Author Tags: Fiction
Fiction writer P.W. Bridgman (a pen name) has degrees in psychology and law.
In 2012 Bridgman had his short story ‘Cake, Bang and Elm’ awarded third prize in the Leonard A. Koval Memorial International Fiction Competition and it was therefore included in the Irish anthology, Gem Street, published Labello Press of Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.
‘The Mars Hotel’ and ‘Suitably Framed’ each placed in Spilling Ink fiction competitions; both appeared in 2011 in the Scottish anthology, Story.Book, published by Unbound Press of Glasgow. (‘The Mars Hotel’ was also short-listed for the U.K. Bridport Prize, flash fiction category, in 2010.)
Bridgman released his first short story collection, Standing at an Angle to My Age (Libros Libertad 2013) with promo material stating, "While he is convinced that the short story is both the preeminent literary prose form and his true métier, when pressed Mr. Bridgman will also quietly admit to having begun work on a novel." 978-1-926763-25-5 $20
His work has appeared in, among other Canadian publications, Grain, Antigonish Review, New Orphic Review and Pottersfield Portfolio. His story ‘De Mortuis Nil Nisi Bonum’, published in Grain, was a finalist for the Canadian National Magazine Award for Fiction in 1993. ‘Young Love in the Brayburn Road’ received honourable mention in Grain’s postcard story contest in 1995 and ‘Ceann Dubh Dilis’ was awarded first prize in Pottersfield Portfolio’s fiction competition in 1998.
Standing at an Angle to My Age
For as long as I could remember, Mr. Pound had lived in the back bedroom. He wasn't family, as my dad was quick to point out to anyone who came by. "He wasn't family until we made him family," my mother would always add. Mr. Pound was already eighty when he'd first come to live with us in Portaferry. It was 1952, the year I was born and the year he'd left the kettle on the gas ring, sending his own house up in a fiery blaze while he dozed, oblivious, in a shady spot in his back garden. Even the pumper trucks didn't wake him–an old bachelor, his mind going queer, without a living soul to care or look after him.
"Some'd be content to take in a stray cat, but not your mother," my dad would say, within her earshot.
"Catch yourself on, Lorcán," she'd say back to him, gently. "Is that the example you want to be setting?" These were good-natured exchanges. Sometimes there were harsher words; low, muffled voices on the other side of a door.
Mr. Pound spent all of his time either in bed or in the pushchair my dad built for him with little cast-off wheels he'd brought home from work at the Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast. In his more lucid moments Mr. Pound would ask me to manoeuvre him to the window so he could watch the birds. He would sometimes have me sit up on his lap and then point to them and tell me their names. He would also sing little snatches of old songs, bits of his own childhood dislodged by some stimulus not apparent to anyone around him.
Out upon a Saturday,
In upon a Sunday morning."
This particular fragment brought my mother running into the lounge from the kitchen, her hands red and dripping from the washing up, her face alight with excitement. "My father sang that to me, Ben! He was a weaver. They would sing that song at the beginning of each week when they changed the webs on the looms." I could see that there was magic and mystery locked up inside Mr. Pound.
By 1958, when Seán was born, Mr. Pound's lucid moments came less and less frequently. My mother had to feed the two of them, side-by-side, and my dad sometimes couldn't bear to eat with us. The well of his considerable good nature did not run as deep as hers. He would turn away in exasperation as mashed peas and plaice collected on Mr. Pound's stubbly chin. "Take your leave, Lorcán. Better that than say something unkind," my mother would declare as my dad pulled on his boots to leave for Dumigan's Bar over the road.
Sadly, as Seán grew older and began talking, Mr. Pound had still fewer songs or snatches of intelligible verse to share with him or with us. These and such other scraps of formed thought as still milled about within his nodding head were, by then, almost irretrievably locked away. Age, in its indiscriminate cruelty, had robbed him of the ability to call them forth. He chattered away, to be sure. But it was mostly gibberish, seasoned with gusts of Gaeilge and the odd swatch of breathtaking profanity.
"Mind your foot, Mr. Pound," my mother would say as she did the hoovering. His reply: "Liverpool Street. Bank. St. Paul's. Chancery Lane. Holborn. Tottenham Court Road. Oxford Circus. Bond Street. Marble Arch. Lancaster Gate. Queensway. Notting Hill Gate. Holland Park. Shepherd's Bush. East Acton. North Acton. Ealing Broadway. Fuck King Billy. Amhrán Hiúdaí Phádaí Éamoinn. Máire an Chúil Óir Bhuí."
Mr. Pound would still sometimes reach out with his spindly arms and try to pull us up onto his lap. But my brother would have nothing of it. "He smells of pee!" Seán would howl, squirming free, and he was right.
Two Views of Bridgman's first book
You gotta love a writer who releases his first short story collection with promo material stating, "While he is convinced that the short story is both the preeminent literary prose form and his true métier, when pressed Mr. Bridgman will also quietly admit to having begun work on a novel."
Such is the case with the semi-mysterious P.W. Bridgman (a pen name) who has degrees in psychology and law. Standing at an Angle to My Age (Libros Libertad $20) is the Vancouverite's first story collection in the wake of some prestigious publishing credits in the U.K.
Here follow two reviews of that collection. The first by critic and biographer David Stouck appeared in B.C. BookWorld. The second by novelist Roberta Rich appeared in The Advocate, a publication of the B.C. legal profession.
Not all authors hanker for publicity. A precious few adopt pseudonyms and avoid the limelight like the plague. P.W. Bridgman, a nom de plume for someone who works in the field of law, is one such anomaly. There is no Facebook page.
No self-merchandizing whatsoever.
In P.W. Bridgman’s first fiction collection, Standing at an Angle to My Age (Libros $20), the very shortest stories, referred to as “flash fictions,” compress within as few words as possible a setting, a way of life, and the potential for dramatic action.
“The Mars Hotel” encompasses in less than a page, and in language as taut as an Emily Dickinson poem, a lover’s journey that began with his mother’s proffered finger until, “javelined by Airbus from London to Paris,” he is united with his beloved.
In just two-pages, “Trading Places” charts two English couples over a lifetime in terms of education, health and class.
Among the experiments is the telling of a story backwards. The machinery of plot is put into reverse in “Turning in the Trap,” wherein the narrative of a soldier’s long, unhappy marriage and his suicide are presented in brief segments each dated earlier than the preceding one.
The title for “Ad Te Clamamus, Exsules, Filii Hevae,” another one-pager, can be translated as “To thee we do cry, poor banished children of Eve.” The context here is Catholic guilt. The speaker/narrator sits at the dinner table with Nuala, her six-year-old brother and their father, while the mother hurriedly ladles out lamb broth soup. The exact relationship between the speaker and Nuala is not defined—but the concluding sentence suggests menacing possibilities framed by sin and violence. The Irish father mutters “Jay-sus, Mary and Joseph.” The speaker observes the older man’s thick fingers “roughly tapping the table in synchrony with the beating of our newly post-coital, runaway hearts.”
The longer pieces are also foremost about the craft of writing. The selection of the right word is thematic as it was for short story writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Hemingway, or Ivan Bunin (the now almost forgotten first Russian winner of the Nobel Prize for literature).
“Our Secret” is a mother-daughter story in which the daughter learns the story of her paternity, the perfectly-crafted sentences convey a way of life in northern Ontario that is hard-bitten but intensely alive.
“De Mortuis Nil Nisi Bonum” is a father-son story in which a late middle-aged man from B.C. revisits the wartime scene of his Manitoba childhood with a painful clash of cultures between his fiery Irish Catholic mother and his pacifist Mennonite father.
Both these stories have the dimensions of large tragic novels pared down to their essence.
The skills of an adept satirist are evident in the lengthiest piece in the collection, “Cake, Bang and Elm,” structured around two points of view: the narrator as an observant child in London, England, and as an adult college teacher from Canada. The child’s view is registered in the cartoonish Dickensian names of the characters he meets and hears about in London: Mr. Cake, Mrs. Paper, Mr. Boil, Jack Cat, Mr. Gland, etc. The adult, returned many years later, comes to see these bizarre figures in a wholly different light.
“So and Not Otherwise” is a lively satire of academic life at UBC, its aspirations and shortcomings, including some splendid farcical moments.
Both these stories slip free of satiric conventions and conclude in a gently serious vein.
The stories in Standing at an Angle to My Age, while sometimes set abroad, are nonetheless markedly Canadian, some with specifically B.C. settings and references. They inhabit a wide range of genres and modes, but are distinguished by the steady craft of an elegant literary stylist. Bridgman’s carefully polished stories perform agile narrative feats: one page evokes a full-length short story; ten pages read like a novel. Each piece is an experiment and P.W. Bridgman a writer of exceptional talent.
The stories ‘The Mars Hotel’ and ‘Suitably Framed’ each placed in Spilling Ink fiction competitions; both appeared in 2011 in the Scottish anthology, Story.Book, published by Unbound Press of Glasgow. ‘The Mars Hotel” was also shortlisted for the U.K. Bridport Prize, flash fiction category, in 2010.
The volume has been fittingly produced by Libros Libertad with careful attention to design layout and typography. P.W. Bridgman has begun work on a novel.
by David Stouck (2013)
Standing at An Angle to my Age is a collection of eighteen short stories written by the mysterious P.W. Bridgman. Like B. Traven, author of Treasure of the Sierra Madre and other tales of valour and greed, P.W. Bridgman guards his anonymity jealously. The only clue to his identity—and I am sticking my neck out by using the masculine pronoun—is a quote from his Spartan website: “P.W. Bridgman is a writer of literary fiction living in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He has earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology and a degree in law as well.”
Whoever Bridgman is, I salute him. My first and only foray into short story writing was a class I took many years ago labouring under the delusion that writing a short story would be a snap, compared with writing a novel. I thought it would be like the difference between a quickie ex parte chambers application and a long, arduous trial. [Will an ex parte application ever feel quite the same?—Ed.]
Foolishly, I assumed there was ease to be had in brevity. My bravado extended to supposing that emotions could be captured, flash-frozen, savoured and then passed from reader to reader like a bite of cake being passed from one mouth to another—and all this in the space of a measly ten pages or so. My class left me with an undying admiration for those who, like Bridgman, have mastered the genre. Short stories may be short, but easy they ain’t.
There is an inherent challenge in reviewing a short story collection, particularly one as diverse as this. The breadth and width of these stories are impressive. They range in setting from the Okanagan Valley and the English Department at UBC to Ireland, London and Paris, and in time from the Second World War to the present. The cast of characters is an assortment: male, female, old and young, rich, poor, kind, cruel.
The prose is spare, each word chosen with surgical precision. The enigmatic Bridgman knows how to craft a sentence. Phrases such as “a well-tethered Catholic”, “small, moist hands”, “curled up like a fiddlehead under the coverlet” and “an airbus javelined me from London to Paris” resonate long after the book is finished.
In the coming-of-age story, “The Meaning of Life According to Fred W. Kane”, a shy, bookish boy trying to find his footing in the world is “poised like a pearl diver on the brink of adulthood”. His mentor, Fred W. Kane, has a contagious calmness that works for the boy better than any therapy could.
The dialogue is wonderful. For example, the cadence of Northern Ireland speech rhythms is beautifully captured. In “Cean Dubh Dilis” the saintly mother says to her husband in gentle reproof, “Catch yourself on, Lorcán…is that the example you want to be setting?”
The opening line of “The Mars Hotel” is a good example of the use of rhythm and tempo to impart a feeling of slowness and then increasing speed. Read it out loud and you will see what I mean:
Down, down the long avenues and grand boulevards, across the wide sweeps of French lawns sprawling in supplication at the feet of imperious French municipal buildings, along the sidewalks rain-shiny and earthy of smell, by the open doors of rue Cler merchants selling cheeses and olives, my quickening footsteps cadenced by a quickening heartbeat carry me past the art dealer, the patisserie, and the betting house, finally to the Mars Hotel and to you.
Clearly, Bridgman is a student of poetry.
The characters, on the whole, are tender, given to simple acts of kindness, not outward displays of rage or violence except those that have been carefully staged, as in “Cake, Bang and Elm”, the story of two men simulating a fight to conceal their homosexuality. “In Trading Places” a working-class woman, an invalid, is being tended to by her social superior, a solicitor’s widow, for unexplained reasons. What is the nexus between the two? Guilt? The need to control? Compassion? The reader is left to decide.
There is a quiet heroism in many of the characters, particularly the female ones. In the lead story, “Ceann Duhn Dilis”, a mother takes an old, demented man into her home. When her second child is born, she has “to feed the two of them side-by-side”. It is a touching example of the type of loving patience that is difficult to sustain in the day-to-day cauldron of life, especially among families who have limited incomes and are crammed into small council flats. Her kindness is rewarded when, just before the old man dies, he plays “Dear Dark Head” on a borrowed harp.
And then there is the mother in “Open Secret”, who suffers a stroke but manages to pin a note to her blouse for her daughter to find—a note that reveals the girl’s true paternity. This was my favourite of the collection, a lovely tale of mother and daughter joining forces against a tyrant of a stepfather before the mother dies. The tale ends on a wistful note as the daughter, watching from her bedroom window, sees the doctor talking to her stepfather, announcing her mother’s death.
“So and Not Otherwise”, set at UBC’s Department of English, is the tale of a relationship between a diffident doctoral candidate and his adviser, a dipsomaniacal Brit from Balliol with a huge contempt for his students, his colleagues and himself. It elegantly describes the jealousies, petty back-biting and self-congratulatory elitism of a university department. The language, tone and vocabulary skewer academic pretence neatly. The student, explaining to the professor what attracts him to university life, says: “It’s the fact that someone like you can carry on exactly how he pleases and it will all be tolerated, sort of, at least, because he can do something extraordinary.” The two characters are foils for each other, the professor a thinking, feeling, exuberant, misguided mess of a man and his student, with “his pale freckled hands”, the Jesuitically rational student.
“Sir” is about an authoritarian teacher who delights in humiliating his students, abusing them in every way, including sexually. The teacher is unremittingly nasty, the story told through the eyes of one of his beleaguered pupils. Does the boy learn anything from his experience with the teacher? We don’t know.
And then tucked in, here and there, like Oreos in a lunchbox, are several pieces of “flash fiction”. For the uninitiated, flash fiction is a story which takes about as long to read as it does to smoke a cigarette, or to walk a dog around the block or eat an ice cream cone. To establish character and setting in barely one and a half pages requires great dexterity. These pieces were, I confess, the least satisfying of the collection. This was, I suspect, for the simple reason that if you have an idea you think is good enough for a story, why not develop it? Flash fiction often comes across as a fragment of something larger, something that should continue but for some reason does not.
However, one of the flash fiction pieces is an exception: in the space of a page and a half it gives an Alice Munro–like spark of insight capturing a tiny moment, giving a small ping of epiphany, which leaves the reader with the feeling, “Yes, I have felt just that emotion, too.” “Ad Te Clamamus, Exsules, Filii Hevae” is one such story. Here a group of friends and family are gathered around a table, eating a meal fraught with unnamed tension. We do not learn the reason for the unease until the last line, which delivers the bomb: “…the thick fingers of his right hand roughly tapp[ed] the table in synchrony with the beating of our newly post-coital, runaway hearts.”
I do, however, have a few grumbles. Titles in general often puzzle me, and I confess last more than most. The titles within the collection often seemed unnecessarily obscure and often as not did nothing to provide a clue to the author’s meaning. What purpose is served by entitling a story “De Mortuis Nil Nisi Bonum” except to make the reader wish she had paid closer attention in Latin class?
Another complaint. There are a few stories in which the pace is slowed down by too much narrative, too many descriptions of weather and clouds and not enough dialogue and conflict. As the late, great Elmore Leonard said, “I try to leave out the parts that readers skip.” Mercifully, these moments are few.
Bridgman is a rare bird. At a time when most writers are prostrating themselves before the public in their eagerness to sell books and have praise heaped upon them, Bridgman remains aloof.
Bridgman, ostende te!
by Roberta Rich (2013)
This online interview is supplied by
Labello Press, an Irish publisher that has published two of P.W. Bridgman's stories in its annual Gem Street anthologies.
1. What is the most satisfying element of what you’re working on now?
I find that, at present, I am deriving more pleasure from writing dialogue than ever before. Indeed I feel that, just maybe, I am starting to “get it” in this vexed and troubled area. Most writers would agree that dialogue is enormously challenging. When it doesn’t work, the inauthenticity leaps out to the reader immediately and registers on the ear with a loud clang. Writing dialogue is a strange and mysterious exercise. If one were simply to transcribe, verbatim, what is said in ordinary discourse, the transcription would generally not make for good reading. The writer thus must intervene and do something to imagined actual discourse to convert it into dialogue fit for a novel or a story. The challenge is to take actual patterns of real speech and, unobtrusively and using a form of writerly alchemy, adjust them just enough to make them scan properly but without compromising authenticity.
2. Any interesting, odd or captivating writing rituals?
Like many writers did during their early years, I used to believe that conditions had to be carefully orchestrated and perfectly arranged to allow for the writing to flow. You know—the dedicated space, the closed door, the sepulchral silence, the burning candle, the long stretch of time with no other claims on one’s time or attention. The trouble is, our busy lives furnish us with few occasions when all of the strands come together perfectly in that way and if we wait for them to do so we will make far less progress on our fictional projects than we ought to. So, I will turn this question on its head. I have in recent years consciously sought to renounce the illusory need for writing rituals. I have taught myself to slip writing into the interstitial spaces that appear, here and there, across the span of my generally very busy professional and family life. Once a story has begun, I will try to work on it whenever the opportunity arises, on trains and planes and in all manner of noisy places that are full of distractions. If a block of fifteen free minutes presents itself and I have my companionable MacBook to hand, I will seize those minutes to write. Having found that my earlier insistence upon rituals and ideal conditions was unnecessarily limiting, I can say that I feel greatly liberated in having cast them off.
3. Is there a subject you would love to write about but haven’t gotten around to?
There are several. Chief among them at the moment is the notion of being “beholden”—a fascinating subject that has also occupied my fellow Gem Street contributor (both editions), Paul Burns. In the smaller circles within which we conduct our lives, we will most of us eventually witness the awkward and dangerous cross-currents that develop between those upon whom fate and fortune have smiled generously and those to whom fate and fortune have been less generous. When people in such differing circumstances must coexist at close hand—as they do within families or workplaces, for example—such conditions of elemental inequality can sometimes require the better-positioned to come to the assistance of those who are less well-positioned and in need. The necessity for tact and sensitivity is never greater than at such times. Yet, despite best efforts, injured pride can restrain gratitude, just as selfless acts performed in ham-handed but well-meaning ways can demean and provoke unintended but nevertheless justified feelings of hurt. And sometimes those who respond with their assistance do so in ways that are ungracious and not reflective of best efforts; their actions then rightly provoke resentment. What cauldrons! Relationships can and do change under these pressures, and usually not for the better. “I should not have to apologise for my successes, especially to you,” says X to Y. “And I resent your noblesse oblige, and I resent it no less for it being dressed in the finery of unbidden charity,” says Y back to X. The word “beholden” captures one aspect of what can re-define relationships when these fragile, human equilibria are disturbed by the subtle forces set loose by asymmetries in fortune and opportunity. I have a novel taking shape in which I hope to explore fully what it means to be “beholden” and the responsibilities that the more and less fortunate both share to prevent that state, and its unwanted consequences, from taking hold to the detriment of all.
4. What does your writing process look like?
Catch as catch can, I’m afraid (as one of the answers I have given above bears out). Sometimes the opportunities to write are widely spaced, given the other demands I must satisfy each day. But I do try to pounce on those opportunities when they arise and make the most of them.
5. Writing schedule: whip-cracker or easy-does-it?
Somewhere in between, I think. Once a piece of writing has been started, I can be quite disciplined about seizing the moment to sustain its momentum. But I will allow the initial idea to take its own time to gel.
6. Your style is, at times, reminiscent of some of the old classics. Who has inspired you most?
Certainly, I have been inspired by the likes of Dickens, Austen, James and their ilk. But I have been equally inspired by more modern writers like Joyce, Beckett, Woolf, Greene and Waugh. Joyce has furnished me with a lifetime’s cornucopia of enraptured reading. Ulysses especially gives up new insights, the way the bogs toss up preserved bodies, every few years. For literary sustenance, I will however admit that I turn as often to poets as I do to prose writers, and twentieth century poetic works have been if anything more prominent on my reading list than have those from the 19th century and earlier. Eliot, Larkin, Auden—I find that they all draw me back and reward re-reading endlessly. So too does Seamus Heaney who, in so many ways, serves as an ever-present beacon and guide. His “Mid-term Break” is at once the saddest and one of the most hauntingly beautiful poems I have ever read. And then there are Simon Armitage, and Paul Muldoon, and Karen Solie, and Sonnet L’Abbaye, and August Kleinzahler, and … where does one stop? Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti set my pulses racing as a somewhat younger man, but so too did C.P. Snow, Carol Shields, Robertson Davies, Ethel Wilson and Margaret Laurence. We are blessed in Canada with a rich short story tradition. Alice Munro’s is a surpassingly vast and incomparable talent. But we cannot leave out Carol Shields (again), Guy Vanderhaeghe, William C. McConnell, George McWhirter, Cynthia Flood and Beth Goobie to name just a few. That’s the trouble with lists. They are always too short.
7. Are you a conscious or unconscious plotter?
Unconscious, to be sure. Once the right conceptual thread has been tugged by a snatch of overheard conversation or a line in a poem or something else like that, a story will spool out and when it does it takes the direction it takes without much, if any, predetermined structure to guide it. I do not say that this is the proper way, or the best way, to write short fiction. It is just my way. Nor do I say, as some writers (rather preciously) do, that my stories “write themselves”. I just find that the writing process supplies its own evolving set of fictional signposts and that I can usually only ever see a few hundred metres ahead of where I am at any particular point.
8. Are you a dress-up or dress-down writer?
Not sure quite how to answer this question in relation to my writing. I will admit that my actual wardrobe contains the full gamut from pinstriped suits and brogues to black turtleneck sweaters and a wicked pair of pointy black Ghost boots from my rock and roll days. The writing probably stretches, figuratively, from one end to the other of that quirky continuum.
9. Which of the characters you’ve created do you admire most?
That’s difficult but I think it has to be the mother in “Ceann Dubh Dilis” (the first story in Standing at an Angle to My Age). In her quiet but persistent way she creates a special space in her home and family for a helpless, aged and demented neighbour. In the process she teaches her husband and children some important lessons about kindness and love. (This makes the story sound rather sentimental, I know, but I like to think that it is more than that.)
10. What’s the toughest criticism you ever received?
Oh dear. Do I have to relive that? I guess it was an e-mail I received from a literary agent to whom I sent the manuscript of what eventually became my first book of short fiction. The agent declined interest in representing me based on having a quick look at the MS, saying:
We are certainly impressed by your publication record and I see you are a good writer but I'm afraid that the style and subjects of the stories themselves did not appeal. In this time of fewer publishers and many good writers we can only move forward with a few select projects and rarely take fiction collections. [emphasis added]
While I was pleased to be referred to as a “good writer,” I wasn’t sure how that could really be if both the style and the subjects of my stories lacked any appeal. However, as history shows, I did pick myself up, dust myself off and climb back onto the literary fiction horse. Eventually, and without the assistance of an agent, I did find a commercial publisher to bring out Standing at an Angle to My Age and the book has done tolerably well. The moral: be open to criticism but also trust yourself and your own literary judgment.
11. Three words you love.
“Chiaroscuro”. It’s a word borrowed from Italian (my beautiful wife’s beautiful first language) and it conveys the subtle interplay between light and dark—something that I admire greatly in the visual arts, in music and (of course) in literature. Another is “lineament,” referring to a distinctive feature of something. That word has a nice, palpable, physical feel to it. Lastly, I’ll say “compendious”. A “compendious” definition is a definition that is comprehensive, yet concise. It will now be obvious that in my writing I do not come easily to economy of expression; thus I find in the joinder of brevity and completeness that is conveyed by the word “compendious” an elusive virtue.
12. Three words you overuse.
I think I might overuse the adverbs “straightforwardly” and “famously”. I know I overuse the phrase “in any event,”—but it’s so damned useful when pressing ahead with a proposition that may be thought to be unsupportable, given what one has just finished saying (or writing)! Who was it who said “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen, philosophers and divines”?
13. Do you prefer the short story form and if so, why?
I have an abiding love for the short story form. Until I came to know the late William C. McConnell (friend and advisor to the likes of Malcolm Lowry, Margaret Laurence and F.R. Scott, pioneering publisher of Klanak Press, founding editorial board member for PRISM international and author of many fine short stories, some of which have been gathered together in an selection entitled Raise No Memorial), I only respected and admired the short story form. Bill led me to recognise the form’s transcendent power. He encouraged me to read widely within the short fiction genre and he urged me along with my own early efforts as a fledgling short story writer. I am forever in his debt for his mentorship, his friendship and his stellar example. Bill’s much-anthologised “Love in the Park,” is—I believe—one of the finest short stories ever written by a Canadian. And, while I’m at it, I will say that I consider it a great privilege to live in Canada where I am surrounded by so many authors who recognise the value of short fiction and who have so clearly mastered the craft. The short story form is appreciated in this country at a visceral level that, I think, is quite unique. If we were a nation given to honouring our Great Ones with statues, there would be statues of Alice Munro in most Canadian cities. I would not say that the short story is a superior literary form to the novel because the forms are vastly different and such comparisons are inherently invidious. I would say that the potential of the short story form is less well appreciated, globally, than it deserves to be, and that Canadian writers like Alice Munro, Carol Shields, Margaret Atwood, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Cynthia Flood, Caroline Adderson, Isabel Huggan, &c., &c. have greatly helped to remedy that.
14. Ever misplace your writing Mojo?
Is so, where does it eventually turn up? Not really. But other things do get in the way sometimes. Once they’ve been cleared, however, the impulse generally returns—like a loyal cat frightened off temporarily by a bit of commotion.
15. When and why did you start writing?
I have been writing ever since I could hold a pencil. Somewhere I have a copy of a poem that I wrote at the age of four or five which was inspired by the peanut butter that I had each day on my morning toast. It is often said that Canadian writers look for and find the extraordinary in the quotidian. Although I have moved on past the wonders of peanut butter, I do still share the view that “ordinary” lives are usually anything but and that, in fact, they can often be perfectly fascinating when examined at close range with a discerning eye. I was always a bookish kid and I remain a bookish adult. Reading has supplied a goodly measure of the joy and satisfaction that I have taken from life and so, I suppose, it was only natural that I should seek to contribute something of my own to that vast inventory of prose and poetry that have fed my sensibilities for as long as I can remember.
16. What have you found to be the most beneficial way to unwind after an intense writing session?
That’s easy. Jazz. We have a ridiculously large collection of music in many genres at home, but it is jazz that best meets my unwinding needs. I love to settle in with, say, Bill Evans, or Tom Harrell, or Tomasz Stanko, or Bill Frisell, or The Hugh Fraser Quintet, or the Pugs and Crows, or the Peggy Lee Band playing in the background. So much of that repertoire is timeless. It continues to give. The 1959 Miles Davis/Gill Evans Porgy and Bess collaboration (for example) has provided endless pleasure since I first came upon it in the early 1970s and it will continue to do so until the end of my days. That arrangement of Porgy and Bess is number one on my Desert Island Discs list. And, I will admit that sometimes the winding down picture is rounded out with a Bombay Sapphire Martini (shaken, not stirred; two Castelvetrano olives; and just a whisper of vermouth): perfection.
17. Favourite place on earth and why?
We love Vancouver (where we live) and I can’t imagine us moving anywhere else. But we spend some time, almost every year, in Italy where my wife’s family originated and where there are many relatives waiting to welcome us on each visit. Italian hospitality is peerless in its warmth, generosity and exuberance and so, apart from Vancouver, the area of the Veneto where San Giorgio di Perlena, Bassano del Grappa and Breganze are all situated is my favourite place on earth. These towns and villages are indescribably beautiful, steeped in history and—most important—they are the places where the members of our boundlessly generous extended family have always greeted us with a spirited and exceedingly warm welcome every time we visit.
18. How did the idea for your story ‘But No, Nothing’, published in this year’s Gem Street: Collector’s Edition come about?
This takes a little explaining. The story addresses, among other things, the destructive potential of inertia in the face of a moral duty to act. Inertia is paralysis and if its grip is not loosened when a compelling need to act is confronted, harm will inevitably result. Inertia and paralysis can be brought on by uncertainty, by a lack of confidence and by the sense (illusory or not) that one is confronted with conflicting duties where the choice as to which one ought to prevail is unclear. I wanted to put characters into a situation where a paralytic inertia could get in the way of responding to a moral imperative so I could see what they would do.
19. What is the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself through writing?
That the teachings and example shown me by my parents, both now deceased, live on within me. I was blessed with happier beginnings than many people whom I know. I was blessed with happier beginnings than many of my fictional characters. I remain grateful for the way I was ushered into this messy world by my mother and my father. That ushering was marked, by turns, with kindness, wisdom, principle and firmness leavened with restraint. It was informed by discerning insight. My mistakes (and I have made many) all come to rest at my own feet and they cannot be attributed to the want of a good upbringing. As I push my characters onto the stages they occupy in my stories, I am constantly reminded that the main fabric of the usually unmentioned moral and ethical backdrop against which those characters’ actions can be assessed by the reader is the one that was supplied to me by my parents.
20. It’s a few years down the road, what are you doing?
I will, by then, have transitioned to a part-time work schedule in my “day job”. This, health permitting, will have opened the door to spending blocks of time abroad, in Italy, Ireland, the UK, France … sometimes with kids and grandson to accompany us. To focus in a little, in the theatre of my mind I see myself sitting in a comfortable chair on the patio outside a long-stay rental house in, say, Marostica or San Giorgio di Perlena—a few short kilometres from at least 15 zii e cugini. My wife is in the chair beside me (we are reading) and our grandson—by then five or six years of age—is playing with a neighbour’s child and astonishing us all with his quick uptake of la lingua italiana. His parents (my daughter and son-in-law) are away in Bassano del Grappa attending a cooking class and are expected back soon. I happen to have returned to Seamus Deane’s brilliant Reading in the Dark for, by then perhaps, the third time—marvelling anew at its remarkable lyricism and intricate and clever plot structure. My own writing for the day will have finished earlier in the afternoon and as the sun sets we will all soon be preparing to set off in our rented Alfa Romeo Giulietta to Icio e Paola’s Pizzeria for dinner. That’s what I see myself doing a few years down the road, health permitting. Che bella vita!