Volume 92, Issue 24

Friday, October 16, 1998

arresting developments


At home with McLean

By Caitlin Murphy
Gazette Staff

"Proud to be out of date," says Stuart McLean, of the nostalgic colour of his writing, which weathers the storm of post-modern pyrotechnics. He is a teller of stories, pure and simple.

"You don't have to move your lips as you read and you don't have to run your finger along the page," McLean proudly admits.

McLean's new book, Home from the Vinyl Cafe, is another installment of stories born from his weekly CBC radio show called The Vinyl Cafe. The show is an hour of music and story-telling focusing on a record store.

It began in 1994 as a studio show but is now being recorded all over the country in live performance. McLean recognizes and relishes the difference in writing for radio and writing for print. "You can make it more complex. You don't have to be quite so linear. And I have to spell correctly."

There is in fact a distinctive sense of the oral tradition of story-telling in his work. His stories beg to be read aloud – something the majority of his audience recognizes.

"People who know me on the radio say they can hear me in their head when they read them," McLean says.

McLean came to creative writing quite unassumingly from a journalistic background. "I never liked short stories, but one day I found myself writing them," he admits.

Still, McLean undoubtedly feels more comfortable within the field of journalism which he teaches at Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto. "I know the craft of journalism. I have a bag of tricks when I go to do it. [I'm] a teacher of journalism and a student of literature."

However, in the same breath he'll admit the two disciplines' similarities. "They're closer together than you'd think."

Although McLean has been constantly dealing with the same characters from the Vinyl Cafe, he has far from tired of them. "God, I hardly know them, I could go forever with them," McLean explains.

"There's so much for me to learn still from these people. I don't feel at all constrained by them."

His writing is often commended for typifying "Canadianess" – a quality he doesn't consciously think about or contrive to instill. "I don't see it at all," McLean says. "I think it's because I'm so immersed in it. It's like I don't notice the air I'm moving through."

When McLean is constantly asked if there is an actual record store called The Vinyl Cafe which inspires his stories, he says, "I always tell them that I believe in it."

Stuart McLean will be appearing in London to give a reading tonight at 8:00 p.m. at the London Regional Art and Historical Museums.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazette.entertainment@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998