Author Tags: Fiction, Fishing, Poetry

“I grew up in a blue-collar town ten minutes down the road from a white-collar town. And I've spent most of my life uncomfortable in both places.” -- Tim Bowling

Born in Vancouver and raised in Ladner in a salmon fishing family, Tim Bowling moved to Edmonton, returned to live on the West Coast at Gibsons in 2005, then returned to live in Edmonton where he lives with fellow writer Theresa Shea and their three children.

Bowling has had a Canadian Authors Association Award, two Governor General’s Award nominations, a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and won Alberta's Stephan G. Stephansson Award for poetry three times. [See below]

"I grew up along the banks of the Fraser River in a salmon fishing family," he says. "That experience shaped me in ways I'm still trying to understand."

For his poetry collection Fathom, he wrote, "The eye of the poems is not a child’s eye; it sees the sadness and pain of the Great War veterans living in small apartments and the homesickness of Greek immigrants and the racism of an earlier time when ‘we called a chinaman a chinaman’; it sees the native place as part of a much broader human story played out over generations. Yet there’s always gratitude and affirmation implicit in the poems. I’ve tried to pay the river and the marshes and the salmon and the people of my hometown back with metaphor, the one form of wildness we possess that’s worthy of the earth. Well, metaphor and love – because I loved my hometown, its oddball mix of fishermen and farmers, its eerie, trembling half-mile between the totem pole and cenotaph, its rain-swollen blackberries and orange-gold salmonberries, its particular flavour never to be tasted again, but just there, hovering, an inch from the lips. Even so, I wrote Fathom without any grand overarching design. I just wanted to be honest and as vivid as possible about the world that means more to me than any other."

As of 2014, Bowling had been nominated for the annual Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Book Prize eight times in the preceding fourteen years--but had not yet won it. He is also frequently nominated for the annual Stephan G. Stephansson Award for poetry, one of nine Alberta Literary Awards, administered by the Writers Guild of Alberta. His poetry titles include Low Water Slack (1995); Dying Scarlet (1997), winner of the 1998 Stephan G. Stephansson Award; The Thin Smoke of the Heart (2000); Darkness and Silence (2001), winner of the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry; The Witness Ghost (Nightwood, 2003), The Memory Orchard (Brick Books, 2004), Fathom (Gaspereau, 2006) and The Book Collector (Nightwood, 2008). He was again nominated for the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for his tenth collection of poems, Tenderman (Nightwood 2011) and his eleventh, Selected Poems (2013) in 2014.

As another retrospective look at the West Coast fishery, Fathom received the Stephansson Award at the Writers Guild of Alberta’s awards gala on September, 29, 2007, in Grande Prairie. He was then awarded the 2008 Wilfred Eggleston Award for Non-Fiction for his lyrical memoir, The Lost Coast: Salmon, Memory and the Death of Wild Culture ($29.95, Nightwood Editions), an impassioned lament for the home Bowling once knew and for the river that continues to haunt his imagination. He has also won the Petra Kenney International Poetry Prize, the National Poetry Award and the Orillia International Poetry Prize.

Bowling has also published the novels Downriver Drift [2000], The Paperboy's Winter (Penguin, 2003) and The Tinsmith (2012), plus his collection of interviews entitled Where the Words Come From: Canadian Poets in Conversation (Nightwood, 2002).

After spending five weeks caretaking an eighty-acre ranch just outside Dinosaur Provincial Park in the spring of 1999, Bowling researched the life and times of American bone hunter Charles Sternberg (1850-1943), a student of evolutionist and paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope, for his novel about the Alberta badlands during World War One, The Bone Sharps (Gaspereau, 2007). In the same year, Bowling once more lamented the degradation of his hometown with his nostalgic view of his family's gillnetting roots in The Lost Coast: Salmon, Memory and the Death of Wild Culture (Nightwood, 2007), shortlisted for the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize.

Known for his many books about the contemporary fishing industry on the West Coast, Tim Bowling starts his novel The Tinsmith (Brindle & Glass 2012) at the Battle of Antietam in 1862. An assistant surgeon with the Union Army, Anson Baird survives the American Civil War and helps a black slave named John assume a new identity in British Columbia where they combat the unscrupulous business practices of the pioneer salmon canners some twenty years later.

Bowling's collection of poetry, Tenderman ($18.95, Nightwood Editions), was nominated for the Acorn-Plantos Award for People's Poetry, which is awarded annually to a Canadian poet whose work is accessible to all people in its use of language and image and follows in the tradition of some of Canada's major poets such as Milton Acorn, Ted Plantos, Dorothy Livesay and Al Purdy.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
The Lost Coast: Salmon, Memory and the Death of Wild Culture
The Witness Ghost


Slack (1995)
Dying Scarlet (Nightwood, 1997)
The Thin Smoke of the Heart (McGill-Queen’s, 2000)
Downriver Drift [2000]
Darkness and Silence [2001]
The Witness Ghost (Nightwood, 2003)
The Paperboy's Winter (Penguin, 2003)
The Memory Orchard (Brick Books, 2004)
Fathom (Gaspereau, 2006)
The Bone Sharps (Gaspereau, 2007)
The Lost Coast: Salmon, Memory and the Death of Wild Culture (Nightwood, 2007)
The Book Collector (Nightwood Editions 2008)
Tenderman (Nightwood Editions 2011)
The Tinsmith (Brindle & Glass, 2012). 978-1-926972-43-5 $21.95 novel
Selected Poems (Nightwood Editions 2013) $22.95 978-0-88971-278-2
Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief (Gaspereau 2014) $19.95 9781554471348
The Duende of Tetherball: Poems (Nightwood 2016) $18.95 978-0-88971-325-3

[BCBW 2016] "Fiction" "Poetry" "Fishing"

The Paperboy’s Winter (Penguin $24)

Since his father’s death, Callum Taylor’s life has been without meaning. Visiting his childhood home in a fishing village along the banks of the Fraser River, he encounters a figure from his past who jolts him into gear. Bowling grew up in the Steveston area. 0-14-301228-2

[Spring 2003 BCBW]

Downriver Drift (Harbour $18.95)
Interview by Mark Forsythe

A heavy fog settles in on the first pages of Tim Bowling’s first novel Downriver Drift (Harbour $18.95), set in Ladner 30 years ago. As the fog slowly lifts, the ebb and flow of life in a small fishing town emerges. There is beauty in a traditional way of life; there is unease about an uncertain future. Deadheads are submerged just beneath the river’s surface.

Bowling, 36, grew up half a block from the Fraser River in a Ladner fishing family. As a child he played along its banks and sloughs; later working aboard gillnetters crisscrossing its surface like waterbugs. He probably heard the river in his dreams. Ladner and the Fraser River have also inspired Bowling to write three books of poetry, Low Water Slack, Dying Scarlet and most recently The Thin Smoke of the Heart (McGill-Queens $16.95).

BCBW: Does the Fraser River still tug at you?

BOWLING: Coming to Ladner, getting out of the car, just the smell of the place is so powerful. People often wonder if you have to leave a place to write about it. I don’t think that’s true, but your imagination is called on in a different way if you’re not actually in the place and you have to visualize it.
I have these incredible flashbacks of being on the river, especially at night; fishing itself and the whole mystery of what’s in the net. There’s incredible creatures in the water. As a kid leaning over the rollers at the back of the stern, even if it was a 50-pound Spring salmon, there were certain ways the net acted. The darkness, the depth, pulling things from out of that. You can see how that would have a powerful effect on your imagination—especially for a child.

BCBW: When did you start writing?

BOWLING: Even in grade one I wanted to be a writer. In a serious way, I started to think about publishing poetry after my English degree at UBC, then I came back to Ladner and fished. I had a lot of years reading while working the river - it was wonderful to go from book to book. Atwood to Mavis Gallant and on and on. Not just heavy literature—I read a wide range of stuff, Chandler, mysteries.

BCBW: You never took a Creative Writing course?

BOWLING: I have mixed feelings about Creative Writing programs. I’m not opposed to them...but even the best teachers will tell you, you can’t teach writing. You can offer practical shortcuts. Like most things in life it really is hard work, but to most people who end up doing it - it doesn’t feel like work. It’s a passion. I’ve always been amazed by the angst of the writing one’s making you do it. There’s an awful lot of mythology around writing but there’s really not all that much mystery about it. William Faulkner used to talk about building his novels the way a carpenter builds a house.

BCBW: Does that come from your Ladner fishing background?

BOWLING: I think I’d extend it to the community. Ladner was a rough and tumble town in the 70s when I was growing up. I did some work on farms and worked at a Buckerfield’s; you come into contact with a lot of people who aren’t literary. You didn’t talk about writing... but there’s still a kind of respect for doing your own thing and being independent. But any writer will tell you that you’re going to get a lot of discouragement. The world’s telling you all the time, ‘Who needs another writer?’

BCBW: After three books of poetry, how did you approach writing a first novel?

BOWLING: I definitely wanted to see if I could get out of the lyric voice... not write the first person autobiographical ‘coming of age’ story, to see if I could create convincing characters who are not obviously me. I wanted to get some of the poetic devices I use in poetry to transfer to prose, but not bog down. That was a challenge I set for myself.

BCBW: How hard is it to survive as a full-time writer?

BOWLING: I never like to use the phrase ‘making sacrifices’. To me it would be a sacrifice to not spend time on my writing. So what I’m sacrificing are things I don’t really want. Probably this is Ladner fishing values applied to personal finances. You have a big year, you put it aside because you know you’ll have a lean year soon. There’s always a bit of edge about it, but maybe that’s good for the creativity, too.

Drift 1-55017-220-4; Smoke 0-7735-1905-X

[Mark Forsythe / BCBW 2000] "Interview"

Dying Scarlet (Nightwood)

Newly arrived in Edmonton from Ladner, Tim Bowling has won the Stephan G. Stephansson Alberta Book Award for Dying Scarlet (Nightwood).

[BCBW 1998]

The Witness Ghost
Press Release, 2003


Award-winning poet Tim Bowling now also a Governor-General's Finalist.

After receiving some of the most prestigious literary awards that Canada has to offer, including the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry, the Stephen G. Stephansson Award and the Petra Kenney International Poetry Prize, Edmonton writer Tim Bowling can now add a nomination for the Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry to his list of honours. His fifth book of poems, The Witness Ghost ($15.95, Nightwood Editions), was released almost simultaneously with his second novel, The Paperboy's Winter ($24.00, Penguin), this past spring.

Bowling, who was born and raised in Ladner, BC, says the call from the awards committee was something of a surprise. "The Witness Ghost is a very emotional book for me, since it deals with grieving," admits Bowling. "To be honest, it feels odd to receive any recognition at all for it." The Witness Ghost deals primarily with the death of Bowling's father, a man who spent his working life as a salmon fisherman on British Columbia's majestic Fraser River. In this book, Bowling uses his characteristic style of direct emotional statement mixed with startling imagery and metaphor to produce one of the most intense and loving tributes to fatherhood in Canadian poetry.

Bowling is also grateful that the recognition will bring his poems before a larger audience. "The poems were always intended to be a celebration of life and, in particular, of the land and waterscape of the Fraser River delta, so I'm grateful to this year's Governor General's poetry jury for giving The Witness Ghost a chance to reach a wider readership."

The Governor General's Literary Awards—funded, administered and promoted by the Canada Council for the Arts—are among the most prestigious literary prizes in Canada. In this, the 67th year of the awards, publishers across Canada submitted 137 books in the English poetry category. Tim Bowling and the four other finalists in the poetry category will receive $1,000 in recognition of their achievements, while the winner of the award will receive $15,000 and an additional $3,000 for their publisher.

Press Release (2008)

April 9, 2008

Gaspereau Press is delighted to share the news that author Tim Bowling has been named one of this year’s Guggenheim Fellows. Bowling received the fellowship, worth $46,000, to work on a collection of poems about salmon fishing and the Fraser River.

Since its establishment in 1925, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has awarded more than $265 million to nearly 16,500 individuals. This year, in the competition for the United States and Canada, the Foundation awarded 190 fellowships to artists, scientists and scholars, in fields ranging from medicine and earth science to film and photography. Among the handful of Canadian poets who have received this prestigious fellowship in past years are Margaret Atwood, Margaret Avison, Robert Bringhurst, Anne Carson and A.F. Moritz. For more information about the Guggenheim Fellowship and a complete list of this year’s successful candidates, please visit the Foundation’s website:

Bowling Wins Alberta Book Award for Non-Fiction
Press Release (2008)

Prodigious author Tim Bowling has won two Alberta Literary Awards in as many years. At the Alberta Literary Awards Gala on June 7, Bowling--who is originally from Ladner--was awarded the 2008 Wilfred Eggleston Award for Non-Fiction for his lyrical memoir, The Lost Coast: Salmon, Memory and the Death of Wild Culture ($29.95, Nightwood Editions), an impassioned lament for the home Bowling once knew and for the river that continues to haunt his imagination. In 2007, he won Alberta Book Award for Poetry for his seventh collection Fathom (Gaspereau Press, $18.95).

Bowling was a finalist for numerous other awards this year. The Lost Coast was shortlisted for two other awards, the Nereus Writers’ Trust Non-Fiction Prize and the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize. It was also chosen as a 2008 Kiriyama Prize “Notable Book.” His 2007 novel, The Bone Sharps (Gaspereau Press, $27.95) was also a contender for the 2008 City of Edmonton Book Prize.

Part memoir, part environmental plea, The Lost Coast is a beautifully written account of the author’s upbringing in Ladner. Raised in a gillnetting family, Bowling was a fisherman himself until the mid-1990s. The loss of the West Coast’s traditional resource-industry culture is felt deeply by Bowling as a betrayal of his birthright and a decimation of our heritage. What is the story behind the pioneers who built this country? What is the secret life of the killer whale and the great blue heron? And above all else, who caused, and continues to hasten, the diminishment of the Pacific salmon, one of Canada’s most totemic creatures? With a poet’s attention to details of the spirit, and a novelist’s flair for character and story, Bowling elevates his cherished homeland to the realm of enduring myth.

Bowling, who now lives in Edmonton, has garnered national and international acclaim for his poetry and novels. His other awards include the Canadian Authors Association National Poetry Prize, the Petra Kenney International Poetry Prize and the Orillia International Poetry Prize. He has also twice been a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry and was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship earlier this year. The Lost Coast is Bowling’s first book of non-fiction.

The Tinsmith
Publisher's Promo (2012)

The Tinsmith
A novel by Tim Bowling

September 17, 1862. Anson Baird, an assistant surgeon in the Union Army, is on the front line of what will come to be known as the bloodiest single-day battle in American history—the Battle of Antietam. As this violent and deadly Civil War battle rages on, Anson finds himself fighting alongside a slave named John. Together, the two men survive, and, in a gesture of comradeship, Anson assigns John a new identity as “William Sullivan Dare” in the hope that it will free him. Twenty years later on the Fraser River in British Columbia, Anson and William are now fighting a new battle—this time against the unscrupulous business ethics of the province’s pioneer salmon canners. When William disappears under mysterious circumstances, Anson is left to wonder what has become of him. Part mystery, part war story, The Tinsmith is a gripping tale of morality and loyalty set against two diverse and dramatic backdrops.

March 2012
$21.95, paperback
5.5 x 8.5, 320 pages

Bowling wins third Stephansson Award
Press Release (2012)

from Nightwood Editions
Ladner Author Recognized with a Hat Trick of Poetry Prizes

Ladner-born and -raised author Tim Bowling has just completed a hat trick of poetry prizes with his win at the Alberta Literary Awards Gala on Friday, June 9. Bowling walked away with his third Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry for his most recent collection, Tenderman ($18.95, Nightwood Editions). Only one other poet, Monty Reid, has won the prize as many times in the award's history.

Bowling, who now lives in Edmonton, also won the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry for Dying Scarlet (Nightwood Editions, 1998) and Fathom (Gaspereau, 2007), and he has been nominated for the prize an additional four times. A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, his other honours include the Canadian Authors Association National Poetry Prize, the Petra Kenney International Poetry Prize, and two other Alberta Literary Awards: the Wilfred Eggleston Award for Non-Fiction and the Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction. He has also been a finalist for two Governor General's Literary Awards for Poetry and the Nereus Writers Trust Non-Fiction Prize.

In Tenderman, Bowling outlines the central tension that acts as a vital force in the collection--the dichotomy between the sensitive poetic observer and the tough working-class subject. The tenderman (the term for a crewman on a salmon packing boat), who represents an unromantic, fiercely independent everyman, acts as unintentional muse to the collection; the poems are often delivered through dialogues between poet and fisherman, reminiscences of their shared childhoods, or narratives delivered by the tenderman himself.

The Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry is one of five Alberta Literary Awards, administered by the Writers Guild of Alberta, which recognize and celebrate the highest standards of literary excellence from Alberta authors. The award comes with a prize of $1500.00. The other nominees were Rosemary Griebel for Yes (Frontenac House) and Michael Penny for Particles (McGill-Queens University Press).

The Tinsmith (Brindle & Glass Publishing $21.95)
Review (2012)

from Cherie Thiessen

This book should come with a warning: Not for the squeamish. Tim Bowling is uncannily expert in creating a sense of place, but the places he writes about are not places most of us want to be taken.

The American Civil War’s bloody Battle of Antietam in 1862 and the salmon carnage on the Fraser River nineteen years later reek of rot, guts and gore. All of the senses are assailed in what are two very dissimilar and very similar worlds: dissimilar in that they’re set in different places and times, but similar in their human conflict and charnel house imagery.

Why all the slaughter? Bowling says: “The idea of families fighting on opposite sides—of blood loyalty versus principle—just haunts me. And then, the American Civil War is drenched in the romance of loss, which suits my melancholy temperament somehow.”

Readers may have encountered this melancholy in some of the author’s bibliography: ten collections of poetry, four novels and two non-fiction works, one of which echoes some of this novel’s sentiment, written in 2007 (The Lost Coast: Salmon, Memory and the Death of Wild Culture).

Anson Baird is a doctor who leaves his sleepy medical practice in order to be of service in the war. Now, a year later, he’s chronically exhausted and operating like an automaton as he routinely saws off arms and legs with a bloody knife, tossing the limbs onto a growing pile, and wiping pus and blood off his face only when it obscures his sight.

His one positive encounter is with a mysterious soldier, John, who brings him the wounded and assists him in his hacking off of limbs. To Anson, this soldier, whose skin he perceives as “pale with a curious dark cast to it” is his salvation, giving him hope for the future. In the midst of so much futile slaughter and suffering he wants to save this gallant young soldier, whom he suddenly recognizes as needing his help. Assuming that John is a runaway slave who has just horribly mutilated and killed his owner, the doctor gives him the identity of a newly dead solder and ‘John’ becomes ‘William Dare.’

Bowling says that the character is very loosely based on John Sullivan Deas, a mixed-race man from South Carolina who really was one of the first salmon canners on the Fraser. In Part 2, we find him there and once again in a battle, this time against unscrupulous British thugs determined to run him off the river. “And yes, I did want to balance the battlefield scenes with the river scenes. I did want the continuum of violence to be apparent. It is a dark and heavy book, which is exactly what I wanted.” 978-1-926972-43-5

Cherie Thiessen reviews fiction from Pender Island.

[BCBW 2012]