Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

John Scully

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John Scully is a freelance writer, reporter and producer. He has covered stories in seventy countries for major international and current affairs organizations such as the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He has won numerous awards and nominations for his work as a journalist and as a documentary producer. John's book, Am I Dead Yet? A Journalist's Perspective on Terrorism, was published in spring 2008 by Fitzhenry and Whiteside. His website is www.amideadyet.org.

Ten Questions with John Scully

OB:

What was your first publication and where was it published?

JS:

Am I Dead Yet?, Toronto

OB:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

JS:

Absorbing the rythmns of Nova Scotia stepdancers on a TV special.

OB:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

JS:

The Deptford Trilogies, Robertson Davies; The Stone Angel, Carol Shields; The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje.

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

Eight is Enuff!!

Cottagers and tourists can take a hike, not into nearby Algonquin Park where terrorists disguised as bears and moose will surely lurk, but back to their homes in the city. They won't be welcome in this usually visitor-crazy Mecca called Muskoka. No, officials don't fear an outbreak of bubonic plague, although locals may consider it to have happened, for in exactly two years' time, this place will be swamped with 5000 media and as many security operatives, politicians and their hangers on. So stand by for the most vacuous, meaningless, most-heralded event of each year, the G8 summit. In 2010 it will be staged at the Deerhurst Resort – Spa, Golf Course, Heated Pool-Cool Pool, Three Restaurants, Four Bars, Much Waiting, High Prices, Low Service – and Country Club just up the road from me.

Men From Mars – But Which One?

I've been vindicated by a group of British school kids. After my diatribe against John McCain's book on "people who made a difference," and the awful Sir Winston Churchill, justification has come from of all corporations, Walt Disney, in conjunction with the Royal Astronomical Society.

Wave Goodbye — Please!

To coincide with the visit earlier this year of hopefully not-the-next-President of the United States, John McCain, the London Daily Telegraph has published an excerpt from his book, Hard Times: Great Decision and Extraordinary People Who Made Them.

The names are tediously predictable and have been written about a million times. So, even though he had a co-writer, it can't have taken him more than ten minutes to dash off another vital entry into our literary pantheon. Uncharacteristically, he has not named himself in this list of "great achievers" who include Winston Churchill, Jackie Robinson, Abraham Lincoln, Anwar Sadat, Menachim Begin, and one woman, Channel swimmer, Gertrude Ederle.

Is That a Pizza in Your Pocket or Are You Just Glad to See Me?

You've probably heard the story by now of the Winnipeg pizza parlour that delivers pornographic pictures with its pies. All undressed, no doubt. It's a mystery to me how anyone could be so desperate for a slice of action they'd order a porno pizza before taking matters into their own hands. Not a pretty picture. Don't even think about the mess… crumbs and cheese and salami, I mean.

I have some advice for the purveyors to the perverted: however understandably desperate you feel in Winnipeg, do not do this in Baghdad.

Why the Surge Became a Gift to the Taliban

The surge is a pullulating, throbbing, testosterone-exploding success. That's the verdict of the U.S. military and mandarin minds who have declared that the temporary addition of thousands of troops to the battle in Iraq has got the enemy on the run. The same dreamboats, or nightmare carriers, attribute the surge to the drops in coalition deaths and violent incidents in Baghdad in particular, and other parts of Iraq. Why, even the nascent golden boy of U.S. politics, the new keeper of the keys to Camelot – or should that be shamalot? — Barack Obama changed his mind, so impressed was he with the surge. If ever you want a reason to doubt his intelligence, using both definitions of the word, this is the issue with which to challenge him and anyone else who is convinced the tactic worked.

Writers - A Fat Lot of Good!

"What do you do?" The small, bird-like doctor with a British accent asked me with no apparent interest.

"I'm a journalist. A writer."

No longer a virgin. Yes! This was the very first time I had called myself a writer in public.

"What? So you write for fun?" he asked as though the lump sitting before him in an open-backed hospital gown - I can never figure out how to tie those things up — couldn't even write his own name.

"Well. Not just for fun. I've had a book published and I'm Writer in Residence this month for Open Book Toronto."

Nobody Knows the Broccoli He's Seen

The broccoli on his plate almost reached the ceiling. Stir-fried, not shaken. Behind the mountain of greenery was a unique Canadian character, successful multi-media artist – as in paint, pen and song, not Internet, iTunes and iPods – and political shit-disturber, Mendelson Joe, aged 65. We met for lunch at the China House, one of Huntsville (pop. 20,000), Ontario's two ethnic restaurants, both Chinese, both very north-of-Toronto-Canadian.

Joe shovelled in the broccoli by the bucket-load because, nearly twenty years ago, he self-diagnosed diabetes — combined with the knowledge that George Bush hates it – convinced Joe that this was the way to good health in or out of sorts.

Brief Encounter

"Hey John! There's a guy trying to track you down."

The blue mini-van pulled alongside me outside the small, neat village store. A cheery Peggy, the local librarian, yelled out: "He asked me if I knew you. He wanted to know if you gave talks and things like that."

"Who is he? What did you tell him?"

"I told him you do and he left me his card. Here."

Alexi: Not Dead Yet in North America

Solzhenitsyn's dead! Solzenitsyn's dead! So f'n what. That seemed to be the attitude of the U.S. and Canadian media who appeared more concerned with Morgan Freeman's car crash than with the death of the man who has been called "The Champion of Freedom and Justice" and "The Keeper of the Russian Conscience."

Open Book Anglican

The old 1930s pop song, "The Lambeth Walk," never took such a pounding as it did at this decade's Lambeth Conference of the world's Anglican Bishops in England. (The US prefer to be called Episcopalians). Man, did those heavily mitred big heads ever need a lesson in rhythm and pews.

Open Book Obama

Ever had your fortune told? The only attempt I made to find out what delights beckoned in my future was to play with a home-made ouija board with a couple of fellow-pimply, pubescent teenagers. We were astounded when the glass bumped its way, driven by a truly mysterious force, to words like "girls" and "bras" and "fu–". It always stopped short of spelling out what really lay, as it were, in our drooling future. Damn! It’s not going to the "ck." Must have been our Catholic schooling and one of the hands of God on the glass that forever pushed it to the final letter-"n". No "cks" for these young Turks- or something that rhymes with it.

The Lies You Are Told

Want to know if the media is in a healthy, rigorous state? Can you trust the news you are consuming? The surest way to find out if journalism's pulse is beating strongly is by going to, of all places, the health pages or websites. And a warning: if you believe what you see on TV, especially in those dreadful "Your Health" segments, then I've got millions of bucks in a Nigerian bank that's all yours.

The TV segments are designed simply to grab your attention and hold it for a maximum of two minutes. In than time, flashing by are headlines, impossibly short clips from researchers, doctors and patients and a sign-off from a T'nT (go figure) blond with about as much expertise in medicine as I do in astrophysics. In depth, it ain't. But is it true? Not often.

Open Book China

The last time I was in China they took us to see a duck farm. To this day I don't now why, except that was only thing they would let us a film. Ducks. Cops and goons followed us everywhere and when we weren't under their tender care, we were confined to our hotel.

Now this same country is staging the Olympic Games. They've come a long way… or have they? I guess a flat "no", would be my answer. These games should be boycotted. Just like the IOC should have stopped the games in Munich when 11 Israeli athletes were massacred.

Open Book Clement: The Cottager's Revenge

The Internet has won! Newspapers are dead!! (AP. July 24, 2008-U.S.Regional and national newspaper publishers, already staggering with a drop in ad revenue more severe than the industry has seen since the Great Depression, say the second half of 2008 may be even worse. )Well, it's not over quite yet. Sure, the Net has forced fading newspapers to make many changes, few of them good – major lay-offs, less foreign coverage, less analysis, more fears, more tears, more fluff. But there is one space desperately pressured editors dare not touch. And it's a surprising one in the era of chat rooms, text messaging and Facebook -- Letters to the Editor. From the portentous national dailies to the rambling, often silly local rags, Letters to the Editor continue to dominate even the most threatened opinion pages.

Ugly Bobby: A Message from the Front

It's a powerful piece of writing from the splendid South African newspaper, the Mail and Guardian. In a savage attack on Robert Mugabe, of Zimbabwe, it makes these disturbing, yet brutally true observations:

Who Was He? Um… Ah… Um…

He was just another victim of just another war. This time, the Israelis versus the Palestinians. I saw him dead in a ditch in the hills high above Beirut. The scorching sun offered no dignity to the yellowing corpse whose tattered militia uniform became his death shroud. Alone and anonymous. A corpse with no name.

Phones and Fists: A Bloody Nightmare

"John! I want you to go to emergency right now! You've got total kidney failure!"

The phone had irritably blasted out its summons. A telemarketer? Screw it. But one of the few manageable gimmicks of on the modern phone, call display, persuaded me to answer. It was only nine on the morning but my family doctor – waiting room time forty-five minutes—was quite a-quiver. He'd just seen my latest blood test results. They indicated high potassium levels and other signs of the further disintegration of an aging buffoon.

"Any emerg.?"

"It doesn't matter. Just go! Now! Tell them your creatinine and potassium levels are way off. Tell them to give you intravenous fluids. Hurry, John, hurry!"

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.