Will shared the story of how his career path, and consequently, his life path changed all in an effort to escape a highschool chemistry class. He had been accepted into U of A law school and was tying up all his final credits (hence, chemistry) when he used an info session on the Katimavik program to get out of class. Once there, he was intrigued by the opportunity to travel so when his application was accepted, he deferred law school.
After the Katimavik experience he joined Canada World Youth, an exchange program where a group of 12 students are selected to represent the demographics of Canada (ethnicity, home province, language, etc) and sent on exchange to volunteer in another country. He shared funny stories of his time in Ecuador, including one about improvising a sort of square dance to represent Canada.
He took the audience on a journey, sharing his travel stories and career moves along the way in his always humorous style. The crowd ate it up, encouraging him to squeeze in a “naked Shelagh Rogers” story at the end that didn’t disappoint.
Among his best known nonfiction is Why I Hate Canadians, followed by How to be a Canadian (the concept of which was originally suggested to Will by Margaret Atwood). Co-written with his brother, Ian Ferguson, he shared a valuable tip for co-authoring: divide by word count, not chapter (or not – if you want to stick it to your co-author). Ian wrote the chapter “Sports and/or Recreation” (p 87-101) and Will wrote “How the Canadiana Gov’t Works” (two words on page 187).
In various press, author bios and interviews in other countries, Will shared that the title Why I Hate Canadians has been altered because the editors seem unable to wrap their heads around hating Canadians. The Japanese assumed it must have been called Why I Hate Comedians while the Aussies referenced it as Why I Don’t Like Canadians; Will says it may as well be called Why I Hate Bambi’s Mother!
Aside from the copious side-splitting laughs of the morning, he offered some excellent observations about what makes our country so special, and how volunteerism fits into that. Indeed, in all his travels he’s found that volunteerism appears to be an international value: people want to help people.
Following the talk, we had the chance to meet and he’s equally funny one-on-one. He shared that 419 (the 2012 Giller Prize winner) was originally intended to be a funny story about a Nigerian Prince who couldn’t give away his money, but after reading police reports of the scams, he realized it was too dark a topic to go that route.
Will Ferguson is a brilliant Canadian author, who has a special view of our country and its people. His nonfiction and fiction alike are beautifully written, with both funny and poignant moments. Readers should keep an eye out for a new book coming this summer.