Over the years, while sitting in his Gallagher’s Canyon area home, Jack Whyte set his sights on Black Mountain and let his imagination wander. Then, as stories took shape, he put pen to paper.
“I wrote a lot of my early books looking at the landscape out there and visualizing the activities that could happen,” said Whyte, who is the author of the Dream of Eagles series, eight Arthurian novels set in Roman Britain. He’s also the man behind the Templar Trilogy, featuring the legendary Knights Templar. Whyte’s most recent release, The Burning Stone, is a prequel to later series but can stand alone.
Those novels have been published in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Brazil, and Russia. His words, which have been translated into 20 languages, have washed over points across the globe and effectively planted a little bit of this city into the imaginations of a worldwide audience, although his readers are more focused on the man than his muse.
“I have letters from all over the world thanking me for my writing … Portugal, Brazil and Bulgaria,” he said. “Who expects to hear from someone in Bulgaria, saying they love your book? It’s wonderful when it happens.”
That balances out the comments he gets that are less than flattering—for those he’s developed a thick skin.
Amassing a global readership offers challenges and perks that are far from his daily reality.
“I just happen to exist in small-town Kelowna, nobody knows who I am or what I do—but my world is out there,” he said.
That anonymity is extended to friends like Diane Galbadon, author of the international best selling Outlander series when she visits.
Admittedly, Whyte said living an anonymous life is an oddity to many he’s spoken to over the years. So much so that it may soon become less anonymous.
“There’s a fellow right now who’s working on a television adaptation of my novels and turning it into a multi-year television extravaganza,” he said.
“He looked at me and said, ‘he won’t be here in 10 years’ so they came down from the Coast and they filmed a movie that is Who is Jack Whyte.”
It will be a half-hour documentary, exploring the life of “a guy who has written 17 novels in 20 odd languages living here in B.C. and nobody knows him.”
Whyte, who is from Scotland, started his writing career long before he came to Kelowna but he didn’t arrive here by chance.
“My wife’s family used to own a successful business in automotive parts,” he said
“We would visit when I was living in Alberta (in the ‘90s) and I would say, ‘someday I will retire in Kelowna’ and my wife said ‘enjoy it, I won’t come with you,’” he said.
At that point, Whyte was already a best-selling author in Canada four times over, but that doesn’t pay the bills so there was no push to move.
Then American, British and German publishers came knocking and he suddenly had a worldwide income and he could live anywhere he wanted.
It was Kelowna he had his sights set on. His wife agreed and the couple moved here 22 years ago.
The stories that have made him an international bestseller were born from legends far away in both time and place.
“I’m a legend wonk,” Whyte, said of his inspiration. “I go looking for a legend and I start working. There’s a thing on PBS, shows a woman sculptress who starts out by looking at a piece of rock, and then turns it into a piece of sculpture … She would go into the rock and find the beauty. My rock is the legend as it exists today.”
Once he chips away at those rock-like legends, new stories start to emerge.
“I try to strip away all the crap that has accumulated over the centuries to come between what happened in the past and the story we tell about it now,” he said. “People try to improve on a story and when you stretch it out by 1,500 years you get all sorts of rubbish added to it.”
And then he applies the skills of a storyteller, which was passed down to him through generations.
Whyte recently took a sabbatical to focus on his health. But he’s not likely to stop telling stories anytime soon, as it’s something he describes as a compulsion.