Canada’s cel­e­brated lit­er­ary ed­i­tor is no “Mr. Fancy Pants”

Dou­glas Gib­son is bring­ing his tales of fa­mous Cana­dian au­thors to Cabot Trail Writ­ers Fes­ti­val

The Victoria Standard - - Arts - CAROLYN BAR­BER

If you want the god’s hon­est truth, ask Dou­glas Gib­son.

It’s one of the qual­i­ties that has made him the trust­wor­thy ed­i­tor for many of Canada’s most dis­tin­guished au­thors. He at­tributes his ap­proach­a­bil­ity and hon­esty as an ed­i­tor to his small vil­lage up­bring­ing in Scot­land.

“The one thing you can’t be among Scots is a fancy pants guy who thinks he’s bet­ter than ev­ery­one else. What they [au­thors] got was this vil­lage guy who grew up in a pop­u­la­tion of 700 and who was just an or­di­nary guy that treated ev­ery­one as equal. That meant if they were ex­pect­ing to be treated as kings, they had the wrong guy,” said Gib­son in a phone in­ter­view from his home in Toronto on Sept. 7.

Gib­son has edited the work of Robert­son Davies, Alice Munro, Mor­ley Cal­laghan and Alistair Macleod among oth­ers. In June, 2017, he re­ceived the Or­der of Canada.

In his days of teach­ing, he en­cour­aged the same hon­esty-is-the-best-pol­icy ap­proach amongst his stu­dents.

“I told them that the most im­por­tant task they had was to get the au­thor to be­lieve that they were on the same side, that they were giv­ing the au­thor their hon­est re­ac­tion to ev­ery­thing about the book. The au­thor may not agree with it, but they could count on the fact that this was ab­so­lute hon­esty.” His other piece of ad­vice? “As an ed­i­tor, change as lit­tle about the man­u­script as pos­si­ble, but as much as nec­es­sary. Some peo­ple feel an ed­i­tor must earn his or her keep by mak­ing marks, but if what you’re see­ing is per­fect, leave it.”

This ap­proach was the pol­ish used on Alistair Macleod’s 1999 mul­ti­ple award-win­ning novel, No Great Mis­chief.

“I was read­ing Alistair’s work and, you know, first page, sec­ond page. I just sat back, be­cause it was per­fect.”

Gib­son has lead a con­trary life in the book pub­lish­ing world. He in­sisted on re­main­ing an ed­i­tor de­spite his pro­mo­tion to pub­lisher, and then Pres­i­dent of Mac­clel­land and Ste­wart in the late 1980s.

“The usual thing is you’re an ed­i­tor, then you’re pro­moted to pub­lisher and you stop edit­ing. I said to hell with that! Be­cause this is what I’m good at and this is what au­thors seem to ap­pre­ci­ate.”

Gib­son also mas­tered edit­ing and pub­lish­ing be­fore be­com­ing an au­thor, an un­con­ven­tional path and a de­ci­sion he laments. He wasn’t aware of the re­as­sur­ance an au­thor wants and needs from an ed­i­tor un­til he be­gan to pen his own sto­ries.

“I knew that writ­ing was a lonely game. That the writer is work­ing alone, usu­ally in a quiet room, hour af­ter hour, with no feed­back. That’s lonely and it’s in­evitable that doubt creeps in.”

Mor­ley Cal­laghan once in­sisted Gib­son come to his home to read his lat­est man­u­script. While Gib­son re­viewed the man­u­script, Cal­laghan made ev­ery ef­fort to en­sure Gib­son was com­fort­able, had enough light, food and drink. He would not re­lax un­til Gib­son had as­sured him his writ­ing was good.

“That was what he needed to hear. This guy who had been writ­ing and pub­lish­ing for 60 years.”

Gib­son had no time to think about the se­quence of his ca­reer. He stum­bled into pub­lish­ing, a job that im­me­di­ately suited him, at a time when Cana­dian pub­lish­ing be­gan to flour­ish.

“In 1967, Cana­di­ans were be­com­ing ex­cited about Cana­dian things. Sud­denly, there were young writ­ers like At­wood and Munro, and new pub­lish­ing com­pa­nies spring­ing up. It was a ris­ing tide, and it was float­ing all our boats. I was lucky to be part of that. I’ve been lucky to be part of it ever since.”

Gib­son ar­rived in Canada by Grey­hound bus on Sept 8, 1967, fresh out of a Mas­ters de­gree at Yale Univer­sity. He had a vague idea about a ca­reer – pub­lish­ing and jour­nal­ism sounded fun – but no stead­fast plans. Af­ter briefly couch­surf­ing at friends' houses in Hamil­ton, ON, he landed his first edi­to­rial job edit­ing none other than Stephen Lea­cock the au­thor that had first turned him on to Cana­dian lit­er­a­ture grow­ing up in Scot­land.

Th­ese days the ed­i­tor-turned-ed­i­tor/pub­lisher who coaxed the best out of Cana­dian au­thors, trav­els the coun­try re­count­ing his most trea­sured in­ter­ac­tions with them. Gib­son has turned his two books Sto­ries About Sto­ry­tellers (2014) and Across Canada by Story (2015) into stage per­for­mances.

Gib­son’s next stop is the Cabot Trail Writ­ers Fes­ti­val, tak­ing place at the Gaelic Col­lege Septem­ber 29, 30 and Oc­to­ber 1. For more de­tails about this year’s vis­it­ing writ­ers and to pur­chase tick­ets, visit www.cabot­trail­writ­ers­fes­ti­val.com.

Gib­son's lat­est book.

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