On being an Alberta writer

UniversityFarmShed

I have a complicated relationship with the place I live. I was born in northern Alberta, I’ve lived in one place or other in the province all my life, and I don’t really see myself moving elsewhere. But I’ve always felt out of place here, to some degree.

Growing up in the oil and gas boomtown of Grande Prairie, I knew almost no one else my age who really liked reading, let alone writing, and so I rarely talked about these interests of mine with anyone. I did have a few book-loving friends, like John, whose family had moved from England. One day I pulled a book from his shelf that I was curious about and flipped through its pages.
“What’s a hobbit?” I asked.
“You should read that,” he said. “It’s really good.”
I did read it. He was right. I went on and read the rest of that author’s books. No, better to say I devoured them. Or they devoured me. New vistas of story opened up for me with Tolkien’s books. Here was a writer who had created an entire world, and I wanted more of that kind of thing. I wanted books that would overwhelm, challenge, and change me. That desire took me from fantasy and science fiction to Dickens, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Woolf, Orwell, Joyce, Calvino, Borges, Pynchon, Ondaatje …

Now I think it’s a good thing for a writer to be born in the wrong place. Maybe all writers are, or feel themselves to be, and that’s one of the reasons why we write. There’s a lot about the politics and culture of this province that makes me weep — for what we’re throwing away, what we’re ignoring and destroying in our pathological stampede for wealth and power.

But I love this place, too, and even though I don’t write about it directly a lot of the time (I write fantasy for the most part), I suspect that in all sorts of ways I don’t even notice, Alberta shows up in my work (come to think of it, there’s a pathological stampede for power in my current fantasy trilogy…).

Our seasons. Our weather. Our landscapes. Our cityscapes. Our perceived remoteness, in other words our distance from the places where the supposedly important stuff happens.

Even something like the kind of light we get here probably has more of an impact on the way I see the world than I realize.

 

Comments

  1. Anne Thompson says:

    Hi Tom,
    I really enjoyed ‘On Being an Alberta Writer. I read it to my book group today as I felt it said more about you personally then anything else I had found so far. We had just read Icefields and before our discussion I wanted to read something that said more about yourself then your writing. We had a really great discussion. Only two people of the ten did not like the book but more because it wasn’t linier then anything else. It was interesting, I took notes right up until Fraya’s death and then I just read straight through after that. I had been looking up glacier terms but I just couldn’t do it anymore after her death. My favorite characters were Byrne and Elsbeth but I really wanted Sara to come back into the story. I found her story about her father Viraj so interesting although I couldn’t stand Sexsmith. I felt the whole story of Sara and her parents could have been a book itself. When it came to the romance in the book, poor Elsbeth must have been so frustrated with Byrne who didn’t have a clue and Hal didn’t stand a chance with Freya as she would have left even if she didn’t die. Everyone commented on the fact that Freya really stepped out of the roll that was expected of women at that time. We all loved the ending when Byrne showed the Japanese man his specimen box with the flowere growing in it. I have discovered your blog with the train trip to Jasper which i am looking forward to reading. Thanks Tom

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