Bill Richardson on CanLit sex scenes and his CBC doppelgänger
Beloved CBC broadcaster and humourist Bill Richardson faces the questionably named "golden years" head-on in The First Little Bastard to Call Me Gramps, an uproarious poetry collection about everything from cosmetic surgery to geriatric sex.
Below, Bill Richardson answers eight questions submitted by eight of his fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.
1. Todd Babiak asks, "Do you write sex scenes? Why or why not?"
Mostly I want to know why you want to know, you filthy, filthy thing. Let me think. The First Little Bastard to Call Me Gramps is a collection of light verse about ageing and it includes two poems — "The Night We Found the Riding Crop" and "69 (and Other Untenable Positions)" — that are replete with graphic, if wrinkly, sexual content, so I guess the answer is yes. That said, my intention in writing those pieces — and this was also true of a mock adolescent fantasy involving Robert Goulet and Tony Curtis in loincloths which generated a lot of hate mail when I read it on the CBC — was more ironic than erotic.
God gave us movies so both sex and violence would have a place where they could be convincingly portrayed. Sex on the page, unless you're a silverfish, or a pair of silverfish, is just so fraught and perilous a proposition. It defaults too readily to Harlequin breathlessness — she gasped at the urgent swell of his manhood — or to a Tab A Slot B style of technical writing that's no less cringeworthy. No one writes about sex as well as Alice Munro. There are many citable examples throughout that magnificent body (and I do mean magnificent body) of work, but I'll name one of her early stories, "The Found Boat," as being particularly pheromonal in its effect. Does that answer your question? Feel free to contact me privately if you'd like go more deeply into this.
2. Pasha Malla asks, "Who is one writer, living or dead, you wish could edit or critique your drafts?"
I'm a hobbyist with a very minor gift and no serious aspirations or expectations that I'll write anything that will break away from the pack and distinguish itself in the long run. I won't be hauling out the Ouija board any time soon and asking V.S. Pritchett what he thinks of my chances. That said, if I could take a seat in anyone's consulting room and press myself upon her for an hour, it would either be M.F.K. Fisher, whose writing has given me such pleasure, or Veronica Geng, ditto.
3. Cathy Marie Buchanan asks, "What is your writing routine?"
For me, routine is useful only as a rhyme for poutine. I write when I feel like it, which isn't very often. In the main, it makes me feel like I've agreed to sit in an airless room with a roll of cotton batting in my mouth while willing blood to spill from my ears. I found it easier to write in a disciplined way when I had a full-time job and not much temporal space to romp around in. I always supposed that when I no longer had the toad of work squatting over me, I'd embrace the writer's vocation and take my vows. Chastity and poverty haven't been a problem, but obedience, to routine especially, evades my grasp. Perhaps one day this will change and if it does, I'll get back to you.
4. Marina Endicott asks, "Can you love a book written by a lousy human being?"
I can as easily love a book written by a lousy human being as I can dislike a book written by a saint. Philip Larkin, as one gathers, had it in him to be very unpleasant — is that the same as "lousy?"— but I cherish the poems. Penelope Gilliatt is a writer I love but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone with a kind word to say about her. Again, I'm not sure that makes her "lousy." It's the old Wagner question, right? How do you reconcile his vigorous, hateful anti-semitism with The Ring or The Flying Dutchman? Do you know that Jill Sobule song called "Heroes"? I recommend it.
5. Dianne Warren asks, "Do you like doing public readings? Why or why not?"
I'm rarely asked to do readings — perhaps because I rarely publish — and while I dread them more than just about anything, I usually surprise myself by enjoying them once they're underway. And it must be said that if even a few people willingly take the time from their lives to come and sit attentively while one drones on, how could one be anything other than grateful and amazed? Now and again, there are surprises. Once, after a library reading, when the time came for questions, there was but one petitioner. She didn't have a question, exactly, she just wanted to say how much she enjoyed my work, like that story about the jock strap and that story about cooking the Christmas turkey. She'd sat through the whole thing believing I was Stuart McLean. I let her down gently, bien sûr.
6. Linwood Barclay asks, "Does writing get easier the more you do it, or more difficult because you don't want to repeat yourself?"
Oh, I don't think of it as repeating myself. I think of it as layering in leitmotifs that will provide PhD candidates of the future with birds they can tag. The only architectural detail I ever think to include is the newel post, and I think I've found a way to work it into anything I've ever written that's longer than 500 words. Perhaps it's a kind of sublimation (see question 1). This past summer I went on a Kate Atkinson binge and read her all the way through and she very often puts the car in park and idles a while, examining the same view. I quite liked that. I didn't feel she was being lazy or inattentive, rather that I was given the chance to peer through a small window into the miraculous whirling of her mind. Writing, for me, gets more difficult the more I do it, but not because I worry about repeating myself.
7. Nino Ricci asks, "Do you ever worry that we are among the last generation of traditional written-word writers and that some twentysomething is now inventing a new hybrid genre of multimedia storytelling that will put us all out of business?"
No wonder you have trouble sleeping. You're pretty much describing video games, aren't you? And isn't any online newspaper, with its hyperlinks and videos and digital bells and whistles, exactly what you fear? Anyway, the answer to your question is no. We'll never be exempt from the need to look within. Still black text on a quiet white page will always be an excellent way to get there.
8. Alison Pick asks, "How would you most like to be remembered?"
For my leonine mane of burnished gold and for the rigidity of my unimpeachable six pack.