Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, Special Edition with the Finalists for the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award!

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Bronwen Wallace

Tonight Toronto writers both emerging and established will gather to celebrate the presentation of the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers. (Check out the event details here)

We're pleased to host all three of this year's finalists today on Open Book. Dina Del Bucchia, Kathy Friedman and Jen Neale took the time to chat with us about their nominated stories, what they love about short fiction and some of their favourite Canadian writers.

With an impressive roster of past winners, the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award is an important symbol of the growing and evolving Canadian literary identity. Founded by Kingston-based writer Carolyn Smart in honour of Wallace, who was widely considered one of Canada's finest writers, the prize alternately annually between prose and poetry, and carries a cash prize of $5,000.

You can read all three RBC Bronwen Wallace Award finalists' stories for free, via exclusive download from the Apple iBookstore.

Dina Del Bucchia:

Open Book:

Tell us about the story for which you were shortlisted.

Dina Del Bucchia:

“Under the ‘I’” is about many things I’m fascinated with: female relationships, competition, small town dynamics, elderly people. The women in the story are sisters who are very competitive and aspects of their lives and their relationship are explored and interwoven through a night out at Bingo. I went to Bingo in the small town I grew up in years ago and it was so wonderful and strange and even though that was ‘my town’ I felt like an outsider in that space. It had its own culture and I was invading it for an evening.

Of course the competition extends beyond the daubers and cards of the game and the sisters have a complicated relationship. There’s love, but also the desire to best the other sibling, to take control, which causes them emotional harm. That’s kind of how families work. We know how to injure the ones we love so hard the most.

OB:

What do you love most about writing short fiction?

DDB:

I’m a very social person so writing in general is such a departure. It’s the only time I truly enjoy being alone. Writing short fiction requires such close focus: on one story, one set of characters, pounding away at some snippet of life that transforms into this tight creation, that if done well can be a whole world in a few pages. I wish more readers would climb aboard the short fiction train. It’s a good time.

OB:

If you were to recommend one Canadian short story to readers, what would you choose and why?

DDB:

I always want to recommend everything. However, as well as the fascinating power dynamic between seniors, I’m also way into teens and their drama. Nancy Lee’s “Valentines” is no 90210 or Gossip Girl though. It really captures the character motivation and complicated power dynamics and relationships, as well as the expectations and jerky, selfishness of teens. Well, of people really, but teens are always a welcome example. It’s rare to see such a truthful display of teen girl sexuality, how powerful and yet vulnerable they are. I think about it often.

Kathy Friedman:

Open Book:

Tell us about the story for which you were shortlisted.

Kathy Friedman:

The story is about a young boy who goes missing in a toy shop, and ends up learning a dark truth about his country, the old South Africa. It’s based on the only memory I have of moving from South Africa when I was five-years-old: being turned loose in Hamleys in London, the world’s biggest toy shop, with the task to find only one toy. The story’s influences range wildly from Bruno Schulz, to Jean Cocteau, to Enid Blyton. It was a lot of fun to write.

OB:

What do you love most about writing short fiction?

KF:

I love doing research. It informs my writing in unexpected ways. The idea for the turn in my shortlisted story, for example, came to me when I read that Regent Street in London, where Hamleys’ flagship store is, was heavily bombed during WWII. I was just wasting time on Wikipedia, but you never know when you’ll find a fact that’s going to fire your creative imagination somehow. I’ve also been reading a lot about apartheid South Africa for the collection I’m working on, and even though the history is harrowing at times, it’s fascinating to me. I’m mostly reading Jewish authors, and I’ve discovered some fantastic ones, like Dan Jacobson and Rose Zwi. I’m also going on a research trip to South Africa this summer, which will be my first time there in 25 years — so I’d say that research is definitely the best part of the job!

OB:

If you were to recommend one Canadian short story to readers, what would you choose and why?

KF:

I love the short story “Minyan” by David Bezmozgis. It’s about a Jewish retirement home whose synagogue is struggling to achieve the quorum (minyan in Hebrew) necessary to hold services. It’s a funny, expertly told elegy for the Old World and its language and values — both positive and negative. The ending always makes me cry like a goofball; it’s a beautiful evocation of what it means to belong to a community.

Jen Neale:

Open Book:

Tell us about the story for which you were shortlisted.

Jen Neale:

The story is called “Elk-Headed Man”— it’s about a group of hunters who spend a night hanging out with an elk-headed man, and have to deal with their urges to befriend/kill/defend him. There’s a good dose of booze, Bruce Springsteen, wilderness and dancing, which are some of my favourite things to write about, especially in combination. In fact, I wrote the first draft with the help of three of them. Your pick which ones.

OB:

What do you love most about writing short fiction?

JN:

I like short fiction for its constraints. With the length restriction, every word has more weight, and you have to find a way to indicate the whole story without writing it all down. I used to think that you should learn to write a good short story before you embark on writing a novel … like a short story was a baby novel. But now I recognize that they’re completely different beasts — mastering one (if that’s possible) isn’t a free pass to the other.

OB:

If you were to recommend one Canadian short story to readers, what would you choose and why?

JN:

There was an excellent story by Andrew Hood in PRISM 49:4, called “Manning”. It’s about a mother-son baseball-card-selling duo. It’s strong-voiced, hilarious and sad. Definitely worth a read.


For more information about The Bronwen Wallace Award, please visit the Writers' Trust website.

Read stories by all three finalists for the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for free! All three stories are available for download exclusively on from the Apple iBookstore. The iBookstore is accessible via the free iBooks App for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, and via iTunes.

Check out all the On Writing interviews in our archives.

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