Aug 26, 2014

Bill Gaston speaks at the Festival of the Written Arts

bill gaston

The festival of the Written Arts

Last week I wrote about the Festival of the Written Arts that took place in Sechelt, BC, just a short ferry ride from Vancouver. I have been participating to five of the twenty-one events of the weekend, it has been such a rewarding and inspiring experience that I decided I would like to share it with you. Last Monday I posted about the first event: Aislinn Hunter. Today I would like to introduce you the second guest I met at the Festival, Bill Gaston.

The World

bill gaston

Imagine this: A recently divorced guy, just a regular guy, is about ready to burn his mortgage but instead accidentally burns his house down, only to discover that for the first time in his life he’s forgotten to pay a bill: his insurance premium. An old friend of his, a middle-aged musician, prepares for her suicide to end the pain of eight years of throat cancer. Her father, who left his family to study Buddhism in Nepal, ends his days in a Toronto facility for Alzheimer’s patients. The three are tied together not only by their bonds of affection, but by a book called The World, written by the old man in his youth. The book, possibly biographical, tells the story of a historian who unearths a cache of letters, written in Chinese, in an abandoned leper colony off the coast of Victoria. 

Questions and Answers with Bill Gaston

The title of Bill Gaston's book is quite bold, it comes natural enquiring about the choice. The question makes him laugh and it seems obvious he's been asked the same many times lately. He quickly explains how one of the characters of the book, suffering from Alzheimer's, has written a book called 'The World' about an abandoned leper colony near Victoria, BC. In that book it's mentioned another book called 'The World'. Sort of a story in the story in the story.

The next question then is: has he really written the story about the leper colony living off the coast of Victoria, where Bill Gaston is presently living and teaching a creative writing course? No, he says he hasn't written that story in full, he didn't feel like it was his thing. He then laughs thinking that it would have probably been a bestseller!

Funny and easygoing, Bill Gaston has a head of thick, white-as-snow hair but he reminds me of a teenager, his expression is Peter-Pan-ish. He doesn't lose his smile during the event, not even when he explains that the research for his book comes from his personal experience. Sadly, both his parents suffered from Alzheimer's, his brother is not well either and the idea of the guy burning down his house comes from something that happened to him in first person. His book is a good example of how we can turn bad luck into something good! When asked how can he speaks so lightly of such deep sad matters, he says that is exactly what is trying to do. These words were inspiring to me, that is exactly what I would like to achieve in my writing and in my life. 

My journal reads: Put a smile on your face, you might convince yourself you are happy.

Juliet was a surprise

bill gaston

Towards the end of the event, Bill Gaston read an extract from a short story collection recently published, Juliet was a surprise. He decided to read the title and the first paragraph of each story, a risky choice that paid off when the audience sat laughing and clapping repeatedly.

I was impressed by the rhythm and energy of this event, it made me think of how being a writer doesn't mean to just sit down and fill the white screen but also implies learning to read in a compelling way, being able to hold an audience for an hour, advertise your work and your person in front of 450 people. Scary, but exciting!

How do you feel about writing of serious matters such as disease and disasters? Is it possible to do so while still enjoying your day-to-day life?
Please share your impressions in the comments below.

Have a good novel!