I would not be stretching the truth when I state that without Bill Arnott, The Miramichi Reader would not have grown as quickly as it has nor be as far-reaching in Canada as it currently is. Living on the West Coast, and being fully engaged in the active arts community there, Bill brought a whole new dimension to TMR, for which I will be eternally thankful. It is due time I interviewed this talented and gregarious man!
Miramichi Reader: Tell us a bit about your background, education, employment, etc.
Hi James, thanks so much for this fun opportunity. I grew up in Vernon, BC, finished school, got a couple of business degrees, and had a twenty-five-year career in finance which was when I started writing. My book sales raised money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Canada, granting wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses. I was privileged to connect with some amazing and inspirational people across the country. For the past few years, I’ve been writing full time and still meet remarkable people every day.
MR: Now, please tell us about some of the books, authors, poets or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.
A catalyst book for me was Tim Winton’s Land’s Edge. Winton’s probably best known for his novels set in Western Australia, where he grew up. Land’s Edge is one of his rare nonfiction titles, a compact book with gorgeous photos of coastal Australiana. I found the book at a little store in a leafy Sydney neighbourhood, and it became a touchstone for personal experience, travel and memoir. Years later, over a visit at a writers’ festival, I was able to thank Tim for the chain of events he triggered with that book: giving me the courage to write, share, raise good dough for charity, and touch some lives in a remarkably positive way.
MR: Your award-winning travelogue Gone Viking: A Travel Saga has really taken off since it was first published. Now in its second printing and with a sequel imminent, tell us a little about the long, strange trip of Gone Viking.
It’s definitely been a journey! I can’t sufficiently express my gratitude to readers, friends and literary journals like The Miramichi Reader for the overwhelming support of my books. Gone Viking: A Travel Saga and Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries have been extremely fun to create and share. Ambitious, to say the least, but satisfying. The books represent two decades of travel, research and writing, and follow my expeditions across most of the continents and the world’s oceans. The work springboards from the fact “viking” was originally a verb, which means to go voyaging. By following in the footsteps of history’s greatest explorers, I’ve now “gone viking” for a good chunk of my life. Sharing these experiences – personal adventure, history, and humour – has been hard work, but the fact people enjoy the result has been extremely rewarding. I suspect I’d do it regardless, but positive feedback’s awfully nice as well.
MR: One can see all the fun you’ve had with your books by visiting any of your social media feeds. Bill, you are a multi-talented individual: aside from travelling (and writing about it), you are also a novelist, a poet and a musician. Did I miss anything?
That’s pretty much it. I’m a trained chef, but I spent most of my time in culinary school pan-twirling and knife-throwing. Showboat stuff. But I can still bang out a decent meal if I have to. Years ago I learned that a chef mentor of mine, who was also a bestselling author, had a hugely diverse resume. He’d done everything for work at one time or another. Which I found inspiring, and thought, I wanna do that too!
MR: Do you have a favourite book (or books), one(s) that you like to revisit from time to time?
At the risk of sounding like a record on replay, it’s Tim Winton’s Land’s Edge, which I reread annually. For me, it represents a pleasing blend of gratitude, nostalgia, and inspiration.
MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be and why?
I think my answer would vary each time you ask. But right now I’d say, Michael Palin. I recently did some research and shared his work at a literary reading series, specifically his nonfiction book Hemingway Adventure, a great combination of fiction and nonfiction. The book is straight-up travel lit but with enough Hemingway passages to make the whole feel like a blend of both genres. Palin’s decades of solid travel writing layered onto a career of comedy and impeccable research make him an excellent role model for what I endeavour to do as an author. As fellow Fellows of London’s Royal Geographical Society (RGS), I feel an aspirational sense of kinship and continue to learn and be inspired by his RGS lectures.
MR: Tell us about your writing space. (Do you always write in the same area? Do you use a laptop or a desktop computer, etc)
Most of my work takes place on the road, so writing tools and environment change constantly, from notes being hammered into a phone with a thumb to scribbles in dog-eared journals, to trying to balance a laptop on a knee in a moving vehicle. When a deadline’s being met I’ll likely hunker down in our small highrise apartment, surfacing occasionally for AM coffee and PM lager. Oh yes, and snacks.
MR: Back to life with Covid-19: how have you been coping with the pandemic? What changes (if any) has it made in your life?
It’s been an interesting time, which everyone can attest to. Scary. Stressful. Yet creative and oddly empowering as well. What I’ve found profoundly positive was the adapting, learning and innovating so many have embraced. The book industry is a superb example. At a time when these businesses could have been decimated, instead, most have thrived, with safe, affordable new ways to reach readers. And people are reading more. If anyone says, “What a tough time for authors,” I can only say, “Where have you been?! This is our golden age!”
MR: Yes, you’ve certainly been busy, and even Covid-19 didn’t seem to slow you down. So, Bill, What do you like to do when you are not writing (or reading)?
I love being outside, hiking in virtually any environment. And fishing is something I enjoy, that connection with nature, water, and I suppose the primeval hunter-gatherer sensation it provides. Each outing becomes its own little “viking” excursion.
Thanks again James, for your support of my Gone Viking journeys and books. This has been fun, a feeling of “viking” without having to leave home!
MR: Thank you Bill!
Bill Arnott is the West Coast Editor for The Miramichi Reader and has written many reviews for TMR as well as contributing the popular columns “Bill Arnott’s Beat” and “Showcase Interviews”. His TMR archive page is here: https://miramichireader.ca/author/billya/
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James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.