Author Tags: Civil Rights, Early B.C., First Nations, History, Poetry, Politics, Sports
Alan Twigg was inducted as a member of the Order of Canada in 2015. He received the 13th annual Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence in 2016. Previously he was the first and only recipient of ABPBC Media Award in 1988; he was named the first recipient of the Gray Campbell Distinguished Service Award for outstanding contributions to literature and publishing in 2000. In 2007, he became the second person (after Vancouver Sun journalist Douglas Todd) to accept the Jack and Doris Shadbolt Fellowship in the Humanities at Simon Fraser University “to recognize and support leaders in the humanities who are not necessarily part of the academy.” In the same year he was the first Writer in Residence at the George Price Center for Peace in Belize. In 2010, he received the Pandora’s Collective Publisher’s Award of Merit. In 2011 he received the Mayor of Vancouver’s annual Literary Arts Award.
Since 1987, Alan Twigg has written and published B.C. BookWorld, an assertively middle brow publication distributed by more than 600 outlets in B.C. The educational newspaper has been cited by the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing as the most essential cog in the infrastructure that supports writing and publishing in British Columbia.
Since 2001, as an adjunct to that populist publication, he has also written and managed ABCBookWorld, a public reference service for and about more than 13,000 British Columbia authors. Hosted by Simon Fraser University Library, this service has become the Wikipedia of B.C. literature, attracting more than 4,000 visitors per day.
Since 2014, he has devised, launched and written BCBookLook, an omnibus news hub for B.C. literature. It provides original material such as videos, audio interviews, blogs, bestseller lists, lengthy essays, excerpts, theatre reviews, event information and news stories. More than 1,500 original posts were added during its first two-and-a-half years.
In 2016, he created the Literary Map of B.C., a digital platform highlighting the cultural importance of 190 B.C. authors and locations. It contains the equivalent of nine books of original text and photos. He has simultaneously selected, and wrote text for, more than fifty literary landmarks erected in Vancouver for the Vancouver Public Library.
Alan Twigg is the author of seventeen books. These include biographies, interviews, a sports memoir, a series on B.C. literary history and histories of Belize and Cuba. Most recently he edited Undaunted, an anthology to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of B.C. BookWorld and he provided the introduction for Peter Sekirin’s Memories of Chekhov (2011).
In 2008, he wrote the first literary book about the beautiful game from a Canadian perspective, Full-Time: A Soccer Story, It’s a year-long account of Vancouver soccer players who travel to southern Spain to compete against much younger teams, including European ex-professionals. It was re-released in a Readers Digest version in 2010.
Subsequently, in 2013, he returned to Europe and won a gold medal in soccer for Canada at the World Masters Games in Turin, Italy. His undefeated team from Vancouver allowed one goal in seven games to win the world championship for men over age fifty. The World Masters Games are held every four years.
In 2009, he wrote Tibetans in Exile: The Dalai Lama & The Woodcocks, a book about the private lives of the prolific anarchist George Woodcock and his Buddhist wife Ingeborg Woodcock who befriended the Dalai Lama in 1961. Their charitable aid work gave rise to two, still operational, non-profit societies, Tibetan Refugee Aid Society and Canada India Village Aid.
In 2010, he published the first critical and comprehensive overview of B.C. literature, The Essentials: 150 Great B.C. Books & Authors, the fourth and largest volume in his series on the literary history of British Columbia that includes First Invaders (2004), Aboriginality (2005) and Thompson’s Highway (2006).
He has also been a contributor to books about Leonard Cohen, Robertson Davies, Margaret Atwood, Matt Cohen and the Georgia Straight, as well as assorted anthologies.
His first book of literary history, Vancouver & Its Writers, was shortlisted for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize in 1987. First Invaders was shortlisted for the same award in 2005, the same year he won First Prize in the Lush Creative Non-Fiction contest, sponsored by subTerrain magazine.
His award-winning memoir about the death of his father was re-published in The Utne Reader. The Essentials received an honourable mention from the B.C. Historical Society for its annual Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for B.C. history, distinct from the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence.
Alan Twigg has founded or co-founded most of the major literary awards in British Columbia.
He co-founded the B.C. Book Prizes in 1985, serving as an unpaid executive director and chief fundraiser during a rebuilding stage in the 1990s, providing continuous management support until 2001 when he was briefly sideline by a brain tumour.
In 1995, he solely founded the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an outstanding literary career in British Columbia; he has continuously managing all aspects ever since. In 2004 he co-founded the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness, for which he provides all administrative services on a volunteer basis. In 2012 he co-founded the Basil Stuart-Stubbs Prize for outstanding academic book about British Columbia, an award he also co-manages on a volunteer basis. As well, he founded and coordinated the VanCity Book Prize for best B.C. book pertaining to women’s issues. He coordinated the City of Vancouver Book Prize for five years and he has organized various events to honour the province’s senior writers, including a series of events for and about British Columbia’s foremost man of letters, George Woodcock, in 1994.
Among the various documentary films he has written, produced and hosted are George Woodcock, Anarchist of Cherry Street; Jeannette Armstrong: Knowledge-Keeper; and Spilsbury’s Coast which aired nationally on CBC. Other documentary film subjects have included Eric Nicol, Peter Trower, the B.C. Book Prizes and the activist/poet Bud Osborn, for whom he also produced a music CD called Hundred Block Rock.
He has hosted a CBC television series about B.C. authors and he frequently serves as a host for public events. For several years he has contributed to Sheryl MacKay’s CBC Radio program North by Northwest with an ongoing series about important B.C. books called ‘Turning Up the Volumes.’
From 1995 to 1998 he was an editorial page columnist for The Province, a stint that was terminated by the intervention of Conrad Black, the owner, who objected to his opinions. He has contributed to many other publications such as Quill & Quire, BC Historical News, Georgia Straight, Globe & Mail, British Columbia History, Lived Experience, Toronto Star, Ottawa Citizen, Maclean’s, Vancouver Sun, Step and Pacific Northwest Review of Books.
For approximately three years in the early 1980s, he wrote a weekly theatre column for Georgia Straight, taking over the column from Tom Shandel and participating in the inaugural Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards. He edited one issue of the Georgia Straight newspaper. He later wrote and performed an original musical at the Arts Club Revue Theatre, Where The Songs Come From. In 2013, he resumed providing theatre reviews for The Province and for vancouverplays.com, a site managed by veteran actor Jerry Wasserman, under the pseudonym Paul Durras.
Alan Twigg was a founding board member of the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing and he has taught classes at the Simon Fraser University, University of British Columbia, University of Victoria and various high schools. He briefly taught a course on the history of B.C. publishing and literature for Simon Fraser University, a university he had dropped out of in 1971, after one year of study, choosing to drive a garbage truck instead.
He served a two-year term as a Library Trustee on the board of directors for the Vancouver Public Library (2011-2012). He has also served on the City of Vancouver’s Public Art Committee and he has hosted countless literary events, including the Simon Fraser University’s third annual Symposium on the Novel at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue in 2004 and the 25th annual B.C. Book Prizes gala in 2009.
For five years he collected and sent nursing and medical supplies to Belize, in conjunction with DHL. In 1999 he coordinated a fundraising campaign for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, an organization he continues to support. In 2007, he organized and hosted Reckoning 07, a conference on the past and future of British Columbia writing and publishing, held at Simon Fraser University in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of BC BookWorld.
He is a fifth-generation Vancouverite. Relatives of both his mother and father lived in British Columbia in the 1800s.
[Major-General John Twigge and his brother Samuel Knox Twigge, came to Canada in 1887 and to Vancouver before 1890. Twigg Island at the mouth of the Fraser River was named after their nephew, Conley, who had a dairy farm there. In the 1930s, Harold Despard Twigg, a provincial MLA, tried to organize a political movement to have Vancouver Island secede from British Columbia. A relative on the maternal side, lumber baron William Tait, built the turn-of-the-century Glen Brae mansion in Shaughnessey that became better known as Canuck Place.]
Undaunted: The Best of BC BookWorld (Ronsdale, 2013). 978-1-55380-253-2 242 p.
The Essentials: 150 Great B.C. Books & Authors. (Ronsdale, 2010). 978-1-55380-108-5 320 p.
Tibetans in Exile: The Dalai Lama & The Woodcocks (Ronsdale, 2009). 978-1-55380-079-8 271 p.
Full-Time: A Soccer Story (Douglas Gibson Books, McClelland & Stewart, 2008). 978-0-7710-8645-8 293 p.
Thompson's Highway: British Columbia's Fur Trade, 1800-1850 (Ronsdale, 2006) 978-1-55380-039-2 253 p.
Understanding Belize: A Historical Guide (Harbour 2006). 240 p.
Aboriginality: The Literary Origins of British Columbia (Ronsdale 2005). 260 p.
First Invaders: The Literary Origins of British Columbia (Ronsdale 2004). 229 p.
101 Top Historical Sites of Cuba (Beach Holme 2004). 126 p.
Intensive Care: A Memoir (Anvil Press 2002). 80 p.
Cuba: A Concise History for Travellers (Harbour, 2004; Penguin Books 2002; Bluefield Books 2000). 198 p.
Twigg’s Directory of 1001 BC Writers (Crown Publications 1992). 194 p.
Strong Voices: Conversations with 50 Canadian Writers (Harbour 1988). 291 p.
Vander Zalm, From Immigrant to Premier: A Political Biography (Harbour 1986).
Vancouver and Its Writers (Harbour 1986). 165 p.
Hubert Evans: The First Ninety-Three Years (Harbour 1985).
For Openers: Conversations with 24 Canadian Writers (Harbour 1981).
ALSO (IN CHINESE)
First Invaders: The Literary Origins of British Columbia, Vol. 1 (Peking University Press, 2013)
Aboriginality: The Literary Origins of British Columbia, Vol. 2 (Peking University Press, 2013)
Thompson’s Highway: British Columbia’s Fur Trade, 1800–1850: The Literary Origins of British Columbia, Vol. 3 (Peking University Press, 2013)
Conversations with Robertson Davies (University Press of Mississippi 1989)
Margaret Atwood, Conversations (Firefly 1990)
Take This Waltz: A Celebration of Leonard Cohen (The Muses Company 1994)
Uncommon Ground: A Celebration of Matt Cohen (Knopf 2002)
Memories of Chekhov: Accounts of the Writer from His Family, Friends and Contemporaries (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Press, 2011). Edited and translated by Peter Sekirin; Introduction by Alan Twigg
George Woodcock: Anarchist of Cherry Street
Eric Nicol: Look Back in Humour
Peter Trower: The Men They Were Then
Jeannette Armstrong: Knowledge-Keeper of the Okanagan
Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
The Essentials: 150 Great B.C. Books & Authors
First Invaders: The Literary Origins of British Columbia
Thompson's Highway: British Columbia's Fur Trade, 1800-1850
[Various television interviews about Full-Time are available via YouTube. Also a composer and musician, Alan Twigg performed one of his songs at The Playhouse Theatre during Sam Sullivan's Public Salon in November of 2012 / https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mjh-czjtZQs. For more author information, go to www.alantwigg.com.]
For further information, go to www.alantwigg.com.
[BCBW 2016] "Cuba" "Belize"
Canadian Author Visits The Leader Emeritus
Newspaper article (2007)
from Belize Times
BELIZE CITY, Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Last week, Mr. Alan Twigg, author of the book, “Understanding Belize: An Historical Guide” (Harbour Publishing: 2006) paid a courtesy visit to the Father of the Nation, The Rt. Hon. George Price at the PUP Headquarters. Mr. Twigg lives in Vancouver, Canada, and is a public scholar at the prestigious Simon Fraser University. The two met before, when Twigg was working on his historical guide to Belize in 2002. At that time, Mr. Price was the Senior Minister and Minister of Defence, and the interview was conducted in Belmopan. In the run-up to his trip this year, Twigg wrote Mr. Price, asking for a brief visit. Of course, like the good ambassador that he is, the Leader Emeritus obliged dutifully. And according to Twigg, the meeting with Mr. Price was the highlight of an eventful trip.
Twigg has also written a guide to Cuba’s historical sites, and hopes to one day do the same for Belize. He told the BELIZE TIMES that whenever he comes to Belize he is inspired to write by the beauty and the people of our country. He said he was amazed by the tremendous development from 2002 to the present, especially on the Placencia peninsula. He hopes to continue travelling to Belize to witness and perhaps play a small role in the continued progress of our nation.
Twigg also informed us that the Dean of Arts at Simon Fraser University and the Price Centre in Belmopan are considering his intiative to research and write on the relations between Canada and Belize, and especially the personal camaraderie of Mr. Price and former Prime Minister of Canada, the late Pierre Trudeau. When Trudeau vacationed on Glover’s Reef in 1970, then Premier George Price made a four-hour sea journey on the ‘Patricia’ to visit with him. As Rudy Castillo mentioned in his biography of Mr. Price, “Man of the People” at page 191, “A lifelong friendship (with Trudeau) had been cemented. Price was invited to visit Canada . Out of the visit came a huge loan/grant to install Belize’s first water and sewer system.”
The BELIZE TIMES looks forward to such a publication, as it would add to the historical record of Price’s great legacy.
Press Release (2007)
from Ronsdale Press
NEWS RELEASE FROM RONSDALE PRESS
“Public intellectual” on tour for Shadbolt Fellowship
As announced by Simon Fraser University News this month, Alan Twigg has been named this year’s recipient of the Jack and Doris Shadbolt Fellowship. Three of Twigg’s most recent books are from Ronsdale Press: First Invaders, Aboriginality and Thompson’s Highway—all three volumes are devoted to the literary history of British Columbia.
In addition to organizing a conference about the book culture of British Columbia for September 14-15, Twigg will give a series of talks about the province’s literary history. As a follow-up to two recent appearances in Vancouver, Twigg will appear at the Vertigo Gallery in Vernon on Friday, June 1st and at the Nakusp Writers Festival on Saturday, June 2.
“Twigg works at the interface of literature and publishing,” says SFU Dean of Arts John Pierce, “and provides an important bridge between those two worlds. He is very much a public intellectual.”
Coincidental with the Shadbolt Fellowship, Alan Twigg has been named the first writer-in-residence at the George Price Centre for Peace in Belize City. In conjunction with the SFU Fellowship, Twigg will undertake research into the friendship that existed between Belize’s founder George Price and Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Prior to his marriage, Trudeau took an unreported trip to a remote island off the coast of Belize for a clandestine getaway, as arranged by Price. “It’s an unwritten piece of Canadian history that deserves a look,” says Twigg. “In return for Price’s cooperation, Trudeau returned the favour by providing the sewer and water systems for Belize City.”
Among Twigg’s 13 books are histories of Cuba and Belize. He most recently visited the Belizean patriarch George Price in February. Twigg’s next book is a memoir for McClelland & Stewart, Douglas Gibson Books, entitled Full-Time: A Private Investigation of Soccer, to be published in the spring of 2008. He is also the publisher and main writer of BC BookWorld.
Full-Time: A Soccer Story
from Vancouver Courier (2008)
With more people in Canada playing soccer than hockey, why isn’t Canada producing more soccer stars or successful national teams?
The answers to that question are on the sidelines as much as they are on the field. For instance, Canada just sponsored the best-attended FIFA under-20 world championship in the history of the event—and still they lost money. It comes down to geography, money and organization. It’s not due to lack of soccer potential. We have soccer talent, aplenty.
What is about the North American mentality (Canada and U.S., specifically) that makes professional soccer a hard sell here?
My god, where do I start? Soccer takes 90 minutes of mostly uninterrupted action, so it’s not good for commercial breaks. Whereas Europeans and South Americans learned their love of the game prior to television; most Canadian-born Canadians grew up watching Hockey Night in Canada. Our sports coverage remains sated with hockey to an absurd degree largely because newspapers and TV are dependent on ad revenues for their mandates. Meanwhile I see more people wearing soccer jerseys on the streets of Vancouver than hockey jerseys these days, so it’s going to change. I think there is a silent soccer majority out there that wants some decent coverage. My new dream is to be the Harry Neale of soccer, providing some intelligent soccer commentary. You just never know.
What can you tell us about Nettie Honeyball? How old is she? Where did she come from?
Nettie Honeyball was one of the pioneers of soccer in England. There’s a photo of her in the book on page 31. How could I write an intimate book about soccer and not include a soccer player in 1895 named Nettie Honeyball? So I made her into a character in the story.
What’s the secret to maintaining a lasting and meaningful relationship with a soccerball?
There is no secret to maintaining a love affair with soccer. Kicking a ball is as fundamental as sex.
What are your thoughts on David Beckham coming to America. Is it all a bunch of hype, or is actually good for soccer?
David Beckham only played one game with the LA Galaxy last year. It’s a farce. It’s an embarrassment. During the course of writing FULL-TIME, the year-in-the-life of a team, I predicted Beckham would come to North America and play, just like Pelé did, strictly for the bucks, before the announcement was made. It was so obvious that he was reduced to playing on hype. I’ve never been a Beckham fan.
What sorts of food did you eat while playing soccer in Spain? Did it help your game?
I had so many other things to worry about in Spain, managing the line-up and writing this book and dealing with a groin injury, I don’t remember Spain as a culinary experience at all.
What was the biggest thing you learned from playing against younger ex-professionals from the Spanish First Division?
Never trust a Spanish bar owner named Miguel if he promises to organize a match with guys your own age.
Did you learn any new Spanish swear words?
No. In fact, the behavior of our guys, under extreme duress, was really one of the triumphs of the expedition. We kept our cool. It reminds me of an old Kipling quote my Dad used to say. “If you can keep your head while others around you are losing theirs, then you will be a man, my son.” We certainly had grounds for griping in Spain, big-time, and yet everyone sucked it up. I ended up being proud of the way we behaved. Mind you, I would much rather have been proud of the way we played.
What ever happened to the sports drink from the 1980s called SupperSocco? Do you think that might be the secret Canada’s soccer success?
Super Socco was probably designed to appeal to the so-called Soccer Moms. I never tasted Super Socco, but I was blessed with a super soccer Mom.
Who are you rooting for in this year’s Euro Cup? And where will you be watching the games?
Alan Cook, one of the main characters in FULL-TIME, has one of those fancy televisions with lots of channels. He lives a block away from me. I expect to be watching the big game in his basement. I’ll probably pull for Man. U. cuz I like little Paul Scholes. He plays his heart out in midfield every time, not an ounce of prima dona in him. And of course Owen Hargreaves plays for Man. U.
You’ve probably heard those jokey sayings “Carpenters do it with their belts on” or “Pilots do it in the air.” Do you have a favourite one that relates to soccer players?
Actually I’ve never heard those expressions. I guess I lead a sheltered life. My favourite soccer quote is from the world’s greatest player, Ferenc Puskas, who said, “Without friendship, there is no soccer.”
How often do you play soccer and how long do you anticipate being able to play for?
One of our guys, Bill Allen, is into his early seventies. He played semi-pro in London in the ’50s. Every time he makes a decision on the pitch, you can see what a great player he was. He’s still effective. I plan to play as long as Bill Allen. Except my style of play is far too boisterous, so I’ll likely seriously injure myself before I get to 60. That’s okay. Just as long as I don’t injure anybody else. I am reminded of the great Sir Stanley Matthews who said, “You don’t stop playing football because you get old, you get old because you stop playing football.”
Why should people pick up your new book Full-Time: A Soccer Story?
FULL-TIME is not Bad New Bears Go Grey. It’s an intimate investigation of the game, and also sports. There’s a dark side to organized sports that most people don’t want to think about—the barbaric tribalism, how competition can breed contempt—and I try to touch upon that stuff. So anybody who has ever dreamed of playing for Canada in a World Cup, male or female, ought to enjoy it. I hope it reads like a novel.
Tibetans in Exile: The Dalai Lama & The Woodcocks
Press Release (2009)
George and Ingeborg Woodcock befriended the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, in 1961, and founded a humanitarian aid society that is still going strong, after more than 300 projects in the Himalayas and southern India. Tibetans in Exile: The Dalai Lama & The Woodocks (Ronsdale $21.95) reveals the hitherto unknown private lives of this extraordinary couple, interviews their friends and recounts ongoing efforts to assist Tibetans in Canada and Asia.
She was a Buddhist. He was an anarchist. Together Ingeborg and George Woodcock were a tag team of activists-you and me against the world-who called each other "Darling," drank a lot of martinis, worked exceedingly hard and were mutually dedicated to helping others.
"They're so close," observed Joan Symons, George Woodcock's secretary for Canadian Literature magazine, "that when one of them breathes out, the other one breathes in." Even though they founded three still-functioning charitable initiatives and have affected the lives of millions of people, the world knows precious little about them as a couple.
George Woodcock was Canada's most prolific and remarkable man of letters. Variously described as "Canada's Tolstoy," "quite possibly the most civilized man in Canada," and "a kind of John Stuart Mill of dedication to intellectual excellence and the cause of human liberty," he arrived from England in 1949 to build a cabin in Sooke, British Columbia, with his German-born wife Ingeborg.
The story of how George Woodcock wrote and edited 150 books has been well told in a 1988 biography by George Fetherling but this biography does not investigate Ingeborg's role in the Woodcocks' highly unusual marriage and the couple's inspirational role in creating two charities that have outlived them both.
"I knew the Woodcocks," says Twigg, "but not well. I was on their periphery towards the end of their lives. Like most of their friends, I owe them. They bequeathed me their no-nonsense car (a Toyota Tercel) and all the signed editions in their extensive library including, most significantly, George's rare, signed first edition of George Orwell's Animal Farm. I sometimes keep it under my keyboard as I type. The Woodcocks have disappeared but they definitely have not gone away."
George and Ingeborg Woodcock did not have children, ostensibly by choice, so they adopted strays and cultivated friendships. In doing so, they were both extraordinarily generous and uncannily selective. They cemented loyalties by lending their house to people whenever they went away on their many research trips. Nearly everyone who looked after their cats ended up on the board of directors of either TRAS or CIVA.
Neither was an angel or saint. George could hold a grudge. And, in some respects, Inge could be a bully. Both were secretive. Although they operated their voteless meetings on anarchistic principles, it was their way or the highway. They never suffered fools gladly. They were semi-nocturnal. They believed in ghosts. And they were REALLY interesting people.
from Georgia Straight
There's something recklessly heroic about Alan Twigg's series of books on B.C.'s literary history.
First Invaders (2004) and Aboriginality (2005) dealt with Native cultures and were called volumes 1 and 2 of The Literary Origins of British Columbia. For some reason, the latest installment, Thompson's Highway: British Columbia's Fur Trade, 1800–1850 drops the umbrella title and gives no hint of how long the whole project will be. My guess is that it's open-ended, without a timetable or schematic. My other guess is that, although the individual volumes so far have been far more praised than damned, Twigg must wait until the scheme's conclusion before the majority of people see how ambitious it really is, and how sweeping.
Twigg writes about three dozen trappers, traders, explorers, adventurers, scientists, and artists connected in some way to the Hudson's Bay Company and its rivals. No surprise that the best known are the ones who wrote or at least published the most, such as Sir James Douglas, a tireless correspondent and writer of dispatches, and Alexander Mackenzie, whose book Voyages From Montreal (1801) was probably ghosted by his cousin Roderic. One of Twigg's themes is that the Highlanders and Orkneymen who dominated both the HBC and the future B.C. were driven here by Scottish poverty and clannishness–to which I would add by the snobbery of the English who found them pretty rough round the edges. His other message is that violence between whites and Natives was more common than we believe, and that whites "tended to overlook or diminish acts of barbarism or cruelty" that they had perpetrated.
These curiously indexless books have all the virtues of Twigg's magazine, BC BookWorld. They are lively and energetic, slangy and accessible, and well informed in an autodidactic way, if also now and then a trifle careless. (The American fur trader John Jacob Astor could not have died on the Titanic, as Twigg states. Born in 1763, he would have been 149 at the time. John Jacob Astor IV was the unfortunate passenger.)
Logically, the next book will be on the gold rushes of the 1850s and '60s, when the boom attracted professional writers like Donald Fraser, Kinahan Cornwallis, and Amor De Cosmos. If it's like the three so far, it will continue to show Twigg's membership in the noble tradition of populist educators.
-- By George Fetherling, Georgia Straight, March, 2007
from January Magazine
South of Mexico and east of Guatemala is Belize, a slice of country once called the British Honduras. Although it receives only ten per cent of the tourists of nearby Costa Rica, travel books on this feisty and complicated little country abound.
And why not? According to Alan Twigg, author of Understanding Belize, there is much to come for. Belize boasts a water supply that is actually safe to drink, buses and planes that run on time, an absence of American fast food chains and political stability.
According to him, it's one of the warmest and least populated English speaking countries on earth. According to the government, 42 per cent of its territory is protected for conservation with 20 new nature reserves, and 600 Mayan archeological sites. According to guidebooks, there are 250 varieties of orchids, 70 varieties of forest, over 700 species of trees, 500 species of birds and 4000 species of plants.
Now add the 185-mile long Belize barrier reef, second only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef in length, and proclaimed a World Heritage Site in 1996. Despite all of the good stuff, the author advises caution. "I love Belize," he told me recently, "but I want to clearly stress that it's definitely not for everyone."
In Understanding Belize, Twigg explains why. He gives startling details travelers are unlikely to get in the tourist guides -- like a murder rate three times that of the United States, for example. Then there are hurricanes, horrific highway carnage -- considering this is a country of only 250,000 inhabitants -- and the terrible condition of the few roads.
Visitors also need to guard against tropical diseases like malaria and dengue fever and to remember they are sharing Belize with creatures like scorpions, nine varieties of poisonous snakes, alligators, tarantulas and Africanized killer bills. Alcohol abuse is also common, writes Twigg, as is unemployment and police corruption, and adds that it's "no shame to prefer Hawaii."
But he doesn't. His understated affection for the country and its rainbow of peoples pulses through the historical detail, enlivening material that could otherwise occasionally overwhelm. The text is also made more accessible by the maps, photos, charts, sketches and portraits that pepper nearly every page, and the concise timeline section at the back of the book is invaluable.
In another historian's hands this might not be enough, but Twigg has written eleven books on eclectic topics, his work-in-progress being on soccer/football. An ex-singer in a rock band and occasional film producer, Twigg knows how to keep interest.
He does it partially through a quirky blend of authoritative, factual writing and informal, wry comments which lighten the facts; with catchy phrases like "a live-and-let-live cultural patina" concerning the cultural mix in Belize, and a description of travel to Belize, as "an anecdote for First Worlditis."
Smiles are added with lines like, "Belize isn't paradise unless your vision is restricted to scuba goggles."
Chapters deal with Belize's struggles to fend off its neighbours, its early colonial history, the exploitation of its resources and its heroes. Here, some little known facts emerge.
Considered a prophet by many, Belize's own Marcus Mosiah Garvey, was for a time considered the most powerful Black man on the planet. In the early 20th century he founded the Universal Negro Improvement and Conservation Association and African Communities League. In 1920, UNIA, as it was commonly called, claimed 1100 branches in 40 countries. Another later political giant was George Price, regarded as the liberator of Belize. A deeply religious man who instigated a peaceful revolution and strove all his life for a free Belize, he was first elected in 1947 and served in public office for 39 years. Price was "unparalleled in the history of democracy-the most successful democrat ever to walk the earth," writes the author.
By 2000, 200,000 tourists were visiting Belize annually. Two years later, cruise ships began to stop. If you plan to follow in the footsteps of famous people like Ringo Starr, Madonna, Francis Ford Coppola, Harrison Ford and Cyndi Lauper, Understanding Belize in advance would probably be helpful.
Cherie Thiessen in January magazine, 2006.
The Woodcocks & Tibetans in Exile
Margaret Thompson interviews Alan Twigg for WordWorks: The Voice of British Columbia Writers, Winter/Spring 2010
WW: What moved you to write a book about the Woodcocks?
AT: They’re inspirational. They affected millions of people’s lives with their charities and they avoided all publicity for their good works. Little is known about their private lives, particular Ingeborg, and they were an extraordinary couple. They were so close, it was said, that when one of them breathed out, the other breathed in.
But that’s the public answer. On a private level, this was also an opportunity for karmic payback. As a writer, as an autodidact, and as an independent thinker, George was an inspiration for how I live my life. He understood BC BookWorld from its outset. George also left me his signed first edition of Animal Farm, given to him by his friend George Orwell. And I still drive Ingeborg’s little Toyota.
WW: George apparently attached some importance to posterity, but Ingeborg wouldn’t let George even use her name in his autobiography! What difficulties did you encounter in researching their private life?
AT: Yes, Ingeborg was known to be fiercely private, and George was quite secretive. George Fetherling did a wonderful job outlining George’s literary career and his anarchism in the biography, The Gentle Anarchist, but Ingeborg remained staunchly aloof. The solution was simply to collect some intimate information from their friends after they died. I never had any difficulties with Ingeborg, but many people were afraid of her while she was alive, hence I suspect Fetherling must have run into some brick walls.
WW: George was an anarchist, which is a term a lot of people may misinterpret. What were his beliefs, and how do you think he came to hold them so ardently?
AT: I genuinely can’t begin to answer that question without saying a great deal. There is no pithy response that would be satisfying. I advise anyone to read George Fetherling’s biography for the answers. Anarchism is a rich philosophy, grossly misunderstood. And George wrote some of the most important books on the subject.
WW: How did those principles play out in what you call “the Woodcockian model”, exemplified in both of the non-profit organizations the Woodcocks founded—the Tibetan Refugee Aid Society (TRAS) and the Canada India Village Aid Society (CIVA)?
WW: Decisions are usually made by consensus, not by voting. And hierarchies are to be avoided. The Woodcocks were also radically insistent that money for administration should be minimal. The Woodcocks opted out of TRAS after George had a heart attack but TRAS has admirably maintained their ideals for more than forty years. It’s a success story that deserves to be told, even though I know people aren’t going to want to read about do-gooders. Remarkably, Ingeborg and George continue to cast benevolent and wise shadows over both TRAS and CIVA.
WW: George Woodcock told you that he was the ideologue and Ingeborg was the organizer of what has been called “a tag team of activists.” How crucial was her role?
AT: Ingeborg was huge. That’s really the gist of why I had to write this book. To emphasize her role as his partner. He was her baby. She protected him, but she was also his moralistic compass. George used to write for me, so I know he could fall prey to the petty vanities of writers. He was no saint. And so Ingeborg was his severe hausfrau conscience. George must have simultaneously resented to being married to Inge—as she was called—much of the time. It wasn’t all peaches and cream. We had to sneak out of the house to take his photograph, for instance.
WW: You describe Inge’s abrasiveness and relentless energy, and one of their friends talks of the “famous Woodcock ruthlessness at spotting people who could be exploited for good ends.” This sounds as if it might be counterproductive in fundraisers; how do you account for the loyalty of the exploited?
AT: Margaret, that’s an excellent question! How do you account for people happily agreeing to be used? The people I talked to nearly all made jokes about it, after the fact, of course. Partly the reason would be that many of their friends and associates felt privileged to be in their company. Then again, they were hugely generous people. Abnormally generous—and childless. So they adopted people in much the same way that Ingeborg adopted raccoons. They welcomed strays. And, in the end, they donated almost $2 million to Canadian writers via the Writers Development Trust in Toronto. Two million bucks!
WW: Ingeborg obviously made a deep impression on all who knew her, yet she has almost no public face. Why was she so self-effacing?
AT: I’ve concluded there was guilt about being born German. She was briefly married to an Englishman and lived in England during the war, before she met George and they both went underground. She sometimes allowed it to be said she was born in Austria. That’s part of it. The half of the answer is that she was greatly influenced by Tibetan Buddhism.
WW: The Woodcocks’ efforts on behalf of Tibetan refugees and impoverished tribesmen in rural India were monumental—quite enough to fill several lifetimes—but George also wrote 150 books. Russell Wodell says, “Although every word of the books is George’s, it was Inge who enabled him to write them.” Can you explain that?
AT: She kept the outside world at bay. She gave him the license to be a complete man of letters. Ever since they homesteaded in Sooke, she embraced the artist’s life of risk-taking. The Woodcocks understood freedom beyond mere politics, I think. It’s significant to note they were very close friends with the Shadbolts. They spent their Christmases together. Neither had children. In the way that Jack Shadbolt would never have become Jack Shadbolt without Doris, it was Inge who enabled George to have the freedom he needed.
WW: The long list of projects undertaken by TRAS and CIVA, and the accounts of the many people involved are classic illustrations of “paying forward.” Nor did it stop there. Tell us about the Woodcock Fund, and explain how this, too, grew from anarchist roots.
AT: I believe the Woodcock Fund to help Canadian writers in distress arose from their dire poverty in Sooke. They didn’t have a pot to piss in. They almost starved. There’s a wonderful story about how George was forced to go to his nearest neighbour and essentially beg for a bit of money. The woman, who was very poor herself, took down her cookie tin, or whatever it was, and shared her tiny cache with them. They never forgot that act of kindness. That’s the gist of their mutual aid philosophy. By the time they met the Dalai Lama, it was George and Inge who were advising the young Tibetan leader, not the other way ’round. They were the ones with the cookie tin.
WW: I know you’ve written a whole book on the subject, so this is a bit of a tall order, but if you can sum it up in a few words, what is it about the Woodcocks that makes them so remarkable?
AT: They were both extremely hard workers. And their anarchism. George only voted once, I think it was. And they were downright odd. He never drove a car. She told pregnant women to their face that they shouldn’t have babies. And they seriously believed in ghosts. They never traveled to Africa because George once had a dream that he would die in Africa. And of course they had this enduring relationship with the Dalai Lama. How can you not want to write a book that describes people like that?
Afterword for Undaunted
Afterword for Undaunted: The Best of BC BookWorld (Ronsdale Press 2013)
I’ve met many noteworthy people since I started publishing B.C. BookWorld, such as Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and enigmatic founder of Belize, George Price, but these people remain secondary. My life has been much more enriched by the thousands of B.C. authors I’ve come across running B.C. BookWorld. I am humbled and inspired by the constant influx of their intelligence.
After twenty-five years, I realize my job is akin to being a turnstile operator at Ellis Island, processing entrants. I am a gatekeeper for literature. It’s not glamorous. I lick the stamps, I do the banking. But my colleague David Lester and I are happy to be useful, keeping track of each and every B.C. book and author—making sure nobody gets invisiblized.
As of this sentence, there are 10,554 listings on our abcbookworld reference site, for and about B.C. authors. Seeing the books by these people is a daily tonic. (If you are down in the mouth about anything, there is a simple antidote: Learn something.) Every day I regard the task of producing B.C. BookWorld as a privilege because I get to learn so much. Witnessing the outpouring of fine books about the place I was born, as a fifth-generation Vancouverite, provides me with a foundation worth the perseverance required.
If ever you want to generate silence in room of supposedly educated people, just ask them to name the first premier of B.C. [John McCreight] or the first European mariner we can be certain reached B.C. waters [Juan Pérez—although the evidence that Juan de Fuca arrived before him is very strong]. The lovable historian Chuck Davis used to go into schools and show kids a photo of George Vancouver and they always guessed it was George Washington.
It is amazing how little most people know about British Columbia. That’s mainly because, until recently, the majority of people in B.C. were born outside the province. As much as B.C. BookWorld might appear to chiefly function as a literary periodical, its mandate becomes clearer if you regard B.C. BookWorld as an educational newspaper. It is my job to print the cultural news that is refracted in books.
If you are an anthropologist traveling to the heart of Borneo in 1800, and you hold up a mirror to people in loin cloths and they see their reflection for the first time, those tribesmen are going to get excited. B.C. BookWorld is designed and written to serve as a cultural mirror in much the same way. We begin by assuming most people know next to nothing.
I grew up wearing Cowichan Indian sweaters. I knew the Trail Smoke-Eaters were world champions. I knew who Percy Williams was. Ma Murray. Flyin’ Phil Gaglardi. Three Against the Wildnerness by Eric Collier. Ripple Rock. Roderick Haig-Brown. It wasn’t difficult to see that B.C. BookWorld was a necessity by 1987, having been involved in the creation of the B.C. Book Prizes in 1985, and the first Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards before that. Since then we have created more literary prizes, as well as the abcbookworld reference site; and now there’s a new BC BookLook daily news service.
We hold up as many mirrors as we can.
Vancouver is Vladivostok and Toronto is Moscow. If people in Moscow don’t give a damn about what is happening in Vladivostok, the Vladivostokians mustn’t be surprised or upset. It’s up to everyone in Vladivostok to build their own institutions. The Torontonians have long done a good job trying to care about the Vancouverities, but the Vancouverites must mature and get rid of their parents. We have to grow up and grow our own cultural institutions.
Pierre Berton once told me that Canadians value institutions and Americans value individuals. I think that is far less true today than in the mid-1980s when we were talking, but Berton’s simple and big idea has served as a compass to set our course. From the first issue I have sought to make B.C. BookWorld into a cultural given, to institutionalize it, like the CBC. If I don’t put my name in it, except in the masthead, and I don’t give myself a column, it’s not lack of ego; it’s pragmatism. It’s all about the reader holding that mirror.
John Fowles, somewhere in his novel Daniel Martin, wrote a line that I’ve never forgotten: “To draw attention to anything is to glorify it.” My job, with the essential help of designer David Lester, is to glorify B.C. books and authors by simply drawing attention to them. Telling people what to read, or what to think, is a trap into which the literary aristocracy constantly falls, while degrading their enemies and promoting their friends. The public justifiably turns away from such elitist tomfoolery. That’s not our style.
If I want to attract as many readers as possible, it’s simply dumb to tell other people what they should think. The public quite rightly abhors such condescension. At B.C. BookWorld we strive to let the general public decide what is good and bad. If, for instance, you have a grandfather who loves fly fishing and he lives in the Okanagan, you will be pleased to buy him The Gilley for Christmas and he can be the person who passes judgment on its value as a fishing guide.
But first you have to learn The Gilley exists.
Only connect. Not all bureaucrats have understood this populist agenda—to reach as many people as possible, with as much information as possible, about as many B.C. books as possible—but the Canada Council, thank goodness, has been consistently supportive. The majority of revenues for B.C. BookWorld are self-generated by ads, largely because B.C. BookWorld has more readers than any other independent Canadian publication about books. We know people like B.C. BookWorld and that knowledge makes us deeply grateful and happy.
We expect to carry on. Just in case all the current e-hype is for real, we have newly created B.C. BookLook as a digital equivalent of the newspaper. Meanwhile, on behalf of Dave—who did the cartoons—and myself, I hope you enjoy this potpourri, and thanks for being readers.
Lieutenant Governor’s Award
March 23, 2016.
Alan Twigg named recipient of the 13th annual Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence
Vancouver, BC – The West Coast Book Prize Society is proud to recognize Alan Twigg as the recipient of the 13th annual Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence.
British Columbia’s Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable Judith Guichon, will present the award at the Lieutenant Governor’s BC Book Prizes Gala to be held at Government House in Victoria on Saturday, April 30, 2016.
ALAN TWIGG is first and foremost a writer. He has written most of every issue of B.C. BookWorld since 1987. The Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing has identified his newspaper as “the most essential cog in the infrastructure” that supports BC writing and publishing. Since 2001, he has written the vast majority of entries for 11,250 BC authors on the ABCBookWorld reference site – the Wikipedia of BC literature – that is hosted by SFU Library. It receives more than 4,000 visitors per day. He now generates nearly all of the content for the new BCBookLook omnibus site, and he created all 200 entries for the new Literary Map of BC. This map site contains enough original material for nine books.
Along the way, he has been a documentary filmmaker, theatre critic, musician, editorial-page columnist for The Province, library trustee, television host, charity fundraiser, and an organizer for countless events. His 18th book, Two Lives: An Investigation of Goodness, will be an appreciation of a Canadian doctor who has overseen a remote epilepsy clinic in central Tanzania for more than fifty years (Dr. Louise Jilek-Aall) and the longest-serving democratically elected leader in history (George Price, founder of Belize). Alan Twigg has received numerous awards, including the Order of Canada in 2014.
“As the founder, publisher, editor and principal writer of B.C. BookWorld, Alan Twigg has been the tireless champion of the BC writing and publishing community for almost forty years, but most people are not aware that he also volunteered his services to act as co-founder of the BC Book Prizes in 1985 and as the primary organizer and implementer of nearly every major literary award presented in this province. Most recently he created a public database of over 11,000 BC authors and is completing a literary map of BC that pinpoints 200 significant locations pertaining to 150 BC authors. At the same time he has carved out a distinguished career as a film maker, freelance journalist and columnist for major Canadian newspapers and authored seventeen books on a variety of topics including history, biography, memoir and poetry. In selecting Alan Twigg for this award, we are delighted to recognize both his literary contributions and the constant nourishment he has provided for so many years to this province’s literary community.” – Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence jury
The jury for this year’s Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence was: Betty Keller, teacher, mentor, editor, and writer, and 2015 recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence; Peter Darbyshire, author and editor for The Province newspaper; and, Barbara Pope, co-owner of The Mulberry Bush Book Stores in Parksville and Qualicum Beach.
This prize was established in 2003 by former Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable Iona Campagnolo, to recognize British Columbia writers who have contributed to the development of literary excellence in the province. The recipient receives a cash award of $5,000 and a commemorative certificate. The 2015 recipient was Betty Keller.
Gregor Craigie of CBC Radio (On The Island) will host the 2016 Lieutenant Governor’s BC Book Prizes Gala.
All BC Book Prizes info at www.bcbookprizes.ca