The Ekphrastic Equation: A Viking Visit with The Ekphrastic Review’s Lorette C. Luzajic

(Lorette) Hi Bill. Tell us a bit about the Gone Viking series, the success of the first one, your hopes for the new one, and how they came to be.

(Bill) Hi Lorette. Thanks so much for the invitation; I’m a big fan of The Ekphrastic Review. Okay, let’s talk about the Gone Viking series, my nonfiction travel memoirs. The books include first-hand adventures, a bit of history and a good dose of humour. Gone Viking: A Travel Saga is the first of the series, where I introduce the fact “viking” was originally a verb, meaning to go voyaging. Which I did, embarking on an eight-year odyssey, trekking the northern hemisphere in the wake of Scandinavian explorers. To my delight, the book’s a bestseller that’s received a number of literary awards. For these expeditions, I’ve been granted a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society, which I have to say feels like getting a seat at the grown-ups’ table for explorers.

Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries picks up where the first book concludes and covers ten years of personal travel across a broader swath of the planet, from the Americas to Europe, Asia and the South Pacific. The popularity of the books has spawned great engagement with readers. Our #GoneVikingCommunity appears on social media, with fun photos and reader shares from around the globe – individuals enjoying their copies of the book in different locales, often in a Viking helmet or just having a laugh. It’s been a remarkable and humbling spillover from the books.

(Lorette) You are famous for your travel writing but have also tried your hand at ekphrastic writing. How do these forms intersect or compare for you? What are the similarities and differences?

(Bill) Like most writers, I write what I like to read, and I love exceptionally well-written travel literature. After years of reading the genre, I realized many of my favourite authors were also poets. So I pursued poetry – taking classes, working with mentors – to simply improve my prose. Unsurprisingly, I came to love poetry in and of itself, with ekphrastic work being a particularly rich facet of the genre. Incorporating this into my writing facilitates, I believe, a greater sensory engagement. Now I no longer see good travel-lit “intersecting” with ekphrastic writing. I see these outlets as much the same thing. Every in-depth travel experience examines the artistic nature of what we see and our interpretation of it. I think almost everything is an art form influenced by or derived from other art. So I tend to see ekphrastic elements everywhere: sights, smells, touch, taste, and sound. When we’re open to experiencing the world we can’t help but find ourselves immersed in ekphrastic influence and connection.

(Lorette) How important is viewing art to you when you are travelling?

(Bill) I feel art viewing is essential to the travel experience, along with food, music, story-telling, flora and fauna. Art is one of those all-encompassing forms of expression, relaying history, land and people in an amalgamated manner. Plus, a gallery can be a lovely place to hang out when the weather’s crap.

(Lorette) Tell us about your writing process. Do you jot notes in a journal all along the way, or use a tape recorder? Do you work as you go, or wait until the voyage is over to recount your memories?

(Bill) I incorporate a range of techniques, often finding something new to work in a given situation. I love including dialogue in my nonfiction, ideally with regional phonetics. But when I’m visiting with someone I’ll never break the flow by taking notes or recording the audio. I do my best to remember what’s said, and how it’s said, then write it down later. It becomes a bit of a test, like a performer learning lines, and it’s something I find not only challenging but when you get it right, supremely satisfying. When I’m on my own, however, on a plane, boat, bus or train, I’m invariably jotting notes of what I’m witnessing or what I’ve seen. More often than not honing a joke or two. Invariably another tributary to the thoroughfare reveals itself, and more often than not, another great ekphrastic opportunity!

(Lorette) Tell us about the art in your corner of the world. You mentioned Emily Carr, who was an incredibly courageous painter who trekked into the wilderness and along the coast. There are stunning histories of regional indigenous arts, and a lively contemporary scene as well. Share your experiences of art travel at home in your own neck of the woods.

(Bill) I love that you’ve asked about these experiences in my neck of the woods, as it’s literally in the woods I’ve discovered common threads – creative bridges – between indigenous artists, Carr, and, yes, Viking artisans. One of those “eureka” moments took place on Vancouver’s North Shore on what’s called the Spirit Trail, a series of walks and hikes that traverse a blend of new and old-growth forest along with residential and industrial development. It’s a place of crows, eagles and the occasional raven, frequent protagonists across a range of history and myth. It’s comprised of pockets of evergreen that feel as though you’ve wandered onto an Emily Carr canvas, and I found myself fighting an urge to check my trail shoes for spatters of oil in green.

Like so many places, here on Canada’s west coast, we’re privileged to be surrounded by great art. My current home is on Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh land, so I’m able to enjoy outdoor installations and carving sheds around the neighbourhood. Vancouver Art Gallery also features rotating exhibits of Carr’s paintings, and with regular gallery visits, I’ve been able to enjoy a remarkable breadth of her work. In both Gone Viking: A Travel Saga and Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries I meet some amazing artists, not to mention pinpointing the inspiration for much of Carr’s art. I even stumbled onto a fascinating link between her most famous pieces and Viking sites around the British Isles. But I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so I’ll leave that reveal for the pages of my books (he said, cheekily).

Thanks, Lorette, for this very fun visit!

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Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of A Season on Vancouver Island, theGone Viking travelogues, andA Perfect Day for a Walk: The History, Cultures, and Communities of Vancouver, on Foot(Arsenal Pulp Press, Fall 2024). Recipient of a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions, Bill’s a frequent presenter and contributor to magazines, universities, podcasts, TV and radio. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.