A Day on the Ridge

Among the bays, inlets, and communities of the province, Newfoundland author Gary Collins has earned a seat at the head of the table as Newfoundland and Labrador's favourite storyteller. Now, with six books under his belt, the “Story Man” from Hare Bay is ready to tell you a little bit about himself. The 22 tales that make up this volume are pockets of memories taken from diary entries he recorded during the forty years he spent as a woodsman.

What motivated you to tell this story?
I was actually asked by my publisher Flanker Press to write about my years in the Logging/sawmill industry in Newfoundland.

Did the work come together quickly or did you really need to work at it?
I was aided in my writing of this book by a journal, which I have kept for forty years. When I got started the stories came easily.

What was the most challenging aspect of the process?
I was reluctant to write about myself at first. I am a very private person. It was the only thing I found challenging about this particular work.

What was the most rewarding part of the experience?
To read sparse sentences – taken from my journals, which I had hastily scribbled years before – and see them develop into pages of stories was very rewarding. 

What did you learn during the process?
Writing for me has always been a great time of learning. The completion of the manuscript “A Day on the Ridge” brought with it a sense of having recorded – in part – a time of my life and those of others, which will never again be lived. Sadly, I learned that I should have taken more time, while in the smoky glow of that long ago lamplight, and written more in depth while still living “'a time that was.” 

How did you feel when the book was completed?
When the work was complete and I was going through the final edit, some of the scenes brought laughter, joy, sadness and even disbelief that I had played a part in them. When I had read the last page (I probably won't read it again. I never do) the realization came that I still wasn’t all that different from that young man who had spent so many wonderful days “On the Ridge.” It is a wonderful feeling.

What has the response been like so far from critics and family?
The response directly upon the release of this book has been fantastic. I received one contact from a man who told me he wept with joy from the memories the book brought him. Another said “By gawd, I was on the ridge with you and I didn’t want to come back!”The greatest reward comes from my three mature children, a son and two daughters. They have always argued – in a friendly way – as to who would eventually get my journals. Just recently my youngest daughter told me that now, with this book, they each have at least a part of my legacy. It is very humbling.

What’s next on your creative agenda?
I have been asked by the president of Flanker Press, Garry Cranford, to write a manuscript to be called “The Gale of Twenty-Nine.” It is a high-seas adventure involving no less than eleven schooners which left St. Johns on November 29, 1929. All of the schooners were borne away upon the North Atlantic and set adrift under “Bare Poles” in the most horrific of gales that went on and on. One schooner ended up – after forty days – on the coast of Scotland. Another crew made it as far as Holland. I have the manuscript finished. It is slated for release in 2013. I would like one day to write about our magnificent extinct native Indians, the Beothuck. For some reason I have always sensed their sad spirit while walking along forgotten forest trails. I believe their DNA is still with us! I would also like to write about my years as an ice road trucker. The early eighties had few of the safety concerns of today’s truckers. I knew an ice trucker who actually wore a life jacket while driving! During my time driving rigs – hauling water – on the Beaufort Sea, I was a part of many unique experiences, all which have been noted in my journals.

What made you want to be a writer?
I don’t know if I ever wanted to be a writer. I just wanted to write! I have always had this weird sensation in my head which mentally puts to words everything I see around me. I have no explanation for it, but it works well when I attempt to put the scenes down.

What makes a good book?
For me a good book needs to be factual – even if it is fiction. I love a good story that is simply – told. It must also hold me inside its intended realm so that I regret leaving and will often return.

What are your thoughts on Canadian literature today?
I believe the greatest increase in Canadian literature is happening here in our own province of Newfoundland and Labrador. To walk into a bookstore and see shelves bulging with our local authors is inspiring. It gives me great pride to be on the same shelf. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Write something every day. Listen well. Do not try to write in the language of others; your own is the only true one. Never fear the naked page.