Anakana Schofield – Award Winning Author of Bina, Martin John and Malarky

Recent writings/articles: LRB and Irish Times

Over at the LRB I penned a piece “Who are the women who join Daesh (Isis Isil)?” 

“There isn’t much primary source material on the foreign women who have gone voluntarily to Syria and Iraq and chosen to live under the Islamic State, alongside the thousands of women Isis have kidnapped, beaten, raped, forced to convert and sold into sexual slavery. We know the places the volunteers have left but can only speculate as to why.”


For the Irish Times I was proud to celebrate the work of Dervla Murphy on International Women’s Day.

You can read the piece here on their website or the text is below.


Dervla Murphy is synonymous with passion, pertinacity and peregrination. Also, bicycle wheels. As a very young woman I first read Murphy’s In Ethiopia With a Mule (1966) and credit it with dispelling the idea at 18 that if I was to travel alone as a woman, everyone would instantly want to kill me. Strange as it may sound: she put me in my body. I did travel alone and lived.

I have given her books to many people in my life, such that each Christmas the refrain from one Canadian relative was “You can get me another of that Dervla’s books”. See, she’s not just any random Dervla. She’s a very specific Dervla. I don’t think there’s many in Ireland that wouldn’t facially ignite or animate upon mention of her work because for forty years we have been fortunate to travel on the page with her.

Murphy, 83, more a roaming, recording Promethean witness than mere travel writer, collages history, politics, topography, place and people into the present moment of what she sees, hears, bikes, walks and experiences wherever she goes. Her prose has a practical, muscular texture redolent of her cross-continent physical traverse. All weather, every weather, whatever the weather, her transport is low tech. Donkey, (sometimes) gearless bike, local transport or her feet. She has had to contend with injuries and danger, but is indefatigable in the face of what presents. Her 20 books have taken readers to Afghanistan, Baltistan, the Balkans, Cameroon, Coorg, Cuba, Gaza, Iran, Kenya, Laos, Madagascar, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Siberia, Transylvania, Tibet, Zimbabwe and more.

The idea that generations of girls and young, middling and old women will yet discover and read her extensive body of work, become captivated and catapulted to adventure (whether imaginatively or physically) is most invigorating.

Another advantage to Murphy’s adventures is that if you’re disinclined to wet feet, heat exhaustion, fevers, altitude sickness, tick bites, dodging snakes, or all manner of inconvenience there’s no need to leave the couch. Murphy’s work also encourages readers to delve into deeper reading on a country’s history and discover its fiction and poetry. Big road taken by short woman for many long years gives way to endless reading boreens. At 83, she’s not stopping anytime soon.

Anakana Schofield is the author of Malarky, which won the First Novel Award and the 2013 Debut-Litzer Prize for Fiction in the United States and was a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.

I also love this video interview with Dervla: 

And this clip from a documentary about how impervious she is to discomfort.



Feb weather-strange

Strange February. Strange Feb weather. East they have been sunk by snow piles while West, here we are, today anyway, sunny while leaning towards gloves. It has been worryingly mild. Today il fait du soleil.  There have been plentiful and visible stars and a visit from Mars and Venus last Friday evening.

Two women with binoculars strapped to their eyes alerted me to the crescent moon with Mars and Venus on a visible day release. I’m grateful to them. It was bleary though my bi-focals, but Venus seemed pyramid shaped. The two women naturally insisted when complimented “We are only out here because we saw it on the news” but I fear they were too modest given they had binoculars and were easily able to identify the planets.

Sometimes your unknown neighbours can be so very favourable.

The Walk Robert Walser

I am greatly appreciating a reread of Robert Walser’s novel (novella) The Walk (translated by the wunderbar Susan Bernofsky and it really is an extraordinary translation).

Some snips from it:

“An unassuming pedestrian should not remain unrecorded”

The above particularly pertinent for psychotic Vancouver cyclists who refute any notion of stop signs, traffic lights and act like they are in fact operating a version of light transit rail that responds only to and unto themselves. A transit rail that drives only in a straight line to where it is they desire to get to, never mind the humans, cats and dogs that have to nervously go exist with the bicycle barons. Were matters not already intrepid for the plain pedestrian from the threat of the car, now they’ve an additional road runner to join it.

P21 “Often I wandered, to be sure, perplexed in a mist and in a thousand dilemmas, seeing myself vacillating and often wretchedly forsaken. Yet I believe that struggling for life can only be a fine thing. It is not with pleasures and with joys that an honest man might grow proud. Rather in the roots of his soul it can only be through trial bravely undergone, deprivation patiently endured, that he becomes proud and gay.”

How to vaccinate a badger

“BBC Inside Out follows the badger vaccination team in west Cornwall as they test whether vaccination could be an effective alternative to culling.”

I actually thought badgers were more silken looking than furry. I have been misled by the Wind in the Willows illustrations.

View video here

Harry Browne: Lawful Excuse

Here is a riveting essay Harry Browne wrote and published back in 2006 on peace protestors at Shannon airport and the Irish media’s coverage of the trial of “five people associated with the Catholic Worker movement (who) had been arrested for damaging a US military plane”.

First though, read this news report on Ireland’s disgraceful permitted use of its airspace and airport for what we know now to have included the transit of  CIA rendition flights. We know from the recent US Senate report precisely the despicable and sadistic forms of torture that such flights and transfers would have resulted in.

Then read Harry Browne’s essay here about the people who were brave enough to stand up at that time to the transgressions both known at the time and unknown.


Barthes: Mourning

I am reading or pinch reading on thanatophobia and grief in anticipation of a piece I must write and contribute next year at a conference, thus I revisited or flittered into Roland Barthes Mourning Diary (Wang and Hill) and was taken (up) by his sentiment or the resonance to be found in this entry:

Many others still love me, but from now on my death will kill no one. 

— which is what’s new. 

(But Michel?)

He’s referring to the death of his mother and it struck me that he marks something here. That there are certain deaths — one’s parents or partner — where, if you like, a standing guard is removed. Barthes records this realization. He seems to also be asking Who will bury me now? or who will be worked up sufficiently to bury me? Since the organization of burial is involved and requires a degree of commitment it’s quite a responsibility that you cannot just ladle on to any passing person.

Barthes is calculating or re calibrating where this puts him as an adult now his mother, his reliable burial steward or executor we might imagine, is already buried. Who remains?

In burial as in most things roles are cast. He anticipates the absence of a key player and marks his grief and death anxiety through this shift.



Mary Harper

Mary Harper is doing terrific reporting on Somalia (and has been since the 1990s). I’ve been following her BBC World Service reports for a while. I began with her report about a writers festival in Somaliland (which I think I must have blogged on) and ever since I keep my ears and eyes open for her reports. I truly admire her work and that she speaks 4 languages!

Here she contributes to BBC Newshour Extra on What is Fuelling the Global Jihad? well worth a listen to this programme.

Quite a contrast to think (in relation to last post) of the luxury of refuting or delaying notions of death vs bloodthirsty death cults donging the instant death knell on other people’s behalf with the equivalent frequency to making a cup of tea.


Radio links: Reith Lecture “Hubris”

The Reith Lectures are underway on BBC Radio 4.

#3 Hubris I found most compelling:

“Dr. Gawande argues that the common reluctance of society and medical institutions to recognise the limits of what professionals can do can end up increasing the suffering of patients towards the end of life.”

I’d add to that the common reluctance more widely to face any notion of death at all (not merely at the end of life or terminal diagnosis when you’ve no choice but to face it, but in the everyday healthy population who chose not to think or dwell on it until it banjaxes them) is also inherent in refusing or refuting the limits. If you were to introduce the concept of the limits early: would you be better adjusted once they were upon you?

A curious change or shift is the lack of visible public mourning. I rarely to never see a funeral cortege in the city I live in. I am therefore never aware of anyone’s death around me unless they are personally known to me. This may be a peculiarity to this city. (You can read my LRB blog on the Final Funeral Forum to understand more about the specifics here) But if you take note of the new forms of overt social media mourning and outpourings, you cannot but notice a certain public possession towards the dead who are not known to us. Whether this is public figures or artists or people we’re vaguely familiar with or stories of people we’ve (now) been familiarized with through the channels of social media. Sometimes it can take the tone of near strident and heightened outpourings. Sometimes it’s verging on an Olympic competition. Then the rapid tributes arrive, endless anecdotes, breached correspondences, it starts to read like the semi-finals of who can now outdo the last espousal. In our confessional culture, the plate is wide and forks lose the run of themselves.

It’s likewise easy to get emotionally operatic at the end of one’s fingertips in relation to a person, actively, unknown to us as a living being but whose persona we’ve attached to. Note it’s much easier to attach to a distant, carefully shaped persona than engage with the difficulties and complexities and, one hopes, liveliness of an actual person. I would be curious about the absenting of one form of visible public mourning (the funeral cortege) versus the arrival of the invisible (self invited) funeral cortege where the stakes may not demand the same level of respect, in tandem with wider deflection on accepting death. (Becker’s Denial of Death) Case in point: you cannot hurl yourself into or at a passing funeral car or group of mourners. You must maintain some kind of decorum and respectable distance while bearing witness to what is passing, what that indicates, a life has ended. This isn’t the case at your keyboard into the vortex of social media and new media journalism, where you can bounce up and down on a trampoline of  self directed, insulated, wombling as you wish, to the extent the dead person is merely an accessory for you to womble around and tweet about.

Strange evolving disparities and disconnects that do not necessarily do much to engage with the urgent matter of thanatophobia. The limit of the final bus stop and the need to at some point get off the bus.




3×3: Kayaking- Les Miserables – Stay in Bed weather event

Even the experts agree this is one heck of a weather system. A matriarch of a triple mama system. We are due to receive a sub-tropical weather event that involves three storms over three days.

The numbers are madness. The North Shore will see 300mm of rain in the three days. We are currently in round 1 of these three storms. Usually the entire rainfall for November and December is 300mm so obviously this volume in three days will likely cause problems. Floods are likely and more worrying, mudslides are possibility.

There was a recent mud slide on that side of the city (North) during another rain and storm event and there are boulders (I have recently learned) that fell into the Seymour River. Not clear how the boulders tumbled but one hunch is the rain caused it.

If you are a pedestrian it’s very hard to see you in this weather and this is the most likeliest moment not to be seen by a car thus don’t wander absent mindedly staring at your phone. Be careful when crossing the road. Wave your arms if you have to. Visibility is dreadful in this epic rain.


Thank you to the lovely people of Powell River and Sechelt for coming out to my public reading events in both those communities.

Much joy and exchange on literature was had.

Thank you so much to the Canada Council For the Arts for funding these readings. So marvellous to travel to different BC communities and read and discuss literature.


I am buried in reading.

From Leskov to Benjamin to Balzac and more. It forms its own cartography.

I hope you are too.

Moins cinq

We are day 3 of the ‘Polar Streak(er)’ weather event. A stride of -5 has struck us. It was anticipated but preceded by a band of sun that suggested there was no way this polar could streak through. Crowd control would melt him!

Last night I had to declare it life-alteringly cold. But the polar streak by night becomes a bounty of sun in the morning, which must give us pause to recognize, perhaps, this is how Winnipeg and Edmonton live to see another day when it’s -37.

It’s excellent reading weather, though suffice to say reading is weather-proof.

Globally weather-wise Britain seems balmy, Brisbane bonkers and the rest you’ll have to discuss amongst yourselves.


The Polar Invasion

This weather event, henceforth localized to the “the blood will drain out of your feet” weather event has been termed the Polar Invasion in the US. (the successor to last year’s Polar Vortex)

Colorado perished last night and the Texas Panhandle recorded a temperature of -10.

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean there was localized flooding in Ireland with the yellow alert being raised to an Orange alert.

Here we have -2 for an overnight low, dipping to -5 in the mysterious titled sheltered areas. (Definition forthcoming)

Here’s the full forecast. I am too timid to click on Edmonton, so click amongst yourself if your fingers aren’t already frozen.

Consider: The mighty kidney

“Each kidney (bean-shaped organ) weighs about 5 ounces and contains approximately one million filtering units called nephrons. Each nephron is made of a glomerulus and a tubule. The glomerulus is a miniature filtering or sieving device while the tubule is a tiny tube like structure attached to the glomerulus.”

This is the closest I could find to an image of one nephron.


Weekend view

This was my Saturday/Sunday view. 12th floor at VGH. It was somehow redolent of Legoland that H. Heliport landing.

Thank you to the nurses & doctors for their excellent care. Thanks be to everything else for public health care and Sir Alexander Fleming for inventing antibiotics.

IMG_1786 IMG_1787  IMG_1788



Sorry, Mrs O’Duffy

My latest piece for the LRB blog can be found here

“I should like to apologise to Brigid O’Duffy (née Davis), who served in the Irish Citizen Army during the Easter Rising in 1916 but did not see her military pension until 1937. Her pension application (MSP34REF20583 in the recently digitised Military Service Pensions Collection) is date-stamped December 1936 by the Department of Defence. The files of 433 other women have also been unveiled.”

Middling: A Berlin Chronicle

“It is likely that no one ever masters anything in which he has not known impotence; and if you agree, you will also see that this impotence comes not at the beginning of or before the struggle with the subject, but in the heart of it…” Walter Benjamin, A Berlin Chronicle from Reflections. Translated by Edmund Jephcott

Influenza in Ireland

There’s a lovely hint of vibrancy in the latter part of this sentence. I enjoyed its determinate quality!

“Lowering the death rate must in the end cease and it is well to emphasise the fact that the object of public health is to prolong life to old age, not to secure immortality of terrestrial life. “

Influenza in Ireland. Feb 17, 1900. The British Medical Journal Vol 1. No 2042

(Note the date is 18 years before the worldwide flu pandemic of 1918)

Rooms That Have Had Their Part – Joanna Kavenna

This Joanna Kavenna piece was a remarkable read this week: I share this large chunk and then go here to read ALL. Joanna is the author of numerous novels and critical writings and has a brain seventeen times the size of most of us. Buy her books.

“The whole temping experience made me dislike the modernists as well, or some of them. It made me lose faith in those post-Nietzscheans who condemned the ‘ordinary man’ (or woman), who decried ‘the masses’ and assumed the masses all felt and thought the same. Often, as I waited in some random flock of people, I thought about Ezra Pound’s seedy protégée, Richard Aldington, who stood in central London and wrote:

The Masses at Piccadilly
Are sordid and sweaty
We suspect them of vices
Like marriage and business
We know they are ignorant
Of Hokkei and Rufinus

Or Amy Lowell, ‘imagist’, who added:

Fools! It is always the dead who breed!
The little people are ignorant
They chatter and swarm
They gnaw like rats . . .

I ranted my way home each night – as I stood with my kind, as we swarmed into a mass, as we breathed in unison, like ladybirds in a cluster, related and merged organic matter, as I stood and swayed – I hated Aldington, Lowell, felt that had they not been so utterly dead I would have found them and beaten them to the ground, a futile fantasy of vengeance on the long dead, but I thought, how easy, how glorious, to set yourself against the masses, when you have been saved by wealth or accident, how easy to denounce the Others –…”



Outlook: Talking about suicide

By chance after a conversation about the work of Édouard Levé last night at a gathering, the World Service were broadcasting this edition of Outlook, which features Cara Anna (her name reads like the opening of a love letter) bravely describing her own experiences with suicide attempts while working as a reporter in Beijing for the Associated Press. I admire her practical intentions with this blog and her work to reduce the taboo of discussing the subject of suicide attempts. Her blog Talking About Suicide is here 

World Service Outlook programme can be heard here It’s rapidly becoming one of my favourite listens. I seem to chance upon accidentally every Saturday night.

Fog followed rain

I must pause to record the first rainfall warning of the season last week. Perhaps two rainfall warnings or perhaps one that lasted 2 days. It was a relentless rain that fell. Grey on waking, grey on sleeping, lashing in between.

Hark today we are back with megawatty sun bright! But what came in between, what came by chance was eiderdown to the mind. Yesterday driving North in Washington there sat fog. By the side of the road fog. Small bowls of fog. I was tempted to call it rolling fog but it wasn’t rolling. It was sitting in a bowl-shaped-pudding fog.

I was puzzling out whether this was particular only to Washington State, when I found more patches of it sat identically on the side of the road once I crossed the border. Curiously though on the Canadian side it was more square-shaped. Are we therefore square to Washington’s pudding?!


Teashops they are a changing. Yesterday I met my first ultra slick and swifto tea hustlers. Usually teashops have one man, bedraggled or reading a mystery novel at the back or a hung over student or a woman juggling the dishwasher and the tea selling. Not yesterday’s encounter. It was doubles tennis rebound tea selling. I have never seen so many people selling tea in such a small space. And selling tea swifter than the sample could traverse the tongue. So you’ll be wrapping that tea up and taking that tea home will you? Unfortunately the tea in question was sweetened and decorated beyond recognition — it tasted like tea-ish cool aid.

What can we deduce? The Venture Capitalists have landed on the tea leaf. Still enthusiasm for the leaf is never an entirely unhappy thing, just in this case a tad pressured and go easy on the sweetener.


I faithfully disagree with Colm Tóibín’s point in his weekend Irish Times interview about tea in the novel. You can never have too much tea in a novel dude. Tea is the word. True progress will announce itself when beds come with built-in kettles. (along with my other unrelated but much belaboured desire for 24 hour swimming pools).

Tractates — the three layers

“[The] conventions of Western discourse — order, logical progression, symmetry –… impose upon the subject an aspect that does not belong to it. Among other ideas, Eastern Aesthetics suggests that ordered structure contrives, that logical exposition falsifies, and that linear, consecutive argument eventually limits… Most likely to succeed in defining Japanese aesthetics is a net of associations composed of listings or jottings, connected intuitively, that fills in a background and renders the subject visible. Hence, the Japanese uses for juxtaposition, for assembling, for bricolage.” Donald Richie A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics

The above quote I read in a book I mentioned yesterday called the BRICOLEUR & his SENTENCES by Stan Dragland (Peddlar Press), but it is quoted from a Michael Ondaatje essay called “Mongrel Writing”, which in turn is quoting the original Donald Richie text which it names as Tractates. (Perhaps the book is out of print, but the only title I could find that’s near it for Richie is the one I’ve attributed it to above.) That’s three layers of quotes to arrive here. It is 7,549 km from Vancouver to Tokyo and unfortunately I am unable to calculate how long it would take you to walk there, but it probably includes the number 3 someplace as well.

If you are wondering what Tractates means (I was) here is a definition:

a treatise

late 15th century: from Latin tractatus, from tractare ‘to handle,’ frequentative of trahere ‘draw.’

This remarking of Richie’s also brings to mind the comments Xiaolu Guo made during this panel at the Jaipur Literary Festival. Xiaolu has a new book out called I AM CHINA. This is very good news. I walked up a mountain in Banff with Xiaolu last year. I should be happy to walk up many mountains talking to her. Indeed we could tractate up and down mountains ensemble.

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