Category Archives: Arts

At Home with Andrea Torrey Balsara

Two years ago, Andrea Torrey Balsara and her husband Nav bought a grand Victorian home surrounded by lawn, woods, and big old barns.

Blog Photo - Andrea Trees in Morning

“To me, the greatest wealth is to have nature around me. To now be on a property where there are old trees, squirrels, wildlife…it is such a blessing that I had given up on ever having.

“This place came out of the blue for us, as we had resigned ourselves to subdivision living. Initially, the property was what attracted me, but I have since grown to love the old house, too; there is a spirit and charm to it that really touches me. For the first time since I was a child I feel I am truly home.”

Blog Photo - Andrea view to the barns

Blog Photo - Andrea and Maisie

Andrea is a storyteller – she writes and illustrates books for children. Characters include Greenbeard the Pirate Pig and Happy the Pocket Mouse.

Blog Photo - Andrea Swashbuckling Guinea Pig

She fell in love with pictures early.

“One of my first clear memories is at 6 years-old, reading a picture book. I say ‘reading’, but really I followed the story by the exquisite art. I remember a feeling of yearning come over me to make pictures that were so beautiful. I also grew up on Donald Duck comics. I didn’t realize until many years later that I never usually read the comics, just followed the pictures. The visual sense of humour that I have in my drawings is totally influenced by the cartoonist Carl Bark’s Donald Duck comics.”

Blog Photo - Andrea Mouse Vacation

“With my picture book, Greenbeard the Pirate Pig, I was finally able to write and illustrate a book. Since then I have also illustrated the Happy the Pocket Mouse series, written by Philip Roy, through Ronsdale Press. Book 4, Mouse Vacation, came out in October 2016. Illustrating without writing the book is a whole new experience, and one which has taught me a lot about collaboration.”

Blog Photo - Andrea in Office

Andrea calls her work space her ‘art loft’.  “Really, it’s the former servants’ quarters. The stairs going up are grooved from the generations of servants going up and down the stairs. I love feeling connected to the history.”

From the window, she sees an expanse of trees, yard and old barns.

“I can’t believe I have barns!”

Blog Photo - Andrea Barns and hydrangea

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Knowing her passion for art, you may be surprised to learn that Andrea once dropped art altogether after getting a C in Grade 8.

“It was so devastating to me that I vowed never to share my art again. A drastic reaction! At that age, my sense of confidence was non-existent, so the grade felt like a defining moment to me. I avoided art classes after that, as I didn’t want to have my love of art taken from me. Odd kid-logic, I know.

“Now I feel I have so much catching up to do with people who have gone through art school; it’s made it a much longer learning curve for me to learn how to illustrate a book.”

Blog Photo - Andrea in Living Room

Writing and illustrating children’s books — here, in her beloved home — is a blessing. Andrea doesn’t only produce them — she loves reading children’s books.

“I guess because in many ways I still feel like a kid myself. I went through a traumatic experience as a small child, and a part of me is still that age. I don’t relate to many of the books meant for adults as I often find them cynical, incredibly violent, and gratuitously sexual. I love the innocence and openness of children’s books. There is a joy to it that writing for adults doesn’t have.

“In children’s books it’s not only okay to have hope, and to believe that the world is a place of beauty and love, it is essential. Even the books for adults that I love come from a place of childlike innocence and the belief in the nobility of the human spirit.”

Blog Photo - Andrea Trees in spring

As with her art, care for her home has been a labour of love. She loves the living room because it now feels homey. But the house is old and required a lot of work.

“It took me time to love the house, as initially it smelled musty and the windows were decrepit, with bugs living between them and the storm windows. It was sweltering in the summer and infested with cluster flies. I bought a vacuum I could strap on my back, with an extension wand to reach the high ceilings, and wielded it like Luke Skywalker fighting the Evil Empire. Then, in our first winter (last year), we froze. I now own several sets of long underwear (thank-you, old house!)

Blog Photo - Andrea Living room

“Thankfully this winter, with the new radiators we had installed, it has been snug. Now that we’ve sorted out some of its issues I love our old Victorian home’s uniqueness.”

Here in this unique home, Andrea is also completing a young adult novel called The Great and the Small.

It’s about a colony of rats, led by a charismatic chairman, who are waging a war to exterminate humanity using the bubonic plague. The only thing between annihilation and life is the chairman’s nephew Fin who is rescued from certain death and nursed back to health by a teenage girl. Fin grows to love the girl, and realizes that what his uncle has told him about ‘two-legs’ is wrong. Now he has to choose: follow his uncle whom he adores, or turn against him and rebel.”

Home, family, art — Andrea appears to be in a very good place. Her husband Nav and daughters are her greatest supporters. And there’s other joyful news: her older daughter will be married at the beautiful family home this fall.

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Filed under A Good Home, Artist, Arts, Authors, Canadian life, Children's Books, Homes

Must Love Books

Let’s face it: you have to really love books to own a bookstore these days.

Blog Photo Fanfare Sign1 by Hamlin Grange

That’s what I say to Bob Newland, owner of Fanfare Books in Stratford, Ontario. 

Blog Photo Fanfare and downtown by Dale Ratcliffe.JPG

Credit: Dale Ratcliffe

Q. Owning a bookstore doesn’t seem like a way to get rich quick. Why do you do it?

A: You are right: money is not the motivator. But the store provides many other satisfactions:
1)The people- I get to hobnob with the most intelligent, erudite and well-read people on the planet.
2)The books- Everyday is Christmas!
3) Sundry satisfactions- While it doesn’t happen as often in reality as it does in The Little Paris Bookshop,  every now and then someone will say that a book that I sold them years ago made a profound change in them. Often a book is a personal thing and it’s nice to think that I have made a difference, however small, in their lives.

Blog Photo Fanfare and Bob by Hamlin Grange

Credit: Hamlin Grange

Blog Photo Fanfare Story Downtown Traffic and Street by Dale

Thousands of people visit Stratford each year. It’s a beautiful city, with nature (including the Avon River) adding its charms.

Blog Photo Stratford River by Dale Ratcliffe

Blog Photo Stratford Swan by Dale Ratcliffe

It’s also home to famous artists, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and the Stratford Summer Music Festival, and it’s singer Justin Bieber’s hometown.

Blog Photo Stratford and shakespeare by Dale Ratcliffe

4 above photos by Dale Ratcliffe

Q: Who are some of the individual shoppers who have delighted you by coming to your bookstore? 

 A: The most fun story that I have is this:
First Saturday in December is our sale day. We’ve been doing this for thirty years and it is usually the busiest day of the year. A couple of years ago, Colm Feore came in- as he sometimes does- and held half of the substantial crowd in thrall for about half an hour as he described how he grilled a steak. Now THAT`S entertainment!

(Colm Feore is one of the busiest actors in Hollywood, but his home is in Stratford and he’s a beloved star of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.)

Blog Photo Fanfare and Shoppers by Hamlin Grange

Bob’s mother, a teacher, fostered a love of books. He studied English literature and Bob managed bigger bookstores before buying Fanfare in 1989. 

Fanfare carries books by big-name authors such as Louise Penny, Alice Munro, W.O. Mitchell, Robertson Davies, John Irving, Timothy Findley, Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott, Alan Bradley and others.

But it also carries books by less well-known authors like me. (Thank you, Bob, and store manager John Woodward.)

Book image An Honest House 1

Blog Photo Fanfare window and Street by Hamlin Grange

Above photos by Hamlin Grange

Q: Why should readers and society in general value bookstores today? 

A: Books are the instruments that produce and preserve culture and civilization.
Okay, it sounds like hyperbole but it’s actually true.

The bookstore is a place of discovery.

It’s where you discover passions that you didn’t know you had.

It’s the place where serendipity happens. Also, taking text out of the equation, a well-made book is an object of beauty in and of itself. I love the look and feel of a book where the designer had the talent, patience, awareness and materials to make something special.

Blog Photo Fanfare address

 

 

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Filed under A Good Home, Artists, Arts, Authors, Book lovers, Book Stores, Books, Booksellers, Stratford, Ontario