Kamloops born author's book about 1,700-kilometer journey shortlisted for award

Author shortlisted for award

A book based on the journals of a Kamloops born author who embarked on a 1,700-kilometre odyssey from Victoria to Alaska in a kayak has now been shortlisted for a B.C. and Yukon book prize.

David Norwell said his first novel, A Complex Coast: A Kayak Journey from Vancouver Island to Alaska, is a coming of age story about the journey he embarked on as a 24-year-old geography student.

“There's mazes and recipes and lots of bios for people on the coast. There's a lot of fun creature IDs and just a lot of humour to some of those internal, not dilemmas, but just ponderings of a young man who's trying to figure things out,” he said.

The book follows Norwell along his travels, adapted in large part from journals and artwork he created throughout the journey. He described the book as a "medley of experiences you might have along the coast" and includes personal reflections and philosophical musings.

Norwell made the first leg of his trip in 2014 from Victoria to Bella Bella. After pausing to work and complete university, he started back out in 2016 to travel from Klemtu to Alaska.

Internal and external motivations

On the outside, Norwell said his motivation for the adventure was externally about exploring the geography of the over 50,000 islands stretching from Southern Vancouver Island to Alaska.

Internally, he said he was questioning "the basis of society."

“During that first leg of the trip, I was really questioning that adult checklist of getting the degree and then the house and the family and the kids and the relationship and just kind of all these commitments," he said.

He said he was also motivated to leave his addiction behind, saying he knew "something wasn't quite right at home, so to speak," and thinking he may be able to broaden his perspective and find possible solutions.

“To be totally honest, I was struggling too a bit with addiction to online pornography. So part of the trip was an awesome intervention in a lot of ways where you're unplugging totally. You're at the mercy of nature and the big ocean, which is a pretty powerful teacher and mentor," he said.

'Spying into my life'

The book is filled with over 700 watercolour illustrations of coastlines, local plant and animal species, camping supplies and portraits of people he met along the way.

Norwell said the book is an attempt “to do something playful.” He said he chose to use illustrations to bring more insight into his journey and to offer more vulnerability into his life.

“I didn't want to make it a comic book, I wanted to make it a journal because that was true to what I had originally done,” he said.

“I wanted people to open the book and feel like they were reading my journal and having this intimate experience, almost like spying into my life.”

Encapsulating and reflecting on the journey

Norwell called it an honour to have spent time with the inhabitants and workers on the remote islands along his journey — describing them as being "absorbed in the ecosystem out there."

He said the tricky part was finding a way to encapsulate the experience in only a couple hundred pages.

“How can you put such a powerful, potent, extremely transformative experience into 225 pages, and do it in such a way that you can transmit it to another person?” he said.

He said part of the book's narrative is about going through "a reconciliation process" and learning about Indigenous peoples along the coast.

“It really is a colonial narrative too and I think that's something that was really important to recognize explicitly,” Norwell said.

Another book in the works?

A year after he returned from the trip, Norwell said he spent six years travelling the world. He said he’s currently parsing through the around 30 journals he filled in his travels and is working towards a second book.

"That's where I'm at right now, kind of combing through another project hopefully to put something together with all those other journals," he said.

Norwell grew up in Kamloops until the age of 13, attending Beattie Elementary and Sahali Secondary before moving to Prince George. He said he is currently residing in Courtenay.

A Complex Coast has been shortlisted for the 2024 Roderick-Haig Brown Regional Prize, the winner of which will be announced in September.

The prize is given to the author of the book which contributes the most to the understanding and enjoyment of B.C. and the Yukon.

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