The Next Chapter

Yann Martel on his job washing dishes in a converted bus

The author of Life of Pi and The High Mountains of Portugal on the time he got out of tree-planting duties by volunteering to wash dishes instead.
Yann Martel's latest novel is The High Mountains of Portugal. (Knopf Canada/CP)

Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi and The High Mountains of Portugal, has enjoyed plenty of success as an author. But back when he was still dreaming of the writing life, Martel found happiness in a very different kind of work, and he shared the story with The Next Chapter.

I once had a day job as a dishwasher. I was actually first a tree planter in northern Ontario, but I hated it. They needed a dishwasher in the bus that was converted into a kitchen for the tree-planting camp, and so I volunteered to be the dishwasher. And it turned out I loved being a dishwasher! There's something good for the soul in being a dishwasher, in that you take something dirty and turn it into something clean. Your hands are warm. And also when you're a dishwasher, you don't have to focus very hard on it. So I found that as I washed dishes I could let my mind wander, and that was very good for someone who was dreaming of becoming a writer. I could think about ideas and stories while I was saving the souls of these dirty dishes.

Yann Martel's comments have been edited and condensed.