Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

IFOA 101

A former insider’s guide to Toronto’s “other” festival
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IFOA 101

By Becky Toyne

In just a few short days, one of the top-ranked literary festivals in the world gets underway. And no, you don’t need to follow it on Twitter from a distance of several thousand miles and multiple time zones: it happens right here in downtown Toronto. Now in its 31st year, the International Festival of Authors (IFOA, eye-eff-oh-eh) spans eleven days and features more than 120 authors in a bevy of public events. In terms of size and international recognition, it’s probably one of the top five such festivals in the world — it’s A-list baby. Unlike Londoners, who have to schlep out to the Welsh border (Hay-on-Wye) or up to Edinburgh (Edinburgh International Book Festival) to experience a literary love-in of this magnitude, we Torontonians can experience it on our own doorstep. A group of the most impressive writers working today will be gathered in one place at one time, and that’s the place we call home. The party is coming to us, People, and you should make it your business to be there.

This year will be my fifth IFOA, but my first as a former festival employee. Now that I can experience the festival without having to worry about how tomorrow’s events are selling, I’m looking forward to sitting in the crowd and just enjoying the show. Finding a route in to festival fever can be daunting for the un(der)initiated, and for people constantly needing to watch the pennies, festivalling can be a pricey pastime too. So for the benefit of IFOA rookies, sometime dabblers and seasoned spectators alike, here are some tips on how to make your festival choices, get the most out of some IFOA networking opportunities, maybe get some career advice, and offset your ticket outlay with a few treats and bargains. This is only a selective list, so if you see me around at the festival (I’ll be there…well…all the time), don’t be shy: come and ask me!

DON'T

Don't dismiss it as being too expensive. I know we’re all strapped for cash, and, thanks to HST (boo), IFOA tickets have gone up this year. Eighteen bucks a pop can seem like a big commitment. But think of it this way: remember those Londoners I mentioned above? If they want to go to a badass literary festival, they have to cough up for long-distance travel and a hotel room. Your $18 and a bike ride home suddenly seems a bit more accessible, no?

DO

Do make the most of potential bargains. The flipside of the HST increase is some relative deals to be had on marquee events. Unlike a standard event ticket, tickets to the Scotiabank Giller Prize and Governor General’s Literary Awards readings have held firm at $25. Comparatively, this year is better value for money to see those nominees. If the one author you’re desperate to see is Alexander MacLeod, consider getting a ticket to his Giller reading instead of one of his other events. Then you’ll be treated to the full list of shortlisters while you’re there.

DON'T

Don't pooh-pooh readings as being boring. Bad ones are, it’s true, and with four authors on the bill you’ll be fidgeting for a long time in your seat if you get it wrong. Thanks to YouTube and podcasts though, selecting a reading doesn’t need to be such a crapshoot. Find out if someone’s worth seeing. In addition to being relied upon to say some crowd-pleasing things about how much he likes Canada, Richard Ford (and his soul-piercing blue eyes) makes for captivating listening. I’d go and see him read from the phone book. Giles Blunt can somehow keep you grinning even while reading gruesome passages with his full cast of character voices. Meaghan Strimas and Len Gasparini are terrific, and like a number of poets on the lineup, first won their IFOA places by reading in competition (Meaghan in 2009, Gasparini and others at an event back in March).

DO

Do check out the free signings (listed in print materials only) in York Quay Centre. Unless the author you want to meet is only appearing at the Fleck Dance Theatre (hard luck Franzen and Gibson fans) you don’t need to attend a ticketed event to still be able to meet him or her. You and your backlist can just turn up and form an orderly line in Ben McNally’s bookstore.

DO

Do take your student and/or proof-that-you-are-still-in-the-fresh-flush-of-youth photo ID. Subject to availability, IFOA hands out free tickets to students and bookworms under 24. Cool, huh?

DON'T

Don't buy your tickets without double-checking online or with the box office that the author you want to see is still in the lineup. Things can and do go wrong, and the best laid schemes o’ mice and men… etc. etc. Make sure that the event advertised in print is still the event taking place in practice.

DO

Do go to the taping of a radio show! Once upon a time this proposition would have seemed much more exciting than it does now, but the printed book is itself a nostalgic object, so why not indulge in some olde worldy broadcast charm as well? Eleanor Wachtel will be talking 20 years of books with four novelists, and taping the discussion for CBC Radio One’s Writers & Company on October 23.

DO

Do keep your eyes peeled for chances to snag freebies. On Twitter, @ifoa and well-read types such as @nowtoronto and @walrusmagazine and will run contests over the next couple of weeks. The IFOA eNewsletter also gives you the chance to win tickets.

DO

Do spend time in the Festival Hub (in the main festival building) between events. The authors can often be found shopping for books after their onstage events are over.

DON'T

Don't throw away your ticket stub. You might win $500 worth of books. ($18 - $500 = net profit of $482 from attending!)

DO

Do check out some brainy totty (ahem, Paolo Giordano). OK, so this is a slightly less intellectual route in to the festival, but good-looking people who have a way with a semi-colon are extra alluring, right? (See also Catton, Eleanor; Ferris, Joshua; Forbes, Elena… Toronto-based hotties: I’m not naming you, but you know who you are.)

DO

Do reserve some space in your bag for swag. If The Walrus is handing out copies at the “An Evening with The Walrus” events on October 28 (and it’s likely they will be), you can offset your bounty against your ticket outlay. 1 x IFOA ticket @ $18 – 1 x Walrus @ $6.95 = net cost of ticket $11.05.

DO

Do ask British-born, U.S.-based R.J. Ellory about the time he was arrested for stealing chickens named after the Canadian provinces (but maybe DON’T ask him what happened to Alberta …)

DO

Do check out the “How to be a writer/publisher” type events. If you’re looking for a way into the industry, check out the (free) publishers’ panel on October 25, or the Humber Masterclass on October 24. Lots of round table events also deal with the writers’ craft. Antanas Sileika’s first fiction event on October 24 promises to be fascinating, inspirational, and loaded with practical advice too.

DON'T

Don't believe it’s Farley Mowat’s last book. (We’ve heard that before…)

DO

Do Tweet about your IFOA adventures – you’ll make some good virtual contacts.

DON'T

Don't try and nick Jonathan Franzen’s glasses, even if you do get close enough. It’s stupid. And it’s mean.

DO

Do ask someone to sign your eReader. I dare you.

DON'T

Don't procrastinate too long to get your plan in order. It’ll be over before you know it, and nobody cares if your contribution to the post-festival conversation is, “I meant to go, but…”


Becky Toyne is a freelance editor and publicist based in Toronto. Since embarking on a career in publishing in 2002, she has worked as an editor at Random House UK and Random House of Canada; as a bookseller, event planner and publicist for Toronto’s Type Books; and as Communications Coordinator for the International Festival of Authors and Authors at Harbourfront Centre. She is a member of the communications committee for the Writers’ Trust of Canada, and the publicist for the 2010 Writers' Trust Awards. She tweets about life in book land as @MsRebeccs.

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