Six Questions for Ray Argyle

Ray Argyle, Kingston, Ontario Ray Argyle is the author of five biographies, a book of Canadian political history and a novel set in Victorian Canada. He will discuss this book, An Act of Injustice, in his appearance at the Kingston Writersfest. Ray has worked as a journalist, publishing executive, and public relations consultant. He pursued a career as a journalist with United Press International and such newspapers as the Regina Leader-Post and the Toronto Telegram. Ray has served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, Ont., and the Scarborough (Toronto) Board of Education. He received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in recognition of his contributions to Canadian life. He is now working on a book on the life of Vincent van Gogh.

1. After growing up in British Columbia’s interior, you made a few stops along the way before finally settling down in Kingston. Tell us about how you got here, and why you decided to call Kingston home?

Keen to get on with life, I entered journalism straight from high school. My second job was as editor of a chain of 35 country weeklies in Alberta. From there I worked on dailies and in radio, and for UPI corresponding from points across Canada and in Europe. I also operated a public relations agency. A family connection brought us to Kingston seven years ago.

2. As a journalist and author of five works of non-fiction, you seem to be quite comfortable crafting narratives that focus on historical events and personalities. What drives you passion to explore the likes of Charles de Gaulle, Scott Joplin, Joey Smallwood?

I view biography as the ideal lens through which to view the cultural context of various eras. When I dissect a character in a biography, I also research the social and economic effects they had on their era. I look for ways in which they advanced thinking on such issues as racial and religious tolerance, gender equity, and economic and social justice. I have found quite a few positive examples, despite errors that may have been committed in the past!

3. Your latest novel titled An Act of Injustice is your first foray into fiction. What is An Act of Injustice about?

My novel is based on a true story involving a 19th century Ontario murder trial gone wrong which resulted in the hanging of an innocent man. I use fiction to reimagine the lives of the central figures in the case, along with those of some fictional characters I have created.

4. An Act of Injustice was inspired by true events, which are punctuated by murder, prejudice and the search for the truth. In your estimation, why is the true crime genre so satisfying and sought after by readers?

Because such stories strike at the heart of an individual’s being — apprehended threats, tragic endings, triumph of justice (sometimes). We enjoy the vicarious thrill of contemplating threats to the survival of others.

5. At the age of 21 you were the editor of a chain of 35 weekly newspapers. Since then, you’ve contributed to the likes of The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Canada’s History, and Reader’s Digest. Looking back on it all, what changes within the Canadian newspaper and media industry do you consider to be the most significant?

The great change agent of course has been the Internet. Newspaper decline began in the 1990s when they lost the classified ad market to online rivals. People began to spend more time on the Internet than reading newspapers (or books). Ironically, most Internet news content is still lifted from newspapers. Then came a wave of corporate consolidation, in Canada driven by highly debt leveraged buy-outs. The deals left the new owners (esp Postmedia) paying so much interest they had to decimate their staffs to stay afloat. Editorial quality has been willfully suppressed as means of cost control. Fortunately, we have two remaining good newspapers, the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star, but even the Globe will be greatly reducing its page count this fall.

6. Looking forward to Kingston WritersFest later this month, you’ll be appearing to discuss your book and some of it’s core themes. How important is this festival with regards to nurturing and celebrating Kingston’s literary talents?

This is a truly magnificent showcase for writers right across Canada, and often from other countries. It has become a premier event on the Canadian literary calendar, and we thank the organizers and supporters who make all this possible. I look forward to attending at least a dozen events over the four days of the Festival.