Poet and novelist Steven Price comes to the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre Nov. 11. Price has written two award winning collections of poetry: The Anatomy of Keys, which took the Gerald Lampert Award in 2007 and Omens in the Year of the Ox, which won the ReLit Award in 2013. His novel, Into That Darkness, was a finalist for the BC Book Prize for Fiction and his latest, By Gaslight, was longlisted for the 2016 Giller Prize. A review in Quill and Quire described By Gaslight as a “19th-century sensation novel rewritten with a noir sensibility: Wilkie Collins meets Raymond Chandler.” But the novel goes beyond delicately detailed atmosphere—a dark and foggy London, the horror of American Civil War battlefields, the claustrophobia of South African diamond mines. At its core, the novel is about detectives: William Pinkerton, of the real world Pinkerton Detective Agency, and Adam Foole, a grifter, and an entirely fictional character. Each is looking for answers to their own mystery and become uneasy allies in the search for truth.
At just over 700 pages, By Gaslight is a Victorian style tome, not exactly the kind of thing, either in length or theme, that one expects from a contemporary poet. “I never thought of myself as purely a poet,” says Price. For him, poetry “burns hotter. It’s much more intense and exhausting to write. The epiphany in the poem happens outside the border of the page. The epiphany in fiction happens inside the context.” Including a real person, like William Pinkerton, as a character in his novel, Price had to walk the tightrope of fact versus the truth inherent in a work of fiction. “It was impossible, even if you got the facts right, to recreate the person,” says Price. “If William Pinkerton were to come back and read my novel, he wouldn’t see himself in the book [but a] character who seems to be living all the same experiences he had.” That said, it was important to Price to get the facts right and have them be verifiable. Having done meticulous research, when Price started to write the Pinkerton chapters, he felt familiar to Price since he knew so much about him. When it came to the character of Foole, Price “felt like I was trying to discover this person who I didn’t know. One of the jobs of the fiction writer is to be able to dream parallel lives up,” he says. “While you’re creating other characters that are not you, you’re trying to inhabit them so fully that it’s almost like you’re living vicariously these possible or potential lives.”
Price himself lives in Victoria with his wife of 20 years, Esi Edugyan, the Giller Prize winner of Half-Blood Blues, and their two young children. He is very matter-of-fact about how the two talented writers manage to balance their creative careers while raising a family. “It’s just life, I guess,” he says. “Kids make you very efficient or nothing ever gets done.”
Steven Price reads Saturday, Nov. 11 at 8pm at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre. Admission by donation. Onsite book sales by Talewind Books.