Bill Gaston’s new book deals with characters that make bad choices and are barriers to their own happiness, something he said everyone can relate to in some way. (Jen Steele Photography)

Bill Gaston’s new book deals with characters that make bad choices and are barriers to their own happiness, something he said everyone can relate to in some way. (Jen Steele Photography)

Secrets and self-sabotage are everywhere in Victoria author’s latest book

Bill Gaston to read at the SHOAL Centre on March 23

On paper, author and UVic professor Bill Gaston has lived a remarkable life. About 10 years ago, a salmon-smoking accident nearly burned down his house, which became the opening scene of a recent novel, The World. During his university career, he was also a diplomat of sorts.

Gaston visited Beijing in 1973 as part of the UBC Thunderbirds hockey team to play a series of exhibition matches, similar to Nixon’s “ping-pong diplomacy.”

It was captured in a National Film Board of Canada (NFB) documentary called Thunderbirds in China (free to view online), which shows players running along a nearly empty Great Wall and taking in the sights. They were among the first Westerners to visit China since the Cultural Revolution. At the time, there were no private cars and people dressed in the same muted tones.

“Anybody under 25, anywhere we went, had never seen a Caucasian,” said Gaston. “We were gawked at.”

Gaston is 65 now, a winner of the Victoria/Butler Prize, the CBC Canadian Literary Award, and and a nominee for the Governor General’s award and the Giller. He has lived in Toronto three times, taught writing in New Brunswick and played semi-pro hockey in France. He said his many notable experiences were just a function of age.

“If you count them off on your fingers, it kind of sounds that way, but not really,” he said.

Gaston is reading from his latest short story collection, called A Mariner’s Guide to Self Sabotage, at the SHOAL Centre on March 23 alongside children’s author Margriet Ruurs. His publisher describes the book’s characters as “holders of secrets, members of shadowy organizations, screw-ups, joyriders and runaways.”

Gaston said the stories were not written with any unifying theme necessarily, or even as a collection to start with.

“I write stories and when I have enough of them together, they become a book,” he said simply.

However, he said that such a summary is not necessarily incorrect. The book does feature characters who make bad choices, and “they are their own barriers to happiness.”

He said he has become more succinct as an older writer, which comes from reading his heroes (he cited Martin Amis, Jim Harrison, and George Saunders — who is a current favourite of Gaston’s).

“What you know of human nature comes from people you know,” said Gaston, who said that necessarily influenced the characters in his books. Gaston has a memoir called Just Let Me Look At You, coming out in May, which is about his grandfather, his father, and himself. Not surprisingly, it’s about fatherhood.

“It’s about dysfunctional, sometimes violent relationships,” said Gaston. The book was prompted when he learned a secret about his deceased father’s upbringing.

“Once I found out what his background was like, let’s say I forgave him,” said Gaston.

Gaston has done many readings over the decades, and looks forward to this one as well.

“When I’m sitting at home and imagining people reading my books I have a very indirect experience of them connecting with the work,” said Gaston.

“But if I’m reading and somebody laughs or somebody smiles or falls asleep for that matter, it’s a very direct connection.”

Bill Gaston and Margriet Ruurs will read at the SHOAL Centre Mar. 23 at 7 p.m. (doors at 6:30). Tickets are $10 at Tanner’s Books or online at sidneyliteraryfestival.ca. Proceeds support the 2019 Sidney and Peninsula Literary Festival.

reporter@peninsulanewsreview.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Low interest rates have acted as a catalyst for the pandemic real estate market. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy)
Real estate sales surging across Greater Victoria but risks lie ahead

Single family home prices jump nine per cent over past year while condo values remain stable

Passengers in rows 13 to 19 on Air Canada Jazz flight 8069 from Vancouver to Victoria Feb. 28 were exposed to a case of COVID-19. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
COVID-19 exposure found on flight from Vancouver to Victoria

Passengers in rows 13 to 19 on Air Canada Jazz flight 8069 Feb. 28 affected

Environment Canada has issued a wind warning for Greater Victoria, with winds expected to get up to 70 km/h Friday morning. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
Wind warning promises blustery Friday for Greater Victoria

Winds up to 70 km/h expected Friday morning

Sidney staff have cleaned up unknown number of screws dumped along Resthaven Drive. (Black Press Media File)
Crews deal with a rock slide on the Malahat section of Highway 1 in 2017. (Black Press Media file photo)
Rock work closes Highway 1 in Langford for spurts

Friday closures could delay drivers up to 20 minutes

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of March 2

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: How’s your butter?

Recent reports have some Canadians giving a second look to one of… Continue reading

The intersection of Melrose Street and Third Avenue. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Suspect in custody after two pedestrians struck in Port Alberni hit and run

RCMP asking for video footage, credit witnesses for quick arrest

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

Comox Valley RCMP had access to 20 Street blocked off between Cousins and Choquette avenues as they conducted a raid of a house on the block. Photo by Terry Farrell
Comox Valley RCMP raid Courtenay problem house, several arrests made

Comox Valley RCMP conducted a raid of a problem house on 20th… Continue reading

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

A Cowichan Valley mom is wondering why masks haven’t been mandated for elementary schools. (Metro Creative photo)
B.C. mom frustrated by lack of mask mandate for elementary students

“Do we want to wait until we end up like Fraser Health?”

Grand Forks’ Gary Smith stands in front of his Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster float. Photo: Submitted
Grand Forks’ Flying Spaghetti Monster leader still boiling over driver’s licence photo

Gary Smith, head of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of B.C., said he has since spoken to lawyers

Most Read