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Something wicked

Ben Stephenson’s debut novel is intimate, overwhelming and personal.


Stephenson is a woodland man.
  • Stephenson is a woodland man.

Much like the protagonists in his upcoming novel A Matter of Life and Death or Something, Ben Stephenson found journaling just when he needed it. "It was just a great way to take the thoughts out and put them somewhere and get past them," Stephenson says over tea in the Trident Cafe's back room. "I feel like language was a way to sort everything out."

He's got himself sorted now. His debut will be launched into the hands and hearts of the public on Saturday, April 7 at The Khyber. The event will feature readings from Coast contributor Andrew Patterson, Ben Person, Josh Salter and Stephenson himself---if he shows up.

"I'm trying to minimize my part of it," he says in his self-effacing gaze-averting way, "I'm a bit nervous because I'm not one to throw a party for myself, not that there's anything wrong with that I just, like, don't do well with the attention and crowds so it's going to be quite funny. But I think it will be cool, I don't know if I'll show up, but I think I will."

This seemingly non-committal style is one that Stephenson has been honing throughout the four years it took him to write this book. He found that as a 20-year-old writing a novel, he had to be a bit flippant when talking about his undertaking. "I always treated it like a joke," he says. "There's something about people our age where when you want to do something that's important to you, it's embarrassing and you have to treat it like a joke or something. It's like [insert funny voice here] 'Oh I'm gonna write a novel, ha ha ha.' I thought of it in that way for a while, then I started thinking of it less and less like a joke and started getting more serious about it and then by the time I wrote the last draft I was very serious about it, I guess."

The book itself is no joke. It deals with matters of life and death, specifically, the life of young Arthur, a curious and incorrigible forest frolicker who stumbles upon a mysterious journal. The journal reveals the dark inner workings of Phil, the manic depressive author. The story chronicles Arthur's fascination with this journal, its author and the myriad questions that arise. All this takes place under the eternal eyes of the forest.

"It's a very intimate book in a way," Stephenson says. "That's what's overwhelming about it, especially because one of the characters comes in the form of a journal. Now that people are reading it and telling me things about it, it's kind of overwhelming because it does feel very personal. You can act very detached about something all you want but at the end of the day it is very personal."

What started as Stephenson's own journal developed into a side project while he was skateboarding in Vancouver, now a 250-page novel published by Douglas & McIntyre. Though this transition from personal to public is new territory for the author, he's looking forward to the new life his words will have now that they're out of his head.

"Salinger has that thing in Catcher in the Rye where he says that the kind of book he likes is the one where after reading it you wish the author was a terrific friend of yours that you could call up on the phone anytime you like. That's the kind of thing that I hope for when I read a book so that's what I would hope for when someone reads mine," says Stephenson. "Yeah, that it made them feel less lonely for a sec."

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