After spending 20 years planting over a million trees across Canada, Charlotte Gill is living in the national oil and gas capital.
Every year the University of Calgary hires a new Markin-Flanagan Canadian Writer-in-Residence to add fresh blood to the English program. This years' writer is ready for her adventure. Gill starts mid-August, but is already making herself comfortable in her new home.
Born in London, England, she moved to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia before settling with her family in Toronto. Not wanting to stay in one place too long, she moved again to British Columbia before coming to Calgary.
"I know Calgary is an oil and gas town, but British Columbia has got logging and mining as well, these things aren't so different," said Gill. "Vancouver may be a beautiful city, but its economic engine is mostly industry. For the most part, I'm pleasantly surprised by Calgary, it's so clean and very spacious. I've only been here for a week, but everyone looks very healthy and it's definitely not quite the grit that people think of when they think of the oil and gas business."
Gill will be meeting with students for manuscript consultations several times a week and hosting workshops. She will have her first public reading of her most popular work, Ladykiller, in September. The novel is composed of seven stories and was writtten over nearly a decade while Gill completed her masters thesis at the University of British Columbia. Each story presents a protagonist with a different dark but compelling story, including a scuba instructor obsessed with a 16-year-old student and a couple plotting against a neighbours crying child.
"Every book comes out of its own mental space and time in an author's life and sometimes an author will go on to continue to write about those themes or they'll move on to something completely different," said Gill. "Ladykiller, its got fairly dark undertones. It's about self-destructive impulses and how alluring those can be and how damaging those can be, but also, on the other hand, how exciting it can be to go against the grain of what's expected and conventional. That was my obsession at the time. At the end, I felt like I had said everything I wanted to say on the topic and I wanted to move on."
Gill will continue work on her latest novel Spade Life, an autobiographical look at life in the tree planting business. She feels the opportunity to spend 10 months on writing is a gift. In Spade Life, she wants to write something lighter and move away from fiction.
"The book is about my experiences planting trees and also the subculture of planting trees, which is really unique and I don't think has been written about in that level of detail."
Gill was warned about the cowboy hats that would greet her in Calgary and planned to attend Stampede for the first time.
"They say that the writer in residence in Calgary ends up staying in Calgary, so I don't want to write it in stone that I'll be moving somewhere else afterwards, we'll just have to wait and see."