Written by: Hannah Ellsworth, first-year Journalism student
Follow Hannah on Twitter @TrentVoice
For many aspiring writers at Trent, Linwood Barclay’s visit to the University as alumni writer-in-residence has been an opportunity to ask questions and learn not only about the acclaimed writer himself, but about his individual writing process and experiences. The fact that Mr. Barclay ‘73 is an alumnus of Trent presents another opportunity, because his close association with the University has allowed current students to visualize the possibilities that their own future can hold with hard work and determination.
I have been fortunate enough to encounter Mr. Barclay three times so far during his stay at the University. The first time I encountered him as a columnist, the second time as a creative writer and the third time as a student.
On the first day of his residency at Trent I was given the opportunity to interview Mr. Barclay for this column. Having read only one of his books before, I was nervous, but more importantly I was excited to speak with a successful author who had attended our university. The first thing that struck me about Mr. Barclay was his modesty. After initial introductions, our interview soon morphed into a casual conversation about his life, experience in the journalism industry and, finally, his ascent into that coveted place known as The New York Times’ Best Sellers List.
“I would do anything to get out of doing bibliographies and footnotes,” Mr. Barclay said. He went on to illustrate this point by describing his agreements with professors who would accept a novel or satirical versions of poems read in class as a substitution for the assigned essay. This struck me as a particularly intriguing notion, especially because I am working to submit a novel for one of my classes for additional credit. It was surreal to listen to him reminisce about his time at Trent, and to wonder what the future holds for current young writers at Trent like me.
Another aspect of Trent which facilitated his evolution as a writer took the form of Mr. Barclay’s interactions with a writer-in-residence during his own student experience - Margaret Laurence. He stressed the significance of her influence as a mentor who spoke with him about the business of writing and even went so far as to read some of his work and offer feedback. Mr. Barclay seems to have adopted this sincerity in his interactions with current Trent students. I learned this during our interview, when he inquired into my own writing goals and was generous with his advice.
During his writing workshop with students on November 7, Mr. Barclay described his writing process as students curled up with their notebooks, hanging on his every word. He emphasized the importance of “the hook” in his stories, and confided that this can often take the form of an ordinary event that has been twisted to be just slightly bizarre. As an aspiring novelist I found that his advice offered answers I had been searching for, and his was a voice that I needed to hear.
“There’s a romanticism that seems to surround the idea of being a writer,” Mr. Barclay said. “But for me it’s a job. People ask me what I do when I get writer’s block. What do teachers do when they get teacher’s block? What do plumbers do when they get plumbers’ block?”
On Friday, November 8 our Knowing and Wondering course professor Dr. Michael Eamon invited Mr. Barclay to be a guest at our lecture, where he spoke to us about his experience in the journalism industry and the importance of understanding bias as applied to the context of the media. This course is one of the required courses for my journalism program, so many of my fellow students were present and participated in this discussion. The lessons he offered to us were applicable to the field that we are attempting to enter, and a sense of appreciation was felt among all the students as we listened to him recount his experiences as a reporter for The Peterborough Examiner and as both an editor and columnist for The Toronto Star.
Students in our class were not the only ones to benefit from Mr. Barclays’ residency. During the weekend of his stay Mr. Barclay was a dedicated participant in the University’s Open House event. He began by delivering “Words of Welcome” to the visiting prospective students and their companions, which was followed by a book signing in the Bata Library that spanned the better part of the afternoon. I was fortunate enough to attend the book signing, and met several prospective students who were thrilled to meet a favourite author while looking at a potential school choice.
The following week Linwood hosted a casual drop-in at the Black Honey Café, giving students an opportunity to speak with him one-on-one. This was followed by an Alumni Lecture with Linwood Barclay at Showplace in downtown Peterborough the night after. The lecture was open to the entirety of the general public and admission was free, which encouraged a reconnection between the author and the community he had first served as a reporter for The Peterborough Examiner when he first graduated from Trent. Even those who could not make it out to Linwood’s events in person found benefit in watching his segment in the CHEX News 5 o’clock show on Tuesday, Nov. 12.
The different environments available through which to interact with Linwood gave students the opportunity to meet him in different contexts, and to explore different facets of the wisdom he has gained through a successful writing career. Over the course of two weeks I grew to know Linwood through the lens of a journalist, a writer, a student and an enthusiastic reader. I feel grateful to Trent for having brought him back to share his insight and experiences with us and anticipate the next writer in residence with much anticipation.