George K. Ilsley is nervous about being the follow-up act to Robert J. Sawyer, the previous Berton House Writers’ Retreat tenant.
The Vancouver-based Ilsley has a shortstory collection and novel to his name, much less than the 17 novels authored by sci-fi bestseller Sawyer, who just ended his stint in Dawson City.
“He’s one of the biggest writers in Canada and I’m the complete opposite,” said Ilsley in a telephone interview with the News.
The poor name recognition in the North will be evident when Ilsley reads from his latest work, the novel ManBug, at the Whitehorse Library Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
He’s been told to expect six to eight people.
Ilsley has done readings before, but usually with three or four people and in front of a large crowd. He’s never read alone, something that makes him nervous.
“People react more in large audiences,” he said. “It’s very intimate (with smaller crowds). People make faces — they’re frowning or whatever, and they’re right there.”
Ilsley is the last writer to spend time at Berton House Writers’ Retreat this year. He arrives October 3 and will stay for three months.
ManBug (Arsenal Pulp Press), a short and fragmented novel about the relationship of two men, takes on the big issues: love, labels (the two lovers are an entomologist with Asperger’s Syndrome and a dyslexic bisexual) and consciousness.
“On one level it is a parable about the evolution of consciousness seen through the development of one character,” said Ilsley.
“On the bigger picture, you could see that character representing the whole race, if I can be completely pompous. And I do want to be completely pompous.
“On another level, it’s a quirky character. And on another it’s just a silly little book.”
He once spent time in Yellowknife several years ago, but a lengthy stay in Dawson will be his first “real adventure” in Canada’s North.
“It opened up my eyes to see a whole other part of the country most Canadians don’t see,” said Ilsley about his first visit to the North.
“It’s going to be an adventure no matter what happens because it’s new and different. I hear people are friendly in the North.”
But writing, not adventure, will occupy most of Ilsley’s time.
He is working on his second novel, which is set in Vancouver.
Living 3,000 kilometres away from his home in the West Coast city will give his work a fresh perspective, he said.
“I’m looking forward to not being in Vancouver,” he said. “I find I write about places where I’m not anymore because it’s easier to encapsulate them once you move away.
“But I also expect to get new material while I’m (in Dawson). I’ve known about this for about a year, so I’ve read a lot of the typical Yukon books — a lot of Pierre Berton. I’m researching the history of Vancouver and Vancouver’s history is influenced by the Klondike.”
While in Dawson, Ilsley is open to working with emerging writers looking for advice or editorial guidance, if there are any in Dawson, he said.
“It’s energizing being around people and I would do that when I’m in Dawson, but I was going to wait until I get there, said Ilsley. “But how many people are there with manuscripts in Dawson?
“My strength is editing. I can help people find their voice and I’m willing to do that if people are looking for that sort of thing.”