TED BISHOP, AUTHOR OF THE SOCIAL LIFE OF INK, ON CRAFTING NARRATIVE NON-FICTION (MF GALAXY 058)
HOW THE BANFF CENTRE CHANGED HIS LIFE, WHY YOU NEED TO LEARN TO WRITE PROPOSALS, HOW TO BE FAIR TO YOUR REAL-LIFE SOURCES, AND WHAT TO WRITE AFTER YOUR HIT
In 2014, Ted Bishop did the surprising: he wrote a book about ink, and it became a success. The book fits into a genre sometimes called commodity biographies which investigate how human needs produced a product to solve problems, and the problems and opportunities that product eventually created for its creators and humanity.
That story is the story of writing itself, of course, so it’s no wonder that Bishop, an English professor at the University of Alberta, would take it on. If there’s a stereotype of what an English professor is, Bishop isn’t it. With his facial features, beard, and slight stature, he looks very much like young George Lucas, although his hair is grey.
Bishop’s previous book, Riding with Rilke, was a Best Book choice of the Globe & Mail, CBC, and Playboy about the amazing people he met during his own motorcycle odysseys across North America that ended with a 160 km/h wipe-out and a back broken in two places. He lived, walked again, and wrote The Social Life of Ink.
I sat down with Ted Bishop on February 02, 2015 at the University of Alberta’s Humanities Centre to ask him about the craft of long-form nonfiction. Along the way, we discussed:
- Why he so values the world-renowned Banff Centre for the Arts, with artist residencies that give writers space, time, meals, and as a beautiful a setting as any place on the planet
- Why writers need to learn how to write proposals, and condense 30 pages of writing into 3 paragraphs
- Why long form writing is like hiking in the rain for eight hours before you can get into dry clothes,
- How to render real people as great characters, without turning them into caricatures, and
- How to decide what to write and what not to write after you’ve written a hit book.
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