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Monday, October 25, 2010

Jack Whyte and Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud

Continuing our quest for a publisher for Obelisk Seven, our thriller, Loraine and I attended the Surrey International Writers Conference. It was our first time at this annual conference, which has been held for 18 years.
The motto of the Surrey conference is to "inspire, educate and motivate aspiring and experienced writers alike", so we expected something unusual.
And something unusual we got.
The conference had arranged a superb roster of presenters, and the quality was of a high order. Then on Saturday night, at the close of an interesting evening, a brooding Scot with a deep, deep voice made his way to the podium, while five hundred expectant writers and aspirant writers suddenly hushed themselves, and watched the slight figure expectantly.
Jack Whyte was born in Scotland in 1940, and migrated to Canada in 1967, where for twenty years he earned his keep as a professional singer, an actor, a musician, advertising man and an entertainer, including a one man show on Robbie Burns, which he took on tour throughout Canada.
In 1978 Whyte figured out the mystery of the sword in the river, and from that came a desire to write about King Arthur. This lead to the Knights Templar Trilogy, and more than one million books sold, just in Canada  alone!
Jack inherited his stubborness and determination from his father, who was blinded in the Second World War and told that he was only fit to weave baskets – his father disregarded this advice and wound up as a successful physiotherapist. Click here for Jack's own blog.
As for Jack, he is a disciplined writer, as Fiona Morrow wrote wrote in a 2009 Globe & Mail article:
He works nights – from 8 p.m. until 2 a.m. – a habit he picked up when he held
down an office job and Beverley worked the dinner-shift front-of-house at a local restaurant. He says his family, friends and business acquaintances all know not to phone him after 8 o'clock, or, he adds, rather disconcertingly, “I'll rip their face off.”
His trademark is deep research, and dollops of detail about his characters and the history of the times:
Research, for him, is paramount. “Once I have a thorough understanding in my own mind of the political, regional and international situation at the time, and I've captured the central historical characters and their interaction,” he says, “only then do I tell my story.”
His characters, he says, are everything to him, and for them he draws on his own moral centre. “They have the same family values, the same basic integrity. All that is pretty much me,” he says, before taking a deep draw of his stogie, years of practice having riven sharp creases into the skin of his jaw. “Even the villains,” he grins ...
On Saturday night we waited, along with the other five hundred writers, as Jack made himself comfortable in front of the mike, sipping from the water glass at  his elbow.

A booming voice burst out of the slight figure hunched over the mike, as Jack launched into the Hippopotamus Song.
When he sang these two lines:
The hippopotamus was no ignoramus
And sang her this sweet serenade
the audience, with one voice, joined in the rousing chorus:
Mud, mud, glorious mud
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood
So follow me follow, down to the hollow
And there let me wallow in glorious mud.
And so it went – a verse by Jack, and a joint chorus ringing out. Five hundred writers enjoying this Surrey tradition: no fat lady singing to end their conference evening, but a smallish Scot crooning about a love-smitten hippopotamus on a river bank.
No wonder hippos are reputed to be one of the strongest niche markets for Jack Whyte's novels!
Back to Jack for his views on his place in Canadian  literature: Does the lack of critical recognition bother him?
“Only when I think about it,” he responds with a half-hearted laugh, before stubbing out his cigar. “Yeah, I think it does bother me.” He starts rooting around for another smoke. “Why am I not part of the CanLit scene? I've been wondering that for years. I'm not recognized by the literary community in Canada,” he says. “Although there's not too many people dare say it to my face.”
Be that as it may, Jack Whyte stalks the halls of the Surrey conference like a true demigod of successful authorship, as well he may. If you measure success by a ripping good yarn, millions of books sold, and a following that buys book after book after book, then this man leaves countless CanadaLit heroes in his dust.
And the man can sing!

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