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David Watmough Biography

David Watmough comments:

Nationality: Canadian. Born: London, England, 1926; became Canadian citizen in 1963. Education: Coopers' Company School, London, 1937-43; King's College, University of London, 1945-49, degree in theology. Military Service: Served in the Royal Navy, 1944-45. Career: Reporter, Cornish Guardian, Bodmin, Cornwall, 1943-44; editor, Holy Cross Press, New York, 1953-54; talks producer, BBC Third Programme, London, 1955; editor, Ace Books, London, 1956; feature writer and critic, San Francisco Examiner, 1957-60; arts and theater critic, Vancouver Sun, 1964-67; host of Artslib, weekly television show, 1979-80. Since 1991 arts columnist, Step magazine, Vancouver; since 1993 book reviewer and columnist for Xtra West, Vancouver, British Columbia. Awards: Canada Council senior arts grant, 1976, 1986; Province of British Columbia Arts award, for creative writing, 1994-95. Agent: Robert Drake, 1218 Saint Paul Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21202, U.S.A.



No More into the Garden. New York, Doubleday, 1978.

The Year of Fears. Toronto, Mosaic Press, 1988.

Families. Stamford, Connecticut, Knights Press, 1990.

Thy Mother's Glass. Toronto and New York, HarperCollins, 1992.

The Time of the Kingfishers. Vancouver, Arsenal Pulp, 1994.

Hunting with Diana. Vancouver, Arsenal Pulp Press, 1996.

Short Stories

Ashes for Easter and Other Monodramas. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1972.

Love and the Waiting Game: Eleven Stories. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1975.

From a Cornish Landscape. Padstow, Cornwall, Lodenek Press, 1975.

The Connecticut Countess. Trumansburg, New York, Crossing Press, 1984.

Fury. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1984.

Vibrations in Time. Toronto, Mosaic Press, 1986.

Uncollected Short Stories

"The Wounded Christmas Choirboy," in Canadian Short Stories. Kingston, Ontario, Quarry Press, 1990.

"Eurydice, May I Kiss the Cop?," in Certain Voices. Boston, Alyson, 1991.

"Thank You Siegfried Sassoon," in Indivisible. New York, NewAmerican Library, 1991.

"Wedding Dress for a Greek Groom," in Queeries. Vancouver, 1993.

"Cool Cats on the Internet," in Modern Words. San Francisco, 1994.

"Maiden Voyage," in Sayme. Boston, 1994.

"Leonard," in Church Wellesley Review. Toronto, 1994.

"Secrets of Diomedes," in the Gay Review. Toronto, 1995.


Friedhof (produced Vancouver, 1966). Included in Names for the Numbered Years, 1967.

Do You Remember One September Afternoon? (produced Vancouver, 1966). Included in Names for the Numbered Years, 1967.

Names for the Numbered Years: Three Plays (includes Do You Remember One September Afternoon?, Friedhof, My Mother's House Has Too Many Rooms). Vancouver, Bau-Xi Gallery, 1967.


A Church Renascent: A Study of Modern French Catholicism. London, SPCK, 1951.

The Unlikely Pioneer: Building Opera from the Pacific Through the Prairies. Toronto, Mosaic Press, 1986.

Editor, Vancouver Fiction. Winlaw, British Columbia, Polestar Press, 1985.


Critical Studies:

"The Novel That Never Ends: David Watmough's Reminiscent Fictions," in The World of Canadian Writing by George Woodcock, Vancouver, Douglas and McIntyre, and Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1980; in The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature edited by William Toye, Toronto, Oxford, and New York, Oxford University Press, 1983; article by Jerry Wasserman, in Canadian Writers since 1960 1st series, edited by W.H. New, Detroit, Gale, 1986; "The Human Whole" by Kate Sirluck, in Canadian Literature (Vancouver), Winter 1990.

In a very real sense I regard each successive volume of my fiction as part of an ongoing "novel" that will not be complete until I can no longer write. My work is an attempt to chronicle the private history of one man of Cornish ancestry living as a Canadian through the twentieth century. My fictional protagonist, Davey Bryant, is depicted in childhood, adolescence, maturity, and, currently, middle age. If the work finally succeeds then it will be because I have been able to muster the kind of candor and honesty that such a confessional narrative demands. Another feature of the work is the depiction of private history—including the most intimate sexual and psychological detail—against the backdrop of public events.

(1995) Although I continue to write through my protagonist, Davey Bryant, I have recently branched out and in my current stories [ Hunting with Diana ] have him tell of experiences inspired by Greek myth and classical legend but refashioned and shown on the Internet via his P.C. monitor. The eventual collection of connected fictions will be entitled Odysseys on the Internet.

* * *

The name of Proust often comes up when the Canadian fiction writer David Watmough is discussed, and though Watmough is no imitator of Proust, the affinities between the two are clear. Both are concerned with memory and its transforming power, and both tend to transmute their own memories into the stuff of fiction. Watmough has written several volumes of short stories, notably Ashes for Easter (his first), Love and the Waiting Game, and The Connecticut Countess, and also a trio of open-ended novels, (No More into the Garden, The Year of Fears, and Families).

Watmough's claim is that for the past two decades he has really been engaged in writing a single novel that will take a lifetime to complete. It is a claim that must be taken seriously, for the same central character, Davey Bryant, appears in almost all the fiction Watmough writes, whether it is short stories, novels, or the spoken and semi-dramatic fictions he calls monodramas.

Though this is no exact sense fictionalized autobiography, Davey Bryant does in many ways resemble Watmough in the same way as some of his experiences parallel his creator's. Yet the character stands apart, observed with irony and candour. But the observation is from within as well as without, and each story, each chapter of a novel, is a confession of ambivalent acts, ambivalent motives, for the screen between the straight and the gay world constantly wavers and dissolves and forms again.

In a way the saga of Davey Bryant is in the classic tradition of modernist fiction—a portrait of the artist as a young but aging man or dog. We follow him from his boyhood to middle age. But real life—from which so much undoubtedly comes—is modified by memory and changed by art, and Watmough's fictions walk a variety of tightropes, between actuality and truth, between the oral and the written mode.

These fictions are all essentially ironic, with the initial nostalgia of the vision always underlaid by the nagging memory, the jarring truth that provokes the nostalgia. Some of the most telling stories are those that evoke moments of folly or unworthiness which stir similar recollections in the reader to those the writer experiences, or, alternatively, make him uneasy because of the perilous closeness of the predicaments—frequently homosexual—that are delineated by the possibilities of his own life.

In the novels, especially, Davey Bryant is shown as both the victim of ludicrous circumstances and the perpetrator of petty moral atrocities. The victim is always seen to be seeking victory, and most personal relationships are marred by a cruelty that degrades one or other of the participants.

The recurrent themes are united on another level by a pervading elegiac consciousness; in the novel No More into the Garden, for example, the longed-for garden that is never re-entered is in one sense the Cornwall of childhood happiness, and in another the state of collective innocence that all men seek to recover. The garden, however, can become "a harvest of threats." By the novel's end the fullness of life is balanced by ever-present death, for as the mind expands in consciousness the physical possibilities narrow. Here, for Watmough, is the irony and also the elegy. But the garden survives in the Proustian reality, and even in a later collection of stories, Fury, there is a return to the world of childhood with all its innocence and brutality.

Later novels have taken the narrating hero through the successive lustra of inner development and outward adventure as Davey metamorphoses from the boy of the original stories to the middle-aged man of Families. The Year of Fears, for example, concerns the period of the Vietnam War when Davey lives in the pre-AIDS gay culture of California. When we come to Families he is settled in Vancouver, a city which not only has a considerable gay world, but also a good deal of friendly and mutually tolerant interaction between the gay and the straight communities. And here Davey seems at least to have found his special role, not only as a chronicler-participant of the gay world, but also as a kind of mediator among his friends: as if, like the celibacy of a priest, his different sexual role has given him a privileged position as a kind of emotional middle man in what turns out to be a multisexual world. The problems he encounters, and often dabbles in, give a serious cast to the novel, but the threat of solemnity is dispelled by an ironic, self-deprecating manner, in which gossip is used, rather as Proust used it, for revelation as much as diversion. Watmough has—and I say this approvingly rather than pejoratively—a talent for the trivial. He knows how to use it for the maximum ironic effect, and how to temper the dynamics of structure by beginning and ending his novel, as it were, in mid-thought. Families ends with two friends, a heterosexual woman and a homosexual man, in a semi-rural park:

There, where the gravel at the lake's edge gave way to a grass bank, we sat down in the October sun and stretched our legs. This time we saw no kingfishers.

It looks like an anti-climax; in fact it is continuity, tying in a cord from the past, yet paradoxically opening to an as yet unrevealed but perhaps already lived future. By contrast, Thy Mother's Glass goes far, far back, to Davey's origins in Cornwall as the son of an overbearing, lesbian mother. He grows up, serves in the Navy during World War II, and is brought up on charges for homosexuality. The short stories of Hunting with Diana move toward the future again, with Davey now seventy-one years old and living in Vancouver with his lover, Ken, and their cat. He spends his late-night hours chatting on the Internet, and comes in contact with an array of characters who resemble figures from Greek mythology.

—George Woodcock

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