Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Authors with an Agenda: An afternoon with Joseph Kertes, Lee Henderson and Eric McCormack

It was an afternoon filled with literary enlightenment, as Joseph Kertes, Lee Henderson, and Eric McCormack took to centre stage at the writers’ festival. Host Neil Wilson, described the event as, “A master class on the novel,” and the audience sat in anxious anticipation of the literary adventures that were just ahead.


“The authors will be happy to sign your  books,”  Wilson said to the eager crowded house at the beginning of the event at Knox Church. The audience erupts with boisterous laughter.


Joseph Kertes, brings us into his novel, The Afterlife of Stars, by first sharing with us, memories of his personal family experiences of travelling from Hungary to Austria. On writing his novel, Kertes says, “I always start my writing in a real place, the characters take on their own trajectory. I planned out the chapters and the boys commandeered the plot away from me.” While his book could have been written as a memoir, Kertes says, “Sometimes the truth of the matter is not liberating. It doesn’t give you the whole picture.” In the excerpt he reads from his novel, we get a glimpse of what life was like for two young brothers. Kertes’s literature has well developed characters and the diction and syntax in his novel is engrossing.


At this, his third presentation at the Festival,  Lee Henderson, an award winning author and a teacher at the University of Victoria for Creative Writing, begins his presentation at the podium, by telling the audience that he wanted to take photos of them for his Instagram. In turn, they took pictures of him taking pictures.


Henderson gives a detailed account of his novel. As he reads from his richly narrated book, The Road Narrows As You Go, you can hear the uniqueness of the characters’ voices. There is passion in his tone and he has the audience in stitches practically the whole way through reading his excerpt.  Henderson, who took six years to write the book, insists the comedic portions of his novel just found their way in. “With prose, if the language started to go that way, I just let it,” he confesses.


Author Eric McCormack, a former finalist for the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Governor General’s Award, had the audience feeding off his words of his latest work,  Cloud.   His prose entranced the audience and his presentation at the festival was compelling. On the writing process of his latest work, McCormack says, “What I thought was the best part is now published in Japan as a separate piece of work.”


All three authors put on a stellar performance.