Bill Arnott Chats With Bestseller Grant Lawrence

It was a spectacular evening, sun over mountains, easing into the sea. As we made our way to a sold-out performance of “Grant Lawrence and Friends” in West Vancouver, Grant sharing tales from his bestselling books, with A-list musicians scoring the show.

With the event buzz still humming, I share this visit I had with Grant Lawrence a few weeks ago, prior to him taking his tour on the road. If you don’t yet know Grant, he’s an award-winning author, columnist, CBC personality, and singer. He’s written four bestselling books: Adventures in Solitude, The Lonely End of the Rink, Dirty Windshields, and his new #1, Return to Solitude. Grant hosts CBC Music Top 20, sings for the popular garage band The Smugglers, and writes for multiple newspapers.

Grant, welcome to the Showcase, and congratulations on the success of your music and books! What inspired you to start writing?

(Grant). Thanks Bill. My parents used to force me to write thank-you letters to my many aunts and uncles, as well as grandparents and family friends, for the birthday and Christmas gifts they would send to me. From about the age of 7, the rule was I had to fill a page. I hated doing it, so to get back at my parents I would fill the page with embarrassing stories about them, then seal it up in an envelope before they could read it. My extended family thought the thank-you notes were funny – my parents not so much when they found out – and in a way my aunts and uncles were my first audience. One of my aunts was a journalist and was very encouraging of my writing from a young age. She started sending me classic novels instead of toys from then on, and many of those books had a profound impact on me, everything from The Hobbit to Oliver Twist to Of Human Bondage to Never Cry Wolf.

Later on in my teen years, I wanted to start a touring rock n’ roll band, which my dad was staunchly against. Seeing that I was extremely determined, he finally made me a deal. He said this through gritted teeth, “If you insist on flushing your life down the black hole toilet that is the ‘music industry,’ you must promise me that you will write the misery down.” I thought that was a pretty good deal, and I held up my end of the bargain. From Gig One of The Smugglers, I kept a tour diary that I maintained for 17 straight years of international rock n’ roll touring. That writing in my teens and twenties really honed my discipline, editing and storytelling skills.

(Bill) Kudos to dad for making that challenge. What prompted you to create your coast-oriented books, Adventures in Solitude and Return to Solitude?

(G) After my band wound down like an old dog, I found myself at a bit of a loss in the summers when we used to always be on tour. At the urging of a friend, I make the trek back to my childhood family cabin in Desolation Sound that I had completely rejected once I discovered rock n’ roll and formed a band. Once I returned, I realized that the Desolation Sound area where the cabin is, while at first glance seems utterly empty, was actually filled with incredible people that have chosen to live beyond the margins of society. I was intrigued as to why, and the answers to that primary question makes up a lot of both of my Solitude books, along with my own adventures up there both as a child and an adult.

(B) What was that process like?

(G) No one, I mean no one, thought that my first book should be about a place that very few people at large had ever heard of. Everyone around me thought the first book should naturally be an anthology of my tour diaries from the band, since they were already written! (They turned out to make up the bulk of my third book, Dirty Windshields.) But I was very burnt out on rock n’ roll and urban centres and venues painted black that smelled like urinal pucks. I found myself hugely attracted to life in the wilderness and the kind of people it attracted, so I really dove right in. I was single when I wrote Adventures in Solitude and it took me about five years to finally get it done. The manuscript got turned down or ignored by every publisher in Canada. Eventually, through a connection in beer league hockey, I found my way to Harbour Publishing, and Adventures in Solitude became a surprise bestseller.

(B) I love when surprises succeed. Where were you when you wrote Return to Solitude?

(G) I wrote it both at our family cabin in Desolation Sound on ever-fading laptop batteries, and at our home in East Vancouver after our kids went to bed over the course of four years and countless interviews. The big difference between the writing of the first Solitude and the second one is time. I am now married with two kids under 10 years of age. No time! Lots of late nights.

Pre-order Bill’s new book!

(B) Ah yes, the scarcest resource! With that in mind, any “timely” thoughts you’d like to share before getting back to the grind?

(G) I have a couple of sayings and pieces of inspiration that keep me going on my artistic pursuits. The first one is from Canadian actor/comedian/writer Mike Myers. He once said in an interview that artistic people should attempt to create or make one thing every day. It could be a painting, a bit of a script, one page of a book, a sculpture, a podcast interview, or whatever, but just try to create that one thing. I try to live by that, by creating or doing one thing towards my artistic pursuits. Which includes my day job, by the way! If I make a radio show, that counts!

The other is a saying I once heard from British author and politician Jeffrey Archer. “If you have talent and energy, you’re a king. If you only have energy and no talent, you’re still a prince. But if you have talent and no energy, you’re a pauper.” So much of life comes down to what kind of energy you can muster from within to simply get up and get going and do something. So when I’m tired or not feeling like doing anything, I think of this quote and dig deep to find that energy to keep on keepin’ on. Thanks again, Bill!

(B) Cheers Grant. Good shares, and a pleasure having you here on the Showcase.

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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.