Author Tags: Fiction
In 2014, the much-nominated M.A.C. (Marion) Farrant received the $5,000 City of Victoria Butler Prize for her fiction collection, The World Afloat. Farrant’s work had been nominated for many awards including The Butler Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, the VanCity Book Prize, the National Magazine Awards, the Gemini Awards and two Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards for her play My Turquoise Years.
Born in Sydney, Australia, and now living in North Saanich, M.A.C. Farrant is the author of mostly satirical and philosophical short fiction [see list below], as well as the novel-length memoir, My Turquoise Years, a book of essays/humour, The Secret Lives of Litterbugs, and the stage adaptation of her memoir, My Turquoise Years, which premiered April 4- May 4, 2013 at the Arts Club Theatre’s Granville Island Stage in Vancouver.
Her stories have been described as absurdist skewerings of family life. [See John Moore's review of The World Afloat: Miniatures -- provided below] Her work has been dramatized for television and appears frequently on CBC Radio. She has published in magazines such as Adbusters and Geist. Her many anthology contributions include “And Other Stories” (Ed. George Bowering, Talonbooks, 2001) and a commissioned piece on the work of Leon Rooke, (Exile Editions, 2003). She has been the West Coast organizer of the annual Canadian small press ReLit Awards, Co-Organizer, with Pauline Holdstock, of the Sidney Reading Series, 1994-2003, 2005-2007, and a faculty member at UVic’s Creative Writing Department, the Banff Centre, the Victoria School of Writing, and was Writer-in-Residence at Macquarrie University in Sydney Australia. Also a former social worker, she has since become a full-time writer.
Farrant's memoir My Turquoise Years mainly focusses upon her family life when she was living in Cordova Bay in Victoria. It became the basis for her stage play, My Turquoise Years, a comic coming-of-age story set in 1960, a time of postwar optimism. In the stageplay, the narrator is fourteen. Plastic reigned and the colour turquoise was the height of chic. Marion, raised by Aunt Elsie, has grown up hearing tales of her glamorous, globe-trotting mother, Nancy. Just as Marion is blossoming into womanhood, Nancy suddenly announces a visit to Canada, throwing everyone into a tizzy.
Sick Pigeon (Thistledown Press, 1991)
Raw Material (Arsenal Pulp Press, 1993)
Altered Statements (Arsenal Pulp Press, 1995)
Word of Mouth (Thistledown Press, 1996)
What’s True, Darling (Polestar Books 1997)
Girls Around The House (Polestar Books, 1999)
Darwin Alone In The Universe (Talonbooks, 2003)
My Turquoise Years (Greystone/Douglas & McIntyre, 2004)
The Breakdown So Far (Talonbooks, 2007)
The Secret Lives of Litterbugs And Other (True) Stories (Key Porter, 2009)
Down the Road to Eternity: New & Selected Fiction (Talonbooks, 2009)
The Strange Truth About Us – a novel of absence (Talonbooks, 2011) 978-0-088922-668-5 $16.95
The World Afloat: Miniatures (Talon 2014) $12.95 978-0-88922-838-2
Raw Material (Berkeley Horse/1989)
childless (Berkeley Horse/91)
Poor Norman (Berkeley Horse/93)
MAC (Prose & Contexts/94)
Three (Prose & Contexts/96)
Diana Ross In Wax (Prose & Contexts/97)
Gifts (Hawthorne/Reference West/99)
The Art Tree (Far Field Press/01)
"Rob's Guns & Ammo" (from "Sick Pigeon" made into a 30 minute feature by Bravo! Television, 1995. Replayed many times.) Nominated for a Gemini Award for the actress Liisa Repo-Martel who played the lead role.
Grain Magazine Writing Contest, 1st prize for “We Keep The Party Going”, Saskatoon, Sask., April/02
BC Alternative Writing & Design Contest, 1st Prize for “Darwin Alone In The Universe” (fiction), Jan/02
Canada Council Grant to Creative Writers: 1994, 1998, 2001, 2003
British Columbia Arts Council: 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998
British Columbia Arts Council: Travel Grant (Australia), 1998
Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade: Travel Grant (Australia), 1998
1996 Gemini Awards: Nominated for “Robs Guns & Ammo”, Best Actress in a Short Dramatic Program
VanCity Women’s Book Prize: 1994, Nominated for Raw Material (Arsenal, 1993)
Toronto Star Fiction Contest: 1994, Runner-up, “The Best Time”
Literary Writes V11, Fed of BC Writers: 1993, “Refusal”
Commonwealth Writers Prize: 1992, shortlisted for Sick Pigeon (Thistledown, 1991)
B.C. Book Prizes: 1992, shortlisted for Sick Pigeon (Thistledown, 1991)
- ReLit Awards, Host & organizer, West Coast event, June 28, 2003
- Judge, Fiction, 3Rd Annual Alternative Writing & Design Contest, Ripple Effect Press, Vancouver, B.C. January 2003
- Bowen Island Arts Festival, August 2002, Fiction workshop & reading
- Juror/(Fiction)/Organizer/MC, ReLit Awards, West Coast Event, June 2002
- Victoria School of Writing, Co-Judge (with Susan Mayse), Postcard Fiction Contest, May 2002
- Victoria School of Writing, Spring fiction course, April 2002
- Judge, Canadian Author’s Association, Fiction Contest, Nov/Dec 2001
- Victoria School of Writing, Fall fiction course, October 2001
- Organizer/MC, ReLit Awards, West Coast Event (Pat Bay) June 16/01
- Victoria School of Writing, July 16-20, 2001, Faculty, Short Fiction
- Sidney Reading Series, 1994/95, 1995/96, 1996/97, 1997/98, 1998/99, 1999/2000, 2000/2001-- Co -Host & organizer with Pauline Holdstock, sponsored by the Sidney & North Saanich Community Arts Council & the Canada Council
- Reader/Judge, 1999 TWUC Short Fiction Contest
- Judge, Prism International Literary Magazine, University of British Columbia, Short Fiction Contest, Spring 1998
- Judge, Monday Magazine Fiction Contest, Victoria B.C. May 1997
- Correspondant, "Geist" magazine, Vancouver B.C. 1996 -
- Reader/Judge, 1995 TWUC Literary contest for emerging writers
- Consultant (representing TWUC), Ministry of Education, Language Arts English K - 12, Curriculum Review, Vancouver B.C. December 9, l994
- Jury, BC Cultural Fund Scholarship, Dept. Tourism and Culture, July l993 (with Linda Rogers & Michael Kenyon)
[BCBW 2014] "Fiction"
Darwin Alone in the Universe (Talon $17.95)
Exploring fiction’s relationship to the corporate construction of reality, these stories show literature is an antidote to the media’s stranglehold on imagination. Sounds heavy, but Farrant’s writing is known for its playfulness. 0-88922-471-4
[Spring 2003 BCBW]
Girls Around the House (Polestar $18.95)
Self-declared “anthropologist of the absurd”, M.A.C. Farrant is author of the award-winning What’s True, Darling and co-producer of the Sidney Reading Series. Her alter-ego Marion in Girls Around the House (Polestar $18.95) is a fiction writer ‘in a smallish town on a large-ish island’. In these stories she’s a reluctant Mother Hubbard to a bingo-playing mother-in-law who lives in the basement like an ancient mysterious troll and three randy teenagers who have only one question in life: “Where’s the party?” Marion’s husband forms a “Spouses of Writers Support Group” and dreams of escape to a shed in the woods. When she’s not writing haiku, former-hippie Marion embarks on monthly condom runs for her brood or cooks a book while composing supper. Domesticity wrestles creativity—and wins. 1-896095-93-3
[BCBW AUTUMN 1999]
The Congress of Human Wonders (Polestar $16.95)
"The Care and Cultivation of Boring Relatives" is among the survival tips proferred by M.A.C. Farrant in The Congress of Human Wonders (Polestar $16.95), a collection of stories and advice.
1 896095 28 3
The Breakdown So Far
The Jonathan Swift of the bingo hall and elder-care, the Alexander Pope of pet-care and the dinner parties of the liberal intelligentsia, Marion Farrant continues her assault on the unaccountably disaffected and disillusioned of the Western world with The Breakdown So Far, her eighth volume of extremely short stories for those of us who seem to have lost both our way and our attention span. Unsparing in her critique of the New Age syncretism the mall culture has substituted for authentic emotion and belief, our adoption of Buddhism appears in her work as a rationalization for our ubiquitous materialism of the soul, Zen as our guiltless doctrine of neglect.
Yet as in all such relentlessly dystopian social parodies, there resides behind each of these brief entertainments a stifled scream for help, a trapped yearning for genuine human contact and sympathy, an arrested existential lust for meaning. Where has our sense of order, propriety, history and community gone? Farrant's stories beg to wonder—stories that span the stylistic range of personal journal, objective reportage, fiction, fantasy and writers’ workshop exercise? In order to answer these questions, Farrant’s new stories meticulously trace the breakdown of our language by ridding it of everything unnecessary and excessive: the breakdown of the post- Kierkegaard, post-Sartre existential position through its extension into the absurd; the breakdown of sense and sensibility through its alienation from perception; and the breakdown of discourse in literary craft, the social occasion and the commoditization of the individual and its attendant merchandizing of desire. Each of these stories is a new instance of the author’s ongoing attempt at understanding language ironically—through itself—a willingness to let the deadly serious be as playful as it wants to be, a courageous shedding of what Tom Robbins called “the tyranny of the dull mind.”
-- Talonbooks, 2007
Down the Road to Eternity: New and Selected Fiction
from Sheila Munro
Down the Road to Eternity: New and Selected Fiction by M.A.C. Farrant (Talonbooks $19.95)
A self-proclaimed “archaeologist of the absurd,” M.A.C.(Marion) Farrant of Sidney is perhaps Canada’s most ascerbic and intelligent humourist. Farrant’s stories are not fiction in any conventional sense. Don’t expect to find much character development, or conflict, or plot (in other words, realism) on her pages.
Down the Road to Eternity: New and Selected Stories is a fantastic trip through twenty years of metaphorical and metaphysical imaginings.
Most of the stories are short, some no longer than a page. Other selections are essays, vignettes, stream-of-consciousness musings and internal monologues.
Throughout it is the author’s wild imagination, her willingness to break the rules, that is on display, that creates the fireworks.
It seems Farrant can (and does) write convincingly on just about any subject, finding humour (and pathos) in the most unlikely places.
Where else would you find a conversation between Barbie and her younger sister Skipper, a funeral for a budgie who has committed suicide, or a man serving as material for his wife’s fiction who lives in a cage?
Farrant’s stories can be wickedly funny, but they are rarely clever for the sake of being clever (okay the description of the nativity scene made out of luncheon meat may be an exception).
Generally, though, there is a seriousness, an awareness of uncomfortable truths anchoring the metaphorical flights, and of course this is what the absurd is all about: finding a way to talk about things we can’t talk about any other way.
Farrant is a trapeze artist of the imagination, swinging over the existential void.
We meet a hermit who digs himself a trench as a bulwark against a postmodern age, a man suffering from EDT (end times trauma), street poets facing extinction, and a husband who won’t get off the couch until the polar ice cap stops melting.
The selections from Farrant’s earliest collection, Sick Pigeon, though still fanciful, read more like conventional stories than her later ones, with their tales of the lonely and the dispossessed.
One story is about a nineteen-year-old welfare mother with seventeen cats who barricades the door against the social workers. They are always asking, “How does it feel, Sybilla, to be on welfare? Oh terrific. No, really Sybilla, how does it really make you feel?”
In her second collection, Raw Material, Farrant unleashes her genius for the absurd. Her writing becomes more daring, more zany.
In The Comma Threat, a woman is giving away commas. “I gave some to my aunt to decorate her curtains; she flung handfuls of them against the drapes hoping for a Jackson Pollock effect.” When all the commas are gone, the piece turns into one long run-on sentence.
Bright Gymnasium of Fun is an absurd riff on the people who make laugh tracks. Who are these people? Who pays them? Without them, how would we know what is funny?
One of the funniest stories, The Heartspeak Wellness Retreat, spoofs the pseudo-profundity of New Age beliefs. The characters include a couple who consult a book called Instant Feng Shui. They decide they must bomb their house to get rid of bad karma.
Farrant frequently invokes the names of the great masters of literature and art, musing on the works of Blake, Borges, Nabokov, Chekhov, and Georgia O’Keefe, among others. Sometimes she writes stories about actual writers, one involves eating beans with Leonard Cohen and another recounts Dorothy Parker’s rounds of cocktail parties at the Algonquin Hotel.
My favorite of the stories in this vein is Alice & Stein, a mini-biography of the literary icon Gertrude Stein and her life partner Alice B. Toklas.
Stein, who is busy “building platforms” for herself from which to make her pronouncements on art, is juxtaposed with her amanuensis (Alice) who sweeps floors and types manuscripts, but nonetheless manages to have her own “white wine with breakfast” period. The reader is left wondering whose life has been better, the one who creates, or the lover who loves.
The selections from the most recent work, North Pole, tend to be more philosophical as the mature artist contemplates the diminishing days, struggles to define what writing should be, and considers the surreal prospect of the nursing home.
But shot through the darkness are explosions of light: small epiphanies, unexpected revelations, quiet affirmations.
“There are times when the experience of living in this world is rapturous. And there are times when it curls us crying in our beds. Between these extremes we tell each other what we know...”
A new collection of Farrant’s personal essays on family life, The Secret Lives of Litter Bugs (Key Porter Books $17.95) was also published earlier this year. These complement her coming-of-age memoir, My Turquoise Years, published in 2004.
-- review by Sheila Munro, a freelance writer in Powell River.
My Turquoise Years at Arts Club
Press Release (2013)
VANCOUVER, BC — Memoir of a Canadian girlhood. Based on M.A.C. Farrant’s memoir of her fourteenth summer, My Turquoise Years is a comic coming-of-age story set in 1960, a time of postwar optimism, when plastic reigned and the colour turquoise was the height of chic. Marion, raised by Aunt Elsie in sleepy Cordova Bay, has grown up hearing tales of her glamorous, globe-trotting mother, Nancy. Just as Marion is blossoming into womanhood, Nancy suddenly announces a visit to Canada, throwing everyone into a tizzy.
“Farrant’s book was first brought to our attention by Nicola Cavendish, who, after reading it on CBC’s Between the Covers, thought it would make a lovely play. She was right,” said Rachel Ditor, the play’s director and dramaturg. “Part nostalgic look at daily life in 1960, My Turquoise Years is also a reminder of the social constraints of the nuclear family back then. What makes the play contemporary, though, is its affirmation that family is more than biology; it’s who you choose to share your home with. That life is up for invention.”
Farrant, born in 1947 in Sydney, Australia, but resident of Vancouver Island since 1953, is the author of thirteen books, predominately short and humorous fiction. Once described as “Canada’s most acerbic and intelligent humourist,” she weaves dry observation and absurdity with a knowing eloquence. An alumna of Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria, Farrant is a full-time writer. She is a contributor to Adbusters and Geist, a frequent book reviewer for TheVancouver Sun and The Globe and Mail, and organizer of the Sidney Reading Series. Nominated for multiple literary awards, Farrant has received several writing grants at the national and provincial levels. Her work has been anthologized widely, and adapted for radio, television, and now, for the first time, the stage.
By M.A.C. Farrant. Starring Peter Anderson, Georgina Beaty, Bridget Esler, David Marr, Wendy Noel, Dawn Petten, Mike Rinaldi. Director and Dramaturg Rachel Ditor. Set Designer Alison Green. Costume Designer Christine Reimer. Lighting Designer Adrian Muir. Sound Designer Mike Rinaldi. Stage Manager Ingrid Turk. Assistant Stage Manager April Starr Land
ABOUT THE ARTS CLUB
The Arts Club Theatre Company, now in its 49th season, is the largest not-for-profit organization of its kind in Western Canada. Led by Artistic Managing Director Bill Millerd and Executive Director Howard R. Jang, it offers professional theatre at three venues—the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, Granville Island Stage, and Revue Stage—as well as on tour throughout the province.
The World Afloat — Miniatures by M.A.C. Farrant (Talonbooks $12.95)
from John Moore
Like everything else on this planet, fiction faces a simple choice; evolve or become extinct.
M.A.C. Farrant continues to make it clear she has no intention of walking with the dinosaurs.
With her new collection of surreal ‘miniatures,’ The World Afloat, Farrant reappears to remind us that CanLit still has a few bats in the attic.
While university creative writing departments from coast to coast are no doubt preparing a new generation of authors to follow in the footsteps of the Nobel Prize-winning Alice Munro, Farrant’s The World Afloat is tuned to an FM wave-band in which brevity is the soul of writ, perhaps because contemporary narrative fiction has to compete with texts composed on cell phones.
A perceptive Globe & Mail reviewer once called Farrant “the bizarro Alice Munro,” a particularly apt description of the narrative style of her collection, Darwin Alone in the Universe (Talonbooks, 2003).
While many of those stories superficially resembled traditional short stories in length and opening lines, we quickly found ourselves sucked through the looking-glass by a seductively subversive parody of conventional narrative that is disrupted by filmic jump-cuts and tectonic clashes of inner and outer reality. The cumulative effect leaves us feeling like patrons trapped in a fire-bombed cabaret where the comedy duo of Franz Kafka and Groucho Marx are working the smoldering stage because the show must go on.
The ‘miniatures’ of The World Afloat are briefer, and as wild as colourful birthday helium balloons released into a hurricane; small points of cheerful light whirled in a dark and violent wind.
In painting, Rene Magritte and Giorgio de Chirico represent the extremes of surrealist art—Magritte’s playful, cheerful juxtapositions in which defiance of gravity, ‘floating,’ is a recurrent theme, versus de Chirico’s dark and deserted distorted cityscapes, anchored by unspeakable anxieties. These are the emotional poles of our inner lives, our dreams, and it’s clear which side of the table Farrant hovers weightlessly above, tipping a signature bowler hat.
Necessarily surreal because of their extreme brevity, stories like those in The World Afloat used to be called ‘postcard stories’—though nobody younger than your grandmother actually sends postcards anymore. It’s not a new concept; Franz Kafka and Ernest Hemingway both struggled to write very short stories because they recognized that such stories demand not only more from the writer; they force readers to slow down, go back, re-read, and make sure they haven’t missed not just something, but everything—the literary equivalent of Slow Food.
Nobel Prize-wining Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata wrote numerous (what he called) “palm of the hand” stories, some of which were attempts to condense his already notably brief novels into a few terse paragraphs. In 1987, Quebec writer Gilles Archambault won the Governor General’s Award for French language fiction for L’obsedante obese, (published in English as In a Minor Key by Oberon Books in 1990), a classic of the genre probably little-known to most English readers other than, possibly, M.A.C. Farrant.
Since the early 1990s, these kinds of stories have been called ‘flash fictions’ and published extensively on websites. Most of them are not memorable in the conventional sense. There are no ironic, dramatic plot twists in the manner of Maugham or de Maupassant. Like poems, or recalled fragments of dreams, these kinds of stories are meant to resonate, rather than reveal, to stir up the mental sludge, flush out the septic tank of the subconscious, to make us feel more truly aware and alive.
M.A.C. Farrant has made a career—a dozen books thus far, and counting—of literary subversion. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to don the rubber gloves and apron and put an edge on the knife if fictional narrative is to be more than a self-indulgent hobby for egoists or a domesticated cash cow for cynical hacks who’d rather be writing film scripts. 978-0889228382
John Moore reviews fiction from Garibaldi Highlands.