Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Where Did it Go?

Back in 1986 or so, when I first started writing, I signed up for a
critiquing session led by Claire Harrison, who at the time had over 40
published romance novels to her credit. There were about ten of us, and she
all submitted three chapters ahead of time. We sat in a big circle in Claire's
living room while she shredded us, one by one.

When it was my turn, she said my writing style reminded her of Hotel du Lac,
by Anita Brookner. Then she proceeded to shred my work.

For the next twenty-four years, I searched for Anita's book. This year, I
finally found it, handed in to our Friends of the Library Used Book Sale in
Spencerville. You must understand the magnitude of this find. Spencerville
is a village of 235 people. Our library is small. Hotel du Lac is a tiny
paperback, 184 pages, published in 1984. Of all the gin joints in all the
towns, it wandered into mine.

I pounced on it as soon as I saw it, and rushed home to read it. First I
discovered it had won the Booker Prize. The setting is a small elegant but
understated hotel at the end of the season when guests are few. Our heroine,
Edith, has gone to stay for an undisclosed reason which will be revealed
during the course of the book. Suffice it to say she has been naughty. Here
I discover Anita has what we might call 'a way with words'. She writes with
an understated lusciousness. She uses long sentences and long paragraphs
brimming with visuals. She paints word pictures that suck the reader into
the dreary hotel to wait in stiff politeness listening to the elderly man
play mild selections from post-war musicals on the small upright piano while
the other guests and their eccentricities are revealed.

Here are some samples:

"beyond the grey garden.lay the grey lake, spreading like an anaesthetic
towards the invisible further shore."

"Edith Hope, a writer of romantic fiction under a more thrusting name."

". she contemplated the room, which was the colour of over-cooked veal:
veal-coloured carpet and curtains, high narrow bed with veal-coloured
counterpane, small austere table with a correct chair placed tightly
underneath it, a narrow, costive wardrobe, and, at a very great height above
her head, a tiny brass chandelier, which, she knew, would eventually twinkle
drearily with eight weak bulbs."

". she stepped out into a corridor vibrant with absence."

"The walls seemed to enshrine a distant memory of substantial meals."

This is what Claire Harrison saw in my work? An elegance of phrase? An
adjective-led mood? A lusciousness of description?

And if I had all that, where did it go?

Vicki Cameron is the author of Clue Mysteries and More Clue Mysteries, each
15 short stories based on the board game Clue. Her young adult novel,
Shillings, appeared in 2007. Her stories appear in the Ladies' Killing
Circle anthology series and Storyteller Magazine. Her young adult novel,
That Kind of Money, was nominated for an Edgar and an Arthur Ellis.


  1. It never left you - you've always captured the essence of place and people in a few well chosen words. I particularly love the eastern Ontario mortuary stories.

  2. And where did CH go, we might ask. Nothing new for years according to the internet. You, on the other hand, have a huge body of work published. How many short stories is it now?

  3. I agree with Joan & Sue! Also, I've always loved Anita Brookner's writing, esp. Hotel du Lac. High praise from Claire, whom I also admired. Wonder where she is these days.