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Q&A: Trevor Herriot on his new book, becoming a legend and more

Prairie naturalist Trevor Herriot's latest book, The Road Is How, chronicles three days he spent walking the land in Saskatchewan following a tumble that could have been his last. His deep engagement with the nature that surrounds him forms the meat of the story.

Why did you write your new book?

The title comes from Kierkegaard who said "the road is how it is walked." The dark road stretching ahead of us will require a renewed commitment to science and reason, but also a wiser use of human desire, imagination, and dream. This book invites people to let go of their dogmas of religion, economy, philosophy and science long enough to choose how best to walk the road ahead. Will we continue to proceed in delusion, denial and distraction or will we find ways to travel with our minds and hearts wide open? In the book I try to widen the standard inquiry into nature, by following some old ways: sitting on a hill, walking on a road, and employing words, imagination and narrative to locate a richer, enlarged and more conscious universe dwelling below the surface. We need rationality and the reasoned critique of the Ronald Wrights and Jared Diamonds warning us that the myth of progress is a sham, but we also need to find ways to expand the inquiry and to mature beyond our chronically addictive and adolescent culture.

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Whose sentences are your favourite, and why?

For the simplicity, elegance, and pleasing sound of his sentences, I like E.B. White. For sheer power and intricacy, I like Faulkner. Writing is conducted in silence most of the time, but good sentences live in the ear.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

Don't be afraid to fail or make a fool of yourself. If you stop taking risks as a writer you will stagnate.

Which historical period do you wish you'd lived through, and why?

I think I would choose another period where our inquiry into the nature of the universe and the role of the human was making great shifts. Perhaps the decades following the publication of Copernicus's On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres or following publication of Darwin's The Origin of Species.

Would you rather be successful during your lifetime and then forgotten or legendary after death?

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When I look through used book shops, I wonder about the dead and forgotten people whose books sharpen the air with the smell that is the writer's memento mori. So, yes, given that success is hard to measure in this life, by all means make me into a legend, even a lesser one whose smelly old books may be taken down and opened now and then.

What agreed-upon classic do you despise?

Can't say I despise any classics, but I have trouble with most narratives featuring the feckless beneficiaries of colonization mincing about in English drawing rooms – no matter how ironic or sophisticated.

Which fictional character do you wish you'd created?

Huck Finn. Huck has a heart to match the river, and the courage to escape all purveyors of dogma to find out for himself what this life is about.

Which fictional character do you wish you were?

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Cosimo in Italo Calvino's The Baron in the Trees. Who would not want to climb up into the holm oak and chestnut canopy of pre-industrial Liguria's forests and live there above the ground right through puberty and a first love?

What question do you wish people would ask about your work (that they don't ask)?

Do you write while you walk? All of my books contain passages that came to me as I walked, but this is my first book to use walking as the narrative line.

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