Helen Walsh’s debut novel, Pull Focus, published September 7, 2021 by ECW Press in North America and October 7, 2021 in the UK.
Walsh is also the founder and president of Diaspora Dialogues, a charitable organization that supports writers to turn their craft into a career, through mentorship, professional development, and opportunities to present and publish their work.
Previously, Walsh was publisher and president of the Literary Review of Canada, a monthly book review magazine; director of Spur, a festival of politics, arts and ideas; and a film/digital media writer & producer in Canada and the US.
Walsh lives in Toronto.
A global pandemic was an interesting time to launch your first book! So many of the book tour plans postponed or cancelled and, in some cases, they moved online. I was able to hold in-person launches in Toronto, Mono, and eventually in Los Angeles, London and Dublin. I was grateful to all those who came out and delighted to see people again after two years of pandemic lockdowns! I’ve also really enjoyed the online literary salons, festivals and book clubs I’ve done – and am still doing. The level of literary criticism is remarkable. Please sign up for the bi-monthly newsletter for news and highlights about the book, the festival world, the book and film industry, a little gossip… And please connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and/or Linked-In.
I’ve just finished the latest draft of PULL BACK, a follow-up novel to PULL FOCUS. It’s currently with my first readers. PULL BACK is set in the Bahamas six months later. Jane travels to Exuma to co-present an opening night film for a festival start-up only to learn that an unidentified corpse has recently been discovered with Johnnie’s wallet (her estranged husband) next to it. Could the man who’d befuddled her for more than a decade have finally met his maker? There is a powerful cast of character who’d kill to know the answer to that question. . .
For a dozen years, I’ve spent the month of August in Edinburgh for the festivals, primarily for the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe. (The Art Festival and the Tattoo also take place that month.) It is my very favourite time of the year. I originally started going at the invitation of British Council, who kindly hosted me as an international presenter for two years, and since then I’ve planned my holidays for August in Scotland.
There’s a breath-taking array of author talks and readings, main stage and fringe theatre, dance, opera, classical music, comedy and more to enjoy. (The fringe alone, for example, has almost 4,000 different shows, each with multiple performances.) Plus, there are amazing galleries and museums across Edinburgh, each with special exhibitions.
The city is jammed to the brim with culture – and people, to the dismay of some residents. But it’s magic.
Also in the UK, I love the Hay Festival and London Literary Festival. I’ve always wanted to attend – and have yet to make it – the Cheltenham Literary Festival and Wigtown Book Festival. One thing I love about the UK is how many festivals of one sort or another take place in cities and villages across Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Having a lot of close family in Ireland, and my father being buried in Mallow Co Cork, I try to spend as much time as possible there each year, primarily Dublin and Cork, but I regularly take driving holidays to other favourite places like Kinsale, Dingle Peninsula and Galway. I was fortunate enough to write parts of Pull Focus during two intensive writing residencies at The Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig in Co Monaghan.
Favourites Irish festivals include: International Literature Festival Dublin, Dublin Fringe Festival, and the Cork Film Festival. There are many I hope to get to soon, including Kilkenny Arts Festival, Cuirt, the International Festival of Literature in Galway, and Listowel Writers’ Week.
About a decade ago I went on a tour of festivals in Australia – Melbourne and Sidney – with the support of Canada Council and British Council. Such amazing cities and arts orgs, including the Sydney Writers Festival and the Wheeler Centre. For years now, I’ve wanted to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival but have yet to make my way to India for it. And my friend Shyam Selvadurai has repeatedly suggested I attend the Galle Literary Festival; he was the artistic director for several years. I hope to have the good fortune to attend one day.
Closer to home: who doesn’t adore the Toronto International Film Festival. For decades it has defined my September and the organization is, I’d argue, the most successful cultural organization in the country. I’ve also started going regularly to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, in late January. Skiing Deer Valley and Sundance Resort during the day and watching movies at night is a slice of heaven.
I’ve also visited many other film and book festivals in Canada and the US with favourites including Toronto International Festival of Authors, Word on the Street Toronto, Wordfest, Vancouver Writers Fest and the Palm Springs Film Festival.
You might say I’m a little festival-mad. It’s not a holiday if there’s no festival to attend.
I’ve been surrounded by books ever since I was a little girl. Our christmas presents inevitably contained books – whether that was Wind in the Willows or Enid Blyton or the year I turned thirteen, both Lives of Girls and Women (Alice Munro) and Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy) which took years and multiple readings to understand.
Like many people, I found it difficult to read for the first few months of Covid. Concentration was lacking, a low level of anxiety ever-present. I mostly binge-watched Netflix and Prime; read a few thrillers that could propel me to turn the pages, and some poetry. But I kept buying books, so now the tables in my house overflow even more than normal and I am catching up on lost time.
In addition to getting through these, the following books are either on another table in my house or I saved book reviews to remind me to buy them:
Freezing Order by Bill Browder
The Foghorn Echoes by Danny Ramadan
The Opportunist by Elyse Friedman
The Body by Bill Bryson
Jade Is a Twisted Green by Tanya Turton
Desert Star by Michael Connelly
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
Junie by Chelene Knight
We Spread by Iain Reid
Blackwater Falls by Ausma Zehanat Khan
A Heartful of Headstones by Ian Rankin
The Sleeping Car Porter by Suzette Mayr
The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid
1989 by Val McDermid
The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell
Stories I Might Regret Telling You by Martha Wainwright
The Romantic by William Boyd
There are SO many great adaptations of novels to film or televisions but below are a few of my favourites. Would love to hear your favs; email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or connect with me on social media.
If you’re interested in the art of adaptations, I saw this amazing talk at the Hay Festival in Wales in 2018 with Andrew Davies, a Welsh screenwriter who specialises in literary adaptations.
Among his many successes are Vanity Fair (William Thackeray), A Suitable Boy (Vikram Seth), Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen), –Middlemarch (George Elliot), Bleak House (Charles Dickens), War & Peace (Leo Tolstoy), and Rabbit, Run (John Updike). . .to name only a few. Extraordinary that one writer should be capable of such range and skill.
I really enjoyed the conversation, which included Davies, his script editor and producer. They discussed the challenges of adapting Victor Hugos’s Les Misérables for television broadcast (six-hour series) but also overall their creative approach to adaptations.
Note: the talk is £10.00, but the money goes to the Hay Festival, which like every other festival in the world, had a brutal 2020, and could very much use your support. The talk is well worth the price of admission.
Much Ado About Nothing – both versions
Play by William Shakespeare
Adapted and Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Adapted and Directed by Josh Weldon
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Novel by Milan Kudera
Adapted by Philip Kaufman and Jean-Claude Carrière.
Directed by Philip Kaufman
The English Patient
Novel by Michael Ondaatje
Adapted and Directed by Anthony Minghella
Killing Eve – love love love the writing on this
Novel by Like Jennings
Adapted by Phoebe Waller Bridge
Directed by various.
The Talented Mr Ripley
Novel by Patricia Highsmith
Adapted and Directed by Anthony Minghella
Big Little Lies (Season 1)
Novel by Liane Moriarity
Adapted by David E Kelley
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee
Novel by Shyam Selvadurai
Adapted by Shyam Selvadurai
Directed by Deepa Mehta
Pull Focus is structured as twenty chapters, each the ten days of the festival comprising two chapters each. (Yes, I know, technically there are now eleven days of TIFF, but the last day isn’t a substantial day.) Each day is named after a famous film that mirrors the plot. The playlist below is pulled from the soundtracks of those films (except Sex, Lies and Videotape and with the addition of Killing Eve, with which I am currently obsessed.)
Strangers In The Night
from Eyes Wide Shut
Peter Hughes Orchestra (in the film) but who doesn’t love the Frank Sinatra version!
I Got it Bad (And That Ain’t Good)
from Eyes Wide Shut
The Oscar Peterson Trio (in the film) but Nina Simone’s version is my very favourite
Happy Days Are Here Again
from Gathering Storm
Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (in the film) but Barbara Streisand has performed many interpretations of this song over the years.
Just a Little
from Eastern Promises
from Our Brand is Crisis
Prelude, OP. 28, NO. 15
from Margin Call
Why do We Fall
from The Dark Knight Rises
Composed by by Hans Zimmer
A Satisfied Mind
From Kill Bill
from Kill Bill
Come & Get It
When A Woman Is Around
from Killing Eve