First aired on NXNW (10/12/11)
Though he's only 26, D.W. Wilson has forged a writing career that would be the envy of someone a decade older. First, he received the University of East Anglia's inaugural Man Booker Scholarship. This year, he became the youngest winner of the coveted BBC National Short Story Award (which comes with cash as well as glory: a cool 15,000 pounds). His winning story, The Dead Roads, can be found in his debut short story collection, Once You Break a Knuckle, which was published in September. He stopped by CBC Vancouver's NXNW to speak with host Sheryl MacKay about his stories, which centre around some of the rough and tumble characters of his hometown of Invermere, B.C. The book is a rollicking read written in a very distinctive voice.
But though the past couple of years have been very good to him, Wilson's success wasn't instantaneous. "I submitted stories 80 times to lit journals before I ever got published," he said. How did he keep that persistence going? "Ego," he quipped. "I read somewhere that you have to simultaneously believe that whatever you're working on is the greatest work ever and absolute bollocks. And I still do."
Wilson credits a particularly supportive university professor for his tenacity. "When you see a turtle on a fencepost, it didn't get there by itself," he said self-deprecatingly. "She not only made me realize what I wanted to write about, this 'tough guy' fiction, but she taught me how I wanted to write about it, which ended up being about the body, the physicality of it."
The characters in Once You Break a Knuckle are the strong, silent type. They engage in physical activities, like judo or wrestling. "It's not necessarily violent, though there is violence in some of the stories," said Wilson. "But it is very physical and combative." Indeed, rather than talking, two of Wilson's characters communicate with each other primarily through wrestling. "One of the reviews I got said 'these characters would have a much easier time if they'd just say something,'" chuckles Wilson. "But that's what I was going for, that inability to communicate."
One of the characters in Once You Break a Knuckle is based on Wilson himself, or at least a version of the author if he had stayed in Invermere. "It's me channeling that tug I can't get away from," he said. "The valley just pulls." But Wilson doesn't think he'll ever succumb to the pull, though he admits he misses the mountains.
Unlike many writers, Wilson says he neither plans out his stories, nor does he go back and do rewrites once they're written. All his self-editing is done as part of the initial writing process. "I can't go forward unless I like the way it sounds," he explained. "I have a list of rules that I follow when I write a sentence, and a bad word list in my pocket." He refuses, for example, to use "up", "smile" or any word ending with an "ing." "I think the worst word in the English language is 'being.'"
He reads his sentences and paragraphs aloud to himself as they come together, writing the next sentence once he's satisfied with what he's got so far. "I just write line by line," he said. "And usually about two thirds of the way through there's only once place it can go."
Once You Break a Knuckle
by D.W. Wilson
Buy this book at:
From the publisher:
"Set in the remote Kootenay Valley in western Canada, Once
You Break a Knuckle tells stories of good people doing bad
things: two bullied adolescents sabotage a rope swing, resulting in
another boy's death; a heartbroken young man refuses to warn his
best friend about an approaching car; sons challenge fathers and
Read more at Hamish Hamilton Canada