November 26, 2013

air, and walking on it (or, Bone and Bread wins the QWF Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction!)

It was right around this time a week ago that Bone and Bread won the QWF Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction, and it would really not be much of an exaggeration to say that I have been walking on air since then... although slowly, inevitably, I have been coming down to earth. Buoyant, however, I remain!

I've been conscious of the fact that these moments do not come along very often in the writing life. There is always something to feel bad about on any given day...some prize your book doesn't win or some middling review that appears on Goodreads... or your book doesn't sell very well or another publishing house bites the dust... or whatever it is you're working on is stalling out or you don't have enough time to work on it...on and on forever. I'm not much given to these sorts of thoughts or even comparing myself to other writers because I don't think that much good can come from it, but there's no doubt that these are some of the deadly wolves circling the cabin if you stop to take your fingers off the keyboard and let your thoughts drift away from the positive. Even without all of those things (which truly, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about), the fact is that writing is hard. Hard and often lonely and it requires a lot of sacrifice....and the payoffs can be few and far between.

I think I was trying to say that I've been enjoying myself.  And I really have! So many friends and acquaintances have sent me kind notes of congratulations, and even students and staff at my work have been tracking down the book thanks to this story in the McGill paper. My publisher sent me flowers that I've been enjoying at my desk all week. Thank you, everyone, for sharing this excitement with me!

I spent some of my prize money on purely wonderful, fun things: extravagant leather purses (this weekend was the m0851 sample sale), Arcade Fire concert tickets, a couple of pretty Modcloth dresses, and a big, hardcover novel (The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, even though I have tons of books already queued up). But I still have one of two skirts I bought with the first money I earned from a story (published in Grain), and it makes me happy to think about that fact every time I wear it. There's something to be said for not just paying bills.

The gala was lovely, even if I was a little bit too tense to enjoy it as much as I would have otherwise. The fiction prize is announced last, so I had somewhat of a hard time concentrating through the other categories, though I was really happy to see Juliet Waters pick up a giant trophy and I liked what she said about writers needing to go dust off their old abandoned drafts (her winning story was something she had decided to pick up again). I also loved what Monique Polak said about writing as a committed relationship. I was also really excited to see Ann-Marie Macdonald hosting, and she was effortlessly funny and lovely. (Sadly, I did not get to meet her!) The funniest speech of the night was by Andrew Symanski who won a prize for his book The Barista and I. He was truly shocked and kept saying how weird it was to be up there and how he'd had to borrow shoes and how he spends most of his time writing alone in a squalid bedroom. (I think there were a lot of us there who felt like he was speaking our truth. Or, at any rate, a truth we could relate to.) I was really happy for him!

Citations for all the shortlisted books are read out before the winner is announced, and it's always a good way to find out about books that might not already be on your radar (in my case, some of the non-fiction titles and the books in translation). My to-read list has increased exponentially as a result. The jurors' comments that were read out for Bone and Bread were so kind and humbling and inspiring and frankly overwhelming that I literally thought I was going to fall off of my chair. I really would have been happy to fall off, lie on the floor and weep for a few minutes. At that point, I almost didn't care if the book was going to win the prize or not.
Bone and Bread has engrossing humanity, relevance, readability and the adumbration of a sage reflection on our Montreal universe. This novel really gripped me through its characters, not through plot devices.  On the whole, it is brave, it inhabits fresh territory, it is ambitious, and successful... The author is very gifted, and…I believe she will produce significant works and become a major Canadian writer.  

I feel like it's the most wonderful fortune cookie fortune...the kind you tuck in your wallet and carry around forever and ever and pull out and read whenever you need to hear something good. I'm so grateful to the jury not only for the prize but for saying something so kind and encouraging.

So I went up there on the stage and said something, probably forgetting to say lots of things I should have (ahem, thank you PARAGRAPHE for sponsoring the prize and for everything you do for writers and readers in Montreal). The beautiful trophy (I have always wanted a trophy, though I have never done anything even remotely likely to get me one) has my name and the title of the book on it, which is a nice touch I didn't expect. I took it out for poutine afterwards.

still life with celebratory poutine

My only regret of the evening is not getting some pictures of my friends in their finery or of the beautiful interior of the Corona Theatre...and not getting to talk to everyone I would have liked to chat with. Given that it takes place on a Tuesday evening, the QWF gala is not a very late-night affair, so my husband and I just came home after our quick food stop with some photos to commemorate the evening.

me and my precious 


Dallas Curow said...

Congratulation! Your wonderful story deserves these accolades and more. I'm so proud of you. Keep walking on air :)

saleema said...

Thanks so much, Dallas! :)