Tracy's blog

I’m Tracy Au and I have graduated from the Professional Writing program from university. I am an aspiring screenwriter, so this blog is used to promote my writing and attract people who will hire me to write for your TV show or movie. I write a lot about writing, TV, movies, jokes, and my daily life and opinions. I have another blog promoting my TV project at

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

"Of spinsters, sadists, schoolteachers and Saskatchewan"

May 23, 2016 "Of spinsters, sadists, schoolteachers and Saskatchewan": I cut out this article by Artha van Herk in the Globe and Mail on Apr. 30, 2011:  

In the 1920s and 1930s, hundreds of men and women, educated in central Canada, went west to staff the schools opening across the Prairies. Their situations were tenuous, their pedagogical tools a strap and a piece of chalk, the challenges to their ingenuity substantial. They taught the children of immigrants alongside the children of storekeepers and bankers. Literacy and numeracy were their responsibility and legacy.

Throughout our choppy history of education, such schoolteachers stand as potent metaphors. From spinsters to failed lawyers or artists, those who took up teaching epitomized a distinct breed. Within Canada's fiction, they often serve to illustrate moral dilemmas; but under their white shirt fronts lurked wonderful passions.

In Elizabeth Hay's luminous new novel, Alone in the Classroom, teaching becomes greater than profession and the classroom more expansive than childhood's holding pen. Learning is a tightrope walk that codes lives. And it initiates an inescapable stigmata.
Behind all that a child learns is how every child is taught. This is the kernel of Hay's novel, which braids together several different strands: the history of a family, the process of learning and memory, and the ambush of love.

Told from the perspective of an elusive writer-narrator who tiptoes into her family's history in order to learn about herself, Alone in the Classroom is an intricate personal quiz, a vocabulary test for arduous knowledge. Through the figure of a beloved schoolteacher aunt, the narrator sets out to discover the experiences that shaped her mother and father, at the same time seeking to resolve her own unexpected seduction.

The novel's interior journey is cast into relief by the most interesting character, the aunt, Connie Flood, who believes that "her role as a teacher was to lead children through an anxious passage into a mental clearing." In 1929, Connie encounters, while teaching in a Saskatchewan school, a grim principal, vain and self-important and determined to castigate. Antagonist to this gentleman sadist is a dyslexic boy whom Connie tutors. These two circle a series of grotesque events, culminating in the assault and death of the boy's sister.

Ten years later, they come together again in the town of Argyle, in the Ottawa valley. By then no longer teaching but working as a reporter for a newspaper, Connie Flood reconnects with old and fresh injustices. And as their tensions play out, Connie's fascination with them spills over to her writing niece, the narrator.

The narrator is as much in thrall to the past as children are in thrall to their classrooms and their teachers. Her fascination with the secrets of her parents' generation is honest, but, through Hay's skilled disclosure, borders on the delicate edge of prurience, a brilliantly managed stylistic tactic.

This writer-narrator tries to place herself within her family's story, but often misses obvious connections. A self-conscious and solitary figure, she savours archival information. While her curiosity feeds ours, we cannot help but pity her for her rather hard view of herself, her relentless evaluation of her inheritance.

Alone in the Classroom proceeds as if it were the very process of learning, through indirection and detour, retracing its steps and returning to the scenes of different crimes, a slow and compelling uncurling of discovery. As the narrator discovers, "a hidden symmetry is often at work as we stumble our way through life." That emotional geography is as seductive as all that we cannot know. And it unfolds a valuable lesson in how communities themselves act as voyeuristic schools.

It is clear that patterns of learning set the eerie patterns of human life. So much, from personal enlightenment to history's conflagrations, is accidental knowledge. How does the past recreate us, and why do we spiral back to our parents' and grandparents' secrets, as if to resolve our own? "You touch a place and thousands of miles away another place quivers. You touch a person and down the line the ghosts of relatives move in the wind." If it is true that birthmarks are wounds incurred in a previous life, then no wonder scars are so readily refreshed.

Childhood's intensity is both beautiful and horrific. For all of us, at least one childhood classroom will haunt us forever. There all terror and bliss coruscates.
The smell of chalk, tall windows segregating inside from out, and rows of desks keeping prisoners squirming on their hard wooden seats. That atmosphere may have signalled a time when education meant repetition and dull memorization. The kindness or brutality of a teacher can still mark a life, and the classroom can torment or transform, as it does in this astonishing novel.

Alone in the Classroom is meant to be read slowly, or even better, read twice. The story that unfolds, replete with poetry and punishment, passionate entanglements and incestuous love, and is even richer and more rewarding the second time around.

"Doubt, humility, and perseverance": I cut out this article by Mark Medley in the National Post on Apr. 30, 2011:

Elizabeth Hay, standing with her head slightly askew, studies the bookshelves in the boardroom of her publisher’s downtown Toronto offices. They are filled with volumes from dozens of McClelland and Stewart’s most celebrated writers — Margaret Atwood, Rohinton Mistry, Alice Munro — plus many more out-of-print books from authors long forgotten. “[But] they had the joy of writing the book,” Hay remarks. “And here it is; there’s still some trace.” She seems as much an eager reader, perusing the spines in a second-hand bookstore, as a Giller Prize-winning author whose last novel, Late Nights on Air, sits on a nearby shelf.

Her latest, Alone in the Classroom, arrives in bookstores today. Flickering between the past and the present, Saskatchewan and the Ottawa Valley, Hay weaves together the stories of a young teacher named Connie Flood and Parley Burns, the principal of the small Prairie school where Connie teaches. Parley, a conflicted shell of a man who is at turns both fascinating and frightening, flees town soon after being accused of raping a young girl named Susan; years later, while working as a reporter, Connie encounters Parley — whom Hay describes as “a fascinating conundrum, one of those unforgettable but unfathomable people … a devastating character but is himself devastated” — once again while investigating the murder of a young girl. Adding yet another layer, the novel is narrated by Connie’s niece, Anne, who eventually befriends Susan’s brother, Michael.

Hay had already started writing this book by the time Late Nights on Air was released; in fact, she’s been thinking about writing this novel since 1992, when she moved from New York City, where she worked as a journalist, to the Ottawa Valley, where she still lives today. Her mom grew up in the area in the midst of the Great Depression, and Hay recalls hearing stories set in and around the region, especially one about a young school girl who was raped and murdered in 1937. At the same time, while Hay was researching her Giller Prize-nominated book, A Student of Weather, part of which is set in 1930s Saskatchewan, she came across a story about a crime a principal had committed against a young student. The story stuck with her, and in Alone in the Classroom she combines these two stories into one. As well, not only are her mother’s tales woven into the book, but her father was a principal. She says she enjoys taking personal things “down a fictional track.”

“Will my parents mind seeing a few of these bits of their lives in the book? I think they’re used to it by now.”
Her own track was factual; the 59-year-old Hay was a long-time journalist. (“Strangely enough, there’s an Elizabeth Hay who works at CBC Radio now, and we get confused all the time,” she says. “So I’m given credit for all sorts of things I haven’t done.”) She credits her career in radio with teaching her directness, economy of words and “the ever-present realization that you’re always telling a story.” When her first book, Crossing The Snow Line, was published, William French wrote a review in The Globe and Mail that the book reminded him of Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, “a book I’ve never been able to get through,” Hay admits. “I thought ‘OK, unless I learn how to tell a story, I’m going to end up a fifth-rate Elizabeth Smart.’” It’s a fate she’s thus far avoided, having been nominated (or won) most of the country’s major book prizes.

While Alone in the Classroom may be Hay’s eighth book, she seems just as racked by doubt as when Crossing the Snow Line was published in 1989. As she writes in her latest: “And when is it ever convincing, the belief others have in your abilities? You know perfectly well they can’t see the mess inside you.” Although she’s the winner of (arguably) Canada’s most prestigious literary prize, Hay says she’s still “a complete mess inside” when it comes to writing.

“[It’s] what keeps you humble,” she says. “But, certainly, writing a book is a very messy business for me, and I have kind of a dog’s breakfast around me for a long time — all the time, actually.” Graham Greene was once asked a similar question, she points out; didn’t he, after having published a library’s worth of books, have complete confidence in his abilities when starting something new? It doesn’t really work that way, Hay says.

“I don’t mean to say for a minute that it hasn’t helped to have published books,” she says. “It has helped to have published books, and it does help when they’re recognized. And the Giller gave me a huge boost, which I appreciate enormously. So I think there’s a kind of confidence that does start to build. But it gets beaten down all the time when you’re faced with the bad writing that you’re doing. So you just persevere in the knowledge that, well, you did it a few times before, and you will do it again. Just stick with it.”

"A perpetual learner": I cut out this article by John Barber in the Globe and Mail on Apr. 30, 2011.  He interviews Elizabeth Hay.  However, I can only find the Pressreader article and can't copy and paste it here.


At December 28, 2016 at 9:59 PM , Blogger Blogger said...

Did you know you can create short urls with AdFly and get cash for every click on your short links.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home