News broke at the crack of dawn this morning: my book, STAND ON THE SKY, has won a Governor General's award -- the oldest and highest profile award in Canada. This is a huge deal. I'm so excited -- I hardly know what to say.
When I realized my story STAND ON THE SKY needed to be set in Mongolia, I scratched out a couple of sample chapters so I could beg for a grant. I got the grant – and I stopped writing. I really wanted to find the shape of the story after I’d been. (Turned out that I found it while I was there.)
Naturally many of the things in the sample chapters turned out to be a little off, because I’d only done book research. But I’d written the bit where Aisulu rides up to an outcrop of shale to seek the eagle nest and rescue the orphaned baby eagle. And when I finally got to Western Mongolia, there it was, just as I’d pictured it, the shale outcrop.
It was almost eerie. I wanted to put a blue scarf and a good stone at its base, to thank the universe.
So the Canada Council sent me a set of GG Finalist Stickers, and I hooked up with my friend Ishta Mercurio took them down my local Indie, Worrds Worth books, and put them on stock copies. See the delitght.
So this morning the list of books nominated for the GG -- the Governor General's Award -- came out. I saw it in my e-mail, and really just scanned it briefly. I didn't see my name or my book cover, so I sighed and went to the basement to help clean up the sewage leak. (UGGGH don't ask.)
Then my Twitter notifications started rolling in.
And I'm up for it. STAND ON THE SKY has been nominated for a GG. And I'm on the actual air. I am standing on the sky. As writers we are not allowed to admit that we want these things, but I wanted this thing. A lot. For this book, which is truly the book of my heart.
The Governor General's awards are Canada's big national awards -- like the National Book Awards in the States. They're given in seven categories, including the one I'm up for, literature for young people. They are worth $25K, a big shiney seal, and of course ALL THE GLORY. Even being nominated is a huge, life-changing, caree...
This fall I went to Telling Tales, to Lethbridge's Word on the Street -- the best little fest in the West -- and into the schools as part of the Authors in Schools program of Kingston WritersFest. And now I'm home!
Telling Tales broke its 10-year streak of being blazing hot and sunny by being cold and rainy. I wore my black rain coat and one of my Mongolian scarves and my step-dads' black wool hat and didn't realize that the general effect was Gay Lesser Pratchett.
Telling Tales was packed with soggy happy reading families. I hung out with readers and other authors.
In Lethbridge I got to talk with Waubgeshig rice Rice, who wrote the best thing I've read this year: Moon of Crusted Snow. Plus he confirmed my private theory about the book!
And in Kingston I read to a tiny country school which had never had an author visit, and a gymful of 250 4 -6 graders, who acted as if they'd never had an author visit -- they were all so exci...
One of the things I want readers to take from my STAND ON THE SKY is the realization that the culture of Kazakh nomads is not a museum piece: it's a living culture that exists in today's world.
Many of the traditions are old -- the art of eagle hunting, for instance, is at least 4000 years old -- but that does not mean they're unchanged. Traditional elements and modern innovations exist side by side, and the culture is in the middle of many changes.
Here, Kazakh kids watch cartoons inside their ger.
Alimbai, the eagle hunter, on his cellphone.
Photo yanked from Pintrest, but we did encounter a young man transporting his eagle on a motorcycle.
(Motorcycles are widely used in Olgii. I can't drive one but did learn the art of riding pinion while hanging onto the driver for dear life.)
One of the changes sweeping Kazakh eagle hunting culture is that the newest generation of children training with eagles includes a few girls, which is a shift fro...
So far, I'm lined up for Telling Tales in Rockton, Ontario (a big outdoor family reading festival near Hamilton -- also in easy reach of Toronto, KW, etc), Word on the Street in Lethbridge, Alberta, and the Kingston Writersfest in Kingston, Ontario. I am booking school visits for October - December.
Several people who heard me read this on the stage at the Margaret Atwood event have written to ask for a copy of this poem. This poem is written to be performed -- it's a bit melodramatic on the page -- but it was a barn burner on the day (as poems about the Haber Bosch process usually are) and I am glad to share the text.
There was once a man named Fritz Haber
(Let us have no science without art.)
Who in a time when Europe was starving
(Let us have no science without art)
Learned to cool and crush
The atmospheric nitrogen.
(Let us have no science without art.)
It’s called the Haber process, and it gave us
the first fertilizer. They sang of it:
Bread from the Air.
(Let us have no science) Haber saved us,
Made us seven billion. But the thing about cool and crush
I have never known an animal so amazing as a Golden Eagle.
My new book, STAND ON THE SKY, is about the relationship between a girl named Aisulu and the golden eagle Toktar. Aisulu rescues Toktar as a baby -- he's orphaned -- and hand-raises him. Later she learns to fly him, even though among her people being an eagle hunter is something that's usually done by boys.
To find Aisulu's story, I went to Mongolia, where I lived with a family of Kazakh nomads who kept two eagles, a young eagle only recently taken from her nest, and a six-year-old eagle captured from the wild and still in training.
My friend Seanan Forbes was there too, and she took these pictures. Click to enbiggen.
All Mongolian pics are by Seanan Forbes, writer, photographer, traveller, teaching artist. The grants that sent me to Mongolia came from the Canada Council and Region of Waterloo Arts Fund.
Flying high after opening for, you know, ATWOOD last night, tonight I went to the star studded National Magazine Awards, where I sat next to -- gulp -- Michael Ondaatje. My poem from the New Quarterly, "Too Strong to Stop, Too Sweet to Lose," did not win, but it was a truly dazzling evening.