Rod and I have been friends for a few years, drawn together by our love of writing. Both of us are ex-pat Brits. He lives in Canada and I live in Australia. Neither of us can remember where it was that we ‘met,’ but it was probably in one of the many online writers’ forums. Unusually, among my writer friends, Rod writes memoirs. Over time I have read and enjoyed all of his books and I think you might, too.
Thanks for joining us. Prior to your writing, you have had a varied career; can you tell us a little about that?
Like many sixteen-year-olds, I was bored with my home, my home town, my parents, and probably myself. I wanted something bigger, better, an exciting life, adventure! When someone said to me, “You should join the merchant navy and see the world,” two weeks later, I did.
Samuel Johnson said, “Life at sea is like being in prison, with the added possibility of drowning.” While true, I loved visiting over 20 countries, meeting the local people and talking with them. Lives in Africa, Central America, China, Japan, Tahiti, Canada, to name a few, were so interesting, so different from mine. It stretched my knowledge of humankind and made me a more understanding person. When I was 19, I fell in love with a girl I met on a blind date in Vancouver, emigrated to Canada at age 21, and got a job working on the tugboats. One December night in the far north, the tug ran aground and the barge carrying 18,000 gallons of gasoline and lots of heavy equipment crushed the tug. I escaped with my life and decided to get a job ashore.
I became an apprentice boatbuilder and learned how to build 55-foot boats out of wood. Each payday, I would buy myself a new tool for my toolbox, on my slow four-year journey to become a tradesman. You can read more about it here.
After getting married, buying a house becoming a father of two, I lost my job and couldn’t pay the mortgage. Scary! I couldn’t find any work, so, clutching at straws, I started a boat repair business, which I ran for 20 years. Business taught me to be accountable and responsible.
Unfortunately, that marriage ended and we divorced. I had no energy to run the business anymore, so I sold it and retrained to be a psychological counsellor. All the theories were really interesting, and I ended up getting an MA in Counselling. It felt good to help people. I learned that my problems were minor compared to many. For a while, I was a counsellor in a refugee centre. Such awful stories of people’s lives disrupted forever. Chilling! I was also an addiction counsellor for a couple of years.
My counselling and business experience equipped me to run a non-profit organization for people with mental illness. We provided housing and support for them. I also started an outreach program for homeless people. This sort of work made me realize how lucky I was. Well, not always completely lucky. After I got hired as executive director for the Simon Fraser branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, they told me they didn’t have enough money to pay me! Yes, I was pissed off! I started a thrift store (charity shop) largely run by our mental health clients, which made a lot of money and helped pull us out of financial difficulties. It also gave our clients a chance to give back and learn new skills.
Which job appealed to you the most?
They were all interesting. Running the nonprofit was probably the most rewarding because it was the most complex, and I saw the results of my work in the daily lives of the people we were supporting.
What gave you the impetus to begin writing, what are essentially memoirs?
I had to write a lot of really boring funding proposals in the ten years I worked in nonprofits. I promised myself when I retired at 65, I would write something, more interesting, more fun, more entertaining. I hoped I achieved that! Plus, I only usually read non-fiction so memoirs just rolled out naturally.
Which one gets the most comments?
“I Need My Yacht by Friday – True Tales from the Boat Repair Yard,” gets the most comments and sells the most. People who have run any business can relate and boat owners can really understand the various themes.
How do you have such a good recall?
Some notes, some photos, but I have an excellent memory for emotional events, they just stick in my brain. As I had a number of different careers, there were lots of first time experiences. It’s easy to remember those. I often can recall word for word what was said — it just resonates and sticks in my brain.
If you were starting out writing now, would you do anything differently?
Yes, I would start earlier than I did at age 65.
As a migrant do you ever feel nostalgia for ‘home’ or is ‘home’ wherever you are?
I miss the English countryside, the humour, the pubs, the regional accents and BBC radio. I don’t miss snobby, pretentious people or the class system. To a point, home is where I am, except I lived in Italy for a year in 2008, and that didn’t feel like home. Ha, I could write about that!
What do you like to read? Any favourite authors or genres?
Alexandra Fuller, Farley Mowat, Gavin Maxwell, Gerald Durrell, Lawrence Anthony, Cheryl Strayed, Jared Diamond.
I think I have read all of your books, but my favourite is the one about managing the Charity Shop.
Thanks, Sonia. In some ways, it was the most difficult to write, so I’m glad you enjoyed it!
Rod is currently working on a memoir of his earlier life, provisionally called The Shilling Thieves. I have read some extracts and it is hilarious. So, look out for that soon
All of Rod’s books are available on Amazon and if you are in Canada through rodbakerbooks.com
Rod left home at 16 years old and went to sea as a deckhand. He migrated from England to Canada at age 21and found work as a mate on the British Columbia tugboats. After the tug sank in the Haida Gwaii islands, he quit going to sea and worked as an apprentice boat builder, marine repair shop owner, psychotherapist and executive director of non-profit mental health associations.
Since retiring from full-time work in 2012, he has written four memoirs and is currently working on a book of humorous short stories. rodbakerbooks.com