I am a big believer in lists. Grocery lists. To-do lists. Lists on phones and bits of envelopes and bills. Lists are satisfying to write, and even more satisfying to work through. But best-of lists, the kind of lists which flood journals and newspapers towards the end of each year, summarising “The 10 Best Books of 2019” or “The 100 Best Books of the 21st Century”—even though we’re only a fifth of the way through that century—are a pet peeve of mine.
“We’re thinking of moving to the country,” I told mystery writer Louise Penny when I bumped into her at the Knowlton Literary Festival in 2010, adding that my husband and I weren’t sure if it was the right thing for our writing careers. Penny was enthusiastic: “Do it,” she said, “while you can!” A few months later, we bought a 200-year-old farmhouse in the tiny hamlet of Hatley.
For Penny, living in the country proved no hindrance to her career. Her depiction of the fictional village of Three Pines and the eccentric characters who inhabit it launched her to international success. Now on the sixteenth volume of her Inspector Gamache series, she has sold over six million books worldwide.
The first year after I had a concussion was a blur. I was dead to the world for three months, going in and out of sleep, exhausted. I had vertigo and difficulties with light, sound, and language. No reading. No computers. No writing. Definitely no multitasking. I had to rest for far more hours than seemed viable and consequently had to suddenly quit a few organizations I led, with no succession plan in place. I closed my small press, or as it turned out, put it on hiatus. I simply had no choice.
As with a stroke or cancer, a traumatic brain injury can be an opportunity to reexamine one’s life and priorities.
“What do we call you?” is a question I’ve gotten used to hearing, especially in the writing world. I write now as K.B. Thors, but up until the end of 2017 I was publishing poetry, translations, and essays under the name K.T. Billey. My legal name is Kara Billey Thordarson. If I meet you, I’ll introduce myself as Kara.
That might seem all over the place, but the evolution of my nom de plume mirrors the development not just of my writing but of my self. I’d encourage any writer to experiment with their own creative license, no matter what a brand expert might say.
I am bad at saying no. As part of a better-late-in-life-than-never self-improvement exercise, I try to turn down extra work—especially the non-paying variety.
So last summer, when Michelle Sylvestre of the Make A Wish Foundation phoned to tell me about a volunteer opportunity—Raphaëlla Vaillancourt, a young survivor of a life-threatening illness, wished to publish a book and needed mentoring—I referred Michelle to Lori Schubert at the Quebec Writers’ Federation.
A few days later, Lori contacted me. If the QWF could fund a mentorship for Raphaëlla, would I take the job?
In the hospitality room at the Hôtel Gouverneurs in Trois-Rivières, you are greeted by two perky volunteers whose first question after introductions is: “Will you three be reading the French translations of your poems yourselves, or will you be requiring the services of a French reader?” Oh, my, you think. What translations? The hotel carpet begins to yaw under your chair. What was I thinking coming to a poetry festival in a city whose population is 97 percent French—without translations?