The family that reads together

Author and songstress, Jill Barber, returns to her musical home with husband and fellow author, Grant Lawrence, to celebrate the Word on the Street Halifax
Jill Barber & Grant Lawrence
Authors Jill Barber and Grant Lawrence, pictured here with their son, Joshua, are appearing at Word on the Street Halifax 2014 in September. Photo by: Brian Barber

Author and songstress, Jill Barber, returns to her musical home with husband and fellow author, Grant Lawrence, to celebrate the Word on the Street Halifax

It’s hard to imagine a busier couple than Jill Barber and Grant Lawrence. Barber is an award-winning singer and songwriter with a hectic tour schedule. Lawrence is a popular CBC radio host who also criss-crosses the country for his work. Plus, they are parents to one-year-old Joshua, a happy traveler who’s been on over 30 flights and visited nine provinces in his young life.

Yet despite their jet-setting lifestyle, Barber and Lawrence have each found the time to write two books.

For Lawrence, it’s a case of making the most of every opportunity.

“When the time presents itself, I have to grab it,” he explains during a recent phone interview from the Ontario-leg of CBC Music’s Beetle Roadtrip Sessions. “Flights are a really good time for me to write. If I’m going to be strapped to a chair for five or 10 hours, I can get a lot done.”

Lawrence’s books, Adventures in Solitude and the newly-released The Lonely End of the Rink: Confessions of a Reluctant Goalie, are memoirs – a style he says makes it easier to write in fits and starts.

“I start with an outline list. For the book I’m working on now [a memoir about his days on the road in the indie rock band The Smugglers] it might say ‘Snow storm in the Rocky Mountains’ or ‘Riot in Denver, CO’. Those act as triggers so I can write my memories.”

But as dedicated as he is to writing, there’s no doubt that parenthood has added a new wrinkle when it comes to carving out time. He recalls the days after his son’s birth as kind of a mixture of baby-love and book-birthing, with Joshua in a snuggly as Lawrence completed the final edits on Lonely End of the Rink. “It was an intense time to put a book to bed,” he says with a laugh.

Need more Word on the Street?

For Barber, the writing process is entirely different. She describes herself as “an accidental children’s author” who came to book writing by way of song writing.

“There are definitely similarities between writing books for very young children and writing songs. In both, you need to say a lot with little, short ideas. You want to be able to ignite imagination with only a few words.”

Her first book, Baby’s Lullaby, began life as song for a CD of music and rhymes distributed to all Nova Scotian newborns through the “Read To Me” program.

“I was asked to either record a classic lullaby or to write my own, and I decided to write my own,” she says, during a phone interview from Toronto, where she and Joshua met up with Lawrence en route to Vancouver. “A few months after the CD came out, Nimbus Publishing contacted me to say they thought it would make a great baby board book.”

There’s no shortage of books for babies in Barber’s life now, but she laughs as she recalls that she didn’t even know what board books – books for small children printed on thick, durable paperboard – were at the time. The book, a soft, soothing bedtime story illustrated by HildaRose, was a success, and Nimbus approached Barber for more book ideas.

Music is for EveryoneBarber had already written Music is for Everyone, a song that became a picture book encouraging people to find pleasure in all kinds of music.

“I really believe that anyone and everyone can make music,” says Barber, adding that she herself has no formal music training. “I wanted to write something that would encourage everyone to experience the joy of music.”

Barber is excited that both she and Lawrence will be sharing their books at the Word on the Street Halifax.

“Halifax is a city that’s so close to my heart. I still feel a real sense of home when I get there,” says Toronto-born Barber who began her music career in Halifax and now lives in Vancouver. “Grant and I are so thrilled to be invited. It’s a wonderful opportunity to do something together as a family. It makes me feel really fortunate that we’re both authors.”

Festival executive director Genevieve Allen Hearn says that the festival is delighted to be hosting Barber and Lawrence along with other big-name authors like celebrity gossip maven Lainey Lui, author of the memoir Listen to the Squawking Chicken, and Giller Prize-winner Vincent Lam whose most recent novel is The Headmaster’s Wager.

“One of the most exciting things about the Word on the Street is that people get to rub shoulders with authors who are in various stages of their careers. It’s an event that really connects the community around reading and writing.”

Written By

Kate Watson is the theatre reviewer for The Coast, a freelance writer, and coordinator of the Hackmatack Children’s Choice Book Award. She has a keen interest in municipal politics, community-building and twitter. Follow her @DartmouthKate.

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1 Comment

  • Hi Grant,
    So happy for your success, your marriage and your new son, Joshuwa!
    I keep in touch with your Mom and Dad.
    Your Dad is a Frat Brother of mine and your Uncle Conrad was and is a great friend!
    I always loved the Lawrence Family! We all lived in Norwood and had a wonderful tight knit group of friends.
    The nice thing about it is, we are still close and in touch to this very day!
    The Clear Lake Blast must have made you very proud of your Grandad, Johnny!

    Very sincerely,

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