The Next Chapter

There are many iconic objects lost throughout history. Will Ferguson imagines what it would take to find them

The Giller Prize-winning writer discusses his latest novel, The Finder, with Shelagh Rogers.
The Finder is a novel by Will Ferguson. (Genki Alex Ferguson, Simon & Schuster Canada)

Will Ferguson has written humour, travel books and fiction. He won the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his thriller 419. He has won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour three times. 

His latest novel, The Finder, is a mix of his expertise in travel writing and fiction. The Finder whisks readers to Japan, Australia and New Zealand as Interpol agent Gaddy Rhodes, photographer Tamsin Greene and travel writer Thomas Rafferty unexpectedly cross paths as they track "The Finder" — a mysterious figure who believes they can find history's real-life lost objects.

Ferguson spoke with Shelagh Rogers about why he wrote The Finder.

Lost and found

"I wanted the objects that are in the novel to be real objects. There are enough real objects that are lost out there. For example, Muhammad Ali's gold medal from the Olympics. He got the gold medal as Cassius Clay, came back very proud, was wearing his medal into St. Louis and he was refused service because it was segregated. He was so disgusted. He threw his medal into the Ohio River. It sank into the mud and it sits there to this day. 

What if someone actually went out and found these real objects — objects that are valuable because they were lost​​​​?

"Same with the stolen Stradivarius violins that are listed, the Faberge eggs of the Romanov dynasty, Buddy Holly's glasses retrieved from the plane crash that killed him — all these objects are out there. I thought, 'What if someone actually went out and found these real objects — objects that are valuable because they were lost?'

"I like the idea of the world as a treasure hunt. But I wanted them to be real objects grounded in a real place, in real time."

A picture book for Barbara Joy

"This book is about lost objects that are found. After I finished writing it, I realized [I got the idea] when I was a broke university student in Toronto one year, I couldn't afford a present for my niece Barbie, Barbara Joy.

"It was her seventh birthday and I thought, 'Well, I'll write a story for her.' But I got into the story. I illustrated it, bound it and I sent her a copy. It's about the King of Forgotten Things. There's a little girl named Barbie Joy, who goes out and helps this guy find these lost objects. There are only five copies printed: One for her, one for myself, one for my mom, one for my grandma and one that's lost. I thought it was very appropriate. 

"It's the most limited edition book I've ever written, and there's one copy out there somewhere."

Pages from a picture book written and illustrated by Will Ferguson. (Submitted by Will Ferguson)

A love of shadowy figures

"I wanted the protagonist to be kind of the shadowy character that finds people. I've always been fascinated by anti-heroes. For example, I find Patricia Highsmith's character fascinating, the talented Mr. Ripley.

I find anti-heroes compelling, that we want them to succeed even when we shouldn't.

"I find anti-heroes compelling, that we want them to succeed even when we shouldn't. It's the ambiguity in the conflict that you stir up in a reader. That's what makes a book compelling." 

Romantic friendships

"I also wanted to write about male-female friendship. Because ultimately, although the characters of Tom Rafferty and Tamsin Greene sleep together on and off. They're friends who've known each other for 14 years. They have been through something horrible together and support and also enable each other. It's not entirely a healthy relationship, but it is a relationship.

I wanted to capture that fearlessness: she's a war photographer. He's a travel writer.

"I wanted to write about these long-term romantic friendships that develop as we get older. And I wanted to kind of write about these kickass female war photographers; the correct term is conflict photojournalists, but everyone still says war photographer.

"I wanted to capture that fearlessness: she's a war photographer. He's a travel writer. Both of them share this experience of being engaged in the world, but not part of it. It's a strange life: you're in these far-flung areas, but you're never entirely there." 

Writing about travel

"It was hilariously funny to make one of the characters a travel writer. My first travel assignment was 25 years ago. It was 1995. I wrote a travel guide to Japan. I've been a travel writer for 25 years. I've been doing solo trips mainly, but also press trips. And he's a middle-aged, burned-out travel writer. People ask, 'Is Rafferty based on you?' And I say, 'No, my last name is Ferguson; his last name is Rafferty. Clearly there's a difference right there.'

"Although I draw on my own experiences, 25 years as a travel writer, I never had the all-consuming obsessions with travel that Rafferty did. I'm married. I have kids. I write fiction as well. I'm more grounded. He's untethered. He doesn't even have a home."

Will Ferguson's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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