Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Dirty Dozen, with Allan Stratton

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Allan Stratton

Fiction writer and playwright Allan Stratton is the author of the internationally acclaimed young adult novel Chanda's Secrets. He returns this season with The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish (Dundurn), in which the titular character lay hands on a young boy pronounced dead in the hospital and is seen to bring him back to life. The story, set in the 1930s, goes international when William Randolph Hearst gets wind of Mabel's miraculous talent, bringing her to Hollywood.

In our Dirty Dozen series, writers share twelve unexpected facts or stories about themselves. Allan joins us today, speaking to Open Book about amazing journeys around the world, from the red carpet at Cannes to a hot air balloon over Turkey.

  1. I was alone in an Egyptian pyramid. The Red Pyramid is about ten minutes farther out of Cairo than the more famous ones in Ghiza, and that ten minutes is enough to keep the tour buses away. I got to slide inside and stand in utter silence in the royal tomb, totally alone except for the desiccated bat hanging from an upper stone block.
  2. In 1969, I shook hands with Pope Paul VI at a semi-private audience in the Vatican when I was eighteen. (I was the last to shake the pope’s hand and remember it being quite damp.)
  3. I was in the original production of James Reaney’s Listen to the Wind and was an original member of his Listeners Workshop at Alpha Centre, London, Ontario. Jaimie was an amazing man, our greatest playwright, and one of my primary mentors.
  4. Swam with a shark off Cayo Largo. Pretty scared at the time, but I remember thinking there were ten other people in the water so my odds were good.
  5. Swam at the foot of the only falls of Iguazu’s two-hundred odd waterfalls where swimming is allowed. It’s a 2 km. trek into the Argentinian bush and totally removed from people. Wow.
  6. Walked the red carpet at the Cannes Festival for the premiere of Life Above All, the film of my novel Chanda’s Secrets. I’ll always remember the audience springing to its feet at the end. TIME Magazine clocked the ovation at ten minutes — and afterwards I got to meet Roger Ebert. A memory of a lifetime.
  7. In my early thirties, I was a member of the Playwright/Director unit at the Actors Studio in NYC. It was moderated by Arthur Penn, the brilliant director of Bonnie and Clyde. Every week we’d discuss a new work. Shelley Winters was at one — pretty wacked out as I recall — and Norman Mailer at others. His comments weren’t particularly germane to the pieces he was talking about, but boy were they brilliant riffs on whatever he was thinking about at the time.
  8. My mom and I went to Turkey when she was 80 and took a hot air balloon over Cappadocia, one of the most magical terrains in the world.
  9. I was head of drama at the Etobicoke School of the Arts for several years in the 1990s. My hats off to teachers. Teaching is without question the most exhausting work I’ve ever done.
  10. Got lost with a small group in the back siqs at Petra. A Jordanian military officer wanted to show off his knowledge of the back routes which only it turned out he didn’t know them so well. As the sun went down and our water ran out, our group truly bonded in those tiny rock passages as we wandered the sheer rock heights trying to stay calm — the stone blocking all attempts at cell phone contact.
  11. Visiting Angor Watt and other area temples at Siem Reap, Cambodia was one of the most staggering spiritual experiences of my life. The bas reliefs and massive stone heads are all the more amazing when one considers that, at the time, Europeans were barely drawing stick figures. (If you’d like some travel tips, the moai on Easter Island are also inspiring, as are the terra cotta warriors at Xian, China. Along with Petra, those are easily my favourite travel experiences, far surpassing places like Machu Piccu — which, granted, has location, location, location.)
  12. For several years in the 1980s when I lived in NYC, I volunteered at a soup kitchen at what was then known as Needle Par. We are all so, so blessed to be able to have food and shelter. Every homeless person we see, everyone with mental challenges and demons, was once an innocent baby. I picture the child’s face in all of them.

Allan Stratton is the internationally award-winning author of Chanda's Secrets and Borderline. He is also a playwright whose hits include Nurse Jane Goes to Hawaii and Rexy! Stratton's first adult novel, The Phoenix Lottery, was shortlisted for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. He lives in Toronto.

Check out all the Dirty Dozen interviews in our archives.

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