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DOING "it" WEEKLY - Interview #1: Ted Bishop


This is the first installment of a series of articles that will run each week involving interviews with inspiring artists, musicians, writers and other go-getters. It is a blog - interview style - about the people doing the things they only previously dreamed about.

This morning I attended the 10am public announcement of the finalists for this year's Governor General's Literary Awards put on by the Canada Council for the Arts. In the very crowded Nicholas Hoare Book Store down on Front Street I found myself a little groggy eyed, but otherwise excited and inspired, rubbing elbows with some very talented writers.

One of them caught my eye and it was the very approachable Ted Bishop. Of the 185 titles submitted to the non-fiction category, his book, Riding with Rilke: Reflections on Motorcycles and Books, was one of five finalists announced for the award.

Bishop is as a Professor in the English and Film Studies Department at the University of Alberta. This was his first non-scholarly book - a dream come true for the talented writer.

How long have you been writing?

I started writing non-fiction since the early 90s. I was sort-of working away 'in the closet' because I was supposed to be writing scholarly articles. But I was trying to write about a trip to Afghanistan that I did a long time ago, and then began to write about motorcycling for Cycle Canada. And then this book was five years in the making - which took shape after a motorcycle crash...

How long were you bed-ridden for?

It was about three months in bed. But I had an eight month medical leave because what I found afterwards, after I got out of the back brace, was that I was still very weak. It was like I was eighty-five years old; I couldn't get across a walk-light under the whole walk cycle and things like the pneumatic doors with springs on them were too hard for me to open. It gave me a new feeling to the futility of the body and it also just slowed me down a whole lot. I couldn't write long hand and holding a book was hard. So I ended up reading a lot.

Is this your first book? Or have you just stuck to articles?

I did a scholarly critical book that grew out of my doctoral thesis but I've been describing this as my first real book. That is what this feels like; it's completely different to have something that goes out there that is read by a wide diversity of readers. I got this email from a guy in Austin, Texas, who ordered it from Canada. He was like 'I just got in from a ride in the hill country on my Ducati Monster. I love your book but I have to tell you that you misspelled the name of this particular Ducati model...' It's great! I've also had people come up and say that I know that guy that you were talking about...so you're making connections, meeting a community in a different way than you would with a scholarly book.

Was it always a dream for you to write a book?

Absolutely. I started reading motorcycle magazines when I was about 14. From the time that I was 14 I wanted to write a book with a penguin on it and a motorcycle in it. [His book was published by Penguin Group - Leigh.] I didn't know how that would happen. But several decades later it actually came together, so it's a real thrill.

What kind of obstacles did you have to overcome while writing this book?

The difficult thing to overcome was being trained as an academic and trying to overcome my own internal editor. I would write a scene and then I would reach for a pen to run an analysis of it, or explain what I was doing, rather than just doing it. It was hard to write it in two modes - I was still presenting scholarly papers as I was writing this. Sometimes I would be in the library working on one while I was supposed to be working on the other. It got kind of confusing.

Winners will be announced in mid-November. The other finalists and more details about their books are posted online at the
Canada Council for the Arts' Website


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