I had the pleasure of reading Sandra’s collection of short stories – Everything in This House Breaks – and I enjoyed it tremendously. The stories are well crafted, easy reading. There are tender moments, eye opening endings and warm feelings. I look forward to reading more of her tales.
Besides her writing skills, Sandra is also a mentor, an editor, teaches English as a second language, owns a publishing company, is a writing coach and provides workshops.
She has kindly agreed to a 4Q Interview and is sharing some of her writing.
Sandra Bunting grew up mainly in Miramichi, New Brunswick. She graduated from Ryerson, Toronto with a BA in Radio and Television Arts. After working for Broadcast News (CP) and CBC News, she moved to Europe and lived in France, Spain, and Ireland. She received a Masters in Writing from National University of Ireland and went on to give poetry seminars there, set up and manage the Academic Writing Centre, teach English as a Second Language and train teachers to teach EFL.
Sandra’s first poetry collection, Identified in Trees, was published in 2006 by Marram Press in Galway, followed by two short story collections, The Effect of Frost on Southern Vines and Everything in this House Breaks, this time with her her own imprint Gaelóg Press. An earlier non-fiction collaboration The Claddagh: Stories from the Water's Edge was published by History Press, Dublin. She returned to Canada in 2011 and established herself in Montreal and later Miramichi, where she took up the position of executive director of the multicultural association for a few years.
Sandra is currently on the editorial board of the Galway based literary magazine, Crannóg. In 2012 she was awarded a Glenna Luschei award for poetry through the Prairie Schooner University of Nebraska. She was runner-up for the 2006 Welsh Cinnamon Press First Novel Competition and was a finalist at the 2009 Irish Digital Media Awards for her Blog: Writing a Novel Online. She has had items published in Ireland, England, Canada, Argentina, and the US. Sandra is a member of Miramichi Words on Water, Women who Write (Grand Barachois), The New Brunswick Writers’ Federation, the New Brunswick Independent Authors Association and Galway Writers Workshop.
For more see: www.sandbunting.com
4Q: Having just read your short story collection I mentioned above, what appeals to you about short stories and how did this collection come into being?
SB: Short stories are gratifying but not necessarily easy to write. They have to be a complete entity, tied up and packaged within a few short pages. It can take as many twists and turns as a novel but with more economy of words. As a writer, I found this form allowed me to experiment with different themes and styles and then send them out to literary magazines to be published. Most of the selections in this collection, and in the previous one, appeared in small publications on either side of the Atlantic over a ten year period. It is an eclectic mix – inspired by a past memory, observations or current incidences. Lately, the environment seems to be a common choice of subject of mine. My favourite short story writers are Ellen Gilchrist, Joyce Carol Oates and Mavis Gallant. Someone recently mentioned that he thought the short story was a form particularily suited to women both as a reader and a writer. Not so. Look at the touching tales of Cape Breton’s Alistair McLeod and the powerful story The Dead, among others, by James Joyce. These are narratives compelling to all.
4Q: Tell us about Gaelóg Press and Writing Services. Also, about the unique name, Gaelóg.
SB: Gaelóg Press was formed to publish and promote some of the projects I was working on. I had already a bit of experience in publishing through the literary magazine Crannóg, and it was something I had been considering for awhile. So far I have published my two collections of my short stories and a reprint of a Eoghan Garvey’s poetry collection, Entropy. Forthcoming are several children’s books, a poetry collection by a local Syrian refugee and a project under Miramichi Words on Water, Life a Gift Passed On.
I have great respect for the big publishers, and their struggles in this digital climate, however, I believe there is a place for small imprints, making work otherwise overlooked more accessible. Margaret Atwood once said that her first self- published poems would be worth a fortune today. It’s not about money; it’s about getting quality work out there in a clear and attractive way. Of course the main problem of this way of publishing is marketing and distribution, something difficult to overcome with such a small operation.
Gaelóg Press also offers writing, editing and coaching services to writers and small businesses besides facilitating workshops in creative writing.
Gaelóg is indeed a strange name. Having lived in Ireland for much of my adult life, I was exposed to and fell in love with the Irish (or Gaelic) language. Gaelóg means Bunting, a fat little bird and my family name.
4Q: Please share a childhood memory or anecdote.
SB: I was an only child but not lonely. I used to invent stories and act them out. There was a favourite piece called Dinner at Sato’s that I enacted over and over again. My mother had had a trip to New York and brought back an account of her experience at a Japanese restaurant. I created an elaborate ceremony of placing myself and a large cluster of stuffed animals on pillows on the floor around the coffee table. There would be much bowing, trying out chopsticks and eating and drinking out of small bowls.
One of my favourite stuffed animals was a rabbit. However, there was fierce competition for its affection from my dog, a Bedlington Terrier called Cookie, who looked like a little sheep. The dog would run and grab the toy, bring it in the middle of the living room and start performing on it to the horror of any visitor, especially an elderly priest. The dog, though beautiful, continued to exhibit bad behaviour. It totally destroyed my mother’s new feather hat, bought for Easter and yet unworn. The dog was actually banished from the town in the end for chasing and nipping the legs of cyclists as they passed our house.
I loved to root through drawers and closets. Another of my recurring play scenes was pirates. I did not know about Grace O’Malley (Grainne Mhaile) the pirate queen of Connemara then, but as female I was still definitely head of my group of cutthroats. And what is a pirate without treasure? After snooping in my mother’s jewellery box, I selected a few items to be used as buried treasure. I went to the little wood in the back of our house with my shovel and buried a few sparkly rings. Unfortunately, one of them, a sapphire, was am inheritance and worth a lot of money. Of course, I hadn’t got around to drawing a map to mark the spot. My mother never ever knew what happened to that ring. Perhaps if you go behind the old house in that little mayflowered wood you could start digging and find the treasure. ARRR!
4Q: Please tell us about the writing group, Words on Water.
Now spearheaded by Judy Bowman and Sandra Bunting, Words on Water Miramichi is a group of writers, actors, songwriters, spoken word performers who are active in sharing their own work through readings, book launches and other events. They encourage emerging writers by holding writing workshops, open mics and get-togethers. They are committed to promoting the work of Miramichi’s more established writers, and to exposing the local population and visitors to the stories they have to tell through poems, stories or songs.
WOW launched Tom Creaghan’s book, Miramichiers in the Gilded Age on the deck of the Max Aitken as it travelled from Newcastle to Chatham wharf. It hosted Bloomsday (James Joyce) Readings and a very special St. Patrick’s Day reading at Seasons View. It has done readings for Remembrance Day and has midsummer events in Burnt Church for the past five years.
WOW began in 2005 when Michelle Cadogan had a vision of an arts community in Miramichi and recruited Judy Bowman, columnist, and former president of Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick to assist in promoting writing and spoken word in the area. Edgewater Gallery, one of many venues, hosted many events for local writers and for the WFNB. Reading and singing of original work was held while surrounded by art of local and Maritime artists.
Guest readers travelled to Miramichi to read. These include: Lynn Davis, Governor General Award Nominee for poetry; Michelle Butler-Hallet, fiction writer St. John Nfld., Ross Leckie, Poet and Professor of English UNB; Musician Terry Whalen after his ECMA, Paula Foley, Terry Gadsden and Paul McGraw. On a Maritime Tour, the Good Brothers dropped in for a visit to Saltwater Sounds, one of the host venues for WOW. Publishers continue to take great interest in this event to feature their writers.
In partnership with the WFNB, thirty writers were welcomed to French Fort Cove by Natoaganeg Elder Joseph Leonard Ward, after which they followed the fiddle music of a young Mr. Murphy. Poetry was shared at various places. In attendance Lisa Moore, three time nominee for Giller Prize, 2013 winner of Commonwealth Prize; Roger Moore, Poet; Marilyn Lerch, now Poet Laureate of Sackville; and many guests from across Canada.
WOW also introduced the art of storytelling by Natoageneg Elder Joseph Leonard Ward at Saltwater Sounds.
4Q: There is an interesting article on your web site (sandbunting.com) about the Miramichi’s Literary Trail, an idea you brought from Galway, Ireland. Can you elaborate.
SB: The love of words permeates the Irish air itself. Galway, where I lived for 25 years, is a young city about the size of Fredericton with three postsecondary education facilities and a large focus on arts and culture. The city is 2020 Culture capital of Europe at present. It hosts a literary festival called Cuirt every year. (Cuirt is the Irish word for Court – and is also from a piece by Brian Merriman called the Midnight Court in which women take men to task.) Each year the festival adds another plaque of phrases by writers from Galway, writing about Galway or having a close relationship with the city.
As I became more involved with writers in Miramichi, I felt that there should be more recognition for the city’s well-known authors. The idea for a trail similar to that in Galway was forming.
Under the banner of Words on Water Miramichi, with funding from the city of Miramichi and the NB Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture, six large artworks were designed in wood by Gloria Savoie in response to quotes by local writers. These are on permanent exhibit at the Newcastle Public Library. The second stage was to etch the writers quotes in sandstone tablets and place them outside around Miramichi. Plaques recognizing the works of Davids Adams Richards is at Ritchie Wharf, Wayne Curtis is at French Fort Cove, Ray Fraser is at the Chatham Public Library and Doug Underhill stands outside the Newcastle Public Library.
4Q: What’s next for Sandra Bunting, the author?
SB: I have a collection of poetry in search of a publisher. I am building up stories some into a third collection, but what I want really do now is finish a novel. One of my main flaw as a writer is that I have trouble finishing things. I get to a certain point and then it takes enormous amounts of energy to complete it. This is the same for poems, short stories and longer pieces. Therefore, I have a drawerful of incomplete projects. As it stated in my biography, I was highly commended for an excerpt of a novel. That was a long time ago and it is still unfinished. I would like to do this now. Stating that here may give me the impetus I need to do it.
4Q: Anything else you’d like to share with us?
SB: I would only like to add that I feel so fortunate to have been surrounded by a writing community in Canada and in Ireland that is constructive, generous and encouraging. It is wonderful to have a group of like minds who share interests and creativity. I have thankfully been exposed only very briefly to writing groups where participants tear apart not only the writing but the person as well. I feel blessed to be in contact with so many talented writers who are a joy to have met, and, through them, to be introduced to such varied work and ideas. It is an added pleasure to have returned to the Maritimes to find such a thriving literary scene here. Long may it continue.
An Excerpt from the title story of the same name from the short story collection Everything in this House Breaks
(Copyright is held by the Author. Used with permission.)
It was a bad winter. There was hardly a dry day. Wind struggled violently with the windows, puddles grew larger and darkness seemed to be eternal. Spring was not much better but daylight was struggling for the upper hand. It was time again for the survey. I had to interview the same people I had before and note any changes: the addition or demise of pets, changes in the type of heating system, a second car or television. I went to Joe McEnree’s house first. He answered the door immediately. I found him looking older and slightly more stooped.
He asked me in and, on passing the sun porch on the way to the kitchen, I remarked how magnificent the cacti were. They seemed to be taking over the room. “I’ve never really taken to them,” he said. “It was my wife that liked them. Now that she’s gone, I keep them because she liked them.”
“I’m so sorry about your wife,” I said. “I didn’t know.”
“It’s for the best. She was in pain. But I’m fierce lonely without her. Ah well. We have to go on.”
We went through the questions on the survey and duly noted the changes. One occupant, not two at number 10. He told me other changes to the area and then he perked up.
“We have entered the improved neighbourhood competition,” he said. “You must look at the new garden I planted at the side.”
I recognized the lilies, hydrangeas and poppies, but there were many others I didn’t know. I could imagine the mix of colours when all the plants were blooming. I would certainly give him the prize for this garden. If everyone in the neighbourhood did something similar, it would be spectacular.
“Number nineteen is starting an old-fashioned herb garden surrounded by lavender bushes. Another house is specializing in roses.” He was beaming.
I had to go back briefly in summer to clarify one of the questions. The little estate looked beautiful. The scent of lavender mixed with rose, lily and lilac wafted around the corner before the full colours of the blossoms hit.
“We won,” Mr. McEnree said.
He saw the blank expression on my face and impatiently reminded me.
“The Improved Neighbourhood Competition. We won. I have a thousand euro cheque.” He couldn’t contain his smile.
“I’m going to spend it on a little bench and maybe a border around the green.”
It was September again before I got back to the area. There was a new survey. I was surprised to find that no cars were allowed in.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“They’re going to pave the roads here tomorrow. That’s why no cars are let in. It’s about time. The potholes.”
He was distracted while he was talking to me. I interviewed him quickly and was on my way. He stopped me at the front steps and said, “Just a minute.”
He took a small cactus from off the ledge of the window.
“There were babies,” he said. “I’d like you to have this. I know you like them.”
He walked out with me as I thanked him. He showed me the side garden again.
“I’m just going to cut it back so it will grow thicker next year,” he said.
When I got home I realized I had forgotten to ask him one important question. I was busy the next day so I went back on the weekend.
I was shocked at what I saw. Pebbles were scattered on the road covered by a watery black liquid. The road hadn’t been graded and, it either sloped at the sides or was all wobbly. I rang the bell at number ten. There was no answer. As I was certain he was there, I rang again. While waiting for him to answer, I looked at the side garden expecting to see the usual delight. Instead, blobs of uneven tarmac covered everything.
I rang again and he slowly opened the door. He shuffled through the sun porch and looked at me with a deep sadness. I didn’t know what to say. I followed him inside to the kitchen.
“You’ll help me,” he said. “I can’t do it myself.”
“Of course.” I said. But I didn’t know what he meant.
He took a geranium off the kitchen windowsill.
He seemed unsteady as we walked out into the garden. His arm shook as he placed the little pot on top of the tarmac.
“I’ll start again. I’m well used to that now. I will start again.”
The little pink geranium looked small against the scarred black ground - a timid blush of hope under the hot sun.
Thank you, Sandra, for being our guest this week and for your wonderful stories.
For you readers wanting to discover more about our talented guest, please follow these links:
March 14, 2020 - Chapters in Moncton. See you there.