Esi Edugyan still recalls visiting her partner Steven Price when the young couple started dating nearly two decades ago.
As a 20-something student enrolled in the University of Victoria’s creative writing program, Esi lived in Victoria’s Cook Street village. She didn’t own a car. Travelling to see Steven on the West Shore was always a major expedition.
“I had to take three buses and then, at the end of the last ride, I had to hike up a steep hill,” she says.
Twenty years have brought plenty of changes.
The couple began their lives together downtown but eventually settled in Colwood and started a family, all while crafting impressive literary careers.
|Esi Edugyan and Steve Price at their kitchen table. Don Denton photograph.|
Esi is the author of three novels. She emerged onto Canada’s literary stage with the release of The Second Life of Samuel Tyne in 2004. The ominous and moving portrayal of life in rural Alberta was nominated for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. Half-Blood Blues, a story about politics, race, music and relationships in Nazi Germany won Canada’s Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for English language fiction, Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the United Kingdom’s prestigious Man Booker Prize. In 2012, the book received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. Her latest book, Washington Black, has just been released.
Steven has earned numerous honours for his poetry, including the Gerald Lampert Award in 2006 for Anatomy of Keys, which was also named a Globe & Mail Book of the Year.
In 2011, he completed Into That Darkness, a thriller set in modern-day Victoria. Having secured a coveted international book deal, Price then produced what may arguably be his most ambitious work to date. By Gaslight, recently released in paperback format, is an intriguing tale of globe-spanning mystery set largely in Victorian-era London.
The work is loosely inspired by a Price family tale about Steven’s great-grandfather, who fled England after a “spot of bother” with the law. At the end of his westward journey across the continent, A.E. Price settled on southern Vancouver Island, where he started a locksmith business. Price’s Alarms has since grown to become Canada’s oldest private security firm. The prevalence of decals emblazoned with the trademark red, upper-case “P” on storefront windows and residences in Victoria and across Western Canada speaks to the venture’s success through successive generations.
It’s those deep roots and family ties that encouraged Steven, Esi and the couple’s two young children — both under six years of age — to call Colwood home.
They agree life on the West Shore offers a good balance of the rural and urban. A walk along the Esquimalt Lagoon Bird Sanctuary, where Emily Carr used to camp out and paint landscapes of a wild coast, or a trip to downtown are only a short ride away. Esi, who was born and raised across the mountains in Calgary, has warmed to her new home.
“Even eight years ago, when I first moved here, it felt very far,” she says. “I don’t have that feeling any more.”
Now in their early forties, Esi and Steven are writers of international renown, their books translated into multiple languages, and yet their lives follow a routine familiar to many young families. They embark on weekend family excursions to the Saanich Peninsula or points up the island, spend lots of time at the library and take regular trips to the Royal Bay Bakery for inspiration.
Following our interview at a snug neighbourhood coffee shop, they were off to collect the kids from school.
Picking up the children is a welcome reprieve from their respective writing routines. Both spend up to six hours a day researching projects, trying out ideas, developing characters and unraveling storylines. Esi describes home-office life as providing flexibility but not necessarily the degree of freedom that many office workers might idealize.
First order of business for Esi is digging into a good book, something to get her in the right frame of mind to begin churning out her own narrative voice. Steven jokes that he still has his original writing shirt, its fibres so worn out that he’s had to begin wearing a second one over top just to hold everything together. Neither place much credence in writing talismans, but be careful about grabbing their cherished coffee mugs while you’re paying them a visit!
There are often multiple ideas on the go, only some of which ever live to see a final chapter.
|Esi Edugyan and Steve Price at home. Don Denton photograph.|
When the kids are home from school, the family adheres to an open-door policy. There is no downtime. No hiding at your desk.
“Right from the beginning we’ve had this open door policy,” he says. “We found that when they felt they could come in and talk with us they didn’t feel the need all of the time.
“A closed door is an invitation.”
The advantage of having a fellow writer under the same roof to help work through problems, fuel inspiration and offer advice speaks for itself. Each has grown to welcome the chance to act as sounding board, test reader and advice counsellor. It can happen over dinner, on a Sunday drive or in the middle of the night.
“It’s extremely helpful,” Esi says. “Steven is a great editor as well as a great writer, so it’s amazing to be able to pass him stuff. I can’t believe I have this calibre of an editor right at home.”
Coming out of the trance-like space caused by extended periods of creative work, they credit the children for easing their transition back to normalcy.
“It sounds crazy when you don’t have kids of your own, but it’s a wonderful thing that these are your best friends in the world and you’re spending time with them,” Steven adds.
As their family life and careers have evolved so too has the city they call home. Steven recalls a childhood of dirt biking with pals in Colwood’s scrubby vacant lots. His neighbourhood had a gritty, rough-around-the-edges reputation. Not so anymore, as new housing projects and commercial developments reshape the landscape. The City of Colwood doesn’t feel so far away these days.
“It was such a different place back then,” Steven says. “Being somebody who was born and raised here, I think it would be perfectly natural to be disgruntled about all these people coming, but I don’t feel that at all. I feel great optimism.”
-Story by Sean McIntyre