News and Interviews

Gillian Wigmore on Creating Characters from Her Road Not Travelled

Gillian Wigmore

Newlyweds arriving in a strange and remote small town makes for a classic, foreboding opener to a story. But Gillian Wigmore's Glory (Invisible Publishing) is like nothing readers have seen before, taking a classic premise and spinning it into a wonderfully strange tale of dangerous women, a man-eating lake, and the irresistible attraction of the forbidden. The landscape of Northern BC, stark and lush at once, is gorgeously rendered, and Wigmore's vibrant prose and deeply realistic characters are a perfect balance to the seductive, fable-like quality of her tale.

We're thrilled to welcome Gillian to Open Book today to talk about Glory as part of our Lucky Seven interview series. She tells us about how the character of Glory sprang out of her own road-not-travelled moment, using her kids as a writing timeline measuring stick, and how the best books leave gaps for the reader to fill in. 

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book and how it came to be.

Gillian Wigmore:

My family, growing up, was a singing in the car type family. We always sang cowboy songs or songs about the east coast – no songs about where we lived in northern BC. I learned to play guitar when I was 15 and started writing songs about the usual stuff like love and heartache, but also about home. I busked and sang in restaurants when I was at school, but then I fell in love with poetry and got distracted. I stopped writing songs when my kids were small, but I started to wonder what would have happened if I didn’t. I imagined another girl who grew up here, who sang in bars and wrote songs about the north, but unlike me, who had a real desire for success as a singer/songwriter. Who would she be? Glory Stuart came to life in my head as I walked with my two little kids in the stroller.

My novel, Glory, follows the lives of three women struggling with ambition, fear, and desire just as winter finally turns into spring in Fort St. James. Those of us in Canada know what a volatile and unforgiving time of year that is.

OB:

Is there a question that is central to your book thematically? And if so, did you know the question when you started writing or did it emerge from the writing process?

GW:

The questions I started out with when writing Glory were different than the questions I ended up with. Initially, I wanted to write the book to find out what it means to be a woman in a northern community who doesn’t fit the roles provided; I felt like there were very narrow confines to what a woman could be in a small town. As I wrote the book, I realized that the questions had more to do with how to live well, no matter who you are, in a place where story remakes your reality daily. Storytelling is a key component of Glory, and it became clear to me that the characters were fighting less against stereotype than against hearsay.

OB:

Did this project change significantly from when you first started working on it to the final version? How long did the project take from start to finish?

GW:

To use my kids as a measuring stick, during the writing of this novel they learned to tie their shoes, started and finished elementary school, and are both now taking the city bus by themselves. I’m glad it’s finished before they learned to drive. During that vast expanse of time (about 10 years), the book I imagined – a straight-forward, chronological narrative – was replaced by the reality – a polyphonic, time-hopping rollercoaster with a bang-up ending, but my intention to showcase women and the north stayed the same.

OB:

What do you need in order to write – in terms of space, food rituals, writing instruments?

GW:

I need a routine when I’m writing fiction. Poetry I take as it comes – it fits in the cracks and I’m writing it all time – with fiction I have to commit to an hour a night, no matter what. After 9:00pm I go downstairs, shut the office door, and enter the world I’m creating. I work full time as a library branch manager, and sometimes I imagine what it would be like to be a full time writer, but it’s too wild a concept to consider for too long. It almost makes me dizzy.

OB:

What do you do if you’re feeling discouraged during the writing process? Do you have a method of coping with the difficult points in your projects?

GW:

I work on lots of projects at once. If I’m stuck in one project, I can turn to the next. While I was working on Glory, I wrote and published two books of poems and a novella. It also helped that there are so many voices in Glory – if one story stalled, I worked in another character’s voice.

I also read a lot of interviews with writers and that helps when I’m feeling discouraged. The Paris Review Interviews, Writers and Company on CBC Radio, New Yorker Interviews – all of these make me feel like I’m not alone.

OB:

What defines a great book, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great books.

GW:

A great book is one that lasts and lasts, that still captures the imagination on rereading, that brings up new questions every time you dive back in. I love Howard O’Hagan’s Tay John. I’ve read it about six or seven times, and every time I notice something new. It’s haunting, original, desperately sad, but also enormously inspiring for a writer to read because it’s so odd and surprising. I love a book that leaves gaps for the reader to fill with their imaginations, that doesn’t answer all of the questions. Tay John is like that, and so is Ali Smith’s How to Be Both – curious and full of holes. I love Ali Smith – she doesn’t ask permission or apologize, her characters are unique, memorable, and human, and I admire her fearlessness when it comes to structure and language.

OB:

What are you working on now?

GW:

I’m working on a series of novellas. I’m almost done – I think one more and I’ll send it off, but I’ll be sad when it’s finished – it’s another project that has kept me company for a long time. I’m working on another book of poems, too, but that should keep me company a while longer.

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Gillian Wigmore is the author of three books of poems: soft geographyDirt of Ages, and Orient, and a novella, Grayling. Her work has been published in magazines nationally and internationally, shortlisted for prizes, and anthologized. She lives in Prince George, BC.

Related reading

Glory

A northern gothic tale about resilience and belonging

In a boom town dominated by a man-eating lake, Renee and Danny Chance start a new life in his grandfather’s cabin. Renee struggles to keep her head above water until she is drawn into the orbit of two beautifully notorious bar-singer cousins, and all three women are called to test the bonds of blood and loyalty. A polyphonic fable riddled with tall tales, Glory explores what it means to be a woman in north-central BC by flooding the shores of the human heart.