Hugo Wong/News staff
From Sept. 22 to 24, 14 Canadian authors will descend on the Mary Winspear Centre for the Sidney and Peninsula Literary Festival. This is the second of three profiles from the Peninsula News Review.
When asked what he would be reading at the Sidney and Peninsula Literary Festival, Guy Vanderhaeghe, speaking from his home in Saskatoon, replied with a laugh. “I haven’t quite made up my mind yet.”
The 66-year old writer, who has never been to Sidney, says he will most likely read from Daddy Lenin, his latest short story collection from 2015 and one of his novels set in the 19th century American and Canadian west, but he has a large and varied catalogue to choose from. He has written short stories, plays, and novels to critical acclaim, and like many Canadian authors, Vanderhaeghe’s work is deeply rooted in the rugged and the rural, with clear links to a nascent Canadian literary movement.
“It’s hard to remember how different things were 40 years ago. Forty years ago CanLit was a fairly new phenomenon and I think a lot of people thought that the places where they lived and the country where they lived and worked wasn’t actually represented that well or in much detail, so I think part of it was a conscious decision …But on the other hand, I would argue that it’s purely a natural thing, to write about what you’re familiar with and what you love and what’s rooted deeply in your bones.”
His rural upbringing and his master’s degree in history is clearly reflected in his work, which is full of real historical details.
His interests led him to write three historical novels about the development of the West in the late 19th century. The first of those novels, The Englishman’s Boy (about the Cypress Hills Massacre and 1920s Hollywood), won him his second Governor General’s Award and was turned into a CBC miniseries in 2008.
“I don’t plan or plot what you would call a marketing strategy. I don’t attempt to figure out what people might want to read. I write what interests me and what I’m curious about. I hope that I will find an audience in some of the same things.”
His latest short story collection is a change after three long historical novels, but it is actually a return to his work from the 1970s and ‘80s like Man Descending, which won him his first Governor General’s award.
“When I started writing novels, some reviewers would say ‘well, he’s not as good a novelist as a short story writer,’ then I arrived at the point where I wrote a couple of novels and people had forgotten that I had ever written short stories!”
Vanderhaeghe sees Daddy Lenin as a sort of sequel to Man Descending, which chronicles men who are looking back, men who are Vanderhaeghe’s age now. Reviewers have noted his wry characterizations of rural, rough and tumble men, some of whom are a little foolish. He says he is gratified when he meets readers who say his work helped them understand a man in their life who might resemble one of his characters, even though he is careful to say that he is “not talking about therapy.”
Vanderhaeghe says meeting people at literary festivals helps his perspective as well.
“Most of a writer’s life is spent in a very solitary fashion. You’re sitting in a room and you’re writing and there’s not much contact with people. So things like literary festivals I think remind you about the people who you hope to be writing for.”