Local author makes list for national humour prize for her ‘eavesdropping’ stories

By Jane Litchfield

Guelph author Marion Reidel has made the long-list for the national Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour for her second book, Café Conversations, published by One Thousand Trees. It was one of 11 books chosen in April from 85 submissions. A retired high school teacher, Reidel is also a spoken word artist. We checked in with her by email.

Marion Reidel by Trina Koster
Guelph Author Marion Reidel. Photo Credit Trina Koster

GAC: Congratulations! Tell us about your nominated book. Is it set in Guelph?

MR: “Café Conversations” contains 30 stories set in a trendy coffee shop. It’s not Guelph specifically, but… I love writing in downtown cafés, so descriptions may sound familiar. The stories are interconnected. Each stands alone, but the overall experience builds to create a feeling more like a novel. The reader eavesdrops on business negotiations, reunions, dates and family drama.

For example, there’s a veterinary medicine student, who goes on a series of awkward blind dates. Three elderly ladies meet to share gossip. A marriage breaks up, a mature woman participates in a speed-dating event, an outrageous pet spa strategizes marketing and a young man with no employable skills gets job counselling. The characters feel familiar, but they say and do outrageous things leading to unexpected outcomes. My stories are driven by authentic dialogue and meticulously painted details. The goal is to investigate human frailty and offer content for reflection… once the laughter has died down.

GAC: How long have you been writing? What inspires you?

MR: I’ve always loved sharing anecdotes. Real life is hilarious. I’m the person who comes to a gathering with a story about something ridiculous that happened that day. While at home raising children, I worked part time writing marketing materials and did freelance reporting, but fiction is quite a different beast. I returned to teaching English, even Writer’s Craft, and was embarrassed when students asked what I wrote. There was no time.

Pursuing my love of language became my retirement mission. I took courses, interacted with peers, read about writing, and worked at finding my “voice”. We have a lot of good writing instructors in Guelph, highly skilled editors, as well as several boutique publishers.  Vocamus Writers Community is an organization that makes a significant contribution to the promotions of local authors.

I believe that writing is not so much about making things up as it is about getting things down. I’m fascinated by human social interaction (I guess that Hon BA in Sociology had an impact after all) and it only takes a single snippet of conversation to trigger my creativity. I read a lot of short fiction, and particularly admire the work of Amy Hempel, Lionel Shriver and Elizabeth Strout. David Sedaris is my idol.

GAC: How are you coping during social isolation: How do you stay inspired?

MR: I’m participating in three online writing groups with prompts to keep my mind working and words flowing. I’m finishing a 30-day photography course (follow me on Instagram @marionreidel) and post a Youtube video once a month to experience the joy of performance. I’m blessed.
Marion Reidel book cover small

GAC: Where can people connect with you and purchase your work?

MR: You can contact me through my website and sign up for email notices for my YouTube videos. Both of my books are available on Amazon, but The Bookshelf is the option to shop locally. During coronavirus restrictions call The Bookshelf at 519-821-3311 and they’ll either meet you for curb side pickup or will deliver right to your door. The Bookshelf is wonderfully supportive of Guelph’s writing community as is the Guelph Arts Council. Thanks for reaching out to me.

GAC: You’re welcome. Good luck on May 1 when the short list is announced.

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