Kitchener author, Emily Urquhart, wants to show the magic in every day with her new book Ordinary Wonder Tales.
A journalist and folklorist, the book contains 10 essays that navigate Urquhart’s personal experiences with 'wonder tales,' an Irish term for fairy tales.
“I like to say that I'm a journalist on the folklore beat. We often see journalism as fact and folklore as fiction but I think if you look at fairy tales … what gets passed on within these stories, there's truth within them,” said Urquhart. “And I think we look to journalism in sort of the same way, we're looking for information on how to stay safe, how to live a better life.”
A fan of “blurring genres,” Urquhart believes fiction writing skills can be applied to non-fiction and vice-versa as long as you uphold your pact to your reader: that what you’re telling them is true.
“In my book, I do talk about things I imagined but I always make the distinction that what I'm about to tell you is a story as opposed to truth,” said Urquhart. “You don't want your reader to start to feel confused. If you say you're going to tell the true story, you should adhere as best as you can to the facts but with fiction, I think you can do whatever you want.”
Urquhart has worked as a freelance journalist for two decades. She is currently a non-fiction editor for The New Quarterly and has been published in The Walrus, The Literary Review of Canada, and The Toronto Star, among other publications.
Most recently the three-time published author mentored students, staff, and faculty writers as Wilfrid Laurier’s Edna Staebler Writer in Residence. In 2023, Urquhart will teach creative writing at the University of Waterloo,
“I think (long-form writing) was what I was yearning for, but I wasn't quite able to articulate it,” said Urquhart. “But I'm happy with the path that I took because although it was not terribly practical to give up my job and pursue folklore in St. John’s, it was also the best decision I've ever made.”
Urquhart's mom was selling her home in Newfoundland when the budding writer discovered Memorial University of Newfoundland’s folklore department. Thinking “why don't I go there for a year?” Urquhart took advantage of the opportunity and became her mom's tenant in the hopes she could “satisfy this hunger for a larger longer living with a story.”
“I ended up really loving Newfoundland, but more so also loved studying folklore,” said Urquhart. “devoting that much of your time to a certain type of scholarship will change your worldview. And so while I continued to write throughout that period, I started using folklore as a touchstone for understanding the world around me in interpreting the world around me.”
Urquhart spent seven years in Newfoundland while she pursued a doctorate in folklore, during which she took part in one of Canada’s own wonder tales. In a holiday tradition called ‘mummering,’ Newfoundlanders dress up in disguise; masks, body-changing garbs, and odd voices, before going door to door. If a neighbour chooses to let in the mummers, the neighbour then has to guess who they’ve let in before dressing up and joining the group.
“I had the opportunity to get dressed up and throw on my rain slicker, actually one year I was pregnant so it was really hard to disguise my bump,” laughed Urquhart, who attended the festival every year she was in Newfoundland. “But it’s all a lot of fun and lets people who didn't grow up with the festival participate which is quite nice.”
Check out Ordinary Wonder Tales by Emily Urquhart here.