Author Tags: Humour, Kidlit & Young Adult

Born in Winnipeg in 1955, Bill Richardson is a humourist and former host of CBC Radio's Richardson's Roundup. Once the self-dubbed 'Poet Laureate of Canada', his contributions were frequently heard on CBC Radio's Gabereau program, for which he served as a substitute host. He won the 1994 Stephen Leacock Humour Medal for Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast, a series of lighthearted remembrances from fiftysomething twins Hector and Virgil who manage a Gulf Islands retreat. He has also written for the Vancouver Sun and Georgia Straight. His first collection of memoirs, observations and poems is Canada Customs (1988). He has also hosted a CBC TV series about books and authors, Booked on Saturday Night, produced by Eclipse Productions, and he has twice emceed the B.C. Book Prizes [as seen at right].

In 2008, the 2008 Time to Read Award: BC Achievement Foundation Award for Early Literacy was presented to Bill Richardson and illustrator Cynthia Nugent for the ‘The Aunts Come Marching’ by BC Achievement Foundation Board member, The Hon. Iain Black.


Canada Customs (Brighouse, 1988)
Queen of All the Dustballs and Other Epics of Everyday Life (Brighouse, 1990)
Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast (D&M, 1994)
Come Into My Parlour (Polestar, 1994)
Guy to Goddess, photographs by Rosamond Norbury (Whitecap, 1994)
Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast Pillow Book (D&M, 1995)
Bachelor Brothers' Bedside Companion (D&M, 1996)
Scorned & Beloved: Dead of Winter Meetings with Canadian Eccentrics (Knopf, 1997)
oddball@large (D&M, 1998)
After Hamelin (Annick, 2000)
Waiting for Gertrude (D&M, 2001)
Dear Sad Goat: A Roundup of Truly Canadian Tales and Letters (D&M 2002)
Sally Dog Little (Annick, 2003)
The Aunts Come Marching (2007)
The Alphabet Thief (Groundwood 2017) illustrations Roxanna Bikadoroff $16.95 978-1-55498-877-8

[BCBW 2017] "Humour" "Kidlit"

Dear Sad Goat (D&M $22.95)

Peter Gzowski, Mark Forsythe and other CBC types have built a tradition of transferring the smarts of their listening audiences from the radio to the page. Culling the hearts and minds of Richardson’s Roundup fans over six seasons, mostly from their letters and phone calls, CBC radio host Bill Richardson has compiled Dear Sad Goat: A Roundup of Truly Canadian Tales and Letters (D&M $22.95). The toll-free number for his afternoon program is 1-888-723-4628. To make it more memorable on air, this number was transformed to 1-888-SAD GOAT. 1-55054-960-X –[BCBW AUTUMN 2002]

Sally Dog Little (Annick $17.95)

Bill Richardson, CBC Radio host and former children’s librarian, brings his fertile mind to the children’s picture book with Sally Dog Little (Annick $17.95). The Littles, a formal sort of family, hold high expectations for their new pet. “Proper dogs,” says Papa, “never bark for no good reason.” So when a ghost pirate and his ghost dog show up, yet remain invisible to the family, Sally Dog Little goes along with their plan to dig up long-buried treasure in the back yard. By morning the pirate duo are gone as she’d hoped and no evidence remains of the midnight goings-on. Except for one little thing. Richardson’s previous book for kids, the fantasy novel After Hamelin, carried on where the Pied Piper story left off. 1-55037-759-0 (2003)

[Spring 2003 BCBW]

Waiting for Gertrude (D&M $24.95)

Visiting Paris for the first time at age 21, Bill Richardson shared “a moment of communion” with an elegant, long-haired, feral cat beside Sarah Bernhardt’s grave in the Père-Lachaise cemetery. The confident wild cats in that 114-acre graveyard “started me wondering what it would be like to inhabit the body of a cat.” A phrase came to Richardson’s mind; he jotted it down. “There was never such a ratter as Sarah Bernhardt.”

This was the genesis for Waiting for Gertrude (D&M $24.95), a whimsical and ‘eruditely rude’ fantasy in which the spirits of famous Père-Lachaise internees are reborn within the bodies of cats. Richardson’s chief narrator is Alice B. Toklas waiting for her formerly two-legged lover and ‘husband’, Gertrude Stein, to appear as a feline. While Alice pines for Stein, she prepares her “palindromic Ratrat Tartar” dish with ‘a generous cutting of the finest hashish.’

Anything goes.

• Sarah Bernhardt oversees the annual Christmas Eve revue, noting in the minutes of the organizational committee “Democracy is the archenemy of art.”
• Edith Piaf is a down-to-earth laundress who “studies sheets and pronounces on stains like an Old Testament prophet scanning a spill of sheep gut.”
• The fabulist Jean de La Fontaine spouts doggerel as he leads walking tours, allowing Richardson to indulge his penchant for cute rhymes. “It seems verse schemes like a-b-a / are coded in my DNA.”
• Colette has taken up yoga.
• Marcel Proust fancies himself a
private eye.
• Modigliani has impregnated
Isadora Duncan.
• Chopin oversees the delivery of
stamped, sealed letters as Postmaster-General.
• Now a eunuch, Oscar Wilde yearns for the violently masculine Jim Morrison, aka Jamz or The Lizard King, who has already knocked up Maria Callas. [The lead singer of The Doors died in Paris under very suspicious circumstances in 1971. After a hasty burial, his Père-Lachaise gravesite has become a haven for rock fans. Permanent guards are needed to prevent desecrations by graffiti artists wanting to spray paint The End.]

The wispy illustrations are by Bill Pechet, a Vancouver architect with an interest in cemetery design.

Leaving real-life at the gate, Richardson mythologizes Jim Morrison as a three-balled brute, an “indefatigable inseminator,” while diverting the reader with his Proustian send-up, interviews, silly lyrics and the mysterious thefts of Rossini’s eye, Bernhardt’s leg, a book of spells and the severed penis from Oscar Wilde’s monument.

In this plethora of playfulness, the reader is forever tripping over puns (“I have irony poor blood,” says Oscar Wilde) or getting dizzy deciphering Richardson’s pirouettes. “It is only when one finds oneself felicitously domiciled as Felis domesticus that one realizes how absurdly homocentric is the world of the upright walker.”

It can get a bit much. Bill Richardson is one of our leading lights, a genius with a good heart and evidently a very hard worker—subtract him from our literary midst and we would be much the poorer—but the quality can be erratic. He’s one of the few authors in Canada who might be well advised to Quit Your Day Job.

Born in Winnipeg in 1955, Richardson was raised in a “United Church neighborhood.” He wanted to tap dance or sing. “I think all my life I’ve been struggling to let loose the flaming faggot within,” he told XTRA West! in 1994. “In lots of ways I wanted to do something that was extroverted.” After earning a degree in French in 1976, he went to Europe, got a degree in librarianship from UBC in 1978, worked as a librarian, and hosted The Coming Out Show on Co-op Radio.

After he joined CBC’s Gabereau program as a researcher, Richardson published his first book of humour, Canada Customs, in 1988. A nervy promotional campaign asked “Would it be a bit presumptuous to say Bill Richardson is Garrison Keillor and Ogden Nash and Stephen Leacock all rolled into one?”

After Vicki Gabereau introduced Richardson on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery under a banner that proclaimed him as Canada’s First Poet Laureate, not everyone cheered. “He’s no Steinbeck,” said the Aldergrove Star in 1993.

Richardson has concurred. “I’m good for the 50-yard dash...” he told an XTRA West! interviewer in 1994, “...I don’t have War and Peace in me and I’m not really interested... I’ve never taken my writing very seriously, it’s a modest little ability.” His modest little ability has thus far won him the Leacock Medal for Humour and the Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award.

This is not a time in which playfulness is likely to be honoured; all the more reason to acknowledge the need for it. There is much in Waiting for Gertrude that is sublime humour. If Andrew Lloyd Webber had wit, Richardson’s concoction could serve as a blueprint for Cats II. How can anyone not admire a book that has Edith Piaf exclaiming, “I mean, writing! Jesus! Why would anyone do it? All that time alone, sitting and staring. Why not just lock yourself in a closet and try to force blood out of your ears?”

That said, the graveyard gadfly could use a dash of Samuel Johnson: “Read over your composition and if you find anything that strikes you as particularly fine, strike it out.” Forget the hint of Beckett. Waiting for Gertrude is faux Shakespeare. Lots of speechifying, lots of exclamation marks, lots of romantic intrigue, lots of wordplay and spellcraft. By the time Morrison gets his come-uppance as a ‘pulsating package of polydactyl perversity,’ the curtain is a relief but we’re left with admiration for the playwright.

There is minimal action beyond the author’s role as a chronic jester; it’s mostly sidelong commentaries on events that have happened offstage. This is not the first time Richardson has taken away the foreground from his subjects. “Why is this book such a thundering disappointment,” wrote a Globe & Mail reviewer about Scorned & Beloved in 1997. “Why is it so irritatingly forced, so painfully coy, so maddeningly cute?... We get Richardson, and Richardson, and more Richardson.”

In this case, serialization could be partly to blame. Charles Dickens did it; Thomas Hardy did it. Even Hunter S. Thompson successfully serialized his work in Rolling Stone. But serialization can be an especially tough gig if you happen to have another gig down the street, hosting a national radio program.

Gertrude was launched as installments for the ad-laden Georgia Straight where it’s tough to get noticed, let alone be found. The need to perform overtly—as an entertainer, writing by the seat of your pants to a deadline—might have compromised story development in the original format.

Waiting for Gertrude is remarkable in terms of its originality, its playful experimentalism, but it’s also a measure of Richardson’s stamina, his endurance—whether you’re a fan of his preening style or not.

Eleven books in 13 years. Steinbeck or no Steinbeck, you gotta admire this guy. He still takes chances. 1-55054-892-1

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2001]

After Hamelin (Annick $19.95)

Rendered deaf on the very day the unpaid Piper returned to Hamelin to steal the children away, 11-year-old Penelope, unable to hear the hypnotic music, is spared their fate. Now she must cross into the realm of dreams, brave a journey to the Piper’s secluded fortress and set the children free. After Hamelin (Annick $19.95) is CBC broadcaster Bill Richardson’s first book for children. 1-55037-629-2


Scorned and Beloved: Dead of Winter Meetings with Canadian Eccentrics (Knopf $29.95)

Weird and wonderful Canadians - such as Sarah Edmonds who enlisted as a man in the American Civil War and fought undetected for two years are profiled in Bill Richardson's Scorned and Beloved: Dead of Winter Meetings with Canadian Eccentrics (Knopf $29.95). From the legendary Glenn Gould, Emily Carr and Mackenzie King to much more obscure Jack Marriott, who wanted to be buried with his favourite cat which he had euthanized and stored in a freezer to await the great day, Richardson's eccentrics range from St. John's to Victoria.
0 676 97079 6

[BCBW 1997]

Bachelor Brothers' Bedside Companion (D&M)

The ubiquitous Bill Richardson, whose Bachelor Brothers' Bedside Companion (D&M) was recently launched, has had a beer named after him — Bachelor Brothers Special Bitter, available at Gastown's Steamworks Brewing. Richardson has penned a poem for Canada Book Day, scheduled for Wednesday, April 23. “...Step inside a bookstore and peruse each groaning shelf, / Then take a tome home for a friend, or buy one for yourself.”

[BCBW 1997]