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Launchpad: TIFF: A LIFE OF TIMOTHY FINDLEY, by Sherrill Grace

"Tiff is a biography of becoming. Timothy Findley was a writer, but one who arrived at the vocation by way of the stage, a storyteller who shifted from the speaking of others’ words to the crafting of his own." —Andrew Pyper

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Last spring—as launches, festivals and other events were cancelled across the country—49th Shelf helped Canadian authors launch more than 50 new books with LAUNCHPAD. And now we're back this fall, but with a twist.

LAUNCHPAD 2.0 features new releases selected by great Canadian writers who've chosen books that absolutely deserve to find their way into the hands of readers.

Today Andrew Pyper is recommending new biography Tiff: A Life of Timothy Findley, by Sherrill Grace.

Pyper writes: “Tiff is a biography of becoming. Timothy Findley was a writer, but one who arrived at the vocation by way of the stage, a storyteller who shifted from the speaking of others’ words to the crafting of his own. Sherrill Grace brings thoughtful attention to both the man and the work, the latter of which notably marked the national literature by its particular obsessions and inventions.”


Book Cover Tiff

49th Shelf: What particular thing have you achieved with this book of which you are especially proud? 

Sherrill Grace: I believe I have brought Timothy Findley to public attention after 3 decades of relative neglect. His life was fascinating in many ways—turbulent, challenging, and relevant to us now; his work commands our attention, and if readers of my biography return to a Findley novel/story/play/memoir or discover him for the first time, then I will be satisfied.

49th Shelf: Tell us about your ideal reader and where you imagine them reading your book? 

SG: My ideal reader is a person who enjoys literature and biography. He or she loves reading, period, and wants to hold a well-made book in their hands. My ideal reader does not read online or with devices because the heft of a real book matters to them; he or she likes to turn back and check something or go forward to examine the illustrations.  My ideal reader likes to sit in a comfortable place—a chair or even in bed—with a cup of tea or a glass of wine. Such a reader savours a book. This is the way I like to read, I confess.

49th Shelf: What authors and works inspired you on your journey in creating this book?

SG: I read biography a lot. I have written other biographies and read books about biography. A few books/authors stand out for me: Hermione Lee on Virginia Woolf; Rosemary Sullivan on Gwendolyn McEwen; Julian Barnes in Flaubert’s Parrot and in The Noise of Time about Shostakovich. But for the Findley biography I was also inspired and motivated by the fictional biographer in The Wars. Back in 1977 with this novel, Timothy Findley captured what it involves to be a biographer: research, interviews, archives, and, importantly, acceptance of what we cannot know.

49th Shelf: What’s something you know now that you didn’t know when you set out to write your book? 

SG: Now I know who “Nicholas Fagan” really was; see The Wars and Headhunter. But I won’t tell you here: read the biography! Finding Fagan was quite an adventure.

49th Shelf:  Why did you decide to write a biography at all and why on Timothy Findley? 

SG: I decided to write this book because I believed the subject—Timothy Findley and his work—deserved a full biography. He lived through and contributed to crucial years for the development of Canadian literature; he addressed issues of urgent importance to humanity then and now—on climate change, rising authoritarianism and bigotry, and erosion of the social contract in democratic countries; he wrote wonderfully well and is a writer this country should be proud of and should continue to read.

49th Shelf: Who are your most grateful to for support in bringing your book into the world?

SG: This is easy to answer: Bill Whitehead. Bill, Tiff’s partner, was essential for the successful completion of my work. As Tiff’s biographer I needed Bill’s permission for access to restricted and other private materials, his general cooperation, and his answers to hundreds of questions, and he gave me his unqualified support on all these fronts. Over the course of my research and writing (a ten year period!) I came to respect and admire this man. Without his support I could not have written this biography; indeed, I would not have begun it. He never interfered, never refused to help, never tried to tell me what to say or blocked my access to anything. God bless the man.

Tiff is a biography of becoming. Timothy Findley was a writer, but one who arrived at the vocation by way of the stage, a storyteller who shifted from the speaking of others’ words to the crafting of his own.


Book Cover Tiff

Learn more about Tiff: A Life of Timothy Findley

Timothy Findley (1930-2002) was one of Canada’s foremost writers—an award-winning novelist, playwright, and short-story writer who began his career as an actor in London, England. Findley was instrumental in the development of Canadian literature and publishing in the 1970s and 80s.

During those years, he became a vocal advocate for human rights and the anti-war movement. His writing and interviews reveal a man concerned with the state of the world, a man who believed in the importance of not giving in to despair, despite his constant struggle with depression. Findley believed in the power of imagination and creativity to save us.

Tiff: A Life of Timothy Findley is the first full biography of this eminent Canadian writer. Sherrill Grace provides insight into Findley’s life and struggles through an exploration of his private journals and his relationships with family, his beloved partner, Bill Whitehead, and his close friends, including Alec Guinness, William Hutt, and Margaret Laurence. Based on many interviews and exhaustive archival research, this biography explores Findley’s life and work, the issues that consumed him, and his often profound depression over the evils of the twentieth-century. Shining through his darkness are Findley’s generous humour, his unforgettable characters, and his hope for the future. These qualities inform canonic works like The Wars (1977), Famous Last Words (1981), Not Wanted on the Voyage (1984), and The Piano Man’s Daughter (1995).

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