Helen Walsh’s debut novel, Pull Focus, was published September 7, 2021 by ECW Press in North America and October 7, 2021 in the UK.
Walsh is also founder and president of Diaspora Dialogues, a literary mentoring and convening organization with more than 800 writers in its network. DD is the most successful Canadian writing program for alumni getting their books published or plays produced.
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 writer & producer in Canada and the US.
Walsh was a member of the G7/G20 Research Group at University of Toronto, and attended global summits as accredited media, studying the geopolitical issues explored in her writing.
Her freelance articles have been published in Toronto Life, Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, Crime Reads, Open Book, among other outlets. She publishes a popular Substack newsletter called Letterbox: Bookish & Filmish. Walsh holds Canadian, British and Irish citizenship.
Please connect with her @HelenWalshBooks on Twitter/X, Instagram, Facebook, Goodreads, Threads and Linked-In.
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 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/X, Instagram, Facebook, Threads, Goodreads and/or Linked-In. (Yes, I’m on TikTok, too. Just not very active.)
I’ve just finished the latest draft of That Type of Power, a taut, darkly funny page turner set in a paradise of sun and sand where the ocean-going sharks are the most benign kind. Jane, a late 30s festival director dogged by a romantic history that makes the Kardashians seem suburban by comparison, fights to keep her head above water – and indeed her head itself – once murder breaks out and the millennials break down. . .
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 the Cheltenham Literary Festival and Wigtown Book Festival and this year, 2023, I’m going to Cheltenham for the first time. 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.
Below are a few of the Spring/Summer 2023 novels I’ve bought or will buy. A tsunami of titles get published every season; estimates say 3 million titles (traditional + self-published) annually in the US alone. (This depressing article about the current state of publishing been making the rounds on social.)
Rebecca Makkai, I Have Some Questions For You, which follows a L.A. podcaster who goes returns to her boarding school and obsesses about a murder that took place there in the 1990s. I’m queasy about the morality of true-crime, where the audience risks being a participant in the re-victimization of families. But it’s propulsive, and squarely at the centre of our current zeitgeist. (Of course this book is already optioned with planned adaptation into a series.) Feb 2023.
Kevin Jared Hosein, Hungry Ghosts, set in 1940s Trinidad, tracing various members of a multiracial community grappling with poverty, emotional connection, and hereditary pain. Feb 2023.
Catherine Hernandez, The Story of Us, the story of Mary Grace, a Filipina PSW who arrives in Toronto with the hope of building a new life and sponsoring her husband and children, only to find belonging and family in unexpected ways. Feb 2023.
Zoe Whittall, The Fake, a deeply human novel about the scammers amongst us. March 2023.
Deepti Kapoor, Age of Vice, cinematic novel set in New Delhi that straddles the line between commercial and thriller and is getting excellent reviews. March 2023.
Lucinda Williams, Don’t Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You: A Memoir. Okay, it’s not a novel, but I read memoirs as fictional constructs since insight is subjective and memory is faulty. I’m a big fan of her music. April 2023.
Kate Morton, Homecoming, an eerie epic involving a wealthy family’s mysterious deaths in Adelaide Hills, South Australia. April 2023.
Denise Da Costa, And the Walls Came Down, a beautiful novel about family, identity, love and loss. (I blurbed this book. It left such an imprint I’d wake up thinking about it.) June 2023.
Katherine Reay, A Shadow in Moscow, because I love myself a good spy novel, especially one with finely researched details. June 2023.
Daniel Silva, The Collector, the latest in his Gabriel Allon spy thriller series that also involve the art restoration world. I’ve read them all. July 2023.
Zalika Reid Benta, River Muma, a magical realist novel about a millennial Black woman who navigates her quarter-life-crisis while embarking on a quest through the streets of Toronto. August 2023.
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