LITERARY LOCATION: Public bench, Spanish Hills government dock, north end of Galiano Island. DIRECTIONS: Take the Sturdies Bay / Porlier Pass main road up the island for about 26 kilometres, past Lover's Leap and Spotlight Cove, all the way to the aforementioned dock. [Just up the road, about a five-minute walk, there's a cairn marking the 49th parallel.]

Audrey Thomas has maintained a cottage at the north end of Galiano Island, not far from the former Spanish Hills store, since 1969. "I've spent hundreds of hours sitting on a bench at the government dock, thinking and plotting, and still like to go down there and watch the sunsets. During the Hale-Bopp Comet trajectory, I was down there every night for a month." The dock and former store feature in the opening scene of her novel Intertidal Life for which she received the inaugural Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, the top fiction award in British Columbia. Thomas is the only writer to have won it three times.

ENTRY:

An alternate literary location for Audrey Thomas abroad could be Cape Coast Castle, Ghana. [Directions: From the capital city of Accra it's a two-and-a-half hour drive for 144 km to Cape Coast.]

As a young wife, Audrey Thomas followed her husband to Ghana where they lived from 1964 to 1966. There she wrote her first published story, "If One Green Bottle..."; describing a confinement and miscarriage in a Ghana hospital. It won an award for debut fiction from the Atlantic Monthly and served as the basis for her first novel Mrs. Blood (1970). Later her Blown Figures (1974), set in Ghana, reputedly uses Africa as a metaphor for the unconscious. During a vacation in 1965, Thomas and her husband visited the remains of the Elmira and Cape Coast Castle slave-supply hubs, now both World Heritage Sites. There she saw the graves of the Cape Coast Castle manager George Maclean and his bride Letitia Landon, formerly a respected English author before her mysterious death. Five decades later Thomas brilliantly imagined the life of the transplanted authoress from 1836 to late 1838, in both London and at Cape Coast, for a superb but largely unnoticed novel, Local Customs (2014), in which she convincingly enters the minds of the female protagonist and the men around her.

[President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama visited the slavery museum at Cape Coast Castle in July of 2009. The slave fortress was pre-dated by a similar Portuguese compound at Elmina, six miles away. The renovated Cape Coast structure was first built as a fort by the Swedes for their timber and mineral exportation. The Dutch took it over, then the English used it as the hub for their transatlantic slave trade from 1665 to 1807. With a population of one million, Cape Coast was the capital city when Ghana was called the Gold Coast. The British moved the capital to Accra in 1877.]

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

Audrey Thomas is not a household name, and yet she has long operated in the upper echelon of Canadian literature. She has received the Writers Trust of Canada Matt Cohen Award, the W.O. Mitchell Prize, the Canada-Australia Literary Prize and the Marian Engel Award. She is the only three-time recipient of B.C.'s top fiction award, the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, for Intertidal Life (1984), The Wild Blue Yonder (1990) and Coming Down from Wa (1995). She has also received the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award and the Order of Canada in 2009.

Since 1967, Thomas has written eighteen books of fiction and more than twenty plays. Often concerned with gender politics, secrets, language and identity, her stories concern the struggles of women, oppressed, or bitter with disappointment, with few happy endings. Possibly her sharp judgments and acerbic observations are best suited to short stories. "Page for page,"; Margaret Atwood has decreed, "she is one of the country's best writers."; Her other close literary associates have included Jane Rule, George Bowering and Alice Munro.

Born in New York State in 1935, Thomas has lived mostly on Canada's west coast since 1959, having left England in August of that year with her infant daughter and husband in order for him to work in Vancouver. She started work on a Master's degree in English, employed as a teacher's assistant at UBC from 1961 to 1964. From 1964 to 1966 she lived in Ghana where she wrote her first published story, "If One Green Bottle..."; It concerns the author's confinement and miscarriage in a Ghana hospital and won her an award for debut fiction from the Atlantic Monthly. After Thomas published her first collection of short stories, Ten Green Bottles (1967), her first novel Mrs. Blood (1970) harkens back to her Ghanaian experiences. As the second novel she published, but the first novel she wrote, Songs My Mother Taught Me (1973) recalls growing up in New York State.

Separated in 1972, with three daughters, Thomas became a Canadian citizen in 1979. An excellent special issue of Room of One's Own highlighted her work and life in 1985. The female protagonist in Isobel Gunn (1999) is based on an historical figure from the Orkney Islands who disguised herself as a man in 1806 and signed on with the Hudson's Bay Company to work in Rupert's Land, concealing her identity for a year-and-a-half. Thomas next picked a character from Charles Dickens' household for Hattycoram (2005), about a relatively powerless woman struggling with her identity as Dickens interacts with his own characters. Audrey Thomas' early books were mainly published by Talonbooks of Vancouver; then with Ontario imprints from 1981 onwards.

Audrey Thomas has lived in Greece, France, England and Scotland but has maintained a home at the north end of Galiano Island since 1969. She continues to write fiction by longhand, avoiding computers.

FULL ENTRY:

In 2003, Audrey Thomas received the ninth Terasen Lifetime Achievement Award for an Outstanding Literary Career in British Columbia, now called the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award.

There are precious few literary prizes in Canada that she hasn't won. In 2004 she delivered the Margaret Laurence Lecture at the Writers Union of Canada AGM in Victoria and was honoured with the $20,000 Writers Trust Of Canada's Matt Cohen Award in honour of a distinguished body of work. The Galiano Island and Victoria-based short story writer and novelist has also won British Columbia's top fiction award, the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, an unprecedented three times, for Intertidal Life, Wild Blue Yonder and Coming Down from Wa. As well, she has received the $15,000 W.O. Mitchell Award (2001), the Marian Engel Award (1987), the $3,000 Canada-Australia Prize (1989), the Canada-Scotland Literary Fellowship (1985-86) and a National Magazine Award. She received the Order of Canada in 2009. More than 25 of her plays and stories have been broadcast on CBC.

Audrey Thomas was born in Binghamton, New York on November 17, 1935, and raised there as Audrey Grace Callahan. She completed her B.A. at Smith College. She married English sculptor and art teacher Ian Thomas in 1958, immigrated to British Columbia in August, 1959, attended UBC and earned an M.A. in English (1963). At UBC she met numerous writers involved in the emerging TISH poetry movement but always felt separate from them as a prose writer. She taught English 100 at UBC from 1959 to 1963. From 1964 to 1966 she lived in Ghana where she wrote her first published story, 'If One Green Bottle..." It concerns the author's confinement and miscarriage in a Ghana hospital. It won her and award for debut fiction from the Atlantic Monthly. In 1967, Audrey Thomas published her first collection of short stories, Ten Green Bottles. Her first novel Mrs. Blood (1970) harkens back to her Ghanaian experiences.

Audrey Thomas has three daughters and two grandchildren. She and Ian Thomas separated in 1972. She became a Canadian citizen in 1979. She has taught and been writer-in-residence at many universities and has several honorary degrees including an honorary SFU doctorate, conferred in 1994, and a similar doctorate from UBC. She served on the panel of judges for the 2002 IMPAC Dublin Literary Arts Award, the most lucrative literary prize in English. She was twice shortlisted for Governor-General's Awards for fiction and has received three prizes from CBC Literary Competitions. Her books have been translated in several languages and she has had 20 radio plays produced. A special issue of Room of One's Own highlighted her work and life in 1985. She has lived in Greece, France, England and Scotland but has maintained a home at the north end of Galiano Island since 1969.

Audrey Thomas has published eighteen books of fiction. In them she is often concerned with gender politics, secrets, language and identity. The first novel she wrote, but the second one published, Songs My Mother Taught Me (1973), recalls growing up in New York State. The female protagonist in Isobel Gunn (1999) is based on an historical figure from the Orkney Islands who disguised herself as a man in 1806 and signed on with the Hudson's Bay Company to work in Rupert's Land, concealing her identity for a year and a half. The audiobook version of Isobel Gunn, read by Vancouver actor Duncan Fraser, was nominated for an Audie Award in 2003. Having plucked a character from the pages of history for Isobel Gunn, Audrey Thomas next picked a character from Dickens and his household for Hattycoram (2005), another novel about a relatively powerless woman struggling with her identity. [See review below]

Audrey Thomas' books were mainly published in Canada by Talonbooks of Vancouver and Penguin Canada of Toronto prior to her 2005 novel with Goose Lane Editions and a subsequent novel with Dundurn.

Thomas continues to write her fiction by longhand, eschewing computers. She has long been associated with Galiano Island, having taken up residency there before the arrival of the island's other well-known novelist, Jane Rule, who lived at the south end. Still active on Galiano as of 2015, Audrey Thomas contributes as a valuable member of a Galiano bookclub, providing her writer's insight. Her family's lemonade recipe is always appreciated at the island's annual picnic in September. She also sometimes sings in the local choir and her workshops at the Galiano Literary Festival are always sold out.

BOOKS:

Ten Green Bottles (Bobbs-Merrill, 1967, Oberon 1977) - stories
Mrs. Blood (Bobbs-Merrill 1970, Talonbooks 1975) - novel
Muchmeyer / Prospero on the Island (Bobbs-Merrill 1972) - novel
Songs My Mother Taught Me (Talonbooks 1973) - novel
Blown Figures (Talonbooks 1974) - novel
Ladies and Escorts (Oberon 1977) - novel
Latakia (Talonbooks 1979) -novel
Real Mothers (Talonbooks 1981) - stories
Two in the Bush and Other Stories (M&S, collected, 1981) - stories
Intertidal Life (Stoddart 1984) - novel
Goodbye Harold, Good Luck (Penguin 1986) - stories
The Wild Blue Yonder (Penguin 1990) - stories
Graven Images (Penguin 1993) - novel
Coming Down From Wa (Penguin 1995) - novel
Isobel Gunn (Penguin 1999) - novel
The Path of Totality (Penguin 2001) - stories, new and selected
Tattycoram (Goose Lane, 2005) - novel 0-86492-431-3
Local Customs (Dundurn 2014) $16.99 978-1459707986

[BCBW 2015] "Interview" "Galiano" "Africa"