Author Tags: Fiction, Theatre
Born in Bradford Yorks, England, on October 14, 1929, Rachel Wyatt was educated in Yorkshire and immigrated to Canada with her husband and children in 1957. Originally a radio dramatist, she published stories in numerous magazines while developing an earlier style that was once described by James Polk as a 'British comedy-of-manners in the vein of Evelyn Waugh or Nancy Mitford, but the merriment is tempered by the melancholy of the characters, often expatriates who seem dislocated, lost in the surreal cityscapes of North America.' In addition to her own stageplays at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, Wyatt adapted a version of Adele Wiseman's novel Crackpot for Theatre Calgary. As of 1986 she became closely associated with the Banff Centre for the Arts, first as an instructor and then as its director of writing programs, until she moved to Victoria in September of 1993. Throughout her work, a keen sense of irony prevails, mixed with compassion and humour. One of her stories opens, "When Harold Fryer went to church that Sunday, he had to begin by reminding God of his existence." Her novel Letters to Omar (Coteau, 2011) is about three interfering women 'with time on their hands' who tackle a charitable cause, and realize that fixing the universe is no easy task. Rachel Wyatt is a Member of The Order of Canada (2002) and received the Queen's Jubilee Medal in 2003.
When the wife of an architect for a hugely unpopular real estate development disappears from a smalltown in Rachel Wyatt's mystery novel Suspicion (Coteau 2012), there is no shortage of suspects for murder. Her younger sister led the protests against the housing scheme and her father isn't keen to search for her. An anonymous chat room regular pseudonym-ed as Marguerite seems to know more than anyone. If Agatha Christie was around today with an Apple computer, she might have invented 'Marguerite' instead of Miss Marple.
A woman holding a sign that asks “Are you content to be nothing?” is our guide as we make our way through Street Symphony (Coteau, 2015), Rachel Wyatt's collection of short stories. It's a series of interconnected tales that takes us from “Café Society,” to “The Companion’s Tale,” to “Aquarium." With her biting humour, Wyatt creates a thought-provoking cast of characters, many of them seniors, who are not content to be overlooked or ignored.
2015 Street Symphony (Coteau 2015) 9781550506181 $18.95
2012 Suspicion (Coteau 2012) 9781550505177
2010 Letters to Omar (Coteau, 2011) 978-1-55050-448-4
2005 The Magician's Beautiful Assistant (stories), Hedgerow Press
2003 Time’s Reach (a novel), Oolichan
2002 The Last We Heard of Leonard (short stories), Oolichan
1999 Mona Lisa Smiled a Little (a novel), Oolichan
1996 The Day Marlene Dietrich Died (short stories), Oolichan
The Italian translation of this collection was published by Voland Edizione, Rome, in 2003
2000 Agnes Macphail, Champion of the Underdog (biography), XYZ Publishing
1985 Time in the Air (novel), House of Anansi
1982 Foreign Bodies (novel), House of Anansi
1977 The Rosedale Hoax (novel), House of Anansi
1970 The String Box(novel), House of Anansi
Full-length stage plays
2004 Knock, Knock, produced at the Belfry Theatre, Victoria
2002 For Love and Money, produced at Alberta Theatre Projects, Calgary
2000 Knock, Knock produced at Alberta Theatre Projects, Calgary
1996 Crackpot, produced at Alberta Theatre Projects, Calgary,
The Society Hill Theatre, Philadelphia, The Finborough Theatre, London England, The Belfry Theatre, Victoria, Prairie Theatre Exchange, Winnipeg
1984 Chairs and Tables, produced at The Tarragon Theatre, Toronto
1983 Geometry, produced at The Tarragon Theatre, Toronto
More than a hundred dramas commissioned by the CBC and the BBC (London), including Twenty-One Days, The Doctor’s Casebook, Speak to us, Ruth, and Inukshuk.
Television writing includes items for general interest programmes and a script for Fraggle Rock
Stories, monologues and scenes from plays included in many anthologies, most recently in the Oxford Book of Stories by Canadian Women.
The Banff Centre for the Arts
2004 Invited to be Distinguished Guest Writer, The Writing Studio
1991 - 1999 Director, Writing Programs
1995 - 2001 Director, Writing with Style, a workshop for beginning writers
1989 -1996 Director, The Banff Radio Drama Workshop
1987 -1991 Associate Director, Writing Programs
McGill University, Northern Studies Department
1987 –93 Instructor in the B.Ed. program at various locations in the Arctic, teaching English to Inuit teachers whose first language is Inuktitut.
Some other teaching assignments
The University of Victoria, Creative Writing
The David Thompson University Centre, Nelson, BC
Universite de Bourgogne, Dijon
SELECTED CONFERENCE PRESENTATIONS
2003 Fiero del Libro, Turin, Italy
1997 Canadian Studies Conference, University of Messina, Sicily
1993 Canadian Literature Conference, University of Messina
1993 Two-week reading and lecture tour of Australia
1990 SPACLALS Canadian Study Conference, Wollongong, Australia
1987 Commonwealth Literature Conference, Venice
1986 Canadian Studies Conference, Bristol
Canadian Studies Conference, Bordeaux
Vancouver Writers Festival
Calgary Writers Festival
Winnipeg Writers Festival
Victoria Writers Festival
The Sunshine Coast Writers Festival
Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga Australia
Australia National University, Canberra
Canadian Who’s Who
The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature
The Oxford Companion to Canadian Theatre
Who’s Who of Canadian Women
BC Arts Council, 2001
2002 The Order of Canada
The Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal
1995, 96 Short-listed for the CBC Literary Awards
1986 Nominated for the Texaco Award for Radio Drama
1982 First Prize, CBC Drama Competition
The Writers Union of Canada
The Playwrights Guild
The BC Federation of Writers
Plays published by The Playwrights Union of Canada
2001 For Love and Money
1999 Knock, Knock
1986 Chairs and Tables
[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2015] "Fiction" "Theatre"
The Last We Heard of Leonard (Oolichan $19.95)
Meet a man who returns to church after thirty years in the hope of recovering his faith but instead finds himself imagining his wife’s death. Seventeen stories of absence in a bizarre, blurred world. She lives with her husband in Victoria. 0-88982-210-7
[Spring 2003 BCBW]
Mona Lisa Smiled a Little
Rachel Wyatt’s episodic novel Mona Lisa Smiled a Little is a domestic book, if you will, concerned mostly with the lives of people perhaps not quite like you and me. And they are presented with a special panache in a voice that is solidly Ms. Wyatt’s own. Wyatt is a woman not afraid to put her birth date on the copyright page. She’s 70 but her years have been generous to her, and to us.
[Robert Harlow / BCBW 2000]
Mona Lisa Smiled A Little (Oolichan $17.95)
In Rachel Wyatt’s sequel to The Day Marlene Dietrich Died, the central character of Almeida faces retirement and pressure from her daughters to behave properly for a woman her age in Mona Lisa Smiled A Little (Oolichan $17.95). Her ex-husband Joe helps her through the transition by taking her to China, where they rekindle their old love. But they return only to find that one of their daughters has died. Author of four novels, Rachel Wyatt has had more than 100 radio dramas produced by the CBC and BBC. Her play Crackpot, based on the novel by Adele Wiseman is in production at the Finborough Theatre in London. Her latest play Knock, Knock, Who’s There? is being produced by Alberta Theatre Projects in Calgary. She lives in Victoria. 0-88982-176-3
[BCBW AUTUMN 1999]
Time’s Reach (Oolichan, 2004)
from BCBW Summer 2004
Rachel Wyatt recently said in an interview that she felt compelled to write Time’s Reach (Oolichan $22.95) after finding an old photograph of her father. This photo—showing her father surrounded by dead bodies in an internment camp—becomes the mystery at the heart of a new novel about the pitfalls of unraveling the past.
Seeking refuge from her complicated life in Toronto, the principle character, Maggie Parkes, visits her elderly parents in England. At the outset, Maggie longs to retreat to her room and get back to reading her book, Iris Murdoch’s An Accidental Man. It’s a foreshadowing of the suspenseful and darkly comedic mood that will ensue.
The story gets underway as Robert Parkes’ life is ending. His failing health leads him to confess a long-held secret to his daughter Maggie. Unbeknownst to his family, he had engaged in some clandestine work for the British government concerning the Second World War. They had always believed he was merely traveling across Europe selling wool. Maggie’s father reveals just enough prior to his death for the family to believe he’s led a romantically duplicitous life. His wife Frieda is crushed; Maggie and her brother David are curious but disinclined to uncover the truth.
After the funeral, Maggie returns to Canada with an envelope of photos and postcards her father has left for her. She becomes haunted by one particular photo, that image of a man in an internment camp surrounded by dead bodies. They wonder if he was a spy and conclude, at the very least, he must have been a civilian witness to the horrific aftermath of Nazi murders.
In Maggie’s family there is a longing in every one of them to break out of their lives and become something more, something unexpected and surprising to the rest, something of a legacy. Frieda longs to escape her mundane old-age and live in the Swiss Alps, but shortly after her husband’s death she dies while mountain climbing. David, an unemployed stock broker, takes up marathon running and then vanishes while following his father’s trail to Germany. Be careful, as the Chinese say, you might get what you wish for.
Years later, Maggie’s teenage daughter Bertie becomes obsessed with paying homage to her grandfather, encouraging the entire family to embark on a journey to Germany to find the truth. Maggie had pretty much given up on her life-long intention to return to Europe, but Bertie, named for her possibly courageous grandfather, wants to wake the rest of them out of the torpor their lives have become. She also hopes to acknowledge Robert was something of a hero.
Their collective trip to Germany is wrought with folly. No more should be said.
As a result of years as a prolific playwright, Wyatt has created characters that are well-sketched and perfectly true to life – quirky, vulnerable, and fallible. A former director at the Banff Centre for the Arts, she has written seven previous novels, short fiction, stage plays and over 100 radio dramas featured on CBC and BBC. In 2002, Wyatt, who lives in Victoria, was honoured for her contribution to the development of Canadian Literature when she was inducted into the Order of Canada. It should come as no surprise that her latest novel, Time’s Reach, is a wonderfully crafted, engaging story; a joy to read.
Suspicion by Rachel Wyatt (Coteau $19.95)
When the wife of an architect for a hugely unpopular real estate development disappears from a small-town in Rachel Wyatt’s mystery novel Suspicion (Coteau $19.95), there is no shortage of suspects who might be the murderer. Her younger sister led the protests against the housing scheme and her father isn’t keen to search for her. An anonymous chat room regular pseudonym-ed Marguerite seems to know more than anyone. If Agatha Christie was around today with an Apple computer, she might have invented ‘Marguerite’ instead of Miss Marple.