Michael Christie lives with his wife and two sons on Galiano Island, a small island just off the coast of Vancouver. He is a former professional skateboarder and his story collection, The Beggar’s Garden, was a finalist for a number of major Canadian prizes and the winner of the City of Vancouver Book Award. If I Fall, If I Die is his début novel.
Here he shares with us his writing space and how a walk to the river can help him solve a writing problem.
My family and I live in a small timber frame house that I recently built myself in the middle of a forest of tall Douglas fir and cedar. I write in a little cabin that my wife and her father, a carpenter who used to build sailboats, constructed in the mid 90s. The cabin is perfect for writing – spare but comfortable, and also out of wifi range, which is critical for me to get any fiction done. There is even a little loft bed where I can go up and read and nap if I’m tired or lacking inspiration.
My writing desk was one of the first things I ever built. The table is made of some oak planks a friend gave to me years ago that I glued together and finished, and the legs are just some plain old 2X4s. To me, writing is very much like carpentry, in that it usually requires a balance of precision and winging-it, of planning and improvisation, and can often take twice as long as you expect it will. The shelves in the cabin are lined with books that relate to my current project. I like to think of the cabin as a kind of physical manifestation of my brain, and whatever books and inspiration I bring into it will colour my work. It’s also nice because when I leave the cabin, I don’t obsess over the writing in the way I would when I used to work in my bed with my laptop.
Always above my desk I keep this strange, unfinished painting that I found at a thrift store many years ago in Vancouver. I imagine that some recently retired person had taken up landscape painting on a whim, and through the help of a book or a few classes, managed to produce this kind of painting backdrop before giving up. But I just love how it’s this big set up all for nothing. How there is no focal point, no object, no emotion. I keep it to remind me to avoid the same in my writing. That you can have all the literary framing devices and backdrops and settings in place, but you still need to portray something worth looking at. That said, at the same time I find this painting weirdly beautiful, so who knows…
Whenever I am stuck while working on something, I either have a shower or take a walk. My walks nearly always find me at nearby Bluff Park, which is owned in trust by the Island, and overlooks Active Pass, which is where most Vancouver’s ferry traffic funnels through. The first sound my son made was to mimic the ferry horns that we can hear from our place, especially when its foggy. The air in the park is sweet and fresh, and there are often eagles perched in the tall trees on the cliff, watching for silver flashes of salmon hundreds of feet below. By the time I’m walking the trail back down, I usually have generated a solution to my problem. It may not be the right solution, but a solution just the same.
If I Fall, If I Die is out now in hardback and ebook.