Short Story Prize
The Shortlist: Q&A with Terence Young
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.
Terence Young teaches English and writing at St. Michaels University School in Victoria, B.C. Remarkably, his daughter Clea is also a finalist for the 2011-2012 CBC Short Story Prize. The name of his shortlisted story is “Mantra”.
1. Tell us about yourself.
Victoria has been home all my life. I have been a high school teacher for the last thirty-two years of that life, and a creative writing teacher for twenty of those. My wife, poet Patricia Young, and I have two children, Clea and Liam. Currently, I am on a writing leave from St. Michaels University School, which has been very supportive over the years of me and my need to write, and of fine arts generally.
2. What do you usually write?
There seems to be no “usual” in my writing history. I have published two collections of poetry, two collections of short fiction, and a novel. In the last few months, I have been working on a second novel, so one might call me a bit of a dilettante in that I refuse to settle on one thing in particular.
3. Have you submitted to the competition before?
Many times, and I have been lucky enough to be on the long list a few times before, too. The contest has become an annual rite for many writers in this country, I believe, and I encourage my students to submit, too. Because the contest is blind, anyone has a chance to advance. Blind judging is eminently egalitarian, and it levels the playing field.
4. What is your story about?
I always hesitate to answer this kind of question because it asks me almost to suggest an interpretation. On the more basic level of plot, however, I can say that it focuses on a single evening, in which a boy and his very ill girlfriend listen to a recording of nightingales made by the BBC during World War II.
5. What was the inspiration for your story?
The recording itself and, of course, its immediate association with Keats. I have always loved his ode, and in particular the sad lines of the poem that describe what the speaker declares the immortal nightingale will never know, this fleeting house “where youth grows pale, and spectre thin...” Young love always seems to have an element of desperation attached to it, at least it did for me, and I wanted to capture that.
6. How long did you work on the story? How many drafts did you write?
The story came together fairly quickly—a limit of fifteen hundred words compels a writer to find an arc almost immediately and follow it in a single session to its end. The challenge was to avoid sentimentality—particularly in a story concerning an illness that has affected so many—without diminishing the emotional impact. In this respect, I am blessed with an excellent editor, my wife, who helped me to steer away from the shallows.
7. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Like many people, I always enjoyed writing in school and considered myself “good” at it, but I didn’t start writing seriously with an eye to publication until I was in my early thirties. Until then it was enough work just to hold down a job and raise a family, and I didn’t think I had a lot to say, either. What I came to realize is that thinking you have something to say is almost a hindrance to writing. Better just to write and let the reader decide whether you have said anything.
8. Who's your favourite Canadian writer and why?
I am fortunate to count among my friends many talented and successful Canadian writers, both poets and novelists, so to select from among them would seem disloyal. In truth, though, I have always been the biggest fan of Patricia, my wife, whose poetry and short fiction have explored both her life and her many eclectic interests since I first met her over forty years ago.
9. What's your favourite short story ever written and why?
Whew! That is such a hard question! I have so many favourites, stories that I use as models for my students every year, and in many ways it’s a question of apples and oranges: what is my favourite first person story, second person story, minimalist story, surrealist story etc. Not only that, but I find new favourites every year. Currently, I am in awe of a very short short story by Jonathan Safran Foer called “Here we aren’t so quickly”. What he accomplishes in a small space is astonishing.
Terence Young is the author of five books: The Island in Winter, Rhymes With Useless, After Goodlake’s, Moving Day, and The End of the Ice Age. He is also the co-founder of The Claremont Review, a literary journal for young writers. In 2008, Terence was awarded the Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence. He has been married to poet Patricia Young for the past thirty-seven years and has been a grandfather for one.