Weston Words, with Charlotte Gill

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Charlotte Gill

Today we continue our series celebrating non-fiction and the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction in particular, speaking with finalist Charlotte Gill.

Charlotte Gill is nominated for Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe (Greystone Books), a story garnered from the time — nearly two decades — that Gill spent as a treeplanter in a variety of Canadian forests.

The Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction carries not only the name of Ontario's former Lieutenant Governor, but also one of the most significant purses for a literary prize in Canada, with $60,000 awarded to the author judged to have written the finest work of non-fiction.

Check out all of Open Book's interviews with finalists through our continuing Weston Words series.

Open Book:

Tell us about the book for which you were shortlisted.

Charlotte Gill:

I worked as a professional tree planter for 17 years. Eating Dirt is the story of my career among the tree-planting tribe. It’s also a meditation on forests — a natural history, an exploration of humankind’s long relationship with trees and timber. But the thing I wanted to do most was to recreate the experience of planting trees in a sensuous way. I wanted readers to feel transported.

OB:

Where were you when you received news of your nomination?

CG:

I live on the west coast. Because of the Toronto-Vancouver time difference it was pretty early in the morning for me. I was wearing my pajamas when the phone rang. It was quite a start to the day.

OB:

What unique experience or benefit does non-fiction provide for readers?

CG:

When I read nonfiction, I find it thrilling to know that a story is true. That the characters I’m meeting on the pages are or were real people. Nonfiction at its best finds beauty in the most mundane human moments. It helps us understand the world — and ourselves — a little bit better.

OB:

Tell us about a favourite non-fiction book.

CG:

It’s very hard to choose just one, but I just love The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. She has a way of transforming everyday spaces into rich, magical kingdoms. The story is about a man obsessed with orchids, but on a deeper level it contains fascinating human themes. What does it mean to be consumed by passion for an idea, a person, a thing?

OB:

What can you tell us about your next project?

CG:

These days I’m contemplating a return to fiction. I think I have a novel in my future. But I’m a slow writer, and I’ve learned to be patient. I can never say for sure what’s going to come out next.


Charlotte Gill planted her first tree at the age of nineteen. She is the author of the story collection Ladykiller, a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award and winner of the Danuta Gleed Award and the B.C. Book Prize for fiction. Her work has appeared in Best Canadian Stories, The Journey Prize Stories and many Canadian magazines, and has been broadcast on CBC Radio. Her non-fiction has been nominated for Western and National Magazine Awards. She lives in Vancouver.

For more information about Eating Dirt please visit the Douglas & McIntyre/Greystone website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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