“If I can do this, you can as well.”
John McLay was in Jasper for Booklovers Weekend (October 21-23), a three day dedication to books, book workshops, book writers and book readings hosted by the collaborators at the Jasper Municipal Library, JAG and Jasper’s Habitat for the Arts.
McLay is the author of On Mountaintop Rock, a mystery novel which takes place in 1960s Jasper. The former Jasperite delivered a heart-felt reading of his 2001 novel and answered audience members’ questions about the book’s setting, its blending of fact and fiction and its characters—the main one, of course, being Jasper itself.
“Jasper was, and still is, a great place to grow up,” he said.
As he delivered his lines, first composed at his desk more than two decades ago, the 75-year-old was occasionally overcome with emotion. The memories were obviously flooding back for McLay, whose parents immigrated from Great Britain and moved to the mountain town in 1953, when he was six.
“It was such a magical, enchanting world,” he told the Booklovers attendees.
In the novel’s foreword, McLay writes that the first thing he sees in the corners of his childhood mind is “a back alley strewn with garbage and toppled trash cans—the bears are finished their nightly feast. It’s a bright summer morning and I’m shouting my Tarzan yell.”
At one point in the novel, Edward, On Mountaintop Rock’s main protagonist, climbs a tree and looks back at his new friend, Jenny. McLay used the metaphor to encourage would-be wordsmiths in the audience to create a daily habit of reflection.
“Even when you climb into bed at night, look back at what you did all day,” he said.
Those reflections could ignite a spark for their own writing, he suggested.
“The most important thing is to get started,” he said.
Booklovers Weekend was designed to inspire that very thing. Jasper Habitat for the Arts hosted a weekend writing workshop with author and creative nonfiction instructor Roberta Laurie; local music makers Tony and Jack Mastrianni helped evoke an inventive atmosphere; Jasper writers Paulette Dube, Madison Emily and Thomas Trofimuk offered readings; and DreamWrite Publishing, from Sherwood Park, operated a pop-up bookshop.
“With our cultural partners, we hope to grow a literary arts festival,” said Habitat’s Marianne Garrah.
Those who came for the On Mountaintop Rock reading were curious if McLay’s body of work was still growing. Eyes twinkling, the former resident of the “Donald Duck House” on Patricia Street and the curator of a delicious Old Fort Point mystery, hinted that a sequel to his novel was in the works.
“I’m still climbing up and looking back,” he said.
Bob Covey // firstname.lastname@example.org