Costco Connection, September/October, 2005

The Write Stuff

Author Explores Life, Love...And More

A couple out to see the sights along the Australian coast are stranded together on some high rocks when the causeway collapses. They are married, but not to each other.

Wondering how their friends and families reacted to the real-life pair's little adventure, which drew media attention, was the inspiration behind award-winning Canadian writer Richard B. Wright's latest novel, Adultery.

Adultery is the story of Daniel Fielding, a married, middle-aged editor at a publishing house, who has a brief affair with a younger colleague, Denise Crowder, while at a European book fair. Later, Crowder is brutally murderd. The book deals with the immediate consequences for Fielding as he struggles to deal with the muder and his unfaithfulness in the glare of publicity.

The novel is typical of Wright's work, which deals with sexuality, relationships and death. "It's part of our lives," he says. "They also tend to deal a lot with spirituality. "We're hard-wired to think about spirituality," says Wright, who says he is not a religious person.

His previous novel, Clara Callan, for which he won the Governor General's Award, the Giller Prize and the Trillium Award in 2001, reflects these themes, as well as his love of history. Told through her diaries and letters, the book introduces Clara, a 30-something schoolteacher living in small-town Ontario during the mid 1930s, who deals with an affair with a married man, rape, abortion and her loss of faith.

Born in Midland, Ontario, to a working-class family, Wright worked for a weekly newspaper and a small radio station before landing a job as a junior editor at the old Macmillan publishing company in Toronto in the 1960s. The job brought him closer to what he really wanted to do: write. As an editor of children's books, Wright didn't like the quality of manuscripts coming in, so he wrote his own, Andrew Toliver, under a pseudonym. The book is still in print, now under his own name and under the new title On John A. Too Many.

After leaving Macmillan, he tried his hand at novel writing. The result was The Weekend Man, published in 1970. It and his subsequent novels - he has written 10 in all - garnered a loyal following, but, until Clara Callan, he was never quite able to break through to a larger audience.

To survive, Wright took a job teaching, at Ridley College in St. Catharines, Ontario, in 1975, where he remained until retiring in 2001 at age 65. While at Ridley, he got into the habit of getting up at 5 a. m., writing, by hand and on his old manual typewriter before going to class. (Since retiring he gets up a whole hour later, writes for three or four hours - still by hand and on his Underwood - and then does other things, such as read.) He's especially fond of history, the lives of people, poetry and fiction. And, yes, he is working on another novel.

While winning the awards for Clara Callan makes it possible for the 68-year-old writer to earn a living from his craft now, he says, "Life hasn't changed that much. My profile was raised and I was temporarily stunned." Wright lives with his wife in a pre-WWII home in central St.Catharines.

"I enjoyed being an editor, but it's much more satisfying being a writer," he says. "Being an editor was useful in seeing how to and how not to write. Writing gives life a sense of completeness. I can't imagine not writing. Writing is a vocation, like you're chosen to be a writer. It's part of my nature. It's in my blood."

C2005 Peter D.A. Warwick

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