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Creative Nonfiction Prize

Meet the readers: Iain Reid

We're introducing you to the 10 talented Canadian writers who helped narrow down the 2,300+ entries for the 2011-2012 CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize into the longlist.

Today, the National Post writer and author of One Bird's Choice on the importance of standing out.

Tell us about yourself.  Where do you live and what do you write? 
I live near Lake Ontario, in Kingston. I write a lot of nonfiction and essays, and have recently been playing with some fiction. I also write essays for the National Post books section. My second book of nonfiction is forthcoming from House of Anansi, likely in 2013. 
What's your day job?
I’ve done a lot of jobs over the years: teaching, researching, freelancing, I even helped a friend with his home renovations business installing drywall and such. Recently it’s been mostly writing, editing and journalism of varying forms. 

What's your literary street cred? 
I think the only time I’ve held real credibility of any sort was in grade three when I won the Award of Excellence in Canada Fitness. I remember doing lots of pushups in an allotted time. I was presented with a paper certificate on which my named was spelled incorrectly.  

Why did you want to be a reader for the CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize? 
I love reading. That’s the biggest reason. I also thought it would be interesting to see what people around the country were writing and thinking about and how they were reflecting on their own lives and experiences.  

What do you like most about nonfiction?
It gives the writer a break at the beginning by not having to entirely create a world and characters. Then it just becomes storytelling like anything else. It’s not really a distinction I’m aware of while reading.  

Where did you read the entries?
Not it one place specifically. There was lots of reading to do, so I diversified. Sometimes I would lie on the floor, or sit at my desk, sometimes on my bed, or just in a chair/foot stool combo. I may have spent some time in a rattan. Once I took a stack into the bath. But, yeah, mostly lying on the floor with a pillow under my head.

When you’re reading hundreds of stories and trying to choose the most exceptional ones, what are you looking for?
An original and consistent voice. With a contest like this I think the details are almost secondary to the way the story is told. Some that I really liked were more dramatic, others were seemingly mundane or introspective. 
Can you describe a couple of the stories that struck you as standouts? 
One that jumped out at me was "Cutting Wood with J. Alfred Prufrock," which described a solitary man finding driftwood, cutting and stacking wood. Another that I read over a few times and enjoyed was "Twenty Thousand Stitches," which was about someone knitting on a train while observing/interacting with some of the other riders. 
What is it about a story that makes you put it in the YES pile?
If I felt like reading it again right away, it would go in the (first) YES pile. Distinguishing between two from that initial YES pile was more challenging and complicated. But I developed a system for that too.  
Having read all these stories, do you have tips, any dos and don’ts for story writers?
I might say something vague like try not to think or write in a writerly way (whatever that means). Also, as always, plenty of revision is mandatory. 
What did you enjoy most about the experience?
Having the chance to read so many entries. Most of these stories were personal and had been carefully considered and thought through. I could tell these writers were sincere and had spent lots of time on their work and I liked that. 

Iain Reid is the author of the comic memoir, One Bird's Choice. His second book, The Truth About Luck, will be released in 2013. His work has appeared on NPR, CBC Radio and in publications such as The Globe and Mail, Reader's Digest, and The Classical. He writes regularly for The National Post about books and writing. 

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