Grant Lawrence, author of the award-winning book Adventures in Solitude: What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck and other stories from Desolation Sound, read to an engaged audience of more than 50 CBC fans, avid readers and coastal travellers during his appearance at the Grand Forks and District Public Library, Tuesday, April 24.
Lawrence's work as a CBC host for Radio 3 and Radio 1 clearly preceeded him, judging from the enthusiastic ladies sitting mid-row who couldn't help but cheer him on much like the groupies Lawrence may have encountered while singing for his band, The Smugglers.
Lawrence took it all in stride, although he did blush when the groupies mentioned his wife, Canadian folk singer Jill Barber and the home they share in Vancouver.
This is Lawrence's first foray into the book publishing world and it certainly paid off. Last year he was awarded a BC Book Prize and was nominated for the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction, along with the prestigious Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction.
Adventures in Solitude was published in 2010 and Lawrence spent the past week touring the Kootenays to promote his book in various libraries. The tour coincided nicely with the provincial Arts and Culture Week.
Five years and a lifetime of memories on the path least taken
Adventures in Solitude began as a series of three minute radio stories for CBC about Lawrence's childhood years in Desolation Sound.
"I wanted to write a book," said Lawrence during a personal interview with the Boundary Sentinel. "Everyone expects me to write a music book -- that's what I lived and breathed for 27 of my 40 years on earth has been music. But what I thought was it's like if you work at Burger King Monday to Friday. On Saturday the first thing you're going to grab is not going to be a Whopper -- you'd be sick of it."
I'd rediscovered the area of Desolation Sound. It was a place I loathed as a child but really fell in love with as an adult. I realized the people and weirdos who were attracted to that area, and was frightened of as a child, were actually fascinating as an adult.
The book naturally divides into two distinct chapters in Lawrence's life, his childhood and then his adulthood experiences, 17 years later, in Desolation Sound.
For the uninitiated, Lawrence provided a visual tour of the isolated Sunshine Coast community during his public presentation at the library. Desolation Sound is only accessible by boat, plane and by foot -- if so inclined as Russell, an urbanite turned squatting hippy, did. Desolation Sound is located north of Powell River and Lund B.C.
In the early 1970s Lawrence's father purchased an acreage and built a cabin along the rugged coastline of the Sound. The family frequented the cabin, got to know the neighbours and learned a few life lessons about coastal community social graces at a nude potluck, which Lawrence recounts with great enthusiasm and humour in his book. He also provides some historical context on the area and really highlights a unique perspective on the subcultures of west coast Canada.
I started weaving my own history in a memoir style with the actual history of the area and drawing parallels between my own feelings and the feelings, I would discover, existed with other people in the area. Feelings of loving the solitude, but finding it unnerving at the same time. And that existed all through history right down to Captain Vancouver.
What really pushed him to write the book now was the lack of stories about the more modern coast and the cultures encountered within.
"I thought there was a tonne of books about the pioneer years. And there's a tonne of books about romantic sailing adventures but what I thought was missing was an examination of the counter culture. Specifically from the 60s, 70s and into the 80s. After the first and second wave of European settlers, in the late 60s and into the 70s with the Vietnam war was going on, there was a massive influx to our province of draft dodging hippies. They left a real impression. In none of these Desolation Sound history books do they talk about the marijuana culture. Everything was on the surface. They didn't talk about people going crazy or 'going bush' as they call it in Desolation Sound. What triggers it? Is it the isolation or the alcohol or the pot?"
While he had been writing short stories for CBC on his experiences, the book took a great deal longer to create. Five years -- half of those years as a single man and the other half as a married one -- of working full-time at the CBC by day and writing from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. or even 3 a.m. in the morning at irregular intervals were pretty grueling.
"There were two places I would write -- my dining room table and in airports and airplanes. I travel a lot for CBC, and especially during this time period. I thought to myself I can sit on this plane and watch three movies or I'm in a captive space and I can write for five hours. So that's what I would do. Cancelled flight, no problem. I'd just keep writing."
While Desolation Sound may be a place, it is also a frame of mind for Lawrence. He hopes his message -- go beyond the beaten trail -- rings clear for his readers.
I hope they come away with an appreciation not only for the West Coast but for the wild places of Canada. I hope they come away with an urge to go beyond the end of the road. Just go somewhere by boat. Just go somewhere that cars can't get to. Follow the road to the very, very end and then try to go beyond that...Just take it a little further. I hope people get that inspiration from reading the book.
Since the success of Adventures in Solitude, Lawrence has agreed to write two more books. The next book will be released in 2013 and is about his now defunct rock band, The Smugglers, which he toured the world with on ambition, good times and denial.
For more on Adventures in Solitude, visit the Harbour Publishing website at www.harbourpublishing.com or www.grantlawrence.ca. The Grand Forks and District Public Library also has copies to loan out. To reserve your time with the book go to www.grandforks.bclibrary.ca .