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Q&A with David Gilmour

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Novelist, critic, journalist, television host, U of T grad, and now professor, David Gilmour has been a distinct personality for two generations. After years of modest literary success, his sixth novel, A Perfect Night to Go to China, won the 2005 Governor- General’s Award for Fiction. Last fall he published The Film Club, a memoir of the three years Gilmour let his son drop out of high school on the condition they watch three movies a week. He is currently the Jack McClelland writer-in-residence at Massey College. The Varsity sat down with David Gilmour in his Kensington Market home.

The Varsity: Your latest book, The Film Club, is really amazing. Do you think there was any chance this experiment to let your son drop out could have failed?

David Gilmour: Yeah, it could have failed in a whole bunch of ways. I worried almost every night for three years that he was going to end up in a cab and smoking pot in a doughnut shop at three in the morning. There are a number of people who think that my decision was really an irresponsible thing to do. They’re wrong, I was right.

My son was being killed by high school. There was nothing wrong with him, he just hated it. The truth is, good kids find a way to be happy. All you have to do is not wreck them on the way to becoming who they are.

TV: Why have you chosen real life as subject matter, whether in The Film Club or in works such as How Boys See Girls (1991) and Sparrow Nights (2001), as fictionalized real-life experience?

DG: I think a shortcoming, personally, is that I’m self-absorbed, and I think the upside to self-absorption is that you can use it creatively. But I also think my work is artistically developed enough that it’s not about my life—it’s about being a sexualized, self-aware male in the twentieth century.

TV: This theme is hardly new. For example, poets such as Irving Layton or Leonard Cohen have written about being a man and being sexual.

DG: But there are hardly any other novelists other than me who write about having sex and sexual addiction, and sexual obsession. American writers do it all the time. Canadian sex scenes are not so good. Canadian writers are a little more moralistic, and readers too. I don’t think anybody in this country writes about sex as well as I do.

TV: Some writers research subject matter and try to live it, almost like method acting. You’ve never considered this?

DG: I’m not the kind of writer who could write about some Mennonite woman in the 1930s overcoming difficulty on the prairies and becoming a better person. I don’t care about any of that stuff. Canadian novelists have a terrible propensity to write about the past, and do a whole tonne of research, and I just can’t imagine how they could stay interested in it, or who in God’s name ever reads these books.

TV: All of your books are set in Toronto— you really give life to this city. Why do you love Toronto so much? What’s the essence of it?

DG: If you’re going to write about your own life, you’re going to write the truth about where it happened. I have the same relationship with Toronto that Woody Allen has with Manhattan: it’s the backdrop for all of my emotional episodes. Every street in the Annex vibrates with some past episode in my life. Toronto is an exquisite city but it also happened to be the place where my life played itself out. So why change anything?

TV: I’ve heard you’re quitting fiction for good. Is this true?

DG: Yeah, I feel like I’m written out. I feel like some guy who’s just played in a rock band for 20 years and he just can’t face loading up the amps and the drums into the van one more time, and I feel like writing a novel is literally like this. I don’t want to write non-fiction either. I want to be in the world again. Any books right now are just going to be a retread of stuff I’ve already thought about. I’d be happy not to write anything ever again, to be absolutely honest with you. It’s like a relationship: sometimes these things just run their course. They’re great, and then they’re over.

David Gilmour’s The Film Club is in bookstores everywhere.