Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Writers at Night: The Writers' Trust Gala Series with Heather Birrell

Share |
Heather Birrell

Today we're talking with Heather Birrell, author of Mad Hope (Coach House Books), as part of our Writers at Night series.

Writers at Night celebrates the Writers' Trust Gala, an annual black tie fundraiser for the Writers' Trust. The charity supports authors across Canada through a variety of programs, prizes and scholarships.

This week we're asking a handful of guest authors to spill about their plans for the glitzy evening, including the most important question — what everyone will be wearing on the big night.

The 27th annual Writers' Trust Gala takes place on November 15, 2012. Stay tuned for more interviews this week!

Open Book:

Is this your first time attending the Writers' Trust Gala? If so, to what aspect of the event are you most looking forward? If you've attended before, what is one of your favourite gala memories?

Heather Birrell:

I have attended before, the year I was awarded the Journey Prize, and to be honest, what I most remember is a pretty persistent feeling of terror. I am mostly a homebody and an introvert; big splashy dos are out of my comfort zone. But having said that, once I got used to the fact that I was wearing pinchy patent leather heels and a rather large medal (and a dress of course!), I did enjoy myself. It was so grand and lovely! I vaguely recall a conversation with writer Eva Stachniak (author of, most recently, The Winter Palace) about a novel I am working on... I think I rambled on a bit and she smiled and looked wise. I’m hoping to be a bit more self-possessed this time around.


Each guest at your table receives a copy of your latest book as a gift. Tell us a bit about your recent book.


Mad Hope is a collection of eleven stories. The stories are linked by their preoccupation with the little things that get us through the big hurts — or almost do. The people of Mad Hope are preoccupied with what it means to want the wrong person, lose someone you love, try to escape or atone for your past, yearn to have children and to be free of them. They include (among others) a science teacher and former doctor forced to re-examine the role he played in Ceausescu’s Romania, a mother of three coming to terms with her own mother’s tragic death, a couple struggling with infertility, and a group of women sharing (and over-sharing) in an online chat room. Hopefully (mad hopefully) not as dreary as they may sound; Rachel Harry, in the National Post, said that the stories are “alive with a sense of levity even within their darkest passages.” And a recent review by Julia Cooper in The Toronto Review of Books called the stories “completely enthralling, and profoundly grounded in an empathy for the traumas and moments of relief of simply being human”. I can live with that.


What will you be wearing to the gala?


I have a vintage dress (never worn — by me, at least) that I bought pre-children about five years ago. I adore it. I can zip it up now but I’m not sure it quite fits yet. So I will likely end up wearing the frock I bought for my book launch. I got it at Fresh Collective; it’s by Annie 50, black with a floral pattern and requires some kind of shrug (what a great name for a piece of clothing) I’ve yet to find... and maybe new shoes?


What Canadian writer, living or dead, would you most like to sit next to at dinner? What might you ask him or her?


Alice Munro. I would ask about her dress! I’d really just like to hang out with her, pass her the bread basket, try to make her laugh, and not spill anything on myself.

Heather Birrell is the author of I know you are but what am I? (Coach House, 2004). Her work has been honoured with the Journey Prize for short fiction and the Edna Staebler Award for creative non-fiction, and has been shortlisted for both National and Western Magazine Awards. Birrell's stories have appeared in many North American journals and anthologies. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two daughters where she also teaches high school English.

For more information about Mad Hope please visit the Coach House website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


Open Book App Ad