Funny, worldly, William J. Thomas

William J. Thomas says that he used to have a real job. Meaning, naturally, one he hated.Thomas, who will be the final author to appear at the Harpweaver Reading Series this season, says he used to sell overhead projectors for a 3M company before giving it up to travel and write.

“In the back of my mind that’s what I always dreamed I wanted to do,” says Thomas about his desire to write. Armed with his experience in sales and a general BA from Waterloo Lutheran University, Thomas set out for Europe in 1973. Going to Europe gave Thomas his chance to live out his dream.

Thomas’ passion for travelling and writing have spawned travel destination pieces for National Geographic’s Traveler magazine, The Globe and Mail as well as the travel insert for The National Post, called Dreamscape, over the years.

Although his early travel experiences acted as Thomas’ introduction to his job as a professional writer, his voyages laid the groundwork for what would eventually evolve into his latest book Never Hitchhike on the Road Less Travelled, which Thomas will be reading from this week at Brock.

Never Hitchhike is a series of humorous anecdotes and travel tips from Thomas that he learned during his many trips to destinations around the globe.

The book is structured geographically rather than chronologically, since the experiences are from adventures throughout Thomas’ life, and include everything from descriptions of some truly awful sounding hotels to an accurate interpretation of John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich bein ein Berliner.”

Though Thomas has been to many places, he says he has not seen much of Southeast Asia yet, and that he still has yet to go to South America.

“Every time I’ve had plans to go there,” says Thomas, “another civil war breaks out somewhere.”

Thomas has also returned to many of the countries he’s been to before, Portugal being a favourite. This has its dangers though, as Thomas found out on returning to Spain “to try and recapture some of the earlier 70s,” and found the country’s tourist industry completely commercialized.

“I think if you go back to the exact same spot,” says Thomas about returning to some of his favourite countries, “you are always disappointed. I try and change it up and go to a different spot in the same country. You are almost always disappointed when you try to recreate something.”

Aside from Thomas’ travel writing, he also writes All The World’s A Circus, a “weekly tribute to all things weird and wonderful” according to his Web site. The column appears in 45 publications in Canada and the United States.

He has also written two Gemini-nominated movies for television. Chasing the Dream is a documentary about baseball and Breaking All The Rules — The Story of Trivial Pursuit is about the four men who invented the world famous game, and was one of the highest rated movies on Canadian television.

And, of course, there are Thomas’ successful humour books. His first book, Malcolm And Me — Life In The Litter Box was about his cat. The subject of his book Hey! Is That Guy Dead Or Is He The Skip? Curling And Other Stories I Wished I’d Never Written is fairly clear from the lengthy title. Guys — Not Real Bright And Damn Proud Of It is a humour book about what people need to know about men. Margaret And Me is a collection of stories about his 92-year-old mother.

His next-to-last book, The Dog Rules (Damn Near Everything!), was released in 2001 and is described by Thomas as “a book about how not to train a dog,” and tells of his misadventures with his border collie Jake, who makes a cameo on the cover of Never Hitchhike. The book was hugely successful, staying on Canadian best-seller lists for 45 weeks and selling nearly 25,000 copies in Canada, which Thomas says is “basically unheard of in Canada.”

At Harpweaver this week, Thomas talk about his latest book, as well as The Dog Rules.

Thomas is also responsible for the incredibly successful Canadian Author’s Series at the Roselawn Centre in Port Colborne. The series has been sold-out for the past five to six years, says Thomas, with a waiting list of up to 50 members trying to get in.

“I thought that [the series] would work in a small town. I know it doesn’t work that well in Toronto, but when you get an hour or so away from Toronto, it does for some reason,” says Thomas, who patterned the series after the Different Drummer reading series in Burlington.
Despite the many journeys Thomas takes, he always returns to his home at Sunset Cove in Wainfleet, a town that he mocks in his writing but truly loves.

William Thomas appears in the last Harpweaver reading series show, this Wednesday, March 5 in Pond Inlet.there with his aforementioned dog Jake.

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