The second speaker of the Monday night Grimsby Author Series was Kevin Patterson, promoting his latest book, News from the Red Desert. This author who also practices critical care and outreach medicine is a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on a sailboat in Saltspring Island.
His novel was introduced as a “contemporary war novel” trying to help readers to understand the chaos of war. Patterson was heartfelt in his discussion about both the war in Afghanistan and his novel. He shared that he had been a “terrible infantry officer” but was able to pursue his medical studies in the military. He ended up in charge of the artillery base in Shiloh where the soldiers were quite healthy allowing him enough free time to start writing short stories. After amassing an “incredible collection of rejection slips” his work began to sell. He joked that “if it had been a more animated place, I probably would have hung out a cafes and flirted with waitresses” but instead he became an author.
Initially, Patterson was optimistic with the military role to help the Afghan people leading to a happier future for the country but the sad fate was that the mission was not a success. He began to consider the relationship between journalists and the media, which he referred to as “infotainment”, with combat and war zones. He feels that the “media is intoxicated with war” and that “excitement and enthusiasm builds up covering war stories” and the media becomes “the architects of the war” and how it is perceived by consumers of the news. News from the Red Desert features a female correspondent as the main character who tries to make sense of the chaos of the war.
When questioned about his approach to writing, he shared that he typically writes our a chapter, sentence by sentence. As things happen, he may jump ahead making notes for subsequent chapters which are waiting for him when he gets that far. He feels that there is danger in planning too carefully because writing like true life is full of dead ends and can be “circuitous nonsense”. At the same time, the story needs to move ahead so there is a balance between writing to the end and following a map.
Patterson stayed to sign books and the puzzle as to why his fingers were blue was revealed as he signed books with a fountain pen and a pot of ink. I look forward to read his earlier book, Consumption, set in Rankin Inlet.