Thomas King discusses The Back of the Turtle


Thomas King is a prolific author, having penned radio dramas, children's stories, memoirs and more. But he rarely writes fiction, which is why his latest book, the novel The Back of the Turtle, is so special. It is King's first novel in 15 years. He was recently on CBC Radio's Q to discuss the book. You can listen to his conversation below:

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Considering how much time passed between novels, it should come as no surprise that King prefers writing non-fiction. His last book, the memoir The Inconvenient Indian won the RBC Taylor Prize in 2013. Fiction, King says, is like "buttering warm toast," while writing history is like "herding porcupines with your elbows."

That's not why, however, it took King so long to write The Back of the Turtle. He was simply stuck. "I was stuck with the first chapter about three years. That was as far as I could get," he said, "I didn't know where it was going to go. When I start my literary fiction, I have an idea I want to say perhaps, or just a little moment I want to describe. And I hope it will just blossom from that. But this one didn't for the longest time."

It eventually came together. The final result tackles the fraught relationship between humankind and nature when a human-made environmental disaster wipes out a native reserve. Despite the heavy material, the novel is often funny - a choice King made purposefully to give his message more impact.

"To be angry about something doesn't mean anyone is going to listen to you," King said. Anger shuts people out, but humour lets people in. The trick, King says, is to not take it too far. "You have to be right on the edge of that. You have to allow moments for people to breathe, which comedy does, and you have to be serious enough that they don't dismiss you."

The last part of the equation, King says, is luck. "You hope to heck that it works out."