Allison's Book Bag

Telling the Truth About Life as a Northerner

Posted on: June 2, 2015

A member of the Dogrib Nation from North West Territories, Richard Van Camp is an internationally renowned storyteller and best-selling author. Camp has served as script and cultural consultant, as well as written for CBC’s North of 60 television show. He is the author of three collections of short stories, as well as two children’s books. The latter are available in Braille for free, anywhere in the world. His only novel, The Lesser Blessed, is a movie with First Generation Films and premiered in September of 2012 at the Toronto International Film Festival. I’ll review the book tomorrow. Save the date: June 3!

PERSONAL BACKGROUND

Richard Van Camp northwordsnwt.ca

Richard Van Camp northwordsnwt.ca

Camp started writing at the age of nineteen. His first publication happened by his writing music and reviews in the Yellowknife newspaper, followed by poetry in the Gathering series. He also became a graduate of the En’owkin International School of Writing, the University of Victoria’s Creative Writing BFA Program, and the Master’s Degree in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. A voracious reader, Camp never saw anyone writing about life as a northerner, and told Rabble he “decided to tell the truth”.

When asked his opinion of the value of creative writing schools, Camp shared with Nineteen Questions that he has met great writers who don’t have a high school education and he has also met writers who learned all they could about the writing craft through reading and travel. “I knew I wanted to be the best writer that I could be and I knew I needed and wanted time to really focus with other writers and mentors who shared that wish…” This led to six years of studies and workshops, that Camp doesn’t regret.

From these writing programs, Camp learned the key to making a living as a writer. He told Nineteen Questions They taught him, “In Canada, you actually make more money from being a writer than from your writing.” Writers make their money from touring, selling books, giving keynotes and workshops, being a Writer in Residence, and teaching a night course at an institution. The key is to not count on royalties or advances: money buys time. “If you’ve got it, you don’t have to hustle as hard … you can focus on your writing every day. The key is finding that balance.”

Besides writing, Camp enjoys books and magazines and zines of photography. He reads ton of comics and graphic novels. Music soothes him. He doesn’t watch TV, which he feels removes a lot of tension from his life, but does go to movies and finds them fun. On the other hand, Rabble reported, news is so depressing he’d much rather “float about the rooms of our home listening, sharing, crooning, dreaming”.

Camp now himself teaches creative writing. He has been an instructor with the University of British Columbia and at the Emily Carr Institute, alone with having been a Writer in Residence.

WRITING BACKGROUND

A coming-of age story, The Lesser Blessed, took Camp about five years to write. When asked by Nineteen Questions what draws him to novels for young people, Camp responded that he finally has the abilities to sort through the emotions and tension one feels growing up.

Having The Lesser Blessed published in 1996 terrified Camp. To Rob McLennan, he called it the fear of the unknown. “I had fired my first arrow of light into the sky for the world to see, and I was so scared someone would call it an ugly baby. But, looking back, how can anyone call anything you put heart, soul, blood, tears, heartbreak, heartache, lust, love, hope and all you have left and even more you didn’t know you even had on bloodied knees forward in supplication?” Moreover, Camp says that although one can train for years in the craft, and take class after class, no one can prepare for the first book publication. He quips that it’s like talking about giving birth without ever having a baby.

Music is a large part of Camp’s life. It soothes him and also captures feelings he wants to transfer to readers. He credits songs with propelling him to write or dream a story. According to Nineteen Questions, he couldn’t have written The Lesser Blessed without the help of music.

When asked by Rabble, if he ever hesitates to portray the “realness” of the North, Camp draws a parallel to directors who depict perfect versions of women who aren’t real and thus do a disservice to representing women. In other words, there is no hesitation. “Why lie or why hold back? I’m counting on myself to tell the truth.”

The Lesser Blessed is now a movie with First Generation Films. It took seven years for funding to be raised and fort the dream cast to be found. Nineteen Questions reported that, after the movie aired, Camp wrote a love letter to the director stating, “No one will ever love The Lesser Blessed as a novel as much as Anita Doron and no one will ever love her adaptation of the novel as much as me.” Camp feels she not only captured the innocence of the novel, but also created something new to the story.

With twelve books to his name, Camp finds himself interested in how his books are being received. He also still believes one should: “tell the truth, don’t hold back, trust, risk, push, reread, rewrite, hone”.

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Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee

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