Thursday, January 19, 2012


Not your average book launch

Peggy Blair is my idea of a Renaissance woman. She's a lawyer, a realtor, a visual artist and a mystery writer and her debut novel, The Beggar's Opera, is creating a big buzz in the publishing world.

The early reviews are in and they're darned good. Jim Napier, of Deadly Diversions calls it “a nuanced account of the struggles of two men to comprehend the sudden and unexpected turns in their complex lives. Blair nicely strings the reader along, casting doubt on what’s real and what’s imaginary, while serving up a tale that combines a penetrating commentary on Cuban life with a whodunit full of twists and turns … readers can look forward to following the further exploits of the enigmatic Cuban police detective.”

I've preordered the book and I'm looking forward to reading it but what's really caught my attention is the launch on February 16th at the Orange Art Gallery at the Parkdale Market, Ottawa. This will not be your average book launch. Peggy is known in Ottawa for the terrific parties she loves to throw, so the usual cold canap├ęs and quiet author-reading just isn't in the cards for this shindig. She began planning a month or so ago and she's been sharing her plans on her blog, Getting Published. Have a look. It makes great reading.

She told her publisher, Penguin Canada, that she was planning a Cuban party with authentic food and live Cuban music. Penguin would be able to cover rent for the venue, but where was the money for the food and the music and the cake we'd all been reading about on her blog to come from? Here's where the plot thickens

When Peggy was shortlisted for the Debut Dagger in 2010, she was invited to attend the awards ceremonies in Harrogate, England. She was between jobs at the time and the trip was going to cost more than she could comfortably afford. It was at this point that a community building movement began. She threw a Cuban dinner party for thirty people, asked each guest to contribute $35 and that along with other donations was enough to pay for the overseas flight. It was at this festival that she met Ian Rankin who in turn introduced her to his agent. The rest, as they say, is history.

But back to the launch. When it came time to nail down the details, Peggy's friends came forward again. Because we had stepped up to the Harrogate challenge, we were now stakeholders. We had an investment in the The Beggar's Opera and we needed this launch to be a success. It wasn't just Peggy's party any more it was ours too. Many offered to cook Cuban dishes for the event. Others threw in money to help with other expenses.

Peggy began contacting wine makers and soon had offers for free wine and even a fruit wine tasting. Beau's All Natural Brewing Company will bring the beer and someone else is providing chocolate cigars with the Penguin logo on the band.

Although people are bringing rum cake and opera cake, Peggy had her heart set on a cake in the shape of a 1957 Chevy that she saw on (seen here) and she found out that Kate Green Cakes from Kempville will duplicate the cake (in red and white) and transport it to the launch for a reasonable fee and a signed copy of the book.

It's amazing what people will do when they catch the spirit of an event. The mayor is coming as is Peggy's city counselor and the MPP for the area. "Will there be speeches?" I asked, when I talked to Peggy yesterday. "No!" said Peggy firmly. "And no author reading either. I just want to take a moment when the musicians are on break to thank everyone for all their help." That's a first in my experience.

Around 120 people have confirmed their attendance which is just about the capacity of the Orange Gallery. I've never heard of people being turned away from the launch of an author's debut book but this may be another first.

Peggy does say in her blog that if you would like to attend, to please contact her. She'll fit you in, I'm sure.

Sue Pike has published a couple of dozen stories and won several awards including an Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Crime Story. Her latest, Where the Snow Lay Dinted appeared in the January issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Sue and her husband and an opinionated Australian Shepherd named Cooper spend the winter months in Ottawa and the rest of the time at a mysterious cottage on the Rideau Lakes.


  1. Thanks for this, Sue! (I should point out that Sue, who won't even be in Canada at the time of the launch has offered to make gingerbread cookies!) I just want to clarify that in fact Penguin's contribution to this launch was very generous and far from standard; I simply had plans for food and live music that exceeded it!

  2. Oops. My mistake. I didn't mean to belittle Penguin Canada's contribution. They've been very generous, but this party would exceed any publisher's budget. Luckily Peggy has a large community of fans who want this to be an event to remember and are more than willing to share the load.

  3. What an inspiring story of support from your community of fellow writers! I'm in awe.