Scotiabank Giller Prize | Behind the Words

Behind the Words

Ever wondered what inspired your favourite story?  Here are several serendipitous questions/answers that give you some insight behind the words written by the five shortlisted 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize authors.

Kim Echlin

Annabel Lyon

Linden MacIntyre

Colin McAdam

Anne Michaels

Kim Echlin

Kim Echlin
The Disappeared
Hamish Hamilton Canada

What inspired this book?
A woman in a market in Cambodia. I was alone, sitting on a bench, and this stranger sat beside me. She told me that she had tried to emigrate at the end of the Pol Pot era (1979) but she was forcibly repatriated to Phnom Penh from her refugee camp.
Then she said, "I lost my whole family during Pol Pot time." I didn't know how to respond. Finally I asked, "What can I do? Can I help you?" She answered, "No, I just want you to know."
This brief encounter stays with me. Over the years I have thought about the importance of having one's story heard, of being "witnessed" to.

Is there a character in your book to whom you relate the most?
No.

First person to see your first draft and why?
Sandra Campbell, a wonderful writer, read draft after draft of this novel. We have been writing partners for many years and meet once a week. Closer to the end of my many drafts, Nicole Winstanley and David Davidar were inspiring editors who really drew out as much as I could find inside.

Which part of the book do you visualize first, the ending or the beginning?
One of the few artists who survived the Pol Pot era is Vann Nath. When I visited the Tuol Sleng prison museum in Phnom Penh I saw many of Vann Nath's paintings of the Khmer Rouge tortures. This moving body of work is the only visual record of what happened there. I worked from his painting and many nonfiction witness accounts of the Pol Pot time. This courageous work is the beginning, middle and end, and I have tried to honour it in this writing.

If you were not writing, what would you be doing?
Listening to Khmer rock music.

What was the last book you read?
At the moment I’m reading Elias Khoury’s Little Mountain. I’ve just finished a couple of books about the Afghan Women’s Association, RAWA, Zoya’s Story and Veiled Courage. I would highly recommend them to anyone looking for an inspiring book club evening.

Favourite spot in Canada to relax?
A muskoka chair.

Best remedy for writer’s block?
It’s a secret!

Name three things you’re most proud of.
Pride is suspect for us protestants…but things I love? Family and friends, woogle ball, canoeing.

If you could give one book to the PM of Canada, which one would it be?
Something on a high quality, comprehensive national daycare system.

Annabel Lyon

Annabel Lyon
The Golden Mean
Random House Canada

What inspired this book?
I first read Aristotle as an undergraduate, and long after I left university I kept going back to his Ethics. It remains such a relevant, resonant book, 2300 years after it was written: what does it mean to be a good person? What does it mean to live a good life? How can we avoid extremes in ourselves and our behaviour? After September 11, 2001, I picked the book up yet again for a bit of solace and found myself reading the postage-stamp-sized biography of Aristotle. Idly I wondered, how could one structure that life into a novel? I sketched an outline, almost for fun, and then worked on it a little more. And a little more. And then a lot more. Eight years later, the novel was done.

Is there a character in your book to whom you relate the most?
There’s a bit of myself in all the characters, but I haven’t given myself a cameo anywhere. Obviously Aristotle is the most prominent character in the book and I found him extremely sympathetic, but I don’t have the genius of his pinky finger. It would be arrogant of me to claim I can relate to him.

First person to see your first draft and why?
My agent, for the purpose of selling it. I don’t like to get input until I’m quite far along in the writing process, and then only from my editor. I don’t like to work with more than one person at a time.

Which part of the book do you visualize first, the ending or the beginning?

In this case, it was the beginning; the first sentence came first. But I did know from quite early on where the book would end.

If you were not writing, what would you be doing?
I’d have enjoyed an academic career, either in ethics or philosophy of law.

What was the last book you read?
Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s Skim.

Favourite spot in Canada to relax?
The beach at Spanish Banks, in Vancouver.

Best remedy for writer’s block?
Thinking of all the real suffering in the world.

Name three things you’re most proud of.
My two kids. I’m proud-and-a-half of each of them, so that makes three!

If you could give one book to the PM of Canada, which one would it be?
I’d get Stephen Harper a subscription to the New Yorker magazine. He seems like a smart guy, but I’m guessing he doesn’t get a lot of intelligent left-of-centre perspective from the people around him, and I think he could use more of that.

 

Linden MacIntyre

Linden MacIntyre
The Bishop’s Man
Random House Canada

What inspired this book?
A suicide and subsequent gossip about the motive.

Is there a character in your book to whom you relate the most?
The protagonist … Father MacAskill.

First person to see your first draft and why?
My wife, Carol Off, because she is brutally honest and she has a remarkable instinct (buttressed by having studied literature and written books) for what works and what doesn’t in a story.

Which part of the book do you visualize first, the ending or the beginning?
In The Bishop’s Man, I visualized the ending first … then wrote a long prologue which I subsequently ditched.

If you were not writing, what would you be doing?
Nothing.

What was the last book you read?
Galore by Michael Crummey (simultaneously with A Colossal Failure of Common Sense, which chronicles the collapse of Lehman Brothers).

Favourite spot in Canada to relax?
Inverness county, Cape Breton.

Best remedy for writer’s block?
Get up early and get at it.

Name three things you’re most proud of.
Journalism; a Supreme Court of Canada decision (MacIntyre vs The Attorney General of Nova Scotia); the five kids.

If you could give one book to the PM of Canada, which one would it be?
Two Concepts of Liberty by Isaiah Berlin … it’s actually a pamphlet so it wouldn’t take up too much of his time.

 

Colin McAdam

Colin McAdam
Fall
Hamish Hamilton Canada

What inspired this book?
A strange anger at first – something to do with people labelling others without getting to know them. And a need to find some way to express the wordless movements of an excited adolescent in love – which I think came from the opposite place to the anger.

Is there a character in your book to whom you relate the most?
Julius. I would find it hard to admit to being like the other guy (the wordy psychopath with the small penis).

First person to see your first draft and why?
My girlfriend, Suzanne Hancock. She’s the smartest and most honest reader I know, and finds creative solutions whenever I’m stuck for plot.

Which part of the book do you visualize first, the ending or the beginning?

Neither, really. I look for character first and a language for that character, and then I usually write from A to B.

If you were not writing, what would you be doing?
Wondering what to do. Maybe trying to build something.

What was the last book you read?
“Lucy – Growing Up Human” by Maurice Temerlin. It’s about a chimpanzee who grew up in Temerlin’s house. My next novel is about chimpanzees.

Favourite spot in Canada to relax?
Tofino on Vancouver Island is one of the most relaxing places I’ve been to, although my girlfriend’s parents’ place on Vancouver Island is probably more relaxing and they seem to pay for my wine more than the people of Tofino. I’ll give you their address.

Best remedy for writer’s block?
Writing.

Name three things you’re most proud of.
My son, Charlie. My brother, Sean. My novels, sometimes.

If you could give one book to the PM of Canada, which one would it be?
I’d give him “Chimpanzee Politics” by Frans de Waal. I know Newt Gingrich made it required reading for junior congressmen in the States – and it might be interesting for the PM to see what drives us apes towards politics. He might not like to think of himself as an ape; politicians can easily find ethical reasons to decline a gift.


Ann Michaels

Anne Michaels
The Winter Vault
McClelland & Stewart

What inspired this book?
This book arose from the contemplation of a simple but significant fact; a huge change in human life that has occurred over the past hundred years which has become such a commonplace that we do not acknowledge its significance. Simply this: that for the first time in human history, masses of humanity, billions of people, do not live (and die) in the place where they were born. This kind of relocation, relocation not by choice, but a dispossession - a consequence of war, famine, labour migration, the building of massive dams - carries a deep impact, and I wanted to explore that impact and those consequences. As one of the characters in the book asks: where do we belong - in the place where we are born, or the place where we are buried? I also wanted to explore the relationship between personal memory and public memory, how we choose to commemorate, in the public realm, huge historic events. And, at the heart of these questions, the book is the story of a marriage; what love makes us capable of and incapable of. My books arise out of a cluster of questions, and the insistence of characters whose stories I feel a responsibility to tell as deeply as I can.

Is there a character in your book to whom you relate the most?
I feel an intimacy with all three main characters - Avery, Jean and Lucjan.

First person to see your first draft and why?
My first readers come at the end of the process for me; I work for years in isolation before I give the book to a reader. And then I am fortunate enough to have two first readers; Ellen Seligman, my editor at McClelland & Stewart, and the British writer John Berger. For me, this is an important moment, not for technical or editorial input so much as the wonderful freedom to at last share what I have been thinking about so deeply, the content of the work, with two people I respect and am close to.

Which part of the book do you visualize first, the ending or the beginning?

An image comes to me, an image that haunts me and that I feel holds the essence and mystery of the book; this image usually becomes the beginning of the book.

What was the last book you read?
I've just finished re-reading a wonderfully inspiring book for these times: "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things"

Favourite spot in Canada to relax?
The north shore of Lake Superior.

Best remedy for writer's block?
I believe that if you write the book you are supposed to write, i.e. if you have fulfilled the task of a book as deeply as possible, it leads you directly to the next book; because the true contemplation of one question often leads to another.

If you could give one book to the PM of Canada, which one would it be?
"Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things"

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