canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

TDR Profile: Ottawa's Chaudiere Books

The newest Canadian small press, Chaudiere Books, will be launching three of its first four books on Thursday, October 26, 2006, 7:00 p.m. at the National Library & Archives Building, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa (organized by the Ottawa International Writers Festival). The books are Clare Latremouille's first novel The Desmond Road Book of the Dead, Meghan Jackson's first poetry collection movements in jars, and Monty Reid's Disappointment Island.

Chaudiere Books is headed by Jennifer Mulligan and rob mclennan. TDR spoke to mclennan about this new literary venture.

More info at

(Oct. 2006)


TDR: What prompted you to start the press?

rob: For years now I've been complaining that Ottawa doesn't have a local publisher. Because we are the capital city, a lot of national gets in the way of local, including the National Arts Centre, the National Gallery, etcetera. We have a number of publishers here that are national who happen to be in the city, but who aren't necessarily useful to the ground-level writers who exist here. I think of presses like Vehicule in Montreal, Arsenal Pulp in Vancouver and Turnstone in Winnipeg whose geography were essential to the beginnings of what they were doing, and thus helped shaped the city around them, through publishing writers from those places.

If you compile the catalogues for all the literary publishers in Canada and found the writers who live in the city of Ottawa, I think you'd be quite amazed. Imagine: we have Elizabeth Hay, Matthew Firth, Elisabeth Harvor, John Metcalf, John James-Ford, John Lavery, Geoffrey Brown, Suzannah Smith, David O'Meara, Stephen Brockwell, William Hawkins, Shane Rhodes, Monty Reid, Mark Frutkin, Francis Itani, Seymour Mayne, Nadine McInnis, Michelle Desberets, Charles De Lint, Paul Glennon, Sharon Drache, Max Middle and jwcurry. We used to have Carol Shields, George Elliott Clarke, Diana Brebner, Stephanie Bolster and John Barton. The late poet John Newlove lived here his last seventeen years, longer than he lived anywhere (which is why we're aiming for a larger selected of his in our third season). We helped to invent Elizabeth Smart, Margaret Atwood, Richard Sanger, Andre Alexis, Colin McAdam, Priscila Uppal, Matt Cohen, Gary Barwin and Norman Levine. Don McKay, Ken Babstock and David O'Meara are all boys from the Ottawa Valley. Shouldn't that say something about us somewhere? Shouldn't that give us some sort of credibility as a city? And shouldn't we have a publisher in town who helps develop some of those voices, that otherwise might not have made it this far? There are bunches of writers around me that deserve more attention from publishers, including Clare Latremouille, Anita Dolman, Max Middle, Chris Turnbull, Una McDonnell, Wes Smiderle and Karen Massey. Where are the publishers that should be going after them for books? I want to be able to fill the gaps that I see in what gets published.

TDR: What is your print run per title?

rob: We're aiming for runs between 1,000 and 1,500, but I think we're going to have to start with runs of only 500 for the first season, until we get some more cash in hand. We have been looking at our options for some time, but currently we will be running our own distribution. We will also be selling books directly through the website.

TDR: How do you think the Ottawa media/city will respond to your movement?

rob: Individuals seem to be reacting quite well, and little bits of the media, but media such as the Ottawa Citizen have been notoriously bad for local writers. The books pages are hideously embarrassing; it's as though they're pretending they're a national newspaper, but not really as good at it, without really understanding what that means. It's far more likely an Ottawa writer will be featured in the Arts section of the paper well before the Books. Already, though, we have some nibbles from a few smaller places, which over the next few months will be essential. Some of the worst press the city gets is from its own people, something I have yet to fully comprehend.

TDR: What festivals are you involved in?

rob: I've had a relationship with the ottawa international writers festival since it started, so they're helping us launch three of our first four titles on October 26th, which is extremely cool. We haven't started bothering any other festivals yet; we wanted to make sure the books were made before we started doing any of that.

TDR: How did you go about starting up funding, finding manuscripts; what do each member of your press bring to the table?

rob: The start up funding doesn't exist; we've been faking our way through that completely, with little bits of investment here and there. We've spent the past two years working on our business plan. Jennifer Mulligan was the brains behind that; she has a business degree, and lots of retail experience, web/computer experience, as well as the years she helped run the TREE Reading Series, so she has lots of experience behind her of various things. I, on the other hand, am worrying about content, and publicity. I managed to get us a full page article in the October issue of Quill & Quire, and am working on a few others. As far as the manuscripts, I've been talking this up for about two years, so I'm already working on the third and fourth seasons of the press. I've been an editor/publisher since 1993, so there are lots of folks I know with manuscripts lying around their homes, or folk that should have manuscripts they haven't told anyone about yet (including themselves). Finding the work isn't necessarily the hard part; getting it out of them and getting it out is.

TDR: Like Snare Books slightly before you, what do you think this will do to an already established lit community?

rob: I'm hoping it will make the community a bit more lively; there is the taint of conservativeness that hangs over the city of Ottawa, half of which is stereotypical, and half of which isn't. There are other things happening here and have been for years that I would like to be able to highlight; part of what I would like to be able to do is counter the arguments that various media and Ottawa government-types make about the arts in Ottawa, that it will happen soon, and hasn't done anything yet. I'm tired of hearing that. Mayor Bob Charelli promised the same a few years ago, that he would make Ottawa a world-class city by helping the arts (nothing happened), or a recent panel discussion through the Council for the Arts in Ottawa on "Imagine Ottawa," working on the premise that we have yet to achieve our potential. I honestly think it's the media and the government who haven't quite clued into it. We've been here as long as the city has, a century and a half. We don't need more start-up or promises; what we need is acknowledgment of what we've already done, and the support to continue to do what we have already begun, without their help.

Nathaniel G. Moore is TDR’s features editor.







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