Three and a half months into his five-month residency at the Haig-Brown Heritage House, writer Wayne Grady of Kingston, Ont., is feeling inspired by the historic property, the world-renowned writer and conservationist who lived there and the community he has been learning about.
Grady has been the Haig-Brown House Writer in Residence since Nov. 1 and he will be in Campbell River until the end of March.
The residency gives published authors a chance to spend the winter in the Haig-Brown House, and the writer divides his or her time between working on their own writing and providing literary advice and support to the community, including participating in Museum at Campbell River programming.
“It’s almost like coming to a monastery; it’s a retreat,” said Grady. “It’s a chance to step back from the everyday life and just do nothing but think about your work for, in this case, five months, which is a fairly long residency. It’s also a chance to find out about a new part of the country that I didn’t know very much about before. But mainly, it’s that stepping away.
“The thing that writers need more than anything else is to get their heads inside of their books and to not have to come out of that book until it’s finished. And you almost never get that in real life. The phone rings, you have to go out and fix the front porch or you have to drive your daughter to the bus station, all the hundreds of things that come up in the course of a day; I don’t have those here so I’m able to live inside my book for the whole time I’m here.”
Grady has found the house and property very inspirational. The historic farmhouse sits on the banks of the Campbell River. It was here that author and conservationist Roderick Haig-Brown wrote his influential books, articles and speeches and where he and his wife Ann Elmore lived and raised their family. The Haig-Brown House is now owned by the City of Campbell River and managed by the Museum at Campbell River.
“Because the house and particularly this room [the library] has been preserved almost as a shrine to Haig-Brown since his death in 1976, it’s like he’s sitting right in here with us – it’s just amazing,” said Grady. “His pipe is still sitting in the ashtray on the desk; I can’t get over that. You open one of the desk drawers and the smell of pipe tobacco comes up. There are his glasses sitting there and his pens on the table and his books and papers lying around as if he was just here reading yesterday. That is really quite an amazing thing; his presence is still very much here.
“Because I’ve been a nature writer as well, I’ve been aware of his work, but I’ve never really been this close to where the work came from. He was an amazing man. I knew about his work but I didn’t know so much about his life, so I’m finding that out. I can see why he loved living here in Campbell River and why he was so adamant about preserving what there is here and not wanting to see it become over-developed or to see the fish habitat destroyed.”
Grady has been a writer in residence in other places, so he knew what to expect in terms of how to manage his time and the balance of working on his own material and making himself available to other writers.
The Canada Council guidelines are that the writer divide his or her time with 40 per cent going towards speaking with local writers and 60 per cent going towards working on their own material.
Grady has been giving two days a week to the community and immersing himself completely in his own work for the other five days.
“Lots of local people have shown me their work and come for mentoring,” he said. “I teach at UBC and teach creative writing and I feel like I have something to say. I expected that to happen and it’s been great. It’s a very well-known program in Campbell River.”
For his own project, Grady, who has published one novel, 14 nonfiction books and at least 15 translations, is taking this time to work on his second novel. He had a complete draft finished before he came here and when he showed it to his editor at Doubleday, she made some comments and gave him some suggestions, so he is building those – and his own changes – in and writing his second draft while he is at the Haig-Brown House.
Grady says he has also been enjoying getting outside the city, hiking and visiting places like Quadra Island, Denman Island and Qualicum Beach.
Grady’s wife, Merilyn Simonds, is a writer too and she is currently on her own writing retreat, spending three months in Mexico. At the end of March, she will join Grady in Campbell River, and then they will drive back to Ontario together once Grady’s residency ends.
As the Haig-Brown House Writer in Residence, Grady takes part in programming at the Museum at Campbell River, and he has several events coming up.
On Feb. 13, Grady will offer a master class on writing place at 1 p.m. at the museum. This three-hour workshop will be all about writing realistically about a place. For more information, call the museum at 250-287-3103. Grady will offer a lecture, and then there will be in-session exercises and workshops, and the cost is $40.
Grady will also offer a master class on issues in translation Feb. 27 at 1 p.m. Again, the cost is $40 and the workshop will be three hours long. This class will look at what makes a good translation, and participants are asked to bring texts and dictionaries for in-session translation exercises and workshops, or examples of their favourite – or least favourite – translations, with the originals if possible.
Grady will also be part of a presentation on Our Fragmented Place on the Land Feb. 19 at The River City Stage at 1080 Hemlock St. at 7:30 p.m., along with Andrew Nikiforuk and Harold Rhenisch. This event is presented by the Museum at Campbell River, the Campbell River Arts Council and Still Water Books and Art. Tickets are $15 in advance at the museum or $20 at the door.
Grady will also be one of the featured authors at the Words on the Water Writers’ Festival March 11 and 12 at the Campbell River Maritime Heritage Centre. For more information about the festival, visit www.wordsonthewater.ca