Today’s guest is Canadian fiction writer, Bill Engleson. When I learned of his book Like a Child to Home and its subject matter, I was thoroughly impressed and intrigued: a story about a social worker and the world of child care services told in an accurate manner by a former social worker. A social worker myself, I am often disgusted by how these subjects are treated in media so Bill’s story resonated with me and I immediately wanted to feature it so that others can meet this distinguished and passionate writer as well as get to know the subject that has captivated his heart and imagination. Everyone, please welcome Bill Engleson.
Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?
I am a retired Canadian child welfare social worker. I live with my wife and two cats on a small island off of the east coast of Vancouver Island. I’m getting on in years (67) which is an expression I hesitated to use but did just to make sure the reader knows I’m no spring chicken. I have been a fish-eating vegetarian for over 30 years. This has nothing to do with my writing but, given how boring I am, I thought it might spice up this section.
Although I get my greatest pleasure from writing, an equally rewarding activity of mine is volunteering in my community. I sit on a couple of local Society Boards, and chair one of them. Both provide medical services, one solely on my Island and the other on our neighbouring Island as well. Though I grew up in a small town, I lived most of my working life in the Lower Mainland of BC. Retiring to an Island of 1000 people continues to provide a bit of a cultural shock for me. Nevertheless, it has allowed me to write in a variety of ways and have my work circulated locally.
Are you interested in other forms of artistic expression besides writing? Why are you drawn to writing and what keeps you motivated/inspired?
Aside from singing in the shower, I occasionally (and friends are thankful it is only incredibly rarely) warble songs at our local Island Open Stage. So, mostly I like to write. I love to find new ways to express thoughts, to challenge ideas. As I mentioned a bit earlier, I have written quite a bit of social and political satire and had most of it published in our local island monthly journal, the Flagstone.
Like many writers, I suspect, I am constantly searching for intriguing bits of news, stray events and the like, that will serve to keep me interested in the world. The world is a fascinating place, dangerous to be sure, but majestical always. But to the specific question of motivation/inspiration, my desire is to capture, with a fictional twist, some of the world of social work. That is my raison d’etre for writing and what keeps me plugging away.
Being a social worker myself, I appreciate that you are presenting the profession accurately, as opposed to how it’s often depicted in movies, for example. Well done!
What draws you to novel writing? Do you write in other formats? What can you never see yourself writing?
In my teens, I crafted abysmal poems. A few were published in the local paper. In 1965, my high school annual had the questionable judgement to print a couple as well. I won 3rd prize. No money; just the glory. In my mid 20’s, I began, and almost finished, a novel about a private detective. It is a book I still intend to finish. I have written a few short stories, some of them out there as submissions as I speak. I also enjoy writing poetry. I have posted a few on my website/blog which I will mention perhaps a few times during this interview.
The articles I have written over the years for the Flagstone are principally of two types. For quite a while I wrote a column called Dira Diary. DIRA is our Island resident`s association. I served on it early in my tenure here and was asked to write a column describing each meeting. In no time at all, I was fabricating the meeting, satirizing our small town interests and politics. It was a tad irreverent but many people seemed to enjoy the columns rather than attend the meetings. I feel like I may have undermined democracy here quite a bit.
I have also written a column called Confessions of a Gentrified Soul. A sample is on my website.
I have written one novel. It began as a short story. I quickly decided that I had the material to produce a novel. Only the reader will know if that was a wise choice.
As a reader, what do you think makes a good story? What’s one thing a ‘bad’ book taught you to not do in your own writing?
I have to believe that the characters are “real.” They have to convince me. That`s what I am drawn to; actual people making human choices, living authentic lives.
As for ‘bad’ books, I am not really aware of any. There are books I pick up, begin to read and, at some early moment, usually, feel that they are not for me…I put them down, strangers I will never get to know. The good thing is that there are plenty of others waiting to be read.
What elements do you find are the most crucial to include in your stories? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
As I write stories about people, their foibles, their ways of being, believability is a key ingredient for me. In fact, I went to great creative difficulty to keep the various stories in the book underplayed. I restrained myself from exaggerating events and motivations. This may be both a strength and a weakness.
What draws you to your preferred genre? Why is it popular? (Or perhaps less popular than it could be?)
Crime and mystery fiction are my preferred genres, to both read, and I suppose, influence me in my writing. I hope their influence can be seen in Like a Child to Home.
Can you tell us about your books? What other projects are you working on?
Like a Child to Home is my first published novel. It tells the story of a couple of weeks late in the career of my child welfare social worker protagonist, Wally Rose. Wally works on a specialized team that provides a range of services and supports to older teens, some in care of the state, others on the fringe of care.
There is a secondary narrative that tells the story, or sketches in the story, of Carla Baynes Prentice, from childhood to motherhood. Her daughter, Skye, has run away and that absence helps drive the overall narrative.
My major project at the moment is a prequel to my first novel, Like a Child to Home. I hadn’t actually planned to write a prequel but the challenge evolved to tell the story of Wally’s evolution as a social worker, as a person. In Like a Child to Home, I presented a wide array of brief portraits of young people in and around the world of state care. My prequel, tentatively called Drawn towards the Sun, will hone in more intimately on the lives of 4 young people, as well as a more personal examination of Wally’s family life.
Both books sound really interesting, and again, I appreciate the story-lines and their focus. I hope readers will pick up the book and its prequel when it’s ready.
Did you choose a traditional publisher or self-publish? Do you have advice for anyone taking that route?
I didn’t actually look for a traditional publisher. A friend shared with me the process by which she self-published her novel and I sort of tagged along. I used a company called Friesen Press. I have no advice to offer, I’m afraid. Self-publishing is a very personal choice. It’s exciting and the rewards, if I am any example, are in the process.
If a traditional publisher came along and wanted to publish something of mine, I would jump at the opportunity.
What do you find is the most difficult aspect of writing and how do you cope with it?
Promotion. Selling the darn thing. Most authors have to deal with promotion, with marketing. There are so many books out there. I need to emphasize how unique mine is and hopefully that will encourage people to buy a copy. Here’s another original thought; I’d much rather write a novel than market one. How do I cope with all this marketing angst? I enjoy the moment. I also take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. Your generous invitation, Dyane, to interview me, is a wonderful gesture.
The pleasure is mine.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
I am a fan of detective fiction. Initially I was drawn to the works of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, principally because of the movies made of their novels. Lately, I rediscovered the Martin Beck police procedurals, written decades ago by Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall.
Current writers such as Ian Rankin, Philip Kerr and Sue Grafton are but three of an amazing list of writers who write popular fiction with a crime motif yet who seem to me to capture the ethos, the social and cultural intensity of the times in which they write.
What advice would you give to new writers, especially those looking to break into your genre?
If I have a genre, it is social work fiction, a most obscure genre. I would heartily encourage other social workers to pick up a pen, or keyboard, I suppose, and write away. I don’t imagine we will glut the market with 100’s of novels by social workers revealing the ups and downs of the complex world of social work…
How can readers get into contact with you?
My website/blog provides the easiest way to find out about me or acquire the book.
This Friesen Press link will also get you there directly.
My promo links:
Bill, it was a real pleasure to have you join us today. I’m thrilled to have been able to feature you and your book, and I wish you the best as you continue to bring books about social work into the world. Readers, I encourage you to leave Bill a message below and to check out his contact links.
Thanks for stopping by, and have a great week!