Mad Hope reviewed in St. John Telegraph-Journal!

Birrell is a writer with audacity, flair and vision. Mad Hope hosts a sense of whimsy, a keen eye for details and precise crafts- manship. Birrell has an exceptional knack for the short story. Where the cast of characters in I know you are but what am I? (Coach House, 2004), sought meaning, Mad Hope captures the sheer madness of it all.

— Sandra Webb-Campbell


Mad Hope reviewed at backlisted.

Andrew Wilmot reviews Mad Hope on his blog backlisted.

Mad Hope is an exhibition of control. Birrell carefully weaves through the central themes of the book, using their commonality as a springboard rather than an anchor. More often than not, she succeeds, beautifully.

Fictionistas land at Ben McNally Books!

On Thursday May 3, I will be hosting a group of women writers at a reading at Ben McNally Books as part of the Fictionista series of readings.  It’s a great new initiative — I’m psyched to be a part of it.  Here’s the scoop:

FICTIONistas was conceived in 2006 under the leadership of Coteau Books. The tour is a joint project among independent publishers to bring together Canadian women writers for a reading series of events ‘with a difference’. ?You may have read about it in the new issue of Quill & Quire. Each city’s installment has four authors, usually hosted by a FICTIONista alumna, with Q&A and discussions among the authors and audience. This Spring’s events will be in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto.

The Toronto event takes place on May 3 at Ben McNally Books (366 Bay Street) and features Coach House author Heather Birrell (Mad Hope) in addition to tour regularsSarah Kathryn York (The Anatomy of Edouard Beaupre), Margaret MacPherson (Body Trade), Arley McNeney (The Time We All Went Marching) and Alison Preston (The Girl in the Wall). We hope you can join us!

Margaret MacPherson – will read from Body Trade (Signature Editions), a story of survival: Rosie and Tanya, two young Canadian women decide to leave the Northwest Territories and head south on a road trip through California, Mexico and Central America, and wind up enmeshed in the Central American sex trafficking trade.

Arley McNeney – The Time We All Went Marching (Goose Lane) tells the story of Edie MacDonald, who leaves her drunken partner Slim and boards a train with her son Belly, travelling westward to an uncertain future.

Alison Preston – will present The Girl in the Wall (Signature Editions), in which a skeleton uncovered during a Winnipeg home renovation that leads retired detective (now renovator) Frank Foote to investigate the mystery of how a girl who died in the 1960s wound up in the house’s wall.

Sarah Kathryn York – will read from The Anatomy of Edouard Beaupre (Coteau Books), the story of a Montreal doctor investigating the cadaver of the famous Willow Bunch Giant, trying to solve the mystery of why the preserved body is shrinking while his own body fails him. He has a rare condition whereby his body is gradually swallowing its own bones.

The event will be hosted by Heather Birrell, the Journey Prize winning author of Mad Hope (Coach House), a new short story collection of characters and families both recognizable and alarming. The book will take you to places unfamiliar, from the high school science lab to online chat rooms for expectant mothers to Central American river tours to capture the lovely, maddening mess of being human

The event will feature short readings from the four authors, then be followed by a Q&A with the audience. This season will involve book clubs, both local to the FICTIONista tour venues and nationwide. The book club readers will be a part of the events, guiding the Q&A sessions. They can join in the discussion from afar through the FICTIONistas blog and twitter (hashtag #fictionista).

Mad Hope reviewed in the Globe & Mail

In her new collection, Mad Hope, Birrell puts her talents on display once more, exploring characters whose reasonable expectations of the world have been devastated by sudden death (sometimes violent) or other tragedies. The losses her characters experience leave them yearning for alleviation of grief, pain or even regret.  (…) Birrell achieves a seemingly effortless originality and accuracy. (…)  Some of her characterizations are so arresting in their exactness they caused me to pause.

Read the rest of the review by Kelli Deeth here.

Mad Hope reviewed in Quill and Quire

There’s a voyeuristic quality to Heather Birrell’s stories.  The Toronto author seems to have mastered the art of writing about universal themes and subjects — marriage, family, motherhood, death, sex — in a manner both familiar and unsettling.  Her prose is dense with detail yet fluid, carrying the reader into the inner workings of her characters’ carefully constructed lives.  That’s where the sense of peeping comes into play: these people are so wonderfully accurate, so blatantly human, that to bear witness to their hurts and despairs, ecstasies and triumphs, elicits the same discomfort one feels overhearing the neighbours having an afternoon romp or catching a friend giving her child a smack on the bum in a moment of anger or frustration.  Birrell peels back the layers of civility to expose the dark and messy bits we all hide, but she does so with such finesse that we are simultaneously captivated and repulsed by the intimacy of it all.

— Dory Cerny

Read the rest of the review in the May issue of Quill & Quire, on newsstands now.

Mad Hope Hits the Dakota Tavern

I had such a wonderful time at my book launch.  The Dakota Tavern is underground.  People slowed a little as they came down the stairs.  They blinked and squinted as they adjusted to the room.  The lights made everything all blurry and starry, which was exactly how I felt.  My friend Kathryn interviewed me on stage, the good folk from Coach House sold some books, we all drank beer.  It was perfect.


Inspired by this wonderful site, I will be posting my own lists of note when they occur, or it occurs to me.  I write a lot of lists because I think they help me control my life.  I’m pretty sure they don’t, and sometimes I think they make it worse, but I keep making them.  And apparently so does my daughter — witness list below, dictated by and lovingly traced by M.

Truly, MADly, Deeply, HOPE-ing…

You will come out to this tomorrow night!  Please help me celebrate Mad Hope’s emergence.  I would love to see you!


Happy Harbourfront!

On April 11th (my birthday!) I had the great good fortune of reading at Harbourfront as part of their weekly reading series.  I was joined by fellow writers Yejilde Kilanko and John Boyne and Catherine Bush (a friend and former thesis advisor) hosted.  It was pretty darn perfect — reading a story (that I wrote!) to a room full of people who were really listening.  On my birthday.  C’mon.



Here are some pictures.  The smiling woman behind me brandishing my book is my Auntie Ann.  But for the purposes of this blog, she is a stranger.  Hear that?  Complete stranger.  Fan?  Oh, what a fan.











The Princess Who Got Ate By A Shark

Lately I have been thinking a lot about what fairy stories mean to me and what they might mean to my 3 1/2 year old girl as she grows.  I remember when she first learned to use the word ‘once’ and the particular magic of that word (although ‘please’ is also pretty nice as magic words go).  And then yesterday she told me this story:


Once upon a time there was a princess who got ate by a shark.  And then a good mermaid saved her and the bad mermaid didn’t get burned in the fire.  The end.


And then I picked up AS Byatt’s wonderful The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye and read this from ‘The Story of the Eldest Princess’:


‘You are a born storyteller,’ said the old lady.  ‘You had the sense to see you were caught in a story, and the sense to see that you could change it to another one.  And the special wisdom to recognise that you are under a curse — which is also a blessing — which makes the story more interesting to you than the things that make it up.  There are young women who would never have listened to the creatures’ tales about the Woodman, but insisted on finding out for themselves.  And maybe they would have been wise and they would have been foolish:  that is their story.  But you listened to the Cockroach and stepped aside and came here, where we collect stories and spin stories and mend what we can and investigate what we can’t, and live quietly without striving to change the world.  We have no story of our own here, we are free, as old women are free, who don’t have to worry about princes or kingdoms, but dance alone and take an interest in the creatures.’


And I thought, I think we’ll be okay.  Maybe not happily ever after, but definitely okay.  Happy Easter to you and all the creatures!

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