Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The WAR Series: Writers as Readers, with Gillian Wigmore

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Gillian Wigmore

Gillian Wigmore's third collection of poetry, orient (Brick Books), includes three long poems. Forceful and bold, it builds beautifully on the career of a writer whose work has been called "place-literate, fully flexed, often suspenseful". Fred Stenson has said that when you read Gillian's work "you love and grieve".

Today Gillian joins us to take on the The WAR Series: Writers As Readers questionnaire, which gives writers an opportunity to talk about the books that shaped them, from first loves to new favourites.

Gillian tells us about starting out with upside down comic books, the book that comforted a scared little girl and the most fantastic idea for an autobiography title we've heard in a long time.

If you want to get a sample of orient, you can hear Gillian herself read from the collection here.


The WAR Series, Writers as Readers

The first book I remember reading on my own:
The first book I remember reading on my own was a comic book I was only pretending to read so that my older cousins wouldn’t think I was an illiterate little baby. I only noticed it was upside down when my brother pointed it out to me. When I flipped it around I read the word ‘Digest’. For the longest time I thought that was another word for ‘biggest’, just spelled wrong and starting with a different letter.

A book that made me cry:
The Little House on the Prairie series made me cry when Jack the brindle bulldog died. I knew it would happen and every time I read it I cried. I always wondered what a brindle bulldog was. I thought it might be like a lightweight dog, sort of spindly, but also sun-dappled. I used to read the Little House books when I had nightmares instead of waking up my mum. The books were a lot more comforting than: “It’s just a dream, go back to bed.”

The first adult book I read:
The first adult book I read was Wilderness Tips, by Margaret Atwood. I didn’t know what to make of it. I was 13 — I hardly knew the difference between short stories and novels. I knew I related to the characters, and I definitely knew the Canadian landscapes, and I was terribly excited by the open-endedness of the writing. I’d been reading a lot of Sweet Valley High books at that point, which are heavily moral stories, very Betty and Veronica, and here in Atwood’s stories were people who read trashy books or bled or got pregnant or died. It opened a crack in my head I’ve been actively trying to widen ever since.

A book that made me laugh out loud:
I know a book made me laugh out loud recently because I kept bugging my husband trying to read it out loud to him. I can’t remember what it was, though. Damn! It was really funny, too. I read a little essay in Brick magazine by Jim Harrison that made me laugh. And I read it out loud despite the protests because I had the whole family captive in the truck!

The books I have re-read many times:
A book I have re-read many times is Charlotte’s Web. I don’t even know why. I can’t remember liking it even once and I’ve read it about 8 times. The pig drove me nuts. I hated the rat. I only liked that the girl was named Fern, which is a lovely name. It must have been the writing: E.B. White’s a genius.

A book I feel like I should have read, but haven't:
Writers I feel like I should have read, but haven't: The list is too long. Barthes. Derrida. I haven’t read nearly enough Peruvian writers, or Albanian. I haven’t cracked a Russian novel. I know I’m a philistine. I comfort myself with novellas — all nations’.

The book I would give my seventeen year old self, if I could:
The book I would give my seventeen year old self, if I could is How to Get Along With Women, by Elisabeth de Mariaffi. I would give it to all the thirty-seven year old boys I know, too. “Here,” I’d say to myself. “Don’t feel alone. I love you.” “Here,” I’d say to the boys, “Open wide!” I’d also give myself The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, by Michael Ondaatje, so’s I’d know what’s possible earlier on in my life.

A book I feel strongly influenced me as a writer and why:
I can’t name just one book that influenced me as a writer. So many did, but more than any others, these four convinced me that authority of voice is paramount: The Hours, by Michael Cunningham, On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan, The Edible Woman, by Margaret Atwood, and The Double Hook, by Sheila Watson. I have also read and reread The Turning, by Tim Winton, about 700 times because it’s so deeply good.

The best book I read in the past six months:
The best book I read in the past six months: We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo. Actually, I read it a year ago, but I keep thinking about it.

The books I plan on reading next:
The book I plan on reading next is The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton, though it keeps getting pushed back because: The Marriage Plot, all the international novellas, rereading Margaret Laurence, the new Emma Donoghue, the New Yorker, All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews…

A possible title for my autobiography:
A possible title for my autobiography: Jesus, Gillian! or The Girl Who Swallowed All the Books Without Chewing and Didn’t Choke; a glutton’s tale.

Gillian Wigmore is the author of two previous books of poems: soft geography (Caitlin Press, 2007), winner of the 2008 ReLit Award, and Dirt of Ages (Nightwood, 2012), as well as a novella, Grayling, (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2014). Her work has been published in magazines, shortlisted for prizes and anthologized. She lives in Prince George, BC.

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