In the cathedral-like halls of Munro’s Books, Bill Gaston had a packed crowd laughing, awing, and booing for all the right reasons. At a joint event featuring fellow author Eve Joseph, he released his newest book of short stories, Juliet was a Surprise, on June 11, reading only the first paragraph of each new story. The tantalizing teases made the audience literally beg for more.
Juliet’s subject matter ranges from the laugh-out-loud funny, to the extremely sexual, to the macabre. It is therefore intriguing, and just a bit surprising, to see that the reality of man behind the work is a warm, casual individual who is able to make people laugh with ease.
In the quiet of Gaston’s sparse office, we spoke against a backdrop of packed-away books. The established author and outgoing chair of the UVic writing department has a lengthy list of accolades, including a CBC Canadian Literary Award, the National Magazine award, the Victoria Book Prize, and nominations for the Giller and a Governor General’s Award. By month’s end, however, he will no longer be the chair of the writing department.
“After four and a half years I’m looking forward to it ending,” he says. “It’s just administrative stuff and I’d rather be doing other things.”
I ask Gaston where he finds the time to write while being a professor and a producing author. He replies quite simply, “I don’t.”
“Having a university job, you can get sabbatical leaves. Unpaid leaves are good if you can afford them but you basically have to quit you job for half a year while you write your stuff. Teaching writing is actually not a good job for writers, except for the sabbatical thing.”
Having written six short story collections, five novels, and memoirs, Gaston has tried more than a few mediums. Wondering if he has a favourite, he says, “fiction is my favourite. That’s what I write. Sometimes I find myself writing a story and I know its a story and sometimes I know its a novel. I kind of write what I want so that it’s enjoyable.”
While at Munro’s, Gaston revealed his mixed feelings about the title of his latest work. It marks the first time that his work has been titled by a publisher rather than himself.
“Its different for me to let my baby be named by someone else. It’s like my favourite uncle named my baby and I thought I would go with that one, rather than having named it myself.”
Finally, when asked how to find time for my own writing, Gaston tells me that, “It’s the liking it part that is the most important. You won’t get far without that.”