Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bill MacDonald September 25, 2014



I don't remember when I bought my first Bill MacDonald book, but I think it was in the nineties sometime after he started publishing with Borealis Press. I remember picking it out in Fireweed after perusing the shelves and thinking, this is one prolific author.   
The book's setting was Silver Islet which Bill called "his spiritual home." Of course,  I read it first before I sent it off to my sister in Southern Ontario as a birthday present. It was the first of many presents to out-of-town friends who loved the connection to the home town.
Bill wrote tales of the local scene in an easy friendly style which looks simple to do but in fact is not.  His work is charming but not sentimental, funny but not raw, cheerful but not silly and above all interesting and a damned good read.  A lot of it is based on true Thunder Bay tales, of which there are many as anyone who lives here knows. 

In 2012, Bill was the recipient of the NOWW Khoui award, Charlie Wilkins gave a marvellous speech some of which is added here along with a partial list of Bill's books. Bill MacDonald had a long and eventful life but his books will live after him.
An excerpt from a speech by Charles Wilkins on the presentation of the Khoui Award May, 2011 on behalf of the Northwestern Ontario Writers' Workshop.


Bill is not only one of our most soulful and entertaining and talented writers, he is perhaps our most geographically representative writer and is far and away our most prolific writer. I honestly do not know how Bill gets so much done. His current publisher Borealis Press lists the 22 or 23 books he’s done with them since the year 2000 – titles that include among many others Home Before Dark, Hyenas in the Streets, and The Great Millennium Mount Everest Cat Expedition. But on top of these, there are another 20 or 21 books … all of them, 45 or more, published during the past 23 years.
Bill taught for many years in town here, teaching being at least a fulltime pursuit, and after that seemed almost always to be sitting in the wheelhouse over the Fireweed craft and art shop… or up in the stands, with Cathy, at Whisky Jacks or Border Cats games… or was otherwise out and about town. What always struck me about him was that he never seemed to be writing. I said to him once, Bill, how do you do get your writing done with all the other things you’ve got going on? And with typical humility and self-effacement, he said, “Oh, I don’t get much done. I wish I was like you and really got some stuff out there”… this at a time when I felt fairly productive if I got a book out every two or three years, during which time he would have published nine or ten at least.
My first exposure to Bill’s wonderful work came in 1991 when Barb Kopenhaver visited Betty and me in Dundas Ontario and brought me a copy of a book called Branches : Fifty Years of Family Secrets — a Sentimental History of Fort William and Port Arthur. At the time, I was about to come up here to be writer in residence, so felt a kind of duty, as well as a curiosity, toward the work of a writer from this region… and so settled in to read it… and within a page or two found myself not just reading but, you know, experiencing that lovely thing that can happen occasionally when you sit down to read… I’m talking about being transported… being ferried along by a fascinating and theatrical and amusing cast of characters and by a kind of magical evocation of Depression and war—time and Fifties-era Port Arthur and Fort William.
I eventually got up here, met Bill, surely one of the humblest, most decent and thoughtful guys anywhere, got to know him, and went on to read a dozen or more Bill Standards – among others Skull Rock Scandal, Requiem for Aunt Rose,The Whales of Superior, Close the Door Softly and many others … And when I did so always reexperienced some version of that captivating, entertaining, gentle, mischievous, provocatively rich experience that I’d initially enjoyed with Branches.



Stone Stairs and Steeple Bells (2012)
Oscar
Brandy and Summer Wine
The Great Millennium Mount Everest Cat Expedition
Home Before Dark
Patagonian Odyssey
Goodbye Picadilly
Hyenas In The Street
Daughters Of The Sun
Clowns In The Closet
Vive Zigoto!
Christmas Eve At Silver Islet
Stinging Nettles
The Holly Tree
Soothsayer
Barnabas Snug Harbour
Catwalk
Through A Dark Cloud Shining
A House In The Country
Ruby's Last Ride
Close The Door Softly
Shadows At Sunset
The Quarry
Sirens
Lamplight
Voyage Of The Pelican

1 comment:

  1. A truly amazing career, and by all reports (I never enjoyed meeting him) a great person.

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