One Brother Shy, the latest in a series of six Canadian bestselling novels, helped propel author Terry Fallis toward Nova Scotia for the weekend Read by the Sea festival.
But the Toronto wordsmith won’t be shy of extended family, friends and fans when he arrives in River John, on the Northumberland Shore in Pictou County.
“I’ve been in Pictou often enough,” the two-time Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour winner said in an interview before boarding a plane for Halifax on Friday.
“I have family who live in the Valley and we also have extended family who live in Pictou so I’ve spent a bit of time in Pictou over the years. It will be nice to come back.”
Fallis’s wife of nearly 30 years, Nancy Naylor, grew up in the Annapolis Valley and her family lives outside Kentville.
Fallis has tagged his main character in One Brother Shy, 24-year-old software engineer Alex MacAskill, with a name that could likely be found in Pictou County and many other parts of Nova Scotia.
“The name MacAskill is my mother-in-law’s maiden name. I often have fun with family names in my novels. This is a tribute to the East.”
His MacAskill character has long dealt with self-esteem issues, much of which can be attributed to being tormented by a bullying incident almost a decade earlier. Fallis arrives in Nova Scotia at a time when bullying and cyberbullying are at the forefront of many minds. A Sydney-area teenager took her own life last month and her parents say she had been bullied. Madison Wilson is one of three students at the Cape Breton-Victoria regional school board who have killed themselves this year.
“It’s dealing with an issue that is quite topical, a growing social problem with occasionally profound consequences, the online or cyberbullying,” Fallis said of his novel.
“It’s nothing that has ever happened to me, but I was looking for a way to introduce a narrator who was dealing with more than just the human flaws that we all deal with. I wanted to try writing from the perspective of somebody who was wrestling with a more challenging issue. He has been someone damaged by this trauma for about 10 years before the novel opened. That was an interesting challenge for me because all of my other narrators have been kind, lovely, decent but flawed people. Somewhat helpless, hopeless occasionally, but I’ve never really written a narrator who has these deeper issues underlying his whole life.”
Fallis said the Cape Breton tragedies are a reflection of what’s happening in the world today.
“Bullying has been with us since the dawn of civilization. What’s different now is that it is no longer an isolated event where maybe some of your classmates witnessed it and you could eventually overcome that. They came to know you a little better and often things would work out. Now, when the Internet is involved, it can scale what was often in the past a private humiliation to one that is public in a very big way. The stakes are higher, and that means the impact is greater and the consequences are more serious.”
He is hopeful that his novel can shine a light on the problem.
“I hope that this might give people pause to think about what they are doing when they deal with other people on the Internet.”
Fallis will be the last author featured on the reading roster Saturday at the memorial garden at the Royal Canadian Legion in River John on Welsford Road, just off Highway 6.
The annual bring-your-own-chair event kicks off at 11 a.m., with Wolfville author Christy Ann Conlin reading from her 2016 novel The Memento.
She will be followed by Dean Jobb, another Nova Scotia author living in Wolfville, who will read from his 2015 non-fiction work Empire of Deception.
After lunch, Lesley Crewe, a Montreal native who has transplanted to Cape Breton, will read from her 2016 novel Mary, Mary.
Fallis will then read from One Brother Shy, published in May.
At 2:30 p.m., an all-author panel and question-and-answer forum will be moderated by Joan Baxter.
An evening community kitchen party, hosted by Cape Breton performer, author and humorist Bill Conall at the legion hall, will wrap up the day.
Conall will also host a writing workshop Sunday.
“I’m really excited about coming down to Nova Scotia,” Fallis said. “It’s a little ways away from where I live in Toronto. I don’t get out to the East as often as I’d like to with my books. I’ve done Halifax a few times, I did another festival in Port Medway a couple of years ago, which was wonderful. I’m really thrilled to be coming to Read by the Sea and to read with Lesley and Christy Ann Conlin and Dean Jobb. These are fine writers and I’m looking forward to connecting with them and connecting with readers in and around River John and Pictou and Tatamagouche and from wherever they may be coming.”
A two-time Leacock winner and a multiple nominee, Fallis said he doesn’t think he is pigeonholed as a humour writer but that the lighter side of life will always surface in his work.
“I think there is a certain expectation that books that I write are going to include some humour. I guess that’s to be expected when all six of my novels have humour in them. I can’t imagine writing a novel where there wouldn’t be some humour. It’s just so ingrained in my life and my personality and the way I think.”
The week in River John actually got started Monday, when children’s author Sheree Fitch opened her new bookstore, Mabel Murple’s Book Shoppe and Dreamery, with the WordPlay children’s reading event.
“It was beyond and above expectations, but it was also magical. It was a dream come true, as sappy as that might sound,” Fitch said.
More than 600 people, primarily families with children, took to the grounds of her River John farm, a property that houses a granary that has been converted into the colourful bookstore.
“It was amazing, just amazing.”