Former Nelson teacher and prolific author Eric Wilson published his children’s book Murder on the Canadian in 1976, and back then he had no idea the world-wide impact the book would ultimately have.
“Next year we’ll celebrate its 40th year in print,” Wilson told the Star. “It’s been very popular in other countries. The Spanish edition has been reprinted 52 times and I know it’s on the curriculum for Grade 4 in Chile. It seems very popular in Japan too.”
That means Wilson gets plenty of fan mail in languages he can’t understand—but that’s where Google Translate comes in. “People are fascinated by Canada, I think, especially our open spaces and the mountains. I think people are also drawn to the romanticism of traveling on a train. Very few people get the chance to these days.”
And the train creates a perfect setting for his youngster detective Tom Austen’s murder investigation.
“There’s the fun of this young boy, who is 12 and has this fascination with the Hardy Boys, who has never solved a case but then he gets on a train and a murder happens! Of course he sets out to solve it and ends up in a terrible mess.”
Wilson will now get the chance to see his story performed live, during the upcoming world premiere of the stage version coming from Cedar Street productions on October 22 through 24.
“My wife Flo handles the business side of things,” Wilson said. “So once I’d finished writing the play she Googled theatre companies in Western Canada and that’s how I met Jeff Forst. It ended up being a perfect marriage.”
Wilson was thrilled to learn Forst and his brother had read the books as children and were game to help him reach a new generation.
“I needed his experience in theatre to figure out how this would work on stage. For instance, how do you convey a train moving across Western Canada with all these people aboard? Jeff suggested video projections in the rear. He was a wonderful person to work with, him and his wife Lisel. I really feel Jeff added a lot to making it work onstage.”
He plans to be in the audience on opening night. And now that he’s starting to adapt his back-list for the theatre, the Star was curious when we could see an adaptation of The Kootenay Kidnapper.
“That’s not a question I can answer. Right now I’ve got Vampires of Ottawa, which is also a very popular story and topical with the election, so that’s the one I’m adapting next. It’s very gothic, takes place in an old mansion where these people gather and then…creepy things happen.”
Wilson credits some of his inspiration to the years he spent teaching at Trafalgar and working as an itinerant writing instructor.
“I’ve worked with students at almost every school in the district, and I also taught a writing program. While I lived on Third Avenue I wrote several of my books, including Vampires of Ottawa, the Kootenay Kidnapper and Disneyland Hostage.”
He wants his young readers to absorb the geographical information while reading.
“I love the Kootenays. It’s this very beautiful part of the country and I wanted to capture it in The Kootenay Kidnapper—that one has a lot of local sights, like the Cody Caves. So when I’m working on these books I go and live in the places where the stories take place and I try to capture it so young people reading these stories get to know the different regions of Canada.”
Wilson will make an appearance at the Hume School at 9 a.m. on Oct. 22, where he will share an interactive Power Point presentation on Nunavut.
Wilson will also hold a reading at Otter Books on Sunday, Oct. 25.