D.W. Wilson, who was born and raised in British Columbia’s Kootenay Valley, burst onto Canada’s literary scene with his 2011 story collection, Once You Break a Knuckle. Now he returns with Ballistics, his first novel. Here Wilson, who now lives in England, reflects on the influences that have shaped his work.
When you started to write, which writers did you revere?
Hemingway, Munro, the fantasy author Guy Gavriel Kay, Eden Robinson, some Rudyard Kipling, though not much. Raymond Carver, since any male writer of short stories is going to list him. I’m not terribly well read when it comes to the classics (confession), initially because I didn’t study English at university and then because, well, I don’t know, laziness? But my biggest influence has to be Tim Winton, who I am hoping against hope to meet at the Perth festival next year.
What is the most dangerous influence or type of influence for a young writer?
People who say, “What are you going to do with that degree?” The default answer to that question should always be: “Write a novel, stupid.” Sometimes I wish I could seek out each and every unemployed engineering major who ever said those words to me and show them my two books. That’s outside the question a bit, but I swear it’s got to be external influence, people talking down on writing as a profession or people talking down on the study of it. Or people who say, “I read this great book, The Da Vinci Code, you should write books like that.” Or worse: people within the profession talking about the hopelessness of the profession. Yes, you’ll have to work hard. Yes, you’ll experience moments of crippling existential doubt. But yes, you can make a living out of it. It seems to me that for some reason that message gets lost in the gloom. Maybe I’m too young and naive to make the claim, but being gloomy usually doesn’t help.
Which perhaps unexpected book(s) share a commonality your new one? What would you think of as its distant cousins?
Actually, I think Marjorie Celona’s debut, Y, could be a distant cousin for Ballistics. Both involve a child abandoned at a young age who years later goes on a quest for the people who abandoned them. Both have two interwoven time lines spaced a decade or more apart. Both are set in western Canada. I also think we both have a similar sense of what constitutes good rhythm and sentence-making, partly because we were both trained as writers – and readers – by Lorna Jackson at the University of Victoria.
When you are in a period of writing, do you change your reading habits for fear of being unintentionally influenced?
I don’t change them intentionally, but if I’m stuck I will sometimes gravitate toward things I normally wouldn’t, on the vain hope that it’ll give me an idea. Or I’ll stop reading entirely, again unintentionally, because I have a hard time just reading (I constantly underline and notate and question-mark and star and cross out words in books I read) and sometimes don’t want to engage that part of my brain. But I don’t know for certain. I haven’t been doing this long enough.
This interview has been condensed and edited.