he worked Dominion Street from noon till four, selling to City workers on their lunch break, before packing up and shifting to Waterloo, where he would keep going until the last of the commuters and South Bank audiences had gone home, at midnight.)

That's 35,000 books a year, mainly stolen from shops in central London, though the band of up to 15 thieves who supplied him also operated at Heathrow and Gatwick, and even as far afield as Tunbridge Wells. Inspector Andy Manning, who led the team from the City of London Police that finally put Jordan away, reckons the suppliers got about £1 for each book, which would then be resold for, on average, £10. The maths isn't hard: an annual profit of more than £300,000. When he was arrested in July 2002, and again in July 2003, police confiscated a total of 25,000 books.

The effect of this on booksellers and publishers is impossible to calculate. Jordan specialised in travel guides, particularly Lonely Planet and Dorling Kindersley's Eyewitness series, alongside some children's picture books (Dr Seuss, Tintin, and Spot the dog). Barney Andrews, who, as field manager for Lonely Planet, is responsible for placing their books in central London shops, says "Ronnie Jordan's been the bane of my life for seven or eight years."

It got to the point where whole shelves of Lonely Planet books were being cleared within an hour or two of being stocked. Towards the end of Jordan's run, shops in central London had taken to keeping the most frequently nicked titles behind the counter, or in locked displays.

The other staggering aspect of Jordan's career is that he kept going for so long. He deserves some credit for this. His pitches were cunningly chosen, in not just commercial but jurisdictional terms - Dominion Street is actually just outside the City, on the very edge of the Metropolitan Police area, where Met officers rarely venture, and the arches at Waterloo fall under the aegis of British Transport Police. The problem landed in the laps of City police by default. His confidence and persistence were important factors: he was fined over and over again for illegal street trading, but simply refused to pay the fines, carrying on as if nothing had happened. In 2002, he was arrested and his stock confiscated. But he was back on his stalls and fully restocked within a couple of weeks, telling police that they were wasting his time.

It helped, too, that many people assumed that he was legitimate, an impression reinforced by the range and quality of his stock, and his relatively high prices. At his trial, Judge Rodney McKinnon suggested that this was a deliberate ploy to fool customers. Barney Andrews says that customers probably weren't getting any better a deal than they would have on the three-for-two offers regularly mounted by the bigger chains.

The booksellers took some time to cotton on to the fact that they had a common problem. Bookshops in central London lose around £30,000 annually in thefts: even a business the size of Jordan's didn't show up easily. At the same time, it seemed improbable that Jordan's business could be supplied purely by shoplifting.

The breakthrough was the setting up of the Booksellers Association Loss Prevention Consortium, a forum for bookshops to exchange information and ideas about stopping thieves. While the forum was founded with Jordan in mind, it also acted to persuade the authorities to take the problem seriously. One of the difficulties the consortium faced in bringing their man to book was in the number of agencies they had to get involved with - including the Met, City Police, and various London boroughs (mainly Islington and Southwark, in whose territory the stalls operated). As Andy Manning admitted, the police were more interested in terrorism, gun crime and drugs: one guy selling stolen books didn't seem like a big thing.

In the summer of 2002, Andy Manning and his team mounted Operation Masala. Over two weeks, officers secretly filmed Jordan at his Dominion Street patch, and followed his white van in an attempt to trace the lock-up where he kept his surplus stock. Meanwhile, shops in the Loss Prevention Consortium started marking their guidebooks in ultraviolet ink, with a date, the initials of the person marking, and the shop name. Operation Masala culminated on 10 July 2002, when police arrested Jordan and several associates, confiscated his stall, and raided his home and lock-up. They found 17,500 books. In the van were several ultraviolet lamps, and a number of books on which the markings had been overwritten in ultraviolet ink: he was on to their tricks.

Members of Inspector Manning's team spent a week cataloguing every single title. Nothing was left to chance. The fact that Jordan had, say, a guide to Peru known to come from a particular branch of Waterstone's was not proof enough - he could still claim that it had been sold on to him by legitimate customers who had changed their minds about that Andean backpacking holiday. Fortunately, Waterstone's was able to eliminate that loophole by getting in touch with everyone who had brought a particular title over a two-week period and getting them to swear that they still had the titles in their possession.

The first trial collapsed for legal reasons (and Jordan had kept on trading, even while he was on bail). The more slimline Operation Masala 2 took place over three days in July 2003, ending again in Jordan's arrest and the recovery of 7,500 books. This time around, the trial went smoothly, and Jordan was found guilty on 16 December; Inspector Manning and team at Bishopsgate police station were commended by Judge Rodney McKinnon.

There are those who will tell you that selling books is no different from selling anything else: big chains such as Tesco have supposedly proved this, by applying their pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap philosophy to sure-fire bestsellers. But the fact is, books represent something far more than the physical object; for people who like books, they come with their own set of values, their own economics. For one thing, however possessive you are about books, you know that ownership is a little bit looser than it is with, say, bicycles or clothes. We lend them to our friends, knowing that we may well never see them again. And it cuts both ways - my own shelves contain more than one volume that I was going to give back, but somehow never got round to it. One friend to whom I tried to return a book wouldn't take it, maintaining that we had reached a point at which true ownership had passed to me - and I knew exactly what he meant.

It seems likely that when Jordan entered the books game, he looked on it as a purely financial proposition. His business model was impeccable: buy cheap; employ drug addicts who aren't going to haggle too hard as long as they get cash and get it now; sell to affluent middle-class people in a hurry; don't pay taxes; and ignore any legal difficulties until the other party gets bored and walks off. Frankly, it's hard to see why more people haven't had the same idea.

But this is to undermine Jordan's professionalism and accomplishments. He had been a market trader since the age of 16, and was descended from a long line of market traders. Back in the 1970s, long before Lonely Planet was a gleam in his eye, a series of prosecutions for illegal trading had earned him the nickname "the Umbrella Man". When police officers from Operation Marsala raided his home - a four-bedroomed house in Squires Road, Finchley - they found it stuffed to the gills with bits and pieces left over from his previous trading careers: umbrellas, soft toys, electric razors, batteries. It was so full, in fact, that Jordan had very restricted living space - little pathways carved between the boxes. Inspector Manning didn't visit the address himself, but said that officers who did were in fear for their own health and safety, and brought back tales of a kitchen "like a biological experiment". Curiously, Jordan wasn't spending his money on the high life; the closest he ever got to the Bahamas was selling guidebooks to it.

Presumably, Jordan first got into books for practical reasons: they are easily portable and, since the price is usually printed on the back, you can make it very clear just how much of a bargain people are getting. Also, people who like books will come back and buy more, in a way they don't with umbrellas. But, as Jordan told Andy Manning, "Books are funny things". In interviews, Inspector Manning had the impression that Jordan couldn't keep his eyes off the pile of books brought in as evidence, and he warned the police to look after them properly. He seems to have developed a real affection for and understanding of them. Barney Andrews told me, "There have been times I've looked at the selection on his stall, and I've thought, 'My God, I know about five buyers as good as you'. He had the right titles, and in quantity."

After Jordan's sentencing, the William Boot column in The Bookseller ran a skit, imagining the story as a Boulting Brothers comedy, with Peter Sellers as Jordan. It would be a particularly grim farce, though. Three of Jordan's suppliers were convicted alongside him: Derek Davis, his brother Raymond, and Pedro Pegado were found guilty of conspiracy to steal, the Davises receiving 15 months apiece, and Pegado a two-year community rehabilitation order. Inspector Manning says: "Both the Davises are drug addicts, and it has had some impact on their physical wellbeing. So they weren't the best shoplifters in the world."

Evidence of this emerged from a Dictaphone found by police in Jordan's van, on which he had recorded a number of conversations. Although most of the tape was inaudible, one conversation that could be made out was between Jordan and Derek Davis: Davis spoke of having to leave the Book Warehouse (a shop with a couple of branches in central London) and not being able to go back. Jordan talked about the differences between good thieves and bad thieves, making it clear that he regarded Davis and his brother as falling into the latter category. At the trial, the brothers showed animosity towards Pegado, who had actually answered some of the police's questions (he had admitted delivering books on one occasion to Jordan, on behalf of a friend); after sentencing, when Pegado got off comparatively lightly, Raymond Davis tried to attack him with his crutches. While the name "Fagin" has been much bandied about in the press with regard to Jordan, it's worth bearing in mind that we're not talking about sprightly urchins from the Italia Conti school cutting capers and singing "Consider Yourself".

Even if the threat of violence wasn't always effectually backed up, it was there. Jordan himself, while only about 5ft 4in, was a very bulky man with a belligerent manner. And Barney Andrews says that Jordan's response to enquiries about the provenance of his books was consistent: "He said, 'Why don't you fuck off?'." As a business strategy, this had a lot to commend it: people who might otherwise have interfered, quickly tired of being verbally abused.

Derek Davis seems to have played something of a minder's role, too, and while Raymond was not up to much, Inspector Manning says that Derek could be intimidating. On a more general note, Barney Andrews says: "For booksellers, there was danger involved, because I've known more than one having a dirty needle waved at him." And this was also, Andrews points out, the major flaw in Jordan's business model: "Dealing with cash with heroin addicts - there's only a certain sort of person would be prepared to deal with that every day of their lives."

Since Jordan was remanded, in January, thefts from central London bookshops have dropped dramatically. But not everybody is optimistic. Maya Catsanis of Lonely Planet told me: "I think there's some cynicism in the book industry, that somebody will fill his shoes fairly quickly." Even if they don't, past form suggests that Jordan will be looking for some way of resurrecting the business as soon as he gets out of jail.

In other respects, too, the happiness of the booksellers is not unalloyed: few of the books recovered by police could be resold - travel books date quickly, and the stolen copies had nearly all been superseded by new editions. Civil proceedings are in train to recover assets from Jordan: at his home, police found evidence of "20-plus" bank accounts, as well as other savings vehicles such as ISAs, which together contained £350,000. But publishers and bookshops will have to join the queue, alongside the Inland Revenue and the courts, to whom he owed tens of thousands of pounds in unpaid fines.

And others bear the scars. Andy Manning says: "I became quite fixated on it. I can't look at a travel book now without thinking about what edition it is."

Poet's work on $100 bill


Miriam Waddington, one of the leading Canadian poets of her generation — the first generation to embrace modernism — has died at a nursing home in Vancouver. She had been in failing health since January and suffered a stroke in late February that lead to her death on March 3, at the age of 86.

A stanza from her poem Jacques Cartier In Toronto will appear on the new $100 bill, to begin circulating at the end of this month:

Do we ever remember

that somewhere above the sky

in some child's dream perhaps

Jacques Cartier is still sailing,

always on his way always

about to discover a new Canada?

It's a fitting tribute to a woman who felt overlooked in the world of Canadian letters; though prominent friends put her name forward for an Order of Canada, she never received one.

"She was a very approachable poet, always adhered to simplicity of language," said William Toye, who had been her editor and friend at Oxford University Press. "She wanted people to understand her."

Ms. Waddington was born Miriam Dworkin in the north end of Winnipeg, the city's immigrant receiving area, one of two children of a secular Russian-Jewish family that spoke Yiddish at home. She began to write poetry as a teenager and also became a noted translator of Yiddish and German.

Her family moved to Ottawa, then Montreal after her father's business setbacks (he'd been partner in a deli) and she attended high school there, followed by the University of Toronto, where she obtained her B.A. and training in social work. She was a social worker in Montreal in the 1940s and '50s when local writers such as Louis Dudek, Irving Layton and John Sutherland — her friends — were liberating Canadian poetry from Victorian convention and challenging the restrictive British influence hanging over Canadian culture.

She was first published in Sutherland's groundbreaking literary magazine First Statement, and later was editor of Sutherland's collected essays and poems as well as of the Collected Poems Of A.M. Klein (1974), another Montreal poet who helped shape her own craft.

Her work entered its mature phase with The Glass Trumpet (1966) and Say Yes (1969), both collections from Oxford University Press. In the afterword to her Collected Poems in 1986 she said she wrote "out of the belief in my own feelings and in the experience not only in my individual self but in a self in a world made up of other people."

She married Patrick Waddington, a journalist for CBC's International Service, and had two sons, Marcus and Jonathan, but the marriage ended in divorce after 20 years. She never remarried but later had a warm friendship with a New York art critic Harold Rosenberg, which inspired her best love poems.

In 1960, she moved to Toronto and worked for North York Family Services until joining the English faculty at York University in 1964. She retired in 1983 and moved to Vancouver.

As well as poetry, she wrote short fiction and essays published respectively in Summer At Lonely Beach and Apartment Seven. Her final poetry collection was The Last Landscape, published in 1992.

In addition to her sons, she is survived by grandsons David, Aaron and Gabriel. A memorial service will be held at UBC in Vancouver on Saturday.

Spalding Gray

Spalding Gray, 62, Actor and Monologuist, Is Confirmed Dead

Monday, March 08, 2004

Daniel J. Boorstin [1914-2004]

Daniel J. Boorstin


Daniel J. Boorstin, prize-winning author and Librarian of Congress from 1975 to 1987, died Saturday, Feb. 28, 2004, at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Boorstin wrote more than 20 books, including a trilogy on the American experience and one on world intellectual history. "The Americans: The Democratic Experience" (1973), the final book in the first trilogy, received the 1973 Pulitzer Prize in history. He was also a lawyer and university professor.

During his term as Librarian of Congress, Dr. Boorstin established the Center for the Book to encourage reading and literacy. In addition, he spearheaded what became a 10-year project to completely renovate the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library, restoring the Library's main building to its 1897 majesty.

Dr. Boorstin served as Librarian of Congress Emeritus from the time of his retirement in 1987 until his death. He is survived by his wife, the former Ruth Carolyn Frankel; sons David, Paul, and Jonathan; and six grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that memorial contributions may be made in his name to the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. 25040-4920.

A memorial service to be held at the Library of Congress will be held later in the spring. Details will be announced soon.

Bookninja literary comic contest

Hey! I was an honourable mention for my comic caption on the Bookninja web site for March 2004!

Friday, March 05, 2004

Books are now in their place

Frankly I am somewhat ashamed to admit that some books (only 6 boxes) sat in the basement for a couple of years. No musty smell, thank goodness. We have a dry basement. After such a lengthy stay, I have now placed them on the shelves in the Hubert Aquin Memorial Library. Stay tuned for photos... betcha' can't wait, eh?

Thursday, March 04, 2004

what are you reading now?

Send me an e-mail to let me know what you are reading currently.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004


Just finished the built-in wall unit the other day. It is 12 and a half feet long by 8 feet high. I had designed it on MS Visio on February 2nd and completed the final paint job and last finishing touches on March 2nd. I figure I ought to call it a home 'library' at this point. If it is a library, I figure I will have to name it. I will call it the Hubert Aquin Memorial Library. March 15 is coming up. This is the deathday of Hubert Aquin who shot his head off March 15th, 1977. The official dedication of my library will be on--guess when?--this coming March 15th. This date is sort of my version of James Joyce's Bloomsday.