The Walrus Blog

Tag Archive: non-fiction

The Trillium 25 Interview: David Gilmour

A Q&A with the author of The Perfect Order of Things
David GilmourSandrine Expilly
The Perfect Order of ThingsThomas Allen PublishersThe Walrus Foundation joins the Ontario Media Development Corporation in celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Trillium Book Award, Ontario’s leading literary prize. At walrusmagazine.com/trillium, we’ve grouped the finalists for the 2012 Trillium Book Award and the Trillium Book Award for Poetry alongside a select collection of past winners and Walrus contributors, including Margaret Atwood, Austin Clarke, Thomas King, and Karen Solie. Here on The Walrus Blog, we are publishing a series of written interviews with this year’s English-language contenders.

Born: London, Ontario

Resides: Toronto, Ontario

Trillium Book Award–nominated work: The Perfect Order of Things (2011)

Selected additional works: Back on Tuesday (1986), How Boys See Girls (1991), An Affair with the Moon (1993), Lost Between Houses (1999), Sparrow Nights (2001), A Perfect Night to Go to China (2005), The Film Club (2007)

Prose for The Walrus: Ringo’s Drum Roll” (February 2007); “My Life With Tolstoy” (July/August 2006)

Biography: After studying comparative literature under Northrop Frye at the University of Toronto, David Gilmour began his career in 1980 as managing editor of the Toronto International Film Festival (né the Festival of Festivals); he worked there for four years. A decade later, he began hosting his own program on CBC Newsworld, Gilmour on the Arts, which won a Gemini Award in 1997. That’s when he left broadcasting to write full time. In 2000, he received his first Trillium Book Award nomination for his best-selling Lost Between Houses. Later, he won two gold National Magazine Awards for his Walrus essay “My Life with Tolstoy.” In his memoir The Film Club, which was a best-seller in Germany, Brazil, and Canada, Gilmour documented his reasons (and conditions, including the weekly viewing of three films) for letting his fifteen-year-old son drop out of high school. He currently teaches literary studies at the University of Toronto’s Victoria College.

Joseph MacKinnon: Has the validation of this Trillium nomination changed your self-perception as a writer?

David Gilmour: No, not at all. If you set your standards by these things, you’ll be a wild-eyed, embittered alcoholic within a few short years.

Joseph MacKinnon: Your combined experience as a writer, teacher, and film critic has undoubtedly provided you with some insights into writing dos and don’ts. What patterns of behaviour or thinking would you caution would-be writers against? What writing rituals do you find personally enabling or helpful?

David Gilmour: I have only one word for writers: Persist. If you pressed me for more, I’d say never read reviews, even good ones, and rewrite, rewrite, and then rewrite some more.

Joseph MacKinnon: Is it important to pursue other interests and activities sidelong to your literary endeavours to keep your writing fresh? What are your preferred alternatives?

David Gilmour: I avoid the company of other writers. That’s a full-time job. (more…)

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Off Track

Nora Young’s The Virtual Self, reviewed
The Virtual SelfMcClelland & Stewart

In step with her WiFi-connected pedometer, the modern “self-tracker” cradles her iPhone as she punches into an online database her mood on a five-point scale, her heart rate, and the calories she consumed for breakfast, then tweets out a GPS-tagged photo of the blue jay crossing her morning jog. The sum of all this updates her metaphorical “Data Map,” a “digital, statistical version of [her] real, physical self.”

As personal tracking tools come ever easier to our fingertips, our digital lives become increasingly complex and minutely detailed. Rather than dismissing self-tracking as the latest manifestation of an increasingly self-obsessed culture, in her new book, The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around Us, Nora Young argues that when “used properly”, the practice gives us the “chance to truly listen to the body, and to reground ourselves in the here and now.”

Young, who hosts Spark, the CBC Radio show that links technology and culture, waded through countless online services to log bodily functions, relationships, mental states, and habits — like RescueTime, an analytics service, popular with employers, that tracks a computer’s every working minute. Recording our daily activities forces self-awareness, she argues, inviting behaviour change with a rewarding “gold star” approach. Our basic captured data creates “a digital picture of ourselves”, she continues, resulting in a Data Map that is a “strong depiction of who we are.” (Recognizing this representational power, personal Timelines on Facebook — a visualization tool recently discussed by Ivor Tossell in The Walrus — serve, Young writes, as “repositories for people’s digital lives.”) (more…)

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Charlotte Gill and Eating Dirt

Episode three of a podcast series presented by our partners at Quill & Quire
Eating DirtyGreystone Books

Quillcast is a new podcast series from Quill & Quire featuring behind-the-scenes conversations with authors and publishing insiders. In this episode, the second in a two-part series on non-fiction authors, Vancouver writer Charlotte Gillspeaks about her experiences as a professional tree-planter, the subject of her memoir Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber, and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe (Greystone Books), one of Q&Q’s 2011 books of the year.

Eating Dirt was shortlisted for the inaugural Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for non-fiction, and was recently longlisted for the B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction.

Listen to the episode here, or subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. And click here to view a slideshow of Charlotte’s life as a tree planter.


Quillcast is produced with media partners The Walrus, Open Book: Ontario, and Open Book: Toronto, with support from Toronto Life. This project has been generously supported by the Ontario Media Development Corporation’s Entertainment and Creative Cluster Partnerships Fund.

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Off the Walls

Investigative journalist Joshua Knelman, the author of Hot Art, discusses the international black market in stolen artwork
Hot ArtDouglas & McIntyre

Joshua Knelman’s Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives through the Secret World of Stolen Art explores the evolution of the international black market in stolen canvases, sculptures, and antiquities through alternating stories of crooks and coppers from two continents. Hot Art, published earlier this month, is being widely described as non-fiction that reads like a novel; it’s been favourably tweeted by Margaret Atwood, among others, and Knelman has embarked on a promotional tour of morning television and talk radio shows across Canada. All of which makes everyone at The Walrus rather proud, because the story that inspired the book happened right here at this magazine. The author explains.

MATTHEW MCKINNON: You worked as head of research at The Walrus when you began investigating international art theft. Where does the Hot Art really start?

JOSHUA KNELMAN: Before the magazine launched, way back in 2003, I was sent to write a short piece about two burglaries at an art gallery in Toronto. The first of those burglaries, by the way, was discovered on the morning of September 11, 2001. When I showed up at the gallery, the owner was apprehensive about moving his story into the public arena. “I don’t know much about this world of art theft,” he told me. He did, though, give me the phone number of a cultural property lawyer based in Toronto — Bonnie Czegledi. “Apparently she knows something,” he said.

Czegledi agreed to meet. It was a lucky break. She turned out to be one of only a handful of lawyers in Canada, and one of only a few in the world, who was focused on understanding how the international black market in stolen art operates. (more…)

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Fear of a Hot Planet

An interview with environmentalist, educator, and author Bill McKibben

On December 24, 1968, while orbiting the moon aboard the Apollo 8 spacecraft, astronaut William Anders took one of history’s most famous photographs. As the ship rounded the grey, lifeless surface of our satellite, a pale blue-and-white dot appeared against the blackness of space; Anders picked up his camera and snapped its shutter. “Earthrise,” as the photo would come to be known, was the first widely published image of our planet taken from space. Never before had humanity seen such a view of our collective habitat.

But that planet no longer exists. In the forty-two years since “Earthrise” was taken, we have done so much damage to our home that, some say, we need a new name for it. Environmentalist, educator, and author Bill McKibben suggests “Eaarth,” which is the title of his new book. In 1989, McKibben published The End of Nature, a groundbreaking work in the study of climate change. More than a dozen books have followed, each with the unifying theme of coping with change. In 2007, he started the Step It Up program, which organized 1,400 simultaneous global warming demonstrations in all fifty US states. As a result of this action, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, then in the heat of their presidential campaigns, signed on to the group’s target of an 80 percent cut in carbon emissions by the year 2050.

In the wake of this success, McKibben helped launch 350.org, “an international campaign dedicated to building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis.” The group is founded on the notion that any level of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration above 350 parts per million is dangerous for all life on the planet. This only sounds like an obscure point of reference until you learn that the number currently stands at around 390 PPM and rising.

Eaarth is about living on this new planet that we have created for ourselves, and trying, perhaps in vain, to return to the one seen in “Earthrise.” I recently interviewed McKibben at Random House’s offices in Toronto. (more…)

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