Shelagh Rogers interviewed many fabulous authors this past season on The Next Chapter. Every now and then, she would have a conversation so compelling, juicy, riveting or fascinating that it deserved more time than the radio show could allow. So, The Next Chapter has offered up extended versions of those conversations as special webisodes and podcasts.
Every Thursday in July and August, CBC Books will bring you Shelagh's Summer Specials, an encore presentation of those great full-length conversations.
Shelagh's Summer Special this week is her conversation with David Gilmour, author of The Perfect Order of Things. Shelagh's conversation with David was entertaining, insightful and refreshingly honest. An edited version of this interview originally aired on the September 19, 2011 episode.
We hope you enjoy!
You can hear The Next Chapter on CBC Radio One every Monday at 1 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m. (a half hour later in Newfoundland).
David Gilmour's latest book, The Perfect Order of Things, is an autobiography masquerading as a novel. The unnamed narrator -- who has narrated many of Gilmour's previous novels -- is a middle-aged man revisiting watershed moments from his own life. This is something Gilmour himself did and while this work may be fiction, it's very close to Gilmour's own heart.
While the novel draws heavily from Gilmour's own experiences, the idea for The Perfect Order of Things didn't come from the author. Instead, it came from his German publisher. When Gilmour was 19, he had his heart broken and spent six months in a small town in France grieving over the loss of this relationship. When, as a middle-aged author, Gilmour was sent to France for a story for a magazine, he decided to revisit this town. What he saw astonished him. Running through the town was the "most beautiful, exquisite wide river" and his younger self had never noticed it. "I was so wired by my own misery I never noticed what was around me," he told Shelagh Rogers.
This got him thinking, "I wonder what else I missed in other times in my life when I was so miserable." But this thought never went anywhere until he told this story to his German publisher. They loved it and, months later, asked him to turn this experience into a novel. "We'd like you to write a book about a guy who goes back to all the places where he suffered in his life and looks at them from the perspective of a reasonably happy middle-aged man," Gilmour recalls them asking. "Can you do that?"
Gilmour said yes and went to work. He felt that in order for the book to connect with readers, it had to be as authentic as possible. So he chose to mine details from his own life. This is something Gilmour has done many times before, as he believes it's impossible to separate art from life. "The island separating fiction and non-fiction has always been a narrow one," he said. But within that specificity, Gilmour sought to find universal experiences. "It has to contain recognizable experiences so other people can participate in the literary experience," he said. "Ultimately you have to make something like this work artistically on the page, otherwise, it's just a diary."
Gilmour found this intimate exploration of his past therapeutic, and it made him grateful for every experience he's ever had -- even the awful ones. "The women who hurt me, the jobs that disappointed me and the people that deceived me actually sucked me into the centre of life," he said. "What writing this book made me feel was extraordinary gratitude for life."