York University’s Canadian Writers in Person course and lecture series presented author David Gilmour reading from his novel The Perfect Order of Things (2012). Special correspondent Chris Cornish (BA Hons. ’04, MA ’09) sent the following report to YFile.
All along I’ve been thinking I was writing a book about a guy who goes back to places and people and music where he has suffered and sees them from a fresh perspective. But sitting here on Sunset Boulevard with my grown son it occurs to me that that’s not what I’m doing at all; that what I’m doing is getting ready to die. Putting my psychic and emotional affairs in order….
from The Perfect Order of Things
by David Gilmour
David Gilmour goes where the heat is. This is true of his tendency to travel to warmer places like Jamaica but it also reflects his process as a writer. Gilmour recently shared this and other stories at the Canadian Writers in Person series.
Gilmour can recall the sensation of hearing his own voice as a writer while working on his first novel, Back on Tuesday. “I’m doing it, I’m actually flying. There was some kind of heat I’ve never been able to recapture.” It was a long apprenticeship to get to this point, 20 years of failed attempts and failed relationships. Yet, it was one of Gilmour’s first heartbreaks that inspired him to start writing.
His girlfriend had left him for another guy after a fateful Ferris Wheel ride, so the 15-year-old Gilmour snuck out of his boarding school and hitchhiked to Florida, eventually winding up in Los Angeles. Not able to contain his loneliness, he started a diary and began to turn his suffering into art. Looking back on that experience years later, Gilmour realized that “sometimes you catch yourself doing the right thing.”
Fifteen years after returning from his adventure, Gilmour felt his life was a complete failure, “over before it had started.” His attempts at writing fictional prose had gone nowhere and his first marriage had collapsed. He went to Jamaica and wasted a lot of time (“There is nothing more self-destructive than a writer who doesn’t write”). After sobering up, he started writing and re-writing about what would become his deepest source material: his own life. Set in Jamaica, Back on Tuesday became his first published novel, a reflection on his own foibles and relationships with women.
This led Gilmour to believe that you “need to go to the hottest thing in your life and write about it.” This is a lesson he needed to learn more than once. Through his first novel’s success, he landed a job as a film critic on CBC television and spent the next few years enjoying his new-found celebrity. His writing suffered and though he finally got a second novel successfully written and published, his third was a critical failure. He soon found himself unemployed and with a second failed marriage. Then he discovered where the new heat was in his writing: his love for his children. Writing about the fear of losing his young son led to a Governor General’s award for A Perfect Night to Go to China (2005). Film Club (2011), a memoir about letting his son drop out of school on the condition that they watch three movies a week together, became a huge commercial success.
In his memoir The Perfect Order of Things (2012), Gilmour appears to have come full circle by returning to the places he suffered as a young man. One of his most striking self-discoveries occurs when he returns to the Toronto Film Festival, where he spent years feeling like he was an outsider. He realized that there is no “inside,” that it is “an illusion, a figment of your own self-loathing imagination, that the centre of your existence lies outside of your body. You are as good as it gets.”
Though the evening was ostensibly about writing, the message Gilmour most wanted his audience to remember was about love: finding it is easy but “what is hard is not wrecking it once you’ve got it.”
The Canadian Writers in Person series of public readings at York University, which are free and open to the public, is also part of an introductory course on Canadian literature. It is sponsored in part by the Canada Council for the Arts. At 7pm on March 5, in Room 206 of the Accolade West Building, Patricia Keeney will read from her poetry collection First Woman.