The Vancouver High Wire

The Granville Island Hotel is the centre of the Vancouver International Writers’ Festival, run by a dedicated staff under Hal Wake. The usual suspects assembled there although Jane and I were also lucky enough to attend the opening night Gala Dinner. This was a Bollywood-themed extravaganza, with much merriment, where I was delighted to meet the splendid non-fiction writer John Vaillant. I told him that he was mentioned in my book, where I bitterly regretted that despite my Haida Gwaii knowledge, I never had the chance to publish his superb book The Golden Spruce. (I have now read his latest book, The Tiger, which I recommend – but not for bedtime reading.)

The MC of the dinner was the admirable Bill Richardson, who met up with me to recall a publishing prize-giving ceremony in Toronto where I accepted his challenge to accept a prize using “interpretive dance.” He claimed at the time that generations of my ancestors were spinning in their graves.

The prize, by the way, was for doing good environmental work. The truth of the matter is that Alice Munro twisted my arm to have Hateship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage printed on recycled paper, which at the time was both eccentric and expensive. By doing it with this major bestseller, M&S broke the log-jam, and now it is usual, sensible publishing practice. But the credit all goes to Alice.

On the Tuesday evening I was thrown to the lions (and tigers), doing a one-man show at the Improv Theatre, where I told the audience from the empty stage that my book consisted of stories about these 20 authors, then asked for the names they’d like me to tell stories about.  It was an exciting high-wire act, and it seemed to work, right down to my friend, Paul Whitney, calling the event to a halt with a request for “one last story.” It must have worked, since the head of the Sunshine Coast Festival was in the audience, and later invited me to their Festival next August.

A new life beckons.

One behind the scenes story: I was in the Green Room backstage with seven minutes to go, when I thought it prudent to visit the washroom. “Not that one,” I was told,  “the one in the corridor.” Nobody added the words. “But don’t close the door, or you’ll be trapped inside.” You can imagine the rest, including the thunderous beating on the door until I was released just in time. You will understand why Jane was appalled for the next 75 minutes as I strode around at the very front of the stage with my zipper at half mast. All part of the excitement of the unscripted show.

Afterwards I signed copies for a crowd including the woman I first met as a seven-year-old next door in Toronto, and a downstairs neighbour from a later apartment. My life flashed across my eyes. The best surprise of all occurred in Banff when Robin Spano, the fine novelist published by ECW, greeted me with the words,  “Hi, you once came to talk to my high-school class.” And so I did, at Jarvis Collegiate twenty years ago.

Everything connects.

— Douglas Gibson


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