Moss Rock Review – June 2011

This column is now published in both Esquimalt Shoaling Waters and Fairfield/Gonzales Moss Rock Review

Headline: Novelist Tom Morison is living his own storylines
Subhead: Local writer advocates ‘living life broadly’

Seventeen years ago, Esquimalt writer Tom Morison received an ominous-sounding message from an insurance company. According to their actuarial tables, he had precisely 13.2 years of life expectancy remaining. More amused than shocked, Morison did what any good writer would do: he wrote a grand story inspired by that dramatic pronouncement.

Morison’s novel 13.2 followed a man (loosely based on the author) systematically pursuing a list of adventures and experiences into his senior years. 13.2 pre-dated by half a decade the Hollywood movie with a similar theme, called The Bucket List. Morison admits he was inspired in part by “the funniest movie I’ve ever seen, the classic Danny Kaye film called The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Making a list is an exercise many people should take.”

His latest novel, In Search of Her Ayah, was just released in hardcover and Kindle ebook. It is a story of shifting emotions and responses — lust and desire; betrayal and revenge; mystery and adventure; and love and trust — as told through the eyes and the paintbrush strokes of four individuals with vastly different backgrounds and perspectives. This sad and happy story is played out across the world: from the tranquil remnants of a once bustling town on the coast of Oregon, to the peaceful beauty and charm of Victoria, into the steaming heat and poverty of India, in the metaphysical world of the wonders and magic and tragedy of Tibet, trekking through the towering Himalayas, and finally in a transplanted French chateau near Portland.

“My writing is based on incidents in my own life,” Morison said. “I can tell in the first five pages whether the author has lived the situation or is making it up entirely in his mind. With rare exception, one can only create an authentic story by experiencing life broadly.”

Morison is going strong well after his official 13.2 “due date” expired, largely living life on his own terms since selling his U.S.-based investment management firm (Morison International) in 1986. Back then he decided he would travel, paint, write and climb. He recently sold his second home in a southern French village but still globe-trots whenever the urge seizes him. He is completing a series of oil paintings inspired by the Canadian provinces and territories, and is starting a series attempting to paint the senses — as does a character in In Search for Her Ayah. In the mid-1990s, Morison, who has a doctorate in economics, penned a financial primer cum novel called Pounce: Couchon’s Billions, accurately predicting the subsequent major financial downturns. This book deserves to be re-read because all the same forces are still in place.

He has climbed extensively, including Europe’s Matterhorn, Kilimanjaro in Kenya, Popocatepetl in Mexico and the Grand Tetons of Wyoming. When his best buddy died in an unexplained climbing accident in Africa, Morison wrote about their shared climbs in the mystery The Gates of Mist (as yet unpublished). High treks in the Himalayas provided authenticity for scenes in In Search of Her Ayah. But age is taking its toll: his climbing has been halted. “When I got much past 70, my balance and leg strength were no longer up to it,” he said. “It wasn’t safe for me or for others climbers relying on me.”

Born in 1924 near Airdrie, Alberta, into a ranching family, Morison served as an armaments NCO for a Canadian Typhoon squadron in the RAF’s Second Tactical Air Force during WWII. “I wanted to be a pilot but was rejected for being colour-blind,” he said. “That turned out to be fortunate, because so many of the Typhoon pilots died.” Although “witnessing the awfulness, the death and destruction of Western Europe” convinced Morison of the massive faults in human nature and governments, it also made him want to “get on with life” and kindled a love affair with European culture that endures to this day.

Who does Morison read? “Emile Zola, one of the greatest writers ever and champion of noble causes. I read in the original French to get closer to the authenticity of his writing.”

A Minnesota newspaper reviewing Pounce opined that Morison’s writing was a cross between John Steinbeck and Evelyn Waugh, both of whom used their own life experience and wide range of people they met, as source material. Though he admits to slowing down a bit, Morison will continue to “live life broadly,” creating content for the books he has yet to write.

In Search of Her AYAH, Agio Publishing House, 2011, 340 pp, hardcover edition $29.00, ISBN 978-1-897435-53-3, available at Amazon.com and by special order through local bookstores. Kindle edition $2.99

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