U of T Creative Writing Certificate

A.M. Matte with Lee Gowan, Head of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Toronto

It may be that I’m the teeniest bit more proud of my Creative Writing Certificate (University of Toronto) than of my Bachelor of Journalism, Political Science and African Studies (Carleton University) and my Masters in Communications (University of Ottawa) – both of which I’m extremely proud. It might be something to do with having had a baby at the same time as I was completing the certificate; it might be something to do with how much fun I had getting ‘certified’ in something I enjoy so much.

Many thanks to the creative writing teachers and fellow students who helped me polish my craft; special thanks to Colleen Murphy, my playwriting mentor, who guided me in creating a better script. Next up, the stage!

An intimate reading

Fallis-class reading

A.M. Matte reading "A Treat"

I’ve heard it asked before: What if you plan a reading and no one shows up?

The answer: It’s not the quantity of people who attend, it’s the quality.

I had the opportunity to read my short story « A Treat », about a young girl who desperately wants her older sister’s approval and is willing to do anything – even buy her an ice cream treat – to get it, in Terry Fallis’ Building An Audience For Your Writing class at U of T this week.

There were only three other people in the room, but they gave me their rapt attention and insightful feedback on my writing and my performance. They asked probing questions about my characters’ motivation and gave me tips on how I can make reading excerpts of the written word more compelling.

The best thing about a small yet captivated audience?  You can read more material. Case in point: we had such a great time at our reading that we’re doing it again next week.

 

Effortlessly Inspiring

Terry Fallis and A.M. Matte at the University of Toronto

You know what it’s like when you wait a long time to meet a celebrity / favorite artist and you’re disappointed once you’ve met them?

I don’t.

Because while I waited a year to meet Terry Fallis, award-winning author of The Best Laid Plans, The High Road and the much-anticipated September 2012 release Up and Down, he managed to exceed my lofty expectations of him.

Fallis, who is teaching a U of T continuing studies class on Building an Audience – marketing for writers, is as genuine and as funny as I’d imagined him to be. He is knowledgeable and self-deprecating, and he picked up on my fandom immediately. I didn’t even have to ask him to sign my copies of the aforementioned novels, he offered.

For five weeks, Fallis will school a small group of writers in various marketing methods, including optimizing social media, self-publishing and podcasting, and mastering the art of the reading. He gleans his material from his PR experience as well as from practical examples from his own progression as an esteemed Canadian author. We were so taken with the first class that we stayed past the end time, discussing authors’ web presence and blogs. I love when learning is effortless and inspiring.

And lest this post seem like an attempt to butter up a prof for a good grade, let it be known that I’ve already finished my Creative Writing Certificate; this course is just candy. But should Fallis hand out grades, I expect to earn an A.


Maman’s Hands

Bottles of hand lotion are strewn throughout my mother’s house. An Ahava squeeze bottle next to the telephone in the kitchen, aloe vera crème on her nightstand, dollar store lotion in the powder room, a myriad of minuscule hotel-brand bottles of lotion by the remote control in the living room, by her computer keyboard, in her car and in her purse.

Maman’s hands have always been smooth and soft, despite her habit of picking at the skin around her nails until it bleeds – a habit I inherited. She has dainty fingers that used to play flute and piano and which now spend a fair amount of their time clacking away at her computer keyboard, exchanging jokes and news with family and friends around the globe from her post in Ottawa, where I grew up with my brother.

When we were young, Maman would cup our faces in her hands to give us kisses and she would stroke our backs when we felt ill. She always had a hug ready for us when she came back home after work and, of course, held our hands when we crossed the street. To this day, we link arms when strolling up a street or perusing a mall.

My brother now lives in Sudbury and I live in Toronto, far from our mother’s eager embrace. She doesn’t see us as often as she’d like, despite our Skype conversations, and she certainly doesn’t get to hug us as often as she’d like. Not one to dwell on her empty nest, Maman turned to hobbies that she’d set aside while raising her family. She acquired a loom and learned to weave; she picked up an extra sewing machine to perfect her skills; and she took up quilting, her nimble fingers creating works of art from discarded bits of fabric.

Very family oriented, my mother buried the fact that she wanted grand-children. Neither my brother nor I had shown any interest in ever having children; I, particularly, had voiced my convinced opinion that I was not made for a) a long, steady relationship and/or b) motherhood.

When I met and then married Jason, however, my mother’s hopes for a grand-child resurfaced. Yet she was subtler than most. While nearly everyone was quick to ask Jason and me: “So, when are you getting married?” and, once married, insisted to find out: “So, when are you having children?” – Maman didn’t want to push us. She made us a gorgeous emerald green and blue-black travelling-diamond-patterned quilt for our bed and simply hinted that she looked forward to making a smaller one “when the time comes”.

While she waited, Maman began a sewing circle of women making baby quilts for children in Israel, and continued to create quilts for her friends’ and relatives’ grand-children, each more intricate than the next. She said she was practicing for when she’d finally get to make a quilt for her own grand-child.

When my son Rohan was born in January, Maman was the first non-medical visitor who held him in her arms. She cradled his small body in the nook of her arm, stroked his cheek with her soft fingers and covered him in gentle kisses. And when came the time to bring him home from the hospital, she was ready. Out of her bag came the creation she’d been working on since we announced I was pregnant: a red-blue-green-yellow square-patterned zoo animals quilt, in which she wrapped Rohan to protect him from the cold.

She also took out of her bag a small bottle of lotion and handed it to me, so that I will always have soft hands when cuddling my son.

Blank pages

6:27 a.m. Sunday morning.

For the first time in my life, I didn’t need to skip the first page of my notebook before beginning to write. Usually, I feel intense pressure – self-imposed, of course – to write perfection as soon as the new notebook is opened. The blank page before me becons the perfect expression, the well-worded sentence, the cleverest wordplay. Years ago, I decided that the best way for me to avoid writer’s block in front of the first page of a notebook (especially given that I’m the only one who reads its content) was simply to skip it and move on to the next. This way, if ever I do fall upon the perfect sentence, I have a choice spot for it.

But this morning, awakened with a smile at 5:15 a.m., I got up to write about the character I played  in my dream. I filled many pages of my notebook until I had none left. I had to choose a new notebook, which I opened to the first page to continue writing, without hesitation.

 

Naps and Cuddles

Rohan et Arianne, par Catherine Bonenfant
Early morning love cuddles with my toddler today reminded me of the golden days of maternity leave, when baby and I would nap together. It may have been the hormonal haze, but I got the impression that Rohan slept better when next to me.
By the time he was four months old (and me being awaken nights became routine), Rohan took his afternoon naps alone – and I took time to write. Given that I returned to writing in earnest while pregnant and kept at it during mat leave and beyond, my son will be able to claim that he is directly responsible for the effervescence of my creative being. (Double meaning purposeful.)
These days, Rohan is doubly-times-triply more active than his newborn self and his naps are shorter. But his funny, clever, demanding little self still lets his Maman write from time to time – though now is not one of those times. He is slapping my knee to draw me away from the computer screen; he requires Cheerios.

Writing Challenge

Newest writing challenge: write a short piece of non-fiction, no more than 100 words, ensuring to name actual names. Here’s a result:

Modern Family

Rohan becomes an iPad expert as soon as we get one, familiarizing himself with the apps and identifying his favourites. While I struggle to find what I need on the apparatus, Rohan swishes through the screens, surfing YouTube with one finger. We quietly confer with our Apple devices side by side, too often for hours before we interact again. Despite his own easy grasp of technology, he won’t let me indulge: he shuts my laptop onto my fingers and grabs them in his, saying: “Maman, cow.” And my toddler and I play with his toy farm until dinner.

 

My Writers’ Group

Ironically, it is difficult to capture and express how I feel every month when going to meet my writers’ group. I look forward to it for 30 days, I scramble to create or further a piece for my fellow writers, I both anticipate and dread their feedback. Led by the joyful Sophie, we gather in a coffee shop – occasionally the Green Beanery, lately Urbana Coffee (which is great, a block from my home) – and dish about writing: the fiction, the nonfiction, the technical, the non-existent. And whether or not each of us brought a piece to share, we enjoy the company, the kinship, the renewal of confidence, the knowledge that we are not struggling with the muses alone. We leave the oh-too-short meets elated, reinvigorated, and, for myself, already beginning to compose the piece to share next month.

If only I had a French writers’ group, too.

A passion for reading, writing and theatre

I loved books before learning to read, and reading quickly became my favourite passtime – along with writing. Before I handled a pencil, I produced plays with my little brother in our living room, where we presented our masterpieces to our parents, for the low cost of 5¢ – per ticket.

Great classical playwrights such as Shakespeare and Molière guided my first plays (Des fous et des femmes, 1992; Colour Me Mythed or The Myth of Many Colours, 1993; A Child’s View of Shakespeare, 1992; Les fourberies de Molière ou Le Molière imaginaire, 2001). Studying Michel Tremblay’s works also had an impact on my writing (Peau des ongles, 2002), as did my love for Broadway musicals (La Reine a cassé sa pipe, 2005).