The Next Chapter

Will Ferguson is tired of CanLit's most tired trope: the "alcoholic father"

The Scotiabank Giller Prize winner takes The Next Chapter's version of the Proust questionnaire, revealing his literary hero and greatest regret.
The Scotiabank Giller Prize winner's new book is about his trip to Rwanda, a journey he says "stays with me still."

Will Ferguson is one of Canada's most distinguished authors, with three Stephen Leacock Medals and a Scotiabank Giller Prize under his belt. His latest work is a nonfiction book called Road Trip Rwandawhich recounts his trip to the small African country  a journey he says "stays with me still."

Ferguson took The Next Chapter's version of the Proust questionnaire.

Name your favourite writers.

My favourite writer is Richard Bradford, who only ever wrote two books. Strangely enough, I only ever read one of those, so I suppose it's my favourite novel rather than my favourite writer. It was called Red Sky Morning, which is such a perfect book, I don't want to read a second book because it will ruin his first book. 

Tell me about your favourite character in fiction.

My favourite character in fiction is anyone who is not a violent, dysfunctional, alcoholic father. I'm so tired of violent, dysfunctional, alcoholic fathers in Canadian contemporary fiction. You get the impression that violent, dysfunctional, alcoholic fathers are the norm.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I always wished that I was someone who could whistle a recognizable tune. This seems trite, but it's driven me to distraction all these years. When I whistle it's a tune in my head, but it's not a tune in anyone else's head.

What do you value most in your friends?

Laughter. And the ability to whistle a recognizable tune.

What historical figures do you most despise?

Lenin described people in developed liberal societies who supported left wing dictatorships as useful idiots. I think historically it's not the dictators who strode across the continent that bothered me, because those people will never go away, it's the people who supported and justified and made excuses for those types of people.

Your favourite painter?

My son Alistair at age 4. He painted fish; bright, big fish. He went through a fish stage, and he went through a glitter phase and went through a Crayola phase. And they were exuberant and unbridled and beautiful works of art.

Your favourite occupation?

When I was traveling in Northern Ireland a few years ago I was pleased to discover almost by happenstance that the local Lord of Glenarn still had a resident falconer on his staff. I can't imagine a better job, a better business card to have. Will Ferguson: Falconer.

Tell me about your heroes in real life.

My heroes in real life are anyone who works at the emergency ward at the children's hospital. The Calgary Children's Hospital saved the life of my son twice, and that's more than I will ever achieve.

What is your favourite journey?

My favourite journey is always the last journey I took. For me it's Rwanda, the small, beautiful, tragic country in the very heart of Africa called "the land of a thousand hills." The journey I took across Rwanda stays with me still.

What's your idea of perfect happiness?

I think to me it's an early morning in a new city, walking along narrow streets with nowhere to go but here and now. It's a feeling of being at a place with nothing to do, nothing pressing. Especially if it's new — every corner you don't quite know where it's going to go. And it's just that lightness of being at that moment.

What's your greatest fear?

Bears and cougars when you hike. Especially cougars because they attack from behind, which I think is very unsportsmanlike. I live in the Rockies near the foothills, and I've never met anyone who has been attacked by a bear or a cougar, which makes them more scary.

What's your greatest regret?

Agreeing to a Proust interview. Would that count?

Will Ferguson's comments have been edited and condensed.