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Short Story Prize

The Shortlist: Q&A with D.W. Wilson

There are ten names on the shortlist for this year’s CBC Short Story Prize. But before we announce the winner, we want to let you know a little about the writers whose stories rose to the top. 

D.W. Wilson was born and raised in the small towns of the Kootenay Valley, British Columbia. His story, "One More Thing Coming Undone" is shortlisted for the 2011-2012 CBC Short Story Prize. 

1. Tell us about yourself
I’m 26, and I live in Cambridge (UK), doing a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich.  Writing is my day job, and probably my night job too.  I do a lot of shuffling around the house appearing to get nothing done.  Somehow this pays the bills.

2. What do you usually write? 
I’ve just completed my first novel, Ballistics, which is scheduled for publication next spring.  I jokingly refer to my work as “sad man fiction,” though in truth I’m interested in stories where characters make—or come very close to making—mistakes they’ll never be able to set right.  I probably prefer the short story form overall; my first book, Once You Break a Knuckle, is a short story collection.

3. Have you submitted to the competition before? 
Every year since I-don’t-remember-when.  Thought the best story was last year’s, but I suppose you’re always the worst judge of your own work.  That may not be categorically true, but it sounds wise, so I’m sticking by it. 

4. What is your story about?
A sad man thinking about the mistakes he’s made.  I’m not even kidding.

5. What was the inspiration for your story?
Earliest indication of this piece shows up in an unpublished flash fiction story I wrote a long time ago—it’s the opening line (though it’s in the middle of the flash fiction piece): “The moment you figure out how everything will end.”  Other than that, it’s a roadtrip story of sorts, and I’m fascinated by the Trans-Canada, since it’s like our only highway but it seems to lead everywhere.  The character in my story says something similar.

6. How long did you work on the story? How many drafts did you write?
I honestly have no recollection of writing this story, nor how many drafts I went through (though I see about four different files on my computer with earlier versions of it—some in different tenses and some in different PoVs).  I can remember rewriting and rewriting and rewriting the opening paragraph until I got the sound I wanted. It was when I finally stumbled upon “palm-bald gearshift” that I figured I might be on the right track.

7. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I guess it depends if you count me in grade six being enthralled by Lord of the Rings.  If so: grade six when I became enthralled with Lord of the Rings.  But I didn’t think I could do it professionally until my third year in UVic’s writing program, when Lorna Jackson asked me if I had started looking at grad schools.  I hadn’t, and she said, “Well, you should”—so I did (and here I am).

8. Who's your favourite Canadian writer and why?
I’m not sure if I’m supposed to answer with respect to their work or to the typical strength of their character.  In either case: Bill Gaston, for his short story “The Gods Take Off Their Shirts” (in Gargoyles); and Bill Gaston, for his exquisitely smoked west-coast salmon and general disposition toward buffoonery. 

9. What's your favourite short story ever written and why?
Tim Winton’s “Commission,” from his collection The Turning, because of how elegantly he can turn a phrase, evoke a landscape, and somehow—I wish I knew how—capture the tough emotions.  It’s about a son searching for his estranged father on Australia’s west coast, at the behest of his dying mother.   

D.W. Wilson is the recipient of the University of East Anglia’s inaugural Man Booker Prize Scholarship—the most prestigious award available to students in the MA program—and in 2011 he became the youngest-ever winner of the BBC's National Short Story Award. His first book, Once You Break a Knuckle, is nominated for the CBC Bookies. It will be followed by a novel, Ballistics. He lives in Cambridge.

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