News at the University of New Brunswick

Novelist and playwright Margaret Sweatman to read from her novel The Players

Author: Communications

Posted on Jan 5, 2010

Category: UNB Saint John

Winnipeg novelist and playwright, Margaret Sweatman, will read from The Players on Monday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. in the Ganong Hall Lecture Theatre as part of UNB Saint John's Lorenzo Reading Series. 

Sweatman is the author of three previous novels. When Alice Lay Down With Peter (2001) won numerous fiction awards: the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award, the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction, and the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award. Sweatman is also the author of Fox (1991) - winner of the Manitoba Book of the Year Prize and the John Hirsch Award for the most promising Manitoba writer - and Sam and Angie (1996). Sweatman, who performs with the Broken Songs Band, won a Genie Award (2006) for best song in a Canadian film.

The reading is hosted by the Lorenzo Reading Series and the UNB Saint John Bookstore, and supported by The Canada Council for the Arts. Admission is free and all are welcome to attend. For more information contact The University Bookstore at (506) 648-5540, inprint at (506) 648-2315, or email

About the novel The Players

Beginning in London in 1665, The Players is the story of Lilly Cole, who becomes, upon the death of her negligent mother, an actress of great facility. Lilly first moves in with her Aunt Meg and cousins, Susan and Claire. Meg runs a Pudding Lane tavern, where her daughters and niece are more than barmaids. Lilly's first customer is Bartholomew, the second earl of Buxborough, "a poet quite glorious to look at," who writes for the Restoration theatre. A skeptical, sharp wit, he spends his first "visit" in conversation and eventually becomes her keeper, rendering her upstairs trade at Aunt Meg's unnecessary. He wagers with a friend that he can turn her into an actress: Lilly far exceeds his training in stagecraft, speech, and movement.

Addicted to pain and disappointment, Bart purposely introduces the 16-year-old Lilly to the one man in London who would have the most power over her. Lilly's visits to Whitehall begin. When the court moves to Oxford, due to the plague, Bart takes her there. The "players" refers not only to The King's Company - its actors and playwright - but more broadly to all of those who play a part to get what they want. When Radisson arrives at the Oxford court to win a ship and a crew for his proposed expedition to the New World, his cunning narrative is a combination of poésie and exaggeration. The passage to China, he claims, can be achieved through Hudson Bay - a mere 14-days of paddling. 

When the King sees how the conversation and company of Radisson and Des Grosseilliers cheers and charms his despondent cousin, Prince Rupert, he agrees to support the expedition. Although Charles playfully threatens to send Lilly along as chronicler, he is shocked and bereft when he discovers that his mistress and his favourite playwright are, indeed, aboard The Wivenhoe when it departs the port with its sister vessel. Lilly's flight is prompted by an incident that has occurred, months earlier, on a foggy London street at night. 

Part II of the novel encompasses the harrowing journey, the futile attempts to find the northwest passage, and the crews' excruciating winter, spent on the shores of Hudson Bay and further inland, trading furs with the native people. A saavy survivor, Lilly returns to England a changed woman. 

Recreating the tone of the Restoration theatre and the era's scientific and freethinking spirit, Sweatman invests her characters with such vivacity and originality that the reader can't help but wish the best for Lilly and Bart, for Prince Rupert and Charles II, hemmed in, as he is, by lingering Puritan spies and councillors suspicious of Catholic conspiracies.

"[When Alice Lay Down with Peter] is the best novel on the fall list - a historical saga spanning a century with compelling characters and poetic imagery.... [Sweatman's] prose sweeps over the big prairie sky, lingering over the rolling hills, taking its time."  Calgary Herald 


Patty O'Brien, Communication Officer (506) 648-5707