Like many young moms, Miranda Hill spent hours and hours walking through the streets of Toronto when her children were small.
“When my kids were asleep, I was either reading or writing, and when they were awake, I was walking and walking around the city, because I was living without access to a car,” says Hill, author of the Journey Prize-winning collection of short stories, Sleeping Funny.
Hill was reading a lot of Canadian fiction at the time, and one day she serendipitously found herself walking through the very same location that she had just been reading about.
“The space looked very different to me having seen it through that story, and the story was so much fuller and richer having visited the space,” she says. “So I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could know these spaces? What if the story was right there and you encountered the story as you stepped into the space?”
That moment 14 years ago left a big impression on Hill, and she began to formulate the idea behind Project Bookmark Canada, an organization that “marks the places where real and imagined landscapes meet by placing text from the imagined stories and poems in the exact, physical locations where literary scenes took place.”
Text from a story is placed on plaques, which are then mounted in the scene’s physical environment. There are 12 Bookmarks across Canada so far, from Toronto’s Bloor Viaduct (from Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion) to Vancouver’s Chinatown (from Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony ) to Woody Point, Nfld. (from Al Pittman’s The Sea Breeze Lounge).
“It’s almost like a conjuring trick, it’s lifting up what’s unseen in the space and putting it physically in that space,” says Hill.
In addition to her work with Project Bookmark, Hill is writing a full-length novel. She also runs Page to Podium, a coaching service that helps writers read and discuss their writing in public forums.
“I have been to so many readings where you just feel the work is not getting its best presentation,” she says. “I wanted to do something that my clients and I could walk away from and say, that made a difference.”
Hill’s plan is to mount hundreds of Bookmarks across Canada, and she’s enlisted famous book lovers such as Margaret Atwood, Guy Gavriel Kay, Vincent Lam and Shelagh Rogers to help raise funds through the Page Turner campaign on Project Bookmark’s website.
“Sometimes it feels dreadfully slow, because it’s been so long in my mind,” she says, “And you get discouraged sometimes because it’s a lot to do for a small organization.
“But I’ll get a note from someone saying, ‘This is amazing, this is so exciting, I just found a Bookmark in my hometown,’ and when I get those, I just get this boost of energy. I want to leave Project Bookmark Canada as a legacy for Canada.”