-The October Icelandic Roots Book Club Gathering Features the Novelist, Poet, Teacher, Journalist, W.D. Valgardson
By Heather Goodman Lytwyn
Where does one start tracing the life’s work of W.D. Valgardson? If you Google Wikipedia, you will find a page and a half list of his bibliography from 1973 to 2011. The list is incomplete, not including the novel we focus on for the October Icelandic Roots Book Club: In Valhalla’s Shadows, published in 2018.
His books include poetry, novels, short stories, and children’s stories. Some of his short stories have been performed in television productions, stage plays, films, and radio broadcasts. For a time, he was the editor of the Winnipeg Icelandic newspaper, Lögberg Heimskringla, and he still publishes articles with them regularly.
If you want a sample of Bill’s articles, go to Your Page in the Icelandic Roots Database. Under the heading “Search Options” in the blue sidebar, select “All Media.” Then type in the name W.D. Valgardson, and press the bar beside it that says “search.” You will get three choices. The first is a movie review Bill wrote. The second highlights the novel In Valhalla’s Shadows with Elizabeth Philips’ succinct sentence found on the back cover of the book: “W.D. Valgardson’s terrific new novel is populated by xenophobic Vikings, pagan back-to-the-landers, a trip of witchy crones, and more than one lonely woman hoping to seduce the wounded ex-cop protagonist.”
The third choice is a selection of blog posts written by Bill. They are worth reading, but one is an example of serendipity because it is a review written in January 2016 about the novel Someone to Watch Over Me by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir. Originally written in Icelandic, this novel was translated by Philip Roughton, one of our guests for the September book club. Ending the review, Bill wrote: “If you like a good plot, suspense, conflict, good characterization, setting, enjoyable writing, then buy Yrsa’s latest effort. Phil Roughton does a fine job of translation.” Isn’t it funny how we learn about someone or something in one place and it turns up somewhere else?
So getting back to the book selection for October 6, what reader of Icelandic literature doesn’t like a good mystery? The opening lines of the first chapter of In Valhalla’s Shadows have Bill’s beautiful imagery and typical hook - making us want to keep on reading to find out more:
When Tom nearly tripped over her, the false dawn was just starting. The east side of the lake had lightened with nautical twilight, but there was no sign of the sun. Pools of darkness obscured everything, including the person lying on the ground.
It, he thought, it, he, she, someone, a person, a person was lying there, where no one should be.
We are immediately inside Tom’s head. We are drawn in by his desire to start a new life in a small town, removed from the traumas of being a policeman in the city and all the baggage that goes with that. But we know, only too well, that it is not just the big city where murders occur. There is no safe haven. Confronted by another crime, how can a man like Tom not be compelled to find out what happened? How can you not want to know what he learns?
Find out more about this mystery and the author at our October 6th book club discussion. Bill was born in Winnipeg in 1939 and raised in Gimli, where his Icelandic father was a fisherman. Bill completed his BA at United College, BEd at the University of Manitoba, and his MFA at the University of Iowa. He taught high school in Snow Lake, Manitoba, taught creative writing at the University of Victoria and was a professor of English at Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri.
After success in several writing contests, Bill published his first collection of ten short stories, Bloodflowers, in 1971. Three years later, he joined the faculty of the University of Victoria, where he worked for thirty years, helping students learn the craft of writing. In 1975, God is Not a Fish Inspector, his second collection of short stories was published. His writing and teaching have taken him near and far, and if you have not met the man who returns to his hometown of Gimli every summer, now is your chance. Join our conversation with W.D. Valgardson on Zoom on October 6.