Category Archives: down time

A Novel about UWaterloo

Normally, we tend to confine our posts to the happenings in and around UWaterloo’s English department. But a novel by a UWaterloo alumnus which is partially set on campus, and involves werewolves and vampires–as well as explosions on campus–would seem to merit some sort of notice! James Alan Gardner, a math graduate from the 1970s, is the author of All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault (MacMillan, Tor, 2017), a science fiction/comedy in the vein of Terry Pratchett.  As the press writes:

Monsters are real. But so are heroes. Sparks are champions of weird science. Boasting capes and costumes and amazing super-powers that only make sense if you don’t think about them too hard, they fight an eternal battle for truth and justice . . . mostly.

Darklings are creatures of myth and magic: ghosts, vampires, were-beasts, and the like. Their very presence warps reality. Doors creak at their approach. Cobwebs gather where they linger.

Kim Lam is an ordinary college student until a freak scientific accident (what else?) transforms Kim and three housemates into Sparks―and drafts them into the never-ending war between the Light and Dark. They struggle to master their new abilities―and (of course) to design cool costumes and come up with great hero-names.

Turns out that “accident” was just the first salvo in a Mad Genius’s latest diabolical scheme. Now it’s up to four newbie heroes to save the day, before they even have a chance to figure out what their team’s name should be!


I asked about the best book and…

I asked a few UWaterloo graduate students and faculty what was the best novel they read in the last year. Here are the first five responses.–WIP

Marisa Benjamin (MA student)
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. Honestly, I had some trouble remembering what fiction I read this year – it was all a blur. I reread all of Harry Potter (as one must do every so often). I read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. It was a very enjoyable, quick read. However I’m not particularly proud of just how much I enjoyed it considering it’s a repeat of Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash. The last notable runner up was Animal Farm by Orwell. I read it for the first time this year and as soon as I finished it I started over and read it again. I wanted to give you a fresh answer and The Bone Clocks was the closest I could come to fresh.

Fraser Easton (Associate Professor)
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. The book is a dream-like retelling of the Gawain legend, an allegory of Alzheimer’s and violence, a virtuoso exercise in prose style that somehow draws the reader into a realm both fantastic and realistic. The style acts like a slowly lifting fog that both softens and obscures, and makes sublime, its subject matter. Ishiguro continues his run as the Kubrick of fiction, never repeating himself.

Ken Graham (Professor)
I’ll go with Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time, probably my favourite title in the Hogarth Shakespeare series so far. Not everything in this retelling works, but there are some wonderfully lyrical passages that more than make up for any shortcomings.

Jennifer Harris (Associate Professor)
It has to be the young adult novel The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, shortlisted for the National Book Award in 2008. I picked it up secondhand, and it perfectly suited my mood–and world events–the day that I read it. A teenager decides she’s going to upend the all-male secret society at her boarding school. If I ever teach the children’s literature course, it will be a strong contender for the reading list.

Monique Kampherm (PhD student)
If you are interested in a witty, smart, and thought provoking novel, for a book that will stay in your mind for days after you read the last line, pick up a copy of Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business. This Canadian classic may have you considering the choices you make and the miracles that happen along the way. It certainly compelled me to reflect on the role of “fifth business” and the role we play in our own “theatre of life.”

Reading Week: What and Where?

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Some of us are visiting family during reading week (including me); many have stayed put and are trying to stay dry. While some faculty are trying to catch up on grading, emails, and other obligations, others are using this time to catch up on reading and writing. I’ve been working my way through a slave narrative, a book on Emancipation and the act of writing (Word by Word, above), a dissertation chapter by a PhD student, an article I promised to peer review for a journal, and more. Why not visit our Facebook page ( and tell us what you are reading and where?

The New Quarterly’s Writing Retreat

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The New Quarterly, an award-winning literary magazine housed at St. Jerome’s at the University of Waterloo, is excited to announce that it will manage the 7th annual Write on the French River Creative Writing Retreat, May 4 to 9, 2018, at the magnificent Lodge at Pine Cove, on the storied French River, a five-hour drive north of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.

The French River Retreat is for writers of all skill levels—from novice to accomplished—of fiction (short stories and novels) and nonfiction (memoirs and essays). Limited to 25 participants, it includes workshops, small groups, and talks. The Lodge at Pine Cove offers gourmet meals and superb accommodations.

This year’s fiction faculty are Helen Humphreys and Alison Pick. For creative nonfiction, it’s Andrew Westoll. Humphreys is the acclaimed author of more than a dozen books, and recipient of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Pick’s novel Far To Go was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. She was also a juror for the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize. Westoll’s The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary won the 2012 RBC-Taylor Prize for Literary Nonfiction
New this year is the self-guided retreat, which provides one-on-one consulting with TNQ’s editors, Pamela Mulloy (fiction), and Susan Scott (nonfiction).

While applications are due by April 6, 2018, the early-bird registration date is February 15, 2018—a $125 discount awaits.

There are two ways to register: online at or download the application form at:, fill it out and email it to Susan Scott at

The New Quarterly has been publishing the best of new Canadian writing—fiction, poetry, author interviews and talk about writing since 1981. In addition, TNQ hosts the Wild Writers Literary Festival, with the seventh annual to be held November 2 to 4, 2018.

To find out more about this spring’s Write on the French River Creative Writing Retreat, contact Susan Scott at:

Top Ten Posts of 2017!

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I usually post these lists during the winter holiday, but I’m feeling moderately celebratory today, so why not announce the top ten most read Words in Place posts published in 2017? From prize-winning students to accomplished alumni, from student projects to faculty research, we’ve covered it all. While the vast majority of our readers are located in Canada and the United States, we also reached people in 140 other countries. So what were they most likely to read? Did your favorite posts make the list? Scroll down to find out! As always, thank you to all who participated in the UWaterloo English blog in 2017.

10) Not another actuary: UW English alumni Dr. Kris Singh

9) Full STEAM ahead for English students

8) Four outstanding performance awards for English faculty

7) Alumna Marsilda Kapurani: Rhetoric, Art, and the Real Housewives

6) SNL, Trump, and more: Dr. Danielle Deveau

5) News from PhD grad Sarah Gibbons

4) What Professor Mom wants you to know, part 1

3) PhD student Kyle Gerber wins prize

2) Valedictorian Amy Zhou–one of ours!

1) On Confederate Monuments and American Literature

Harry Potter’s Butterbeer, a recipe for cold weather

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An hour after registration for winter courses opened, I had five emails from students trying to get into English 108P, our Harry Potter course. They were promptly dealt with, after pondering how much fun it would be to spend the holiday break re-reading the books in preparation for the course, perhaps accompanied by a glass of butterbeer. Since I’ve been sharing literary recipes for cold weather, why not try butterbeer? I’ve chosen the easiest non-alcoholic version from Babble, and an alcoholic version circa 1588, from The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin, courtesy of BBC History Magazine. (The image above is available at Etsy.)

Warm Butterbeer
4 tablespoons butterscotch sauce (Jaime used a recipe from SimplyRecipes)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 bottles of cream soda

Divide butterscotch sauce between glasses. Top with cream. Heat cream soda until very warm and pour the cream and butterscotch.

Buttered beere
1,500ml (3 bottles) of good-quality ale
¼ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground nutmeg
200g demerara or other natural brown sugar
5 egg yolks
100g unsalted butter, chopped into small lumps

Pour the ale gently into a large saucepan and stir in the ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Bring slowly to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for a few minutes until the ale clears. While the ale is simmering, whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until the mixture is light and creamy. Remove the spiced ale from the hob, add the egg yolk and sugar mixture, and stir until all ingredients are well blended. Return to a low heat until the liquid starts to thicken, taking care not to overheat. Simmer for five minutes, add the chopped butter and heat until it has melted. Hand-whisk the liquid until it becomes frothy. Continue to heat for 10 minutes, then allow to cool to a drinkable temperature. Give the mixture another whisk, serve into a jug or small glasses (or tankards!) and drink while still warm.

Critical Media Lab and Handel’s “Messiah”

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Did you know UWaterloo English’s Critical Media Lab has been playing an important part in the Grand Philharmonic Choir’s performance of Handel’s “Messiah” this year? For months, the CML has been assisting in producing digital images of a hand-crafted and illuminated copy of the St. John’s Bible. The images will then be projected on the screen. According to Dr. Marcel O’Gorman, “For us, this project is about translating a complex literary text into a moving picture. It’s a dance between old and new media, big books and big data projectors.”

Handel’s Messiah Sat. Dec. 9, 7:30 pm
(Pre-concert talk at 6:30 pm)
Centre in the Square, Kitchener
Tickets: $30 to $82, with discounts for children, students and under-30s.
519-578-1570 or