By: Lucy Morrissey

An Algonquin professor’s recently published collection of short stories focus largely on experiences in the latter half of life, including illness and death.

But students, despite having decades ahead of them, can relate to Nadine McInnis’ Blood Secrets.

McInnis, professional writing co-ordinator and author, volunteered in a hospice and spoke with her daughter who studies medicine about later life experiences. Her experience and their dialogue sparked interest in writing Blood Secrets, she said.

For McInnis, writing is a form of “spiritual practice” and a way she gives attention to what’s most important in life.
“She’s talking about how people live their lives beside things going askew,” said Marni Squire, coordinator for academic advisory and an English teacher at Algonquin. Students, reading Blood Secrets, read about what affects their own families and other families. Affairs, alcoholism and palliative care are among the human body experiences explored by McInnis.

“There is a lot of group thinking going on right now,” said McInnis, speaking softly and articulately. “We’re into conspicuous consumption; everyone lines up for the same opening of the same movie.”

“I think appreciation of the art is an anecdote to the conformity out there,” she added. Rather than kowtowing, students reading Blood Secrets are confronted with realities of life that are neither pleasurable nor thought of frequently, McInnis said, thus the read can be challenging.

“It wasn’t leisurely, you had to concentrate,” said Squire, who read her colleague’s book in about a week after attending the launch on Sept. 19. McInnis’ use of language made it a pleasure to read though, said Squire, adding “she has a lovely way with words.”

Life is packed with the unexpected and things happen that are beyond the control of any one person. Creative work, said McInnis, should evolve similarly in that it should be crafted as it comes.

“It’s very useful to have an inside perspective on the process,” said Jillian Ewaschuk, a second-year professional writing student, who attends McInnis’ business of the publishing industry class. Professional writing students in particular can benefit looking at Blood Secrets.

Ewaschuck didn’t have experience writing short stories before enrolling in the program. She would like to carry on writing them though, partly because of McInnis’ pointers, she said.

“They must be in really good command of dialogue, the structure of the story. They have to bring it down to its essence and it has to be kind of white-hot and glowing,” she said, referring to the importance of short stories for developing creative writing skills.

McInnis will be reading her stories before an audience at the Ottawa International Writers Festival on Oct. 28. The reading starts at 8:30 p.m. and will be held at 120 Lisgar St. There is an entrance charge of $17.

Sean Wilson, the artistic director, encourages students to come out, see the accomplished artists and mingle with members of the community with similar tastes. Students often view the festival as only academics-related, he said, adding though that festival officials surveyed youth attending about two years ago and all who were surveyed reported they would return.

Wilson, who is familiar with and a fan of McInnis’ work, said the festival allows students to see talented artists showcase their work and inspire others.