2015 Longlist Q&As


Questions and Answers with André Alexis

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What is your favourite stage or milestone in the writing process?

My favourite stage is always the stage that follows the one I’m actually on. When I’m writing a first draft, I want to be doing the second. When I’m on a second draft, I want to be editing. When I’m doing the editing, I want to have the finished book in my hands. When I’ve got the book in my hands, I can’t wait to begin writing the next one.

Which book made you a lifelong reader?

I suppose that would have to be Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass or the Tale of Troy by Roger Lancelyn Green or Homer Price by Robert McCloskey. I read these books over and over when I was younger. The only one of them I still read, though, is Alice and Through the Looking Glass. They’ve grown more beautiful and strange as I’ve gotten older.

Who is your favourite Canadian writer?

Dead Poet: Margaret Avison
Living Poet: Christian Bok

Dead Novelist: Mordecai Richler
Living Novelist: Russell Smith

How long did it take to write this book?

Fifteen Dogs took me, in total, about six months. But the six months took place over about a year and a half, as I edited my previous novel, Pastoral. (The first third of Fifteen Dogs took a month. It came out in a rush.)

Where were you when you found out you made the Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist? Who is the first person you told?

I was at my computer working on the novel I hope will come out next year: The Hidden Keys. I was not listening to the announcement. So, I first heard about my inclusion on the longlist through my friend Alex Irwin who emailed me about two seconds before my editor, Alana Wilcox, did.

Who is the first person you told?

My mom.

What song/artist does your novel make you think of?

A tough question, since I listen to a lot of music while writing. But one of the songs I listened to over and over while writing Fifteen Dogs was Nick Cave’s “Breathless”. Now that I think about it, it’s a perfect fit.

If I had to name a visual artist who influenced the writing of the novel, it would be Vittore Carpaccio whose painting “St Augustine in His Study” (with its charming maltese dog listening to the voice of God) was an inspiration to me.



Questions and Answers with Samuel Archibald

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What is your favourite stage or milestone in the writing process?

When I start discussing the drafts with the editor, or working with the translator. I like when the solitary confinement of writing ends and bookmaking becomes teamwork.

Which book made you a lifelong reader?

Night Shift by Stephen King

Who is your favourite Canadian writer?

Anne Hébert and Margaret Atwood

How long did it take to write this book?

The short stories were written over a period of almost ten years, then selected, reworked and rewritten in an eight months span.

Where were you when you found out you made the Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist? Who is the first person you told?

I went out to walk the dog. When I got back home, I looked at my Facebook account and saw that there was, like, 58 new notifications. I knew that something big had happened. The first message of congratulations I read was from friend, fellow French-Canadian author and former Giller prize nominee Kim Thuy.

What song/artist does your novel make you think of?

Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” as sung by the Cowboy Junkies



Questions and Answers with Michael Christie

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What is your favourite stage or milestone in the writing process?

For me, there is a point near the end of every writing project that I call the “golden hour”. By this time, the shape of the narrative has firmed up, the characters have evolved into people I love, and everything I write during this stage feels true and essential to the story. Every other stage of the writing process? Not so golden.

Which book made you a lifelong reader?

My mother was an early childhood educator and read to me constantly as a kid. My oldest memory is being in her arms and watching her turn pages and listening to the song of her voice. I can recall neither the words, nor the story, nor the title. But whatever that book was, it’s my favourite of all time. This ghostly book made me a lifelong reader.

Who is your favourite Canadian writer?

Sorry for the expected answer, but Alice Munro, hands down. Whenever I think about how a shy woman from rural Ontario born to a fox and mink farmer, who raised two children and wrote during their naps, who didn’t even get started publishing until she was 37, and went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature — it always gives me the chills. Even more importantly, she invented narrative structures never before explored in any literature, and her work ranks among the greatest written by anyone, anywhere, ever.

How long did it take to write this book?

Four years, in terms of the actual writing process. But I have notes and memories for this story that date back to my childhood. (See above: my earliest memory!)

Where were you when you found out you made the Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist? Who is the first person you told?

I was at home with my wife and two sons, streaming the announcement on my laptop. My kids were cheering without any clue what they were cheering for (“The list! The list!”). It was cute. But I don’t think I told anyone really. Everyone who I wanted to know already knew somehow. I’m not really the kind of person who says to a barista after he hands me my americano: “Yeah so anyway, I just got longlisted for this big literary prize …”

What song/artist does your novel make you think of?

There are a few references to the song “500 Miles” in my book (I know the Peter, Paul, and Mary version best, but there are hundreds of others). The plaintively declared lyric: “I’m five hundred miles from my home” has a particularly robust resonance with this story, readers will note.



Questions and Answers with Rachel Cusk

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What is your favourite stage or milestone in the writing process?

There’s a moment when the book seems to start writing itself, after all the meticulous labour of laying the foundations. In that period the writing process can feel effortless, though I think that’s an illusion!

Which book made you a lifelong reader?

I was fortunate in being offered good books to read as a child. The Little House on the Prairie comes to mind.

Who is your favourite Canadian writer?

Alice Munro

How long did it take to write this book?

I tend to spend a very long time conceiving of a book and don’t start writing until I know everything about how the prose is going to work, which often means the actual execution of it is relatively quick.

Where were you when you found out you made the Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist? Who is the first person you told?

At home. I tried not to tell anyone, but cracked after a day or two and blurted it out to my husband.

What song/artist does your novel make you think of?

I find Bach very writerly – I think a lot of writers do – but at heart I’m more interested in Beethoven as an expressive template, the idea of loss of control as an ultimate technical and artistic ambition.



Questions and Answers with Patrick deWitt

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What is your favourite stage or milestone in the writing process?

Once I’m past the initial hurdles (character, tone, etc.) and I can fall into the work daily, unselfconsciously, and I know I’m going to be busy for a while – that’s a good feeling.

Which book made you a lifelong reader?

There was never any particular book, but books in general. It felt like a secret, second language.

Who is your favourite Canadian writer?

I would say Michael Winter.

How long did it take to write this book?

Three years.

Where were you when you found out you made the Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist? Who is the first person you told?

I was home, watering an unwell cactus in my underwear, when my mother texted me with the news. I got dressed and told my girlfriend, Rachel. The cactus has since died.

What song/artist does your novel make you think of?

“Orphan’s Lament” by Robbie Basho. Or else his “Wine Song.”



Questions and Answers with Marina Endicott

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What is your favourite stage or milestone in the writing process?

I love the second draft. I find writing the first draft almost physically painful; I feel like a poor spider spinning miles of silk out of her own body. But once I get to the end and understand what I’ve got, the reworking and refining of the manuscript is very satisfying.

Which book made you a lifelong reader?

How can I settle on just one? I’ve been reading non-stop ever since I fell asleep on my father’s incomprehensible Hebrew Bible when I was two. But the first book I read to myself ”which made me fall into the dream of fiction forever” was Cowboy Sam, whose splendid horse saved him from a rattlesnake. Everybody loves a snake story.

Who is your favourite Canadian writer?

Impossible to choose between my delightful and hugely-talented friends, so I’ll go back in time and choose John Buchan, whose last (posthumous) book, Sick Heart River, set on the Nahanni River, is a moving, difficult account of depression and despair which only the landscape of the far north could cure.

How long did it take to write this book?

The first fragment of Close to Hugh was written in 1999. I went about my usual business for years, letting the story grow quietly in my subconscious, but started work on Hugh in earnest in 2011.

Where were you when you found out you made the Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist? Who is the first person you told?

I went to a long, strenuous yoga class on the morning of the announcement, to try to achieve some zenliness about the whole awards business. But of course I checked my phone when I came out – and found several texts from my dear editor, Lynn Henry. So I called her!

What song/artist does your novel make you think of?

The playlist on my computer and iPhone for Hugh is very long, because I used a lot of You/Hugh songs in the scene titles. But since the book is set in Bobcaygeon, I often think about the Tragically Hip’s great song, “Bobcaygeon”, and the lyrics carry the movement and connections I wanted to examine in the book: “I saw the constellations reveal themselves one star at a time …”



Questions and Answers with Connie Gault

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What is your favourite stage or milestone in the writing process?

I like every stage of writing when it’s going well and hate them equally when it’s not.

Which book made you a lifelong reader?

Maybe it was the Reader’s Digest magazine. Apparently I carried one around constantly when I was two and pretended to read from it.

Who is your favourite Canadian writer?

My early Canadian bedrock was Mavis Gallant and Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood. As a writer you need more than one favourite to remind you that fiction is a varied, open space and there could be room for you.

How long did it take to write this book?

Way too long. The next one will be faster.

Where were you when you found out you made the Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist? Who is the first person you told?

I was in a hotel room in Nanaimo getting ready to leave for the wonderful ocean at Tofino. My sister texted me with this: Yes! My response was: Huh?

What song/artist does your novel make you think of?

Sorry, can’t think of a particular song or artist. What the novel makes me think of is the sound and smell and feel of the summer wind when I was a kid.



Questions and Answers with Alix Hawley

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What is your favourite stage or milestone in the writing process?

The hour after finishing, before the editorial bug comes slouching in.

Which book made you a lifelong reader?

I remember reading and rereading both Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic, which may give you an idea of my, er, broad early tastes.

Who is your favourite Canadian writer?

Tough to choose, but probably Alice Munro, whose stories I’ve loved, feared, and envied since I was 14.

How long did it take to write this book?

About five years and two babies.

Where were you when you found out you made the Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist? Who is the first person you told?

Starbucks! I would have told the friendly baristas, but they think my name is Alice. I messaged my family instead.

What song/artist does your novel make you think of?

Sorely tempted to say Prince’s “When Doves Cry” — suits all occasions — but will go with “Daniel,” the one written just for my book by The Old Familiar and Tariq. (It’s on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GRSFfM9FBo)



Questions and Answers with Clifford Jackman

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What is your favourite stage or milestone in the writing process?

My favourite part of the writing process is finishing the first draft.

Which book made you a lifelong reader?

I can’t remember. You’d have to ask my mom. Probably: “Hand, Hand, Fingers, Drum” (dum ditty/dum ditty/dum dum dum).

Who is your favourite Canadian writer?

Alice Munro.

How long did it take to write this book?

From writing the first line to publication was seven years.

Where were you when you found out you made the Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist? Who is the first person you told?

I was at home watching the livestream! The first person I told was my wife.

What song/artist does your novel make you think of?

Western Eyes by Portishead.



Questions and Answers with Heather O’Neill

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What is your favourite stage or milestone in the writing process?

Handing in my first draft to my editor to read. I’m always delirious afterwards. I like to go to a bar and talk loudly. I feel like a boxer who just won a match.

Which book made you a lifelong reader?

Babes in the Wood. This is a traditional children’s tale about two children who are taken out to the woods to be killed by two “ruffians”. One of the ruffians takes pity on the children and allows them to starve to death in the woods. I had the version illustrated by Randolph Caldecott. As a child, I turned the pages watching the children waste away eating berries and being slowly covered by autumn leaves. It destroyed me. I tore at my hair and wept and threw the book across the room every time I read it. I wanted to get into the story and change the ending. I wanted to write my own version of Babes in the Woods where the ruffian takes the children home, makes them little bandit masks, and allows them to live a wonderful life of crime with him.

Who is your favourite Canadian writer?

Timothy Findley

How long did it take to write this book?

9 years from the idea for the first story to the very last correction.

Where were you when you found out you made the Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist? Who is the first person you told?

At home. I picked up the phone to call my dad, but he passed away a month ago.

What song/artist does your novel make you think of?

Bela Bartok, “Songs for Children” or Petula Clark’s “Downtown or Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B”.

When I was little and my dad would ask if I wanted to go downtown, I would start to sing that Petula Clark song at the top of my lungs. That about sums up my work.

Bela Bartok wrote these compositions for children to play on the piano. I love the way children play piano with their tiny fingers, all fractured and pretty and strange sounding. I wanted some of the stories to read like that, with the mistakes that children’s logic makes embedded into them.

My dad used to sings songs by the Andrews Sisters while he was making me breakfast when I was a kid. He would do old 1940s dance moves in his slippers. I had such a funny sense of that era.



Questions and Answers with Anakana Schofield

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What is your favourite stage or milestone in the writing process?

The only stage that’s remotely enjoyable for me (since I do find much of the process agony) is conceiving of the next novel, scribbling notes, thinking primarily about form, without having written a line of it. I worry a great deal about my books even after they are finished, even after they are bound. I worry so much I could possibly power a coffee roasting facility.

Which book made you a lifelong reader?

The Bunny Fluffs Moving Day was a Ladybird book in rhyming couplets that my mam read a line at a time on each step of the stairs to me. There was a homeless bunny floating in a river inside an upside down umbrella. I was not a very rational child and believed therefore one could live forever in an upside down umbrella floating. Another bunny held a bundle on a stick with his clothes inside. The idea of one bundle on a stick that would unroll to reveal all you needed was very attractive.

Who is your favourite Canadian writer?

I don’t believe in the notion of “the single writer” or “the single book,” because literature is a continuum for me and books give way to books. Canadian literature is a collage, a patchwork of cross-pollinated writers/works. A single paragraph in a work that’s otherwise unremarkable may contribute to this quilt, if you like. I’m also partial to earlier movements in Canadian literature, since I haven’t lived here all my life. I need to catch up. I’ve read Vancouver novels from the 1920’s and 30s. I’m weak on the 40’s & 50’s and a bit better on 60’s & 70’s. I was particularly struck by George Ryga’s Night Desk; Anne Carson, a railway historian called Phyllis whose book I found on the side of the road; Mark Humphries’ The Last Plague, a history book on the Spanish flu; Gail Scott; Billie Livingston, who is a gregarious writer; Caroline Adderson, the finest short story writer in Canada; Jordan Abel, whose poetry is unique; and Daniel Zomparelli, whose work has literally created an entire community in Vancouver, all who come out to hear poetry. There’s v. little that Coach House publishes that does not interest me, since they publish many women writers like Heather Birrell, Lisa Robertson, Cordelia Strube.

My current favourite contemporary Canadian author is Tamara Faith Berger. I find her work ambitious and fearless. I love that she confronts the body and mind through the physical risque.

How long did it take to write this book?

I have material in this book that may date as far back as 2005. I am a tortoise.

Where were you when you found out you made the Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist? Who is the first person you told?

I was fast asleep in bed. I had been roused in the night by what I thought was an attempted theft from a sewer pipe repair outside my window. I received a text from a writer friend that read “YES” and had no idea what she was on about and thought maybe a personal emergency or mistext. “What?” “Longlist.” “What longlist?” “Check your email.” Then my phone started ding donging, but the principal ding dong was my teenager who’d forgotten his school timetable and was imploring me to take a photo of it, which I struggled to do and he sent more demanding texts. Finally I phoned him to confer on the info need from timetable and at the end said, “I think I may be on a longlist”, but he’d hung up already.

What song/artist does your novel make you think of?

John Cage.



Questions and Answers with Russell Smith

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What is your favourite stage or milestone in the writing process?

I like the middle of a book – when one realizes one has made it to 100 pages and is still going, that one really has a book, that it is really going to happen. That’s the point of no return.

Which book made you a lifelong reader?

I was read to from a number of frankly strange Edwardian British children’s books, particularly once called Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (with the terrifying Big Bad Banksia Man); I think that impressed me with the capacity for terror and tension that books could produce.

Who is your favourite Canadian writer?

Alice Munro. Michael Winter a close second.

How long did it take to write this book?

These are stories written over the past 15 years.

Where were you when you found out you made the Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist? Who is the first person you told?

Where does one learn anything? Sitting in front of one’s computer in the morning scrolling facebook. Suddenly all these congratulations come up. Then your phone and your computer start pinging like a slot machine.

What song/artist does your novel make you think of?

Music: Francis Poulenc. Painter: Otto Dix.