And according to esteemed journalist and now author Linden MacIntyre, it’s all about finding the right way to tell it.
MacIntyre participated at the tenth annual author’s talk August 12 in Sandy Cove, hosted by area residents Sarah MacLachlan, president and publisher at House of Anansi, and author and journalist Noah Richler.
After giving the first-ever public reading of his new book, The Only Café, MacIntyre sat down with Richler, scotch in hand, discussing how his time as a foreign correspondent in conflict zones inspired the book.
Putting memories to paper
While speaking on his own experiences inspiring his seventh book, MacIntyre got candid about what his books focus on.
“I write about the permanence of the consequences of violence,” he said.
“A violent act changes people. It goes on – even the children of people damaged by war are too often damaged themselves.”
While his books are based on the same concept, they have different circumstances.
Like his books, violent acts are also different, yet are often prompted by people who’ve experienced violence and changed as a result, according to the author.
And the people left behind are never the same.
“I once came across a figure that stunned me – 231 million people were killed globally by acts of personal design. So if those people are gone, every single one of them was connected to 1, 10, 100 people,” he said.
His characters reflect how a person changes, like a central character in The Only Café whose father is murdered in front of him on a walk home.
The story carries with an implicit message MacIntyre says he didn’t intend. When the book was finished, there it appeared.
“It’s why the book has something to say, I think. If you set out writing a blatant message, it’s polemic or sermon-like,” he said.
“If you write something that comes to terms organically through character evolution, a message will appear.”
From journalist to author
Of transitioning from one writing hat to another, MacIntyre said it came quite naturally.
And as someone who never sought out a foreign correspondence position, he came into the job with open eyes.
“When you get sent places, you see things, have experiences and learn stuff. If you have a hankering to tell stories, this stuff comes in handy,” he said.
MacIntyre worked as a foreign correspondent for CBC and later as The Fifth Estate's co-host.
He felt like he could never capture the entire story of what conflicts were truly like, because journalism can have limits, like word counts and segment lengths.
“The icing on the cake is what’s on TV and in papers, but there’s all this cake, and it accumulates,” he said.
MacIntyre’s seven published books are that cake, with a different icing that he created by combining personal experience with original context.
It’s a unique kind of therapy, he says, that helps him work through the build-up of memories from time spent abroad.
“I became troubled in my fifties with these things, so I thought to myself, ‘maybe I can do something with this.’ I knew it would be hard, but it’s been helpful,” he said.
A literate country
At the packed Sandy Cove house full of around 60 intent listeners and inspired conversation, MacIntyre felt good.
“These events show me that Canada is a great country for books, a great country for readers,” he said.
He said the amount of book clubs in small communities like Sandy Cove show the health of Canada’s literacy and culture of learning.
And that, he said, is something to be very proud of.
“People want to talk about books, which is a remarkable demonstration of the fact that we still have a valuable culture here,” he said.
“It’s a means for people to communicate. They like ideas, and they like information – to me that’s a very good sign we’re on the right track.”