Newfoundland author Gary Collins has written a total of ten books now; one of his most recent was Left to Die (2014 Flanker Press), the compelling account of the SS Newfoundland sealing disaster of 1914 in which 78 of 132 men stranded on the ice died. He is also the co-author (along with his granddaughter Maggie Rose Parsons) of What Colour is the Ocean? Gary took some time away from his various pursuits to answer a few questions for the Miramichi Reader.
Miramichi Reader: Tell us about some of the books or authors (or others) that influenced you to become a writer.
Gary Collins: Reading the old ‘Classic’ comic books is my first recollection of wanting to know about things beyond the hills of our village. I read everything from the milk can labels – there was no fresh milk – to my mother’s Family Herald magazines. In my teens I read Thomas Hardy, anything by Steinbeck and Nicholas Monsarrat.
I began writing eulogies for family and friends, spent a few years doing feature articles for the NL Herald. It led to manuscripts and books.
My influence to write comes from my parents kitchen and the old story tellers who gathered there on winter nights. They told of great Black bears who stole loaves of bread from beneath their tired bunks. And of storms at sea under sail, so vivid I could feel the sting of it on my young skin. I remember the hush of the lamplight softening their ruggedness; the blue smoke from their ‘Target’ cigarettes being drawn upwards to the seam in the ceiling stovepipe. It is a wondrous memory to draw from. I have always tried to write stories as well as they told them. Their wonderful art of orally telling stories is dying.
MR: Do you have a favourite book (or books), one that you like to revisit from time to time?
GC: I never tire of reading Conrad’s ‘The Secret Sharer’, Montserrat’s ‘Master Mariner’ and Adele Wiseman’s ‘The Sacrifice’. I read Wilbur Smith and Michael Crummy among many others. I read several books at a time in separate rooms.
MR: Which of your many books do you consider favourites, or best representative of your body of work?
GC: My favorite book to write was Mattie Mitchell–Newfoundland’s Greatest Frontiersman. My entire life has been a love for the outdoors. To me, wilderness is a state of mind. You do not need angry mother Grizzlies chasing you to be there. It can be found beyond any fence or Alder bed, lining any highway, by anyone. You have only to let it be there.
MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, what person(s) would you like to do a book on?
GC: I would love to follow the trail of the last Beothuk male Indian who lived on our island. The fear and absolute dismay of having no one. What a sad gloaming that must have been. It is on my list!
MR: What is next? Are you working on something now?
GC: I have just sent to my publisher Flanker Press a new manuscript. It will be published this Fall. It is called ‘Desperation’. It involves a ship wrecked in the winter of 1867 on an island, bleak and barren, off our coast. The shipwreck was only the start of the crews horrors. It ended with cannibalism! And terrible death to all.
MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing?
GC: I have two log cabins, built by own hand – without nails – with chainsaw and axe. One is near the highway, the other reached only by canoe or snowmobile. My greatest pleasure is to sit at the table by the moonlit window, at either of them, pen in hand; wine burnished by lamplight, the kettle on the stove at my back humming softly to the tune of the night. The naked page – never feared – awaits.
I love boating, on the open sea, canoeing on pond and river, hunting, travel, playing guitar and family events.
You can browse all of Gary Collin’s titles at his Flanker Press page: https://www.flankerpress.com/author/gary-collins/
His Facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/garycollinsauthor/