Eating Dirt author Charlotte Gill shares a mouthful of inspiration at the Library, April 17

Last month, Choose Pemberton talked to Delaney and Alisha from IceCap Organics, and discovered that tree-planting is pretty much the best apprenticeship an organic farmer can have. “We learned how to work through hardship, both physical and mental, and we learned a lot about working with other people and building good relationships,” they said. Tree-planting seems to be good training for writers, too, if Charlotte Gill’s success is anything to go by.

The Powell River based author has planted about 1.5 million trees in her lifetime, and is now reaping a different kind of harvest from the experience, thanks to the success of her new book, Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribewhich won the BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction and is still sitting at #1 on the Vancouver Sun best-seller’s list, as well as being iTunes’ #1 Non-Fiction Book of the Year.

Word-lovers, tree-huggers, dirt-eaters and book-fiends alike will be stoked to know that Charlotte Gill will be at the Pemberton Library on April 17 at 7pm for a free author reading and chat.

The Pemberton Library has brought lots of sexynerdy authors to town, but Charlotte Gill’s might be the first twitter-brokered visit.

We asked her a few questions to get to know her, before she rocks up to the Library on Tuesday, at 7pm…

How has social media changed the life of writers?

With my last book, which was published in 2005, social media was just a fledgling notion. We had blogs but nothing like Facebook and Twitter campaigns. Now writers do much of their own marketing themselves, from home. There’s a level of direct contact between author and readers now that was hard to imagine even five years ago. If someone wants to send me a message, they don’t have to write a letter to the publisher that gets passed on months later. They can reach me almost instantly.

How has winning the BC National Award of Canadian Nonfiction changed the life of this particular writer?

An unexpected windfall is nice for anybody, especially when it comes at a point when you could really use it. That’s what happened to this writer. Prizes are wonderful boosts. They reaffirm the validity of a book, which is sometime easy to forget through all the ups and downs of the publishing process. But for me it’s important to come back down to earth, to return to the simple life, which mostly involves teaching, reading books, and writing in my pyjamas. As Zadie Smith says, it’s easy to confuse honours with achievement, but that’s a temptation worth resisting.

Has there been a singularly great moment arising from the publication of Eating Dirt that speaks to the experience?

My favourite part has giving talks, meeting readers. Getting email from tree planters, current and former. They tell me what it was like to read the book. They tell me their own stories–where they planted and for how long.

People feel really deeply about planting trees. About trees in general. I knew it was true for me, but wasn’t sure how the rest of the world felt.

Our town is full of former and current treeplanters. Is that unusual? Or is that just quintessentially Canadian?

Some places are meccas for tree planters in Canada. The Kootenays, the Comox Valley, the Squamish-Pemberton corridor. The places with mountains and forests, I’d say. Tree planters love to play outside. A local brewery helps, too.

Are you surprised how well this book has resonated with people?

I thought tree planters would want to read the book perhaps. But I wasn’t counting on tree planters’ moms! They’ve been huge supporters of the book. After Christmas I got dozens of emails from tree planters who’d received the book in their stockings.

Do people need to have read your book to enjoy your visit/reading?

No. I aim to give a taste of what the book is like. I read a bit from the book, and I also give a slideshow when I can. There’s nothing like tree planting photos to show what that life is like. It’s a little something extra for those who’ve already read it.

Will your book be available for purchase at the library event?

Yes, I’ll have books for sale. $30.

Are you making any other stops en route to Pemby?

I’m coming straight to Pemberton from my home in Powell River. It takes awhile to travel between these two points with the ferries and everything. People around here sometimes joke that it’d be faster just to walk to Whistler. We’re less than 100 miles away as the crow flies.

What’s the best thing about your life right now?


How long did it take you to write Eating Dirt? How many trees did you have to plant, by way of research? Even though your book is available for download (and is iTunes’ #1 Non Fiction Book of the Year), do you figure that buys you a certain number of tomes of paper to be spread around the world with your words printed on them?

I’m a slow writer. Eating Dirt took about five years. In my lifetime I’ve planted something like 1.5 million trees. Sometimes people ask me if I feel bad that books are printed on tree fibres. (Mine is made from recycled paper.) The book explores that topic in detail, since planting trees is subject, as an occupation, to that same irony. Many people believe that planting trees is a wholly virtuous environmental activity, but tree planters feel an ambivalence every day. We get our paycheques from the same industry that harvests the wood in the first place. We’re planting the timber supply of tomorrow. Tree planters can’t avoid knowing it’s a complicated affair. Tree products are all around us. We use them every day. That’s one of the incredible things I learned in the course of doing research for the book. It’s in our hardwood floors and paper napkins, obviously. But it’s also in our clothes, our nail polish. It’s even in our food sometimes.

Do you ever miss treeplanting? If so, what is it that you miss?

I miss tree planting a lot. It’s probably obvious from the tone of the book that I have a great affection for the profession. I miss being outside every day. I miss the wildness, the spontaneous adventures, and the freedom. And of course I miss the people.

What’s harder? Treeplanting? Or book writing?

That’s a tough one. I’d have to say planting trees.

What other day jobs keep you honest these days?

I teach writing at UBC. Next fall I’ll be doing the same at the Banff Centre.


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