20 Questions with Gary Collins

Ashley Fitzpatrick afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com
Published on March 31, 2014
Author Gary Collins. — Photo by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Gary Collins of Hare Bay has worked as a logger, a truck driver and a fisheries guardian, but has been spending more and more of his time in recent years researching famous stories from Newfoundland and Labrador and Maritime history.

He uses that research to write what he refers to as fact-based fiction and, since starting as an author, Collins has become one of the province’s most prolific.

His titles, available from Flanker Press, include “Cabot Island: The Alex Gill Story,” “The Last Farewell: The Loss of the Collett,” “Mattie Mitchell: Newfoundland’s Greatest Frontiersman,” “Soulis Joe’s Lost Mine: A Newfoundland Memoir,” “Where Eagles Lie Fallen: The Crash of Arrow Air Flight 1285” and “The Gale of 1929: A True Story of Adventure on the High Seas.”

He penned a children’s book “What Colour is the Ocean?” published in 2009 and offered a personal memoir, “A Day on the Ridge: The Life of a Woodsman,” in 2012.

His latest title, “Left to Die: the Story of the SS Newfoundland Sealing Disaster,” has returned him to the realm of historical fiction.

As explained in his introduction, the book was in part sparked by a conversation years ago between Collins and Cecil Mouland, a survivor of the Newfoundland sealing disaster of 1914.

Following a reading from the book on Saturday at the A.C. Hunter public library at the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John’s, Collins sat to tackle 20 Questions with The Telegram.

While he is often researching and writing, he said he also heads out into the wilderness from time to time to get away from it all.

“More people would say there’s no wilderness left anymore. I don’t agree. Wilderness is a state of mind. Wilderness is just beyond your fence,” he said.

“The wind is blowing. The birds are there. You’re among the wild things. You don’t have to be up in some valley in Siberia or up in the Rockies.”

His preferred destination is his remote log cabin, which he built. In the winter, he said, he can head there by snowmobile and, while he has a generator, he typically uses only lamp light.

He said he has travelled, has worked in the Arctic and taken a Caribbean cruise, but he would rather spend his time in Newfoundland.

“For me, I like time alone by rivers and by inland valleys and by the sea washing up on the shore. That’s what I like,” he said. “And right here in my province you can find all of that.”


What is your full name?

Gary Cecil Collins


Where and when were you born?

August 1949 in Hare Bay, Bonavista Bay. North side Bonavista Bay.


What’s wrong with the other side

of Bonavista Bay?

Nothing. Well, I wasn’t born there.


Where is home for you today?

Hare Bay in Bonavista Bay. Same place I was born. I live 300 feet from the water (with a) big window facing the bay.


What’s the best part about living

in a small community?

It’s just a wonderful place to live, to put it simply. I grew up there. All my family’s history, all my memories are there. I have no desire to leave. I’ve worked in the western Arctic and all over different places in Canada, but I prefer to stay right where I am. Right where I was born. I live two houses down from where I was born.


You’ve had a variety of jobs

over the course of your life.

What has been your favourite?

Logger. I was a logger, a woodsman. I have a big affinity for the woods and all things woodsy.


What are you reading at the moment?

Right now I am reading Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson” and “Those Extraordinary Twins,” just to get away from some of the research.


Who is your favourite author?

My favourite author is Thomas Hardy.


What is your favourite movie?

I like adventure stuff, “Lord of the Rings” ... but that’s a bit too fantastical for me. I like “Gladiator” and that kind of stuff. History-based.


What is your personal motto?

Do the best I can do in this life before I die. With all things — pertaining to all things that I’m involved with.


What do you like to do to relax?

Play guitar. It takes me away from it all. I started when I was 13 years old. I’m no better now than I was then. (smiles broadly)


Do you remember the first song

you played?

Yes I do. It’s called “You’re the only star in my blue heaven.” It was taught to me by my uncle ... And when I picked up a guitar, that was the first one I played. Picked it out. But now of course I chord it. (He sings the chorus)


What would you do if you won

the lottery?

I would make sure my family were secure, first and foremost, before the tax man. And I would seek out an accountant ... between us I would decide what I’d do with the money for the rest of my life.


Who is one person, living or deceased, you'd love to have lunch with?

I’d like to have a lunch again with my uncle, who died two years ago. He and me spent a lot of time together and a lot of things I wish I had said to him.


What's the best meal you've ever had?

Pan fried cod, cooked by my wife, in my kitchen overlooking the bay.


What's your favourite article

of clothing?

Leather vest.


What was your most difficult book

to write?

I would have to say “Left to Die,” the last one. Because of the research and because of a deep shadow that was cast by Cassie Brown’s book “Death on the Ice” and I knew I would probably questioned and judged and relegated by her book. And when I started I was into it 10,000 words and I was still afraid of it, because I thought I was intruding on someone else’s work and my wife, Rose, who is my first editor who reads everything, she said, ‘What’s wrong with you? This is not Cassie Brown’s story’. ... I’m past it now. And I am past it. This is not a ripoff, a knockoff. This is my story, how I perceived it from my research and the events that I’ve gathered. This is from my head and no one else’s.


When did you start writing

for publication? What was the first thing you wrote?

I started writing years ago for eulogies for people, who would ask me to write things. “Oh man, could you put something together for uncle so and so?” And I would.


What household chore do you hate most?

All of ’em.


What is your favourite place

in Newfoundland and Labrador?

Where I live. Well, all over the island actually.