Books

Quick-fire Q&As: Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize nominees

How does a writer procrastinate? We asked the five finalists for this year's fiction prize about their book and writing process.

On November 3, the winner of the 2015 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize will be announced, and one lucky author will take home a cool $25,000. Before that, though, we asked the finalists to tell us about their novels, their procrastination habits and the books we should read next.

André Alexis

Nominated for Fifteen Dogs (Coach House Books)

Writer André Alexis

Author André Alexis. Photo, courtesy of the Writers’ Trust of Canada.

Describe your novel in one sentence.
A novel in which two meddling gods curse a group of dogs with “human intelligence.”

Okay, you get one more sentence. What else do you want us to know?
A work by a writer who feels very sorry for any creature forced to think as humans do.

Where did you write this book? 
It began in Toronto and then finished in Ocala, Florida.

What was your preferred way to procrastinate while you were writing it?
I play the guitar, play Angry Birds, play 2048. (I decided to learn the Beatles’ songbook. After a year, I’ve mastered “I’m Looking Through You” and “Here Comes the Sun.”)

What book should people read immediately after they finish yours?
They should read Martha Baillie’s The Search for Heinrich Schlögel or Russell Smith’s Confidence. (I love the work of both writers and feel an aesthetic closeness to both, though Martha and Russell are very, very different writers…)

Elizabeth Hay

Nominated for His Whole Life (McClelland & Stewart)

Writer Elizabeth Hay

Author Elizabeth Hay. Photo, courtesy of the Writers’ Trust of Canada.

Describe your novel in one sentence.
It’s about a mother and son whose family is falling apart and staying together as Canada falls apart and stays together.

Okay, you get one more sentence. What else do you want us to know? 
That the novel’s burning question is, “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”

Where did you write this book? 
I wrote it right here, where I’m answering your questions, in my peaceful study on the second floor of our house in Ottawa.

What was your preferred way to procrastinate while you were writing it? 
I stared into space and ate many almonds.

What book should people read immediately after they finish yours? 
What I read were some stories by John Updike about his childhood. Boyhood was still on my mind; I didn’t want to leave the subject behind.

Pamela Mordecai

Nominated for Red Jacket (TAP Books)

Writer Pamela Mordecai.

Author Pamela Mordecai. Photo, courtesy of the Writers’ Trust of Canada.

Describe your novel in one sentence.
Red Jacket is the story of the search for identity of Grace Carpenter, a black woman with red skin, red hair, freckles and grey eyes, adopted into a poor family of phenotypically black people and raised in a rural town in the (imaginary) Caribbean island of St Chris—where she is teased for being a jacket —who excels at academics at home and abroad and eventually becomes a bureaucrat at the WHO involved in the work of AIDS education and treatment programs in Africa and the Caribbean.

Okay, you get one more sentence. What else do you want us to know?
Ignoring the question of what a jacket is, I’ll say also that Grace becomes a single mother who conceals the existence of her son from his already married father, and who, in the course of her work for the WHO, encounters and bonds with an urbane, handsome, soulful West African Jesuit priest named Jimmy Atule, who’s a widower, a midwife and a clairvoyant.

Where did you write this book? 
I wrote the book over a long time, and long ago, and so, though it would have been mainly written in our home on Bartlett Avenue in Toronto, I’m sure it would have travelled with me to South Hadley, Massachusetts, Kingston, Jamaica, two or three places in Florida and, for the revision stages, Kitchener, Ontario.

What was your preferred way to procrastinate while you were writing it?
I’d read mystery and detective stories.

What book should people read immediately after they finish yours?
To savour the same variety of Englishes, another one of mine: my sixth book of poetry, de book of Mary, which Mawenzi House, who also published my last book, Subversive Sonnets, will release next month.

Russell Smith

Nominated for Confidence (Biblioasis)

Russell Smith

Author Russell Smith. Photo, courtesy of the Writers’ Trust of Canada.

Describe your novel in one sentence.
Confidence is a book of short stories about contemporary urban dwellers and their secrets.

Okay, you get one more sentence. What else do you want us to know?
It’s a funny book. There is a story called “Sleeping With An Elf,” which is in part about a couple discussing whether the wife would be aroused by a very short man. There is also an artist who video records every second of his day and never shows the video. There is a man who falls in love with a stranger who is mistakenly sending texts to his number. There is a mayor who smokes crack cocaine.

Where did you write this book?
On my computer on my desk in my study in my house in Toronto between the hours of nine and five.

What was your preferred way to procrastinate while you were writing it?
I discovered that there were many pictures of naked ladies on the internet. Also live-streaming techno sets from Berlin.

What book should people read immediately after they finish yours?
Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh.

John Vaillant

Nominated for The Jaguar’s Children (Knopf Canada)

Writer John Vaillant

Author John Vaillant. Photo, courtesy of the Writers’ Trust of Canada.

Describe your novel in one sentence.
A young Mexican man, trapped inside the tank of a water truck after being abandoned in the desert by human smugglers, describes his ordeal in a real time through a cellphone.

Okay, you get one more sentence. What else do you want us to know?
The idea came to me while I was living in southern Mexico, not far from where three generations of my family lived before me.

Where did you write this book?  
On the top floor of a medieval tower in Tuscany with the windows open, birds and weather blowing through.

What was your preferred way to procrastinate while you were writing it?
When I’m excited about a project, I don’t procrastinate.

What book should people read immediately after they finish yours?
After reading the other four Writers’ Trust finalists’ books, I would recommend The Devil’s Highway, and/or The Hummingbird’s Daughter, both by Luis Alberto Urrea.

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