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Twenty Questions with Harriet Bernstein – Part 2 of 2

Thank you for reading our first instalment of ‘Twenty Questions with Harriet Bernstein’! Have you fallen in love yet? I hope so! We’ve got ten more questions and answers for you to read, and continue to get to know the incredible woman who is Harriet Bernstein!

Of course, if any of this has resonates with you, you simply must purchase her memoir! I honestly could not put it down, and half the time my mouth was open so wide in shock, wonder and awe it’s a miracle no bugs flew in! I kid, I kid. But really, it’s an important memoir to read on so many levels. Not only does it shine a brilliant light on the relationship between Harriet and Irving Layton – a different and very real ‘other side’ – it exemplifies the brilliant light that is Harriet Bernstein – writer, poet, reader, lover, traveler – and the first woman executive in the Canadian film industry blazing trails that didn’t exist before her. Her story leads us across Ontario and Canada to Italy to Greece…it is a whirlwind of worldly adventures with a young, brilliant, full-hearted, full-lipped feminist woman.

Here’s a link to purchaser Harriet’s book RIGHT NOW!

https://www.inanna.ca/catalog/irving-layton-our-years-together/

(And you can feel great about purchasing the book directly from Inanna Publications too!)

Alrighty friends, here we go! The final ten questions! Enjoy!

11) How did it feel to find a publisher who wanted to publish your story? Was your goal always to get this story published?

Writing this book took a very long time, for reasons already stated. Initially, I may have just wanted to get our story on paper for myself, for some cathartic process, or for family history purposes. However, with time came many other people writing about our life, people who did not speak with me, but felt entitled to offer their usually uninformed opinions nonetheless. It is a truly horrible, traumatic experience to open the pages of your daily newspaper, and see a two-page story, with photos, that some journalist wrote, to sensationalize & exploit your life. Try to imagine how that feels. Then come the “serious” writers, those who take a more academic approach, who write serious biographies about artists; but you can’t speak with them either, because your legal counsel advises against it, and you are mothering a baby while all this horror is unspooling around you. Then you hear your former partner on television or radio, telling his side of your private life in a very public arena. And still you do not engage, you maintain your silence. So, I most definitely crafted this book with the ferocious intention of finding a publisher for it and, finally, putting my truth, the truth as I lived it, out there. I felt that Inanna would be the perfect home for my book, and I was overjoyed when they accepted it for publication. 

12) Describe the editing/revision process? Overall, how can you describe this process?

The process of writing this book took decades. In a way, the hardest part was getting down the first draft, because I am very self-critical, so just allowing the words to come out raw without self-editing was difficult. Then, in later versions, the fact that my young woman’s voice sometimes made me, as an older woman, cringe and I wanted to edit, to change my words from my journal, but I could not because this was a truth-telling book and to edit my words would have been dishonest. You have to, above all,  blacken the page and edit later. This book was edited more times that I can say, and like many writers, I probably would have kept on editing it forever. Deadlines are hard, but necessary, and force a clarity of vision, a distillation. The book is just the right length. At the end of my process, Inanna offered an invaluable editorial process for which I will always be grateful, and from which I learned much. 

13) How did you feel leading up to your book launch? 14) What was it like to get on stage, book in hand, and talk about and read from your book? 

The week of my book launch, I had a bad tooth that was causing acute & extreme pain. We’ve all had that experience, and know how absolutely distracting tooth pain can be. I was on antibiotics and painkillers! The tooth came out the very next week, in fact. So, that was an additional little challenge I would have loved to have done without. I was nervous and excited about the launch. Nervous partly because we had been a bit tardy in getting the final edited galleys to the printer, so I did not actually have the book in my hands until I arrived at the launch venue. I was trying to select excerpts to read at the launch, and I was having a very hard time doing that online, and I had to do it online because I hadn’t been able to get to Staples for toner, so I couldn’t print out anything! See how the tooth becomes a factor here 🙂   Earlier printed versions were no longer reliable, as so much had changed during the editing process. So that part had me freaking out. I arrived at the launch with post-its of the pages and excerpts I had selected, and as soon as one book was placed in my hands, I found those pages and put my post-it markers in place. I hardly even took a sacred moment to appreciate the fact that I was holding, for the very first time, the published copy of my book. It was all about getting those markers in & being ready for my turn at the lectern. Then I breathed a little easier. Subsequently of course, I had that sacred moment of awe and gratitude that here, finally in my hands was a published book that I wrote. With regard to speaking on stage, I started life as a very shy person however my career in the film industry often required that I speak on a stage or address a number of people, anywhere from a few dozen up to 600. So, I had to overcome my shyness and fear of public speaking, and it turned out that I was quite good at it! So I wasn’t particularly nervous about being up there with a microphone in front of me; I just needed help getting on & off the stage, because of my physical challenges. I would also like to say that I was so very fortunate to have wonderful supportive friends, colleagues, and family who came to my book launch. Some  (like you) came from other cities to be there with me at this amazing moment, and others with severe physical challenges managed, even in a wheelchair, to find their way to me. I was so deeply touched by this. 

15) What are your future goals with your book? Readings? Lectures? Travel? 

I believe that Inanna will be arranging interviews and readings, so I am of course committed to doing whatever is asked of me to promote the book. I hope there is not much travel involved, because of my physical challenges, however we will see.

16) Are you working on a new book? 

I am working on three books right now! The writing is done for the first one, I just need to find an illustrator in order to be able to submit it for publication. It’s a “feel good” book entitled ” The Metaphysical ABC Book”, and it has several thoughts on each page, one page per letter. It could be used to help children learn their ABC’s, however I feel the primary target is actually an older demographic. It’s the book you would give to a friend if he/she were feeling a little blue, or under the weather with an illness; or give to a friend as a support tool if they are embarking, for instance, on a new exercise/diet regime; or just give to someone you like, because it is pleasant and enjoyable and supports a perspective of: be here now, take a breath, find the beauty in this moment. I think anyone between the ages of 15-75 will truly appreciate it. I really like this book & hope I find the illustrator soon. The second book I’m working on is a poetry manuscript, which is almost completed. I’m not final on the title yet, however “BALLS” is my working title. There’s that love of poetry again! It has been part of me always, and I suspect always will be. ( I am tickled by the vision of a person going into a Type or Chapters/Indigo and asking if they have “Balls”.) The third book – ah, well, this one I’m having such fun writing: it is a novel, heavy on the erotica, about a successful, strong woman in the film industry. It’s entitled ” EXECUTIVE SWEET”. I’m able to utilize my lifelong career in the film biz to help me accurately portray that industry & those characters, as well as utilize my imagination because there may be some exaggerated parts ( or not……). My challenge is to clear the time to work on this one. I’m very involved with my daughter & my granddaughters, and I am also involved in BabaYaga Place, an initiative to establish a new model of affordable housing for senior women, and all that takes time & energy. I am learning, ongoing, how to find that work/relax ratio. I am by nature a “doer”, so I need to always feel I’m doing something; I’m trying to learn that looking after myself, putting me higher on the priority ladder, is also doing something, and that may look like a day when I don’t go out and I spend time watching television, and that’s ok! We all – particularly women – need to get better at prioritizing ourselves, and giving ourselves permission to relax and take it easy. We are often much more gentle with others than we are with ourselves.

17) Your daughter and granddaughters were at your launch – what was it like having them there? How does ‘family’ fit into your creative life? 

This book would never have seen the light of day were it not for the support,  encouragement and endorsement of my marvelous daughter Samantha. The book is, after all, our life, not just mine, so I would not have made it public unless she were comfortable. She was my first call when I received confirmation of publication from Inanna, and her joy matched mine. Samantha is also a writer, and just as we shared her process for the publication of her two books, she shared this process with me. She understood what was involved, as a creator herself. She is also a mother, so she has a growing understanding of what it meant for me to have the career I did, while also single parenting, and writing this book. And to not give up on this project, no matter how painful it was or how long it took.  It meant the world to me that she and her husband & their two daughters were there. I am proud that as my granddaughters mature, they will be able ( if they are interested) to read about their herstory, which is their Bubbie’s herstory. Of course, Nell is just turning one year old, so it will be a while until all this means something to her. Ida is coming on six years old, and she was excited for her Bubbie. My family is the centre of my life, my most important role now is mother and grandmother, so being able to show them tenacity, a celebration of creativity, and that you are never too old to get it done are all core values I am thrilled to represent. I embrace my role as ” crone”, as a feminist who came of age during the first wave of feminism, and I adore having a daughter and granddaughters. Our stories are precious, and need to be shared. 

18) What is one question you hope people ask you about your book? 

I don’t have one question in particular that I want people to ask. I hope the book finds an audience, and I hope the experience of reading it is enjoyable. I do hope, in particular, that women will be prompted to think about their relationships with themselves and their partners or lovers, their self-value, their needs.

19) Do you think that we each have a story to tell? Would you recommend writing as a positive experience? 

My first instinct in responding to this great question is: sure, everyone has a story to tell, because we are each unique humans! My second thought, however, is that I’m not so sure we each have a story to tell. We may have a story to be told, or we may not lead the kind of examined life that I believe is essential in order to tell a story. Writing is, as you well know, not easy! You have to really be driven to do it. You have to do it because you have to do it, to be succinct. I do think there’s a place for journaling, if only as an outpouring of unrefined emotions and thoughts, an opportunity to engage with yourself, record dreams, etc.  Memory is selective, so it can be helpful to refer back to something you wrote a year ago, as you may not have remembered that you had that symptom or those feelings back then, for example. So in that sense, sure everyone has a story, but if you only want yourself to read it, then I don’t think you’re a writer, you’re a journaller, which is fine. 

20) What writers would love to have tea with – living or dead – to talk about writing and reading? 

I’d love to have tea with Colette and Gertrude Stein. 

Colette, writer, feminist, trailblazer
Gertrude Stein in her apartment in Paris.

I’d like to be invited to that lunch too!

Here are some more photos from Harriet’s wonderful book launch.

Harriet being congratulated by Inanna Publications Editor-in-Chief, Luciana Ricciutelli.
Canadian Poet George Elliott Clarke shares a handshake and a laugh with Harriet.
Harriet signing her book for a fan.

I do hope you’re a fan! I sure am.

Thank you so much for reading! Thank you Harriet for sharing your mind and heart with us in this interview…and in your book. Friends, I hope you’re compelled to buy Harriet’s book, and maybe even two so you give one as a gift! Be sure to write a review and post it on Goodreads and Amazon too. 🙂

Talk soon!

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