Deborah Ellis

Deborah Ellis
Coming to Thunder Bay

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Coffee with John Pringle and his New Book, Dandelions.

I met John Pringle, one great short story writer with many awards to prove it, at Calicos last Tuesday. He handed me the only copy of his latest book Dandelions and I, with my usual grace and aplomb, immediately knocked over my coffee sending half the liquid slopping over the pages. Pringle doesn’t loose his cool easily. He simply assured me the print run will be available this week, so I was not to worry about the sodden mess on the table before him.

 I was impressed by how sincere he sounded.

Dandelions, a fine-looking book, in spite of the coffee stains, has, on the cover, a lovely photo of dandelion clocks and flying dandelion seeds as light and lovely and alive as the array of brilliant stories within. Pringle credits the book’s good looks to the skill of Deborah de Bakker who did the type setting and the cover. The launch of this, John’s third book of short fiction, will take place in the downstairs auditorium at the Waverley Resource Library on October 28 in the afternoon starting at 2 pm.

I brought along my cherished copy of his second book, Spirals, and I did not spill anything on it. It contains two of my favourite Pringle stories, ones I have read over and over. “Northern Mallards” is a layered story about a boy and his dad who go duck shooting and almost drown. The boy tries to imitate his dad’s toughness. A third strand deals with the likelihood that the boy’s parents might split up. Three themes, all twisted together, lift the story into greatness. I also love “Shambling Toward the Light” which features Fred Cummings and Norman Sanderson, who along with Norman’s bother Stanley, might be found in any northern bar or, god help us, in your own family. The brothers are alcoholic misfits. Fred is a drunken poet who, with the help of various substances, has become a philosopher of life. Happily, Stanley and his buddies appear in Dandelions. They’ll bring joy and laughter to the reader.

John also writes speculative fiction which he defines as “works not grounded in reality.” When he was preparing the layout of Dandelions, he thought long and hard about the arrangement of  the stories and finally decided to clump the six speculative fiction pieces together and put them first. “If a reader is not into speculative fiction, they can skip the first six stories and go on to the rest of the book.”  

I don’t think many will.

The first story, “A Place in the Field” was commissioned by the Atikokan Centennial Museum in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. So Pringle took up the topic and ran with it, making Queen Elizabeth the protagonist. She has a recurring dream about an incident that frightened her as a child. “I’m not sure whether the museum was expecting a piece of speculative fiction with the Queen as a main character,” he said, “but that’s what I wrote.”

Clones rule the earth in the story “Future,” but survivors are near-by. This story won the NOWW Science Fiction award. In “A New Bell” a tonal alchemist makes a bell to drive out the patriarchal religions of the western world. Last May, “The Education of Alan Woodruff” was awarded first place at the NOWW Awards in the category, “Novel Excerpt - Speculative Fiction.” “Turtle Eggs,” one of the first stories John ever published, has a boy turning into a turtle egg (note connection to Kafka and the cockroach) but here his parents don’t notice.

Pringle has lived most of his life in Atikokan. He credits his parents for giving him an early education in literature, art and music. He is grateful to his father who showed him the intricacies of the natural world. No matter where he lived and worked later, he was always drawn back to the forests and lakes of Northern Ontario. “When I was a teen, music, especially the blues, was my passion in life,” he said. He saved every penny to buy blues records at the Co-op Bookshop on Algoma Street whenever the family came to Thunder Bay. At the age of thirty, he began “grinding away” at learning the maddingly difficult art of writing short fiction. His remark reminded me of Alice Munro who said it took her three years of effort just to find out how a short story worked.

Pringle has read widely and at the end of Dandelions, he mentions Miguel de Cervantes, Ernest Hemingway and other writers who have inspired him. Over coffee, he talked about two books that made a strong impression on him. The Missing Link by Sydney Banks reveals simple principals on the working of the mind and how they create our life experiences. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harrari starts with the first humans and describes the cognitive, agricultural and scientific revolutions that define us now.

John’s first book, Truth Ratio, upgraded and reprinted with six new stories added, will be for sale at the launch along with Spirals and the new book Dandelions.

Hope to see you there.

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