robert mcgill

"We Regret to Inform You that Your Child Has Enrolled in a Creative Writing Course"

Nov. 13, 2020

Now published in University Affairs: my open letter to the parents of the students I'm teaching this term. It's called "We Regret to Inform You that Your Child Has Enrolled in a Creative Writing Course."

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Tell Me a Story

May 28, 2020

I'm thrilled to have been a part of Frontier College's "Tell Me a Story" series on YouTube, reading Caroline Fernandez and Shannon O'Toole's delightful Stop Reading This Book. You can watch the video here.

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Canadian Literature of the Vietnam War online anthology

April 29, 2020

A longstanding project is now complete: a free online anthology of Canadian poems, short stories, and essays about the Vietnam War (written during the era), along with an introductory essay. Thanks to Karen McBride and Jacob Morrow for helping to make it happen. Visit


robert mcgill

War Is Here Reviewed in Canadian Literature

March 30, 2019

"Inspiring in an era when literary studies and humanistic scholarship seem everywhere under threat, McGill demonstrates the intellectual-historical value of careful, sustained explication de texte." An appreciative review of War Is Here: The Vietnam War and Canadian Literature has appeared in the journal Canadian Literature. You can read the review here.

robert mcgill

Teaching Critical Literary Citizenship

Feb. 14, 2019

Now online: "Teaching Critical Literary Citizenship," an article that André Babyn and I wrote about helping Creative Writing students to consider what it means to be a good literary citizen. You can read it here.

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LitLive Reading Series

Feb. 4, 2019

I'm looking forward to reading March 3 at the LitLive reading series in Hamilton, Ontario.

robert mcgill

Talking about Historical Fiction

Nov. 14, 2018

I recently gave a talk at SUNY Oswego on writing historical fiction. You can read an account of the event here.


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On Mentorship

Oct. 14, 2018

Now published in Journal of Creative Writing Studies: an article that I wrote with Neil Surkan about the notion of literary mentors as father figures. Read the article here.

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Word on the Street Interview

Aug. 8, 2018

I was recently interviewed for the Word on the Street literary festival blog. Read the interview here.

robert mcgill

Witness to Yesterday: Canada's Writers Confront the Vietnam War

July 20, 2018

I had a lovely time as a guest on Witness to Yesterday, the Champlain Society podcast on Canadian history, where I talked with Greg Marchildon about Canadian writers' response to the Vietnam War. You can listen to the episode here or download it here.

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SUNY Oswego Living Writers Series

July 20, 2018

I'm looking forward to speaking about my novel Once We Had a Country on November 7 as part of the SUNY Oswego Living Writers Series.

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Robert Kroetsch Teaching Award

July 15, 2018

Many thanks to Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs (CCWWP) for naming me a co-winner of the 2018 Robert Kroetsch Teaching Award for my work teaching a Literary Citizenship course. Read more about the award here and here. You can read about the course here.

robert mcgill

Space and Place in Alice Munro's Fiction

June 3, 2018

I'm delighted to have an essay included in Space and Place in Alice Munro's Fiction, a new collection of articles edited by Christine Lorre-Johnston and Eleonora Rao.

robert mcgill

University of Toronto Creative Writing Gala

April 10, 2018

It was a pleasure for me to serve as MC for the University of Toronto's Creative Writing Gala this year. I got to introduce a wonderful group of readers, including Michael Redhill and a number of Creative Writing MA students.                        

Photo: Wajiha Rasul

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Negotiating Cultural Difference in Creative Writing Workshops

Jan. 19, 2018

"Cultural diversity among members of a creative writing workshop complicates matters of classroom authority, not least because students’ writing often hinges on cultural particularities beyond an instructor’s expertise." I'm very glad to have published an article on this topic with fellow writer Noor Naga. Those with institutional access can read the article here.

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Dec. 24, 2017

The past two years, I've taught a course called Literary Citizenship in which we examine organizations promoting literary culture in Toronto. Many of the students have contributed entries to a website we've created,, that profiles such organizations, describing what they do and how people can get involved. The site will grow with each edition of the course. In the meantime, I’m grateful to the students for their own acts of literary citizenship in volunteering to share their research. If you have a moment, please do check out the site. You can read about the course here.

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War Is Here in The Toronto Star

Nov. 10, 2017

"A scholarly but accessible exploration of the effect of the Vietnam War on Canadian writers, and how that conflict is embedded in our sense of Canada as a positive alternative to America." From a review of War Is Here: The Vietnam War and Canadian Literature in a Toronto Star article on recent books about war. Read the article here.

robert mcgill

Justin Trudeau in Vietnam

Nov. 7, 2017

I was interviewed for a CBC story about Justin Trudeau's current trip to Vietnam. Read the story here.

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The Love Lettering Project and Literary Citizenship

Oct. 13, 2017

This autumn, I'm teaching a course at the University of Toronto called Literary Citizenship that features guest speakers from various organizations promoting literary values, culture, and community. This week, our guest was Lindsay Zier-Vogel of The Love Lettering Project, who spoke about her work and engaged us in writing love letters to Toronto. You can read about Lindsay's visit here and about the course here.

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Alice Munro

Aug. 28, 2017

A review of two volumes to which I contributed, both on the work of Alice Munro, The Cambridge Companion to Alice Munro and Alice Munro: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, Runaway, Dear Life, has been published in Canadian Literature. Read the review here.

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Excerpt from War Is Here in The Walrus

Aug. 23, 2017

An excerpt from my new book, War Is Here: The Vietnam War and Canadian Literature, has been published in The Walrus. Read it here.

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War Is Here Will Be Here August 23

Aug. 6, 2017

I'm delighted to announce that August 23, McGill-Queen's University Press will be releasing my book War Is Here: The Vietnam War and Canadian Literature. Click here for more about the book.

robert mcgill

Stories for Grown-ups: Address to the Graduating Class of Peninsula Shores District School

July 26, 2017

Last month, I had the privilege of giving the commencement address to the graduating high school students of Peninsula Shores District School in Wiarton, Ontario, the town where I grew up—and the home of Canada’s most famous groundhog, Wiarton Willie. Here’s what I said.
The writer Flannery O’Connor once said that by the time people reach the end of childhood, they have all the material they need to tell stories for the rest of their lives.
Graduates of 2017: you’ve arrived at the end of childhood, the end of high school, and you’re entering your grown-up years. What stories are you going to tell?
It’s an important question. Who we are, who we understand ourselves and others to be, is largely made up of the stories we tell—and also the stories we don’t tell. *         
Ever since I graduated from high school and moved away from Wiarton to attend university, I’ve had to ask myself certain questions when faced with telling stories about who I am.
First of all, should I say I’m from Wiarton? And if I do, should I be the first one to mention Wiarton Willie? Or should I wait for the other person to …

robert mcgill

All the Broken Things

April 21, 2017

My recommendation of Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer's novel All the Broken Things has just appeared in 49th Shelf's "The Recommend" column. Read it here.

robert mcgill

Love Lettering and Literary Citizenship

Oct. 17, 2016

Lindsay Zier-Vogel, creator of The Love Lettering Project, recently visited my Literary Citizenship course at the University of Toronto. We talked about urbanity, affect, and epistolarity, and we also wrote love letters. You can read Lindsay's account of the class -- and see photos of the event -- here.

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Writing about Alice Munro

Sept. 22, 2016

Out today: a new book of essays on Alice Munro, including one by me about what may be my favorite Munro story, "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" (which was turned into the film Away from Her).

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Review of The Treacherous Imagination in a/b: Auto/Biography Studies

Sept. 7, 2016

Tom Smith’s review of my book The Treacherous Imagination: Intimacy, Ethics, and Autobiographical Fiction  is now out in a/b: Autobiography Studies. He writes: “McGill is excellent in threading his way through the maze of conflicting claims made by writers defending their right to choose what to write and aggrieved readers who feel unfairly represented, betrayed, or violated. He . . . has carefully examined and thoroughly contextualized an effect of fiction often relegated to literary gossip or scholars’ entertainment.”

Those with institutional access to the journal can read the review here.

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Speech to the Graduates of Peninsula Shores District School

Sept. 5, 2016

Earlier this summer, I had the privilege of giving the grade-eight commencement address at Peninsula Shores District School in Wiarton, Ontario, the town in which I was born and raised. Here are the remarks I offered on the night.                                                                      
This is actually my second grade-eight graduation speech in Wiarton. The first one was twenty-six years ago. It was the night of my graduation from Wiarton Public School. Here’s a picture of me from that evening. Looking at it, you may think, “Wow, I didn’t know that white jackets were fashionable in 1990.” They weren’t. But I felt like wearing a white jacket, and my level of fashion awareness was very low.
That night, I gave a speech together with my friend Daena, because the two of us were the valedictorians. Here’s a photograph of us on stage. My memory of the evening’s a little hazy, so I can’t te…

robert mcgill

The Cambridge Companion to Alice Munro

April 27, 2016

Now out: The Cambridge Companion to Alice Munro -- a great book with some distinguished contributors (Margaret Atwood! Douglas Glover! Elizabeth Hay! W. H. New! Merilyn Symonds!). And I've snuck in there, too, writing on Munro and personal development.

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Michelle Lovric on W. G. Sebald on Writing

March 11, 2016

On The History Girls blog, Michelle Lovric discusses a collection of W. G. Sebald's observations about writing published by David Lambert and me. Read the post here -- and Sebald's observations here.

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Teaching Thomas King's Green Grass, Running Water

March 9, 2016

I've just published an article about teaching Thomas King's wonderful novel Green Grass, Running Water. Those with access to The Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry can read the article here.

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Justin Trudeau's Liberal Arts Education

Nov. 9, 2015

I was recently interviewed for an article in Metro about Justin Trudeau's background as an English student. Read the article here.

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Interview about the New Harper Lee and Dr Seuss Books

July 29, 2015

An interview with me about the new Harper Lee book, Go Set a Watchman, and the new Dr Seuss book, What Pet Should I Get?, has just been published. Read it here.

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Teaching Creative Writing

April 13, 2015

A scholarly article that I've written on teaching Creative Writing has been published in the journal New Writing. The article addresses the ethics of treating student fiction as biographical, whether in workshops or with an eye to warning signs of unwellness. The abstract is available here. People with an institutional subscription to the journal will be able to download the full article.

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Karl Ove Knausgaard and The Treacherous Imagination

April 3, 2015

Ceridwen Dovey, writing in The Monthly about autobiographical fiction such as the works of Karl Ove Knausgaard, draws extensively on The Treacherous ImaginationRead the article here.

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Robert Fulford on The Treacherous Imagination

March 24, 2015

Robert Fulford, writing in the National Post today, calls my book The Treacherous Imagination "fascinating and morally ingenious." Read the article here.

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Kingston WritersFest Master Class, Sept 27

July 2, 2014

September 27, I'll be giving a Master Class on "Writing Living Memory" at the Kingston WritersFest. For more information, click here.

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On Douglas Coupland and the Apocalypse

May 23, 2014

Now published: Blast, Corrupt, Dismantle, Erase: Contemporary North American Dystopian Literature. The book includes an article by me on Douglas Coupland's fiction and the apocalypse that I first published several years ago. I'm grateful to the book's editors for wanting to reprint it and for giving me the chance to revise it for their volume

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Interview in The Puritan

May 12, 2014

In the new issue of The Puritan -- an interview with me, Jason Guriel, and Molly Peacock about literature and the Canada-US border. To read it, click here.

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Spring Reunion Reading

April 22, 2014

May 29, I'll be reading from Once We Had a Country as part of the Department of English Spring Reunion at the University of Toronto. The event takes place at 4 pm in Room 100 of the Jackman Humanities Building (170 St George St). All are welcome.

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Celebrating Alice Munro

April 16, 2014

I'm looking forward to joining Steven Heighton, Lisa Moore, and Aritha Van Herk in a Writers' Appreciations event on May 9, part of The Alice Munro Symposium at the University of Ottawa. There will be plenty of stories to share -- and many more to celebrate. For details, click here.

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World Films Locations: Toronto

March 31, 2014

Now shipping in Canada, the US, and the UK: World Film Locations: Toronto, a lively book discussing Toronto in movies. I contributed two entries to the volume, one on a National Film Board gem, Paddle to the Sea, and one on Atom Egoyan's masterpiece, The Sweet Hereafter.

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Review of Once We Had a Country in The Puritan

Feb. 26, 2014

A new review of Once We Had a Country in The Puritan calls the novel "the powerful, sad, and touching story of a young woman trying to make her way in a foreign land." Read the review here.

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Grimsby Author Series

Jan. 15, 2014

Monday I had a great time reading with the lovely Wayne Grady in Grimsby as part of the Grimsby Author Series. They run a first-class show.

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Authors' Resolutions for 2014

Jan. 3, 2014

Open Book Toronto has just posted an article revealing the New Year's resolutions of various authors, including me. Read the article here.

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Review of Once We Had a Country in Literary Review of Canada

Jan. 1, 2014

The new issue of Literary Review of Canada includes a review of Once We Had a Country that calls it "beautifully crafted" and says that the novel's "unflinching insights into the Canadian immigrant experience, American imperialism, television's soporific mind bath and the nature of martyrdom brilliantly illuminate a crucial turning point in our history." Thanks to reviewer Joyce Kline for the kind words.

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Once We Had a Country on Ian McGillis's Best-of-2013 List

Dec. 29, 2013

Once We Had a Country has made Montreal Gazette reviewer Ian McGillis's best-of-2013 list. Read the article here.

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Once We Had a Country on Philip Marchand's Best-of-2013 List

Dec. 28, 2013

In the National Post, Philip Marchand has included Once We Had a Country on his list of favourite books from 2013, calling it a "note-perfect narrative with challenging themes and sure-handed characterization." For the full article, click here.

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Place in Fiction

Nov. 10, 2013

A new post on Open Book Ontario features various authors talking about place in fiction. My contribution mentions Google Earth and conversations with my grandmother. Read the post here.

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Memories of the Pelham Public Library

Oct. 18, 2013

Last month, I read from Once We Had a Country at the Pelham Public Library in a joint event with author Julie Mannell. The library has since posted photos of the night at

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Launch for The Treacherous Imagination

Oct. 18, 2013

Last night was the launch for my book The Treacherous Imagination: Intimacy, Ethics, and Autobiographical Fiction. It was a thrill to share the event with Andrea Most, who launched Theatrical Liberalism: Jews and Popular Entertainment in America. Thanks to everyone who came out.

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"In Bed with a Novelist" in The National Post

Oct. 10, 2013

"You can never feel comfortable with a novelist, never be sure that he will not put you into bed one day, quite naked, between the pages of a book." That's Maupassant as quoted in an article I've written about the ethics of fiction, now up on the National Post's website. The piece is adapted from my book The Treacherous Imagination. Read the article here.

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Leaping Lena

Oct. 7, 2013

My grandmother Lena would have been 99 years old today. To mark the occasion, I’m posting a short essay about her that was broadcast on CBC Radio a few years ago.
One day when my grandmother Lena was in her early seventies, living alone in a cottage on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, she began to feel dizzy. After she lay down, before she passed out, she looked toward the ceiling and saw herself in a green dress, floating above the bed. When she woke up, she discovered that her hand had curled into a claw, and only by staring at each finger in turn did she manage to straighten it. Over the following months, occasionally Lena found herself unable to do certain things she’d always done, like unscrew bottle tops, turn on taps. Each time she had to relearn the task through patience and willpower.It must have been a stroke, but there was no immediate diagnosis because, independent woman that my grandmother is, she didn’t tell anyone what had happened, at least not until a decade later, when she set down the memory in a story. Now, almost ninety, she’s been writing episodes from her life for eleven years, and each time she finishes one, she sends it to my mother, who types it into a word processor and then pas…

robert mcgill

Once We Had a Country: Deleted Scene #3 — The Missus

Sept. 28, 2013

This scene, from late in the novel, was cut because it had too much overlap with another scene involving Maggie and a teenager.
This time there are plenty of places to park. It isn’t a surprise, for who besides Maggie would think to visit Niagara Falls on a drizzly weekday morning in the middle of December? Only the desperate and dispossessed stroll the promenade beside the falls—alcoholics, racetrack losers. Sitting on a bench with the camera beside her, she watches a pair of teenagers walk past, the boy a few yards ahead, the girl dragging her feet, her belly’s protrusion impossible to hide. Both of them are without jackets, and neither carries an umbrella. They don’t even gaze at the cataract, as if it doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter. Periodically, the boy turns to check on the girl, and each time she smiles at him. On their own, though, they both look miserable, deep in thought. Maggie’s inclination is to feel sorry for them, but when the girl catches her staring at them from her bench, she stares back with derision, for there’s Maggie without an umbrella, either, and without a baby coming or someone to coax smiles from her and worry over her wellbeing. She wonders if George Ray has ev…

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Interview: "Robert McGill Loves a Good Mystery"

Sept. 15, 2013

Barrett Hooper has coaxed me into speculating on casting choices for a film version of Once We Had a Country. Read the interview here.

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Writers' Community of Durham Region

Sept. 15, 2013

Yesterday, after I talked shop with the delightful Writers' Community of Durham Region, I was given this sketch by artist Georgia Fullerton, and it made my day. (Check her out at

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Once We Had a Country: Deleted Scene #2 — The Freighter

Sept. 10, 2013

This scene was a favourite but had to be cut because it was too divorced from the plot.
The next day, in the swelter of the afternoon, Fletcher gets fed up with painting and decides they should all drive down to see Niagara Falls. Maggie doesn’t know why he’s one who gets to say when they can stop work to have fun, but the heat in the farmhouse has turned her brain to bouillabaisse, so she doesn’t complain.
Things aren’t much better in the station wagon, after Brid hands the keys to Fletcher and claims the passenger seat for herself, telling Maggie to play Mommy for a while in the back. Pauline seems no happier than Maggie with this arrangement. She fidgets in her safety seat with her curly-haired doll and calls for her mother, while Brid and Fletcher talk to each other up front, Brid’s thin, freckled arm reaching out to lay a hand on Fletcher’s headrest, her bracelets clinking together like ice in a glass.
She’s taller than I am, thinks Maggie. They’d be a better match. He wouldn’t have to stoop to kiss her. The image of them holding each other, lips against lips, is one she hurries to exile fr…

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Interview in The Town Crier

Sept. 5, 2013

An interview with me by Tyler Willis has just appeared in The Town Crier. Read the interview here.

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The Mysteries Revisited

Aug. 20, 2013

With Once We Had a Country now out, a lyrical, thoughtful take on my first novel, The Mysteries, has just been published on the blog "Letterblocks": read it here.

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Once We Had a Country: Deleted Scene #1 — Pillow Talk

Aug. 20, 2013

In Once We Had a Country, the main character, Maggie, spends a lot of time filming her life with a Super 8 camera. As I wrote the novel, sometimes I thought of myself as similarly creating a film rather than a book. I was the director, cinematographer, set designer, dialect coach, lighting engineer, foley artist, and caterer by turns.
The hardest role might have been editing—especially when it came to cutting scenes. Nowadays, filmmakers faced with the need to trim their movies can at least include a “Deleted Scenes” feature on the DVD version of their films. I’m going to follow their lead by featuring some deleted scenes from Once We Had a Country on this site.
The first, brief scene is below. It features Maggie and Fletcher, her boyfriend of six months, talking in bed after having taken up residence at a cherry farm in 1972. The scene was one of my favourites in early drafts. B…

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Globe and Mail Review of Once We Had a Country

Aug. 15, 2013

The Globe and Mail calls Once We Had a Country "an immersive and harrowing tale." Read the full review here.

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Montreal Gazette Review of Once We Had a Country: "Nigh-On Flawless"

Aug. 15, 2013

The Montreal Gazette weighs in on Once We Had a Country: "One of the most original and emotionally affecting Canadian novels of recent years." Read the full review here.

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Interview on Global TV's The Morning Show

Aug. 12, 2013

Today I was on Global TV's The Morning Show to talk about Once We Had a Country. Watch the interview here.

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National Post Review of Once We Had a Country

Aug. 9, 2013

Philip Marchand's review of Once We Had a Country is now up on the National Post website. Marchand calls the novel "a wonderfully sustained performance, thought-provoking and emotionally truthful." Read the full review here.


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Once We Had a Country: Q&A

Aug. 6, 2013

Q: How would you summarize your novel in one sentence?
In 1972, a young American woman moves to the Niagara Peninsula and struggles to remake her life on a commune after becoming estranged from her father, a missionary in Laos.
Q: Why write about 1972?
It was a year of iconic events: Nixon’s re-election, the Munich Olympics, the Watergate break-in, Jane Fonda in North Vietnam, the famous photo of Kim Phuc burned by napalm and running naked down a road. It was the year George Carlin was charged with obscenity for “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” There was Fischer vs. Spassky in Iceland; there was Apollo 17, the last manned mission to the moon.
In Canada, it was the year of the Summit Series and a federal election that reduced Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals to a minority government. 1972 was the end of a spectacular period in Canadian history that had started with Expo ’67 and the Centennial and that included the October Crisis, as well as the legalization of homosexuality and contraception. The contemporary idea of Canada as a refugee haven and non-militaristic nation comes large…

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Once We Had a Country: Sneak Preview

July 30, 2013

My new novel, Once We Had a Country, will be published by Knopf Canada on August 6. The opening scene is below. You can find out more about the novel here, and you can order it from Amazon or Indigo.
In the jungle, Gordon tends a fire beside Yia Pao, the young potter whose soul he hopes to save. It is 1972, the rainy season in Laos, and the two of them shouldn’t be here. Nobody should. Although they are barely a mile from the refugee camp, without knowing it they have crossed into a free-strike zone. The lines keep shifting because the Communists keep gaining ground, but the Royal Lao and American generals don’t bother making announcements when the boundaries are redrawn. Instead, they simply order their warplanes to treat anybody on the ground as the enemy. Everyone becomes a target.
Nestled in the fire are three figures, each less tha…

robert mcgill

The Maxims: W. G. Sebald on Writing

July 25, 2013

The following piece was first published in Five Dials. You can view the issue here.
The Collected ‘Maxims’: W. G. Sebald on Writing
Recorded by David Lambert and Robert McGill
W. G. Sebald taught his final fiction workshop at the University of East Anglia during the autumn of 2001. In the literary world, he was rapidly gaining renown: there had been the succès d’estime of his first three books and then the publication of Austerlitz earlier that year. In the classroom—where David Lambert and I were two of sixteen students—Sebald was unassuming, almost shy, and asked that we call him Max. When discussing students’ work, he was anecdotal and associative, more storyteller than technician. He had weary eyes that made it tempting to identify him with the melancholy narrators of his books, but he also had a gentle amiability and wry sense of humour. We were in his thrall. He died three days after the final class.
As far as I’m aware, nobody that term recorded Max’s words systematically. However, in the …

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"The Stress of Lives" in Hazlitt

July 5, 2013

Hazlitt has just published my short story "The Stress of Lives." It's about a famous Hungarian-Canadian endocrinologist, Hans Selye, being reincarnated as a chimp. You can read it here.

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Once We Had a Country on The Toronto Star's To-Read List

June 28, 2013

The Toronto Star has included Once We Had a Country on its best-of-summer-reading list: check out the list here.

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Young Love at Camp Celtic

June 28, 2013

The Toronto Star has just published a short article by me about falling in love at at summer camp. The story involves the hula, Capture the Flag, and my mother's perfume. Read the story here.

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First Review for Once We Had a Country

May 28, 2013

A rave review of Once We Had a Country has appeared on Read the review here.

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Once We Had a Country in The Montreal Gazette’s Summer Fiction Preview

May 25, 2013

Once We Had a Country was among the recommendations in yesterday’s Montreal Gazette summer fiction preview. Check out the preview here.