Will Come the Words: Author Ken McGoogan’s creative spaces in the great wide world

Read the series Introduction.


Ken at Berstane House in Orkney, Scotland. Photo credit: Sheena Fraser McGoogan

Ken McGoogan at Berstane House in Orkney, Scotland.


KEN McGOOGAN lives in The Beaches area of Toronto. He writes there . . . among other places.


What I like about my space

Writing creative nonfiction gets me out of the house. What’s not to like about that? As you can see in these photos taken by Sheena Fraser McGoogan, my writing space encompasses the great wide world.

The first image (above) finds Our Hero at Berstane House in Orkney, in the northern reaches of Scotland, scratching notes while gazing out a living room window. In the 1850s, arctic explorer John Rae, the subject of my book Fatal Passage, lived in this house with his Canadian wife. He must have sat here looking out this window.


2013DUBLIN-A 130This photo finds me on the outskirts of Dublin, in the most famous Martello Tower in the world. It is now the James Joyce Tower and Museum, and I am chatting with the curator about how young Joyce fled this tower after a “friend” began blasting away with a gun. Joyce figures in my 2015 book Canada’s New Ancestors: How the Irish and the Scots Created a Postmodern Nation.


This one finds Our Hero on the east coast of Ireland, taking video notes from archaeologist Ned Kelly about a recently discovered Viking site called Linn Duachaill (view video here).




And in this photo, I’m on Beechey Island in the High Arctic, scratching away beside the graves of the first three sailors to die from the 1845 expedition of Sir John Franklin.





What I write here

Okay, I’ll come clean. “Here” is most often a book-teeming, quasi-chaotic, second-floor office in a redbrick house in the Toronto Beaches. These days, I write the odd travel article, opinion piece, or book review, but mostly I write creative nonfiction. I teach it, too, online through the University of Toronto (School of Continuing Studies) and in Halifax in the new low-residency MFA program at University of King’s College.


My favourite writing quote

“Bestselling author Ken McGoogan . . . joins us now. Good morning!”

You can hear it spoken here:



My creative spaces online


Twitter: @KenMcGoogan

(Ken is one of my fellow instructors in the Creative Writing Program at University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies.)


Peek into more writers’ creative spaces.

But the essential question is, Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write? Into that space, which is like a form of listening, of attention, will come the words, the words your characters will speak, ideas — inspiration.  If a writer cannot find this space, then poems and stories may be stillborn.

~ Doris Lessing


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  1. Hmmmm. I thought I had just made a comment. Ah well. I will try again. I very much enjoyed this piece, because I very much admire McGoogan and his work, also it was cool to look out John Rae’s window with him. I first learned of Rae in Orkney in 2008 and that led me to search out Fatal Passage. Thanks for this, Allison. Also, thanks Ken for your piece on another site asking Where Has Canada Gone, a question I have asked myself lately every time I peruse Globe Books (which takes a lamentably short time these days) — so many Canadian writers, so little coverage, so much BUMPF filling those pages instead of reviews. Thanks for making that point!

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