10 Great Responses to COVID-19

10 Great Responses to COVID-19

Today we focus on how organizations, businesses, authors and artists have stepped up and adapted to respond to the pandemic. We’ve picked 10 but please share other resources you’ve come across in the comments section. Remember to be safe and keep well in the weeks and months to come.

1.  Virtual Book Clubs

Now that we can’t meet in person, Zoom is the new virtual meeting space. It’s free, and all kinds of businesses are turning to Zoom and adapting it to the needs of their customers and clients. Gwynn’s local innovative independent book store, Let’s Talk Books has switched their book club meetings virtual via Zoom.

You can link via cell phone, tablet or laptop and talk face-to-face, meet the author, and stay safe and healthy. NOTE: In response to online trolls and bored fools, Zoom is upgrading their security by April 15.

2.  Virtual Writing in Community

Inkslingers is in its 15th year of providing workshops and guided writing practice programs and travel experiences. Helmed by Sue Reynolds and James Dewar, certified Amherst Writers & Artists workshop leaders, they’ve offered regular Sanctuary Sundays for communal writing at their country home. But they can no longer invite writers to come and immerse in their inspiring landscape so they’ve gone online, offering the same supportive space virtually.

3.  Virtual Critique groups

Not just businesses have turned to Zoom. Gwynn and Ruth’s critique group now meets every two weeks via Zoom. Critical ms is a serious group of serious writers, many of whom write professionally. Pre-pandemic, the group met every two weeks alternating between Whitby and Peterborough for in-person deep critiques of one or two members’ submissions. Now the writers keep to that schedule but see each other’s smiling faces online. Yes. Smiling. Critical ms is a serious group but everyone enjoys a good laugh. And these days, we all need that.

4.  Online Courses

Online courses are nothing new. What is new, is that many providers have recognized that with so many people forced to isolate and with added time on their hands, learning something new is a positive way to cope. To that end they have offered their courses for free or reduced prices for the next few months. A couple you may like to check out as a start are  Coursera and #Stayhome@News18

5.  Online Writing Prompts

Most of us know daily writing prompts are easily found in places like Writers Digestonline. Poets & Writers online is another option. P&W offers a mix of inspirations 3 times a week — poetry, non-fiction and fiction each week gets a prompt. Of course, our current pandemic flavours the prompts, but they are subtle about it. From an excerpt of Samuel Pepys plague-time diary to exploring the small details found places in the world using Google’s Street View, the prompts give writers a multitude of ways to stretch their pens during these distracting days.

Whether you start a new piece, add a scene or chapter to a work in progress or just play with words in a different way, it’s exercise for the brain and a welcome tickle for your muse.

6.   Face-time Learning from Artists

Artists of all kinds are sharing their talents via the internet right now to help teach and entertain people around the world. Best-selling illustrator and graphic journalist Wendy Macnaughton hosts a weekly a live class “for kids of all ages, parents of kids, parents of parents, aunties/uncles, friends and pets.” Canadian band the Arkells host “Flatten The Curve Music Class” sharing the chords and lyrics for their music.

7.  Virtual Tour of Museums and Art Galleries

The Guardian newspaper has a list of the “top ten museums and galleries to visit in the world.” There are different ways to virtually tour art galleries and museums but we were intrigued by the British Museum’s virtual Google timeline that users scroll along, choosing time and place in the world to explore the museum’s collection.

Canadian War Museum

In the Canadian War Museum, you can experience trench warfare through an interactive video presentation Over the Top. Narrated voice over leads you to several “choose your own adventure” moments.

Washington’s National Gallery of Art is offering 10 Digital Education Resources that are family friendly. And their online collection highlights is an amazing opportunity for close up views of masterpieces of paintings, sculptures and photographs over the ages.

8.  Copyright Accessing

The Association of Canadian Publishers and Access Copyright announced temporary permissions for online storytime to help educators and librarians connect with students through a program called the Read Aloud Canadian Books Program. Under this program licence fees related to the reading of all or part of select books from participating publishers and posting of the video recording online have been waived.

Publishers who have signed up so far include: Annick Press, ARP Books, Orca Book Publishers, Owlkids Books, Portage and Main Press, Running the Goat, Books and Broadsides, Groundwood Books, and Linda Leith Publishing.

9.  Public Story Time

Educators and Librarians are not the only people who bring stories to kids online. For more than 20 years LeVar Burton has been the star of the show “Reading Rainbow.” During this difficult time for families at home, he decided to do a live-streamed version of #LeVarBurtonReads, but as you see in this twitter exchange, he ran into a problem. One of my favourite children’s authors stepped in immediately with a very generous offer. 

10.  Financial Support for Writers and Artists

Finally, we end on something we know is important to all of us who live by our words.  Our financial position has always depended on our ability to work. For many writers, freelance opportunities have vanished. Publishing houses are looking at their already uncertain bottom lines and must be rethinking their coming seasons. Fortunately, there are extraordinary financial supports for businesses and individuals coming from the Government of Canada — the Canada Emergency Response Benefit for example.

For writers, there’s even more help.  The Writers’ Trust of Canada, The Writers’ Union of Canada and RBC launched the Canadian Writers’ Emergency Relief Fund to support writers and visual artists who are suffering substantial income losses during this time. Applications closed on April 9. On April 8, Access Copyright announced a $100,000 donation to ensure the important financial support offered by the Canadian Writers’ Emergency Relief Fund can continue. The second round of applications open April 10 and close April 20.

The Fund provides grants of $1,500 to those who meet the eligibility criteria. Details are on the Writers’ Trust website. And if you’re in the fortunate position to help out a writer in need, details on donating to the fund are here.

The Write Award

The Write Award

Ruth E. Walker

Awards. What writer would not want to win an award for their writing? After all, we write with passion and know that few of us will be compensated for the hours and hours we devote to our craft. So awards and grants are a welcome bonus. A recent article in the Toronto Star newspaper about Canadian writers of commercial fiction got me thinking about who wins the major book awards and who gets left out.

In Canada, we have some lovely prizes for fiction writers. Notable among them:

Scotiabank Giller Prize

Arguably, the “Giller” is the glitziest party with hefty prize money for the winner: $100,000. The four finalists each receive a very nice $10,000. The prize is awarded each year to a novel or collection of short fiction.

Governor General’s Award for Fiction

While the Scotiabank Giller prize is rich in monetary rewards, there’s no denying the cachet connected to the GGs, a national recognition of literary merit since 1936. Expanded over the years to the current seven categories: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama, young people’s literature — text and illustrated — and translation. The Canada Council for the Arts hands out prizes for English-language winners and for French-language winners. 14 prizes in all, with writers, illustrators and translators receiving $25,000, their publishers receiving $3,000 and finalists receiving $1,000.

Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize

Like the Giller, this prize is awarded annually to a novel or collection of short fiction. The $50,000 purse is impressive and finalists receive $5,000 each.

Canada Reads

Inspired by the one-book, one-community phenomenon, CBC launched Canada Reads where five diverse panellists each champion a book that they think all of Canada should read. There’s no prize money; however, finalists and winners have all seen significant increase in sales for their books. Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion sold 70,000 copies after being declared winner in 2002, fifteen years after it was first published.

There are also many regional, provincial and municipal awards for literary fiction. But where is the prestigious prize for popular, commercial fiction? Generally sponsored by writing associations and groups, genre fiction has some great prizes. For example:

According to Wikipedia, there are more than 50 literary awards in Canada for writers of adult and children’s fiction. In Canada, literary awards of serious prize money and prestige most often means serious fiction — elegant text, subtle layers of meaning, imagery and metaphor that bring us to tears with their beauty.

What about the joy of reading a terrific book? Commercial fiction, also known as “popular fiction”, is that book you can’t put down because the fascinating characters or plot are like musical earworms you cannot get out of your head. And the suspense or romance is pulling you along. There may be precious little imagery happening or subtle layering, but does that mean it is “less than” a literary gem anointed by a panel of literary judges?

I once taught a workshop where a participant was shocked that I referenced Stephen King as a strong and compelling writer. She once said a similar thing in her university English literature class and was shamed in front of her classmates by her prof’s seething rejection of “that hack.”

Victorian-era best-selling author Charles Dickens was considered to be a hack, I told her. And like Dickens, Stephen King’s work has found its way onto more than one postsecondary syllabus.

Of course, there’s also some satisfaction in King’s earnings as an author of popular fiction. But even bestselling Canadian authors of popular fiction are unlikely to find themselves on the Giller prize list or anticipating a nod for a GG.

Maybe we should take a page from the National Book Awards in the U.K.  Launched as the Popular Fiction Award in 2006 and now dubbed the Fiction Book of the Year, the shortlisted and winning books have included thrillers, romance and humour. Currently sponsored by a corporate giant in vision care, they are now known as the Specsavers National Book Awards.

Seems like a good idea to me. And I suspect our many popular fiction writers would agree.

Last Word

Ruth is delighted to confirm the Writer in Residence for the Arts Council, Haliburton Highlands is bestselling Canadian author of decidedly popular fiction, Susanna Kearsley.

Her latest book, Bellewether, is Haliburton Reads & Writes pick for The Big Book Club and readers are invited to join Susanna in Haliburton on September 15 to talk about Bellewether and ask Susanna questions about the book. The Big Book Club will be live streamed so that anyone can join in and participate in the discussion and Q&A. Check out the Facebook page for details.

Susanna’s books, published in translation in more than 20 countries, have won the Catherine Cookson Fiction Prize, RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards, a RITA Award, and National Readers’ Choice Awards, and have finalled for the UK’s Romantic Novel of the Year and the Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel.