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Creative Nonfiction Prize

The Shortlist: Q&A with Judy McFarlane

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

Judy McFarlane is a former lawyer who began to write short stories, documentaries and nonfiction articles in her late 40s. Her story, “After, and Before”, is shortlisted for the 2011-2012 CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize. 

Judy McFarlane.jpg
1. Tell us about yourself.
I live in Vancouver. In another life, I was a lawyer, but writing was what I always wanted to do. In my later forties I returned to school, taking a first year creative writing course and eventually finding my way to UBC’s MFA in creative writing program. 

2. What do you usually write?
At UBC I wrote a book of linked short stories and since then, I’ve written nonfiction and fiction, as well as done some radio documentaries. I’ve also worked as a writer-in-residence at elementary schools, helping Grade Six and Seven students write and perform plays about issues important to them.

3. Have you submitted to the competition before?
I’ve submitted both fiction and nonfiction to the competition before, two or three times in each category.

4. What is your story about?
My story is about accepting that there is a randomness to life, that a terrible event can land on you on an ordinary Monday morning, and that there is an after, whatever shape it takes. That’s the philosophical answer—the practical answer is that my story is about a very bad work accident my oldest son had, and about how he and I got past it, in our own ways.

5. What compelled you to tell this story?
I think I began to write about this as a way of dealing with it, trying to come to terms with it.

6. How long did you work on the story? How many drafts did you write?
This story began as some poems, then became prose, and finally I mashed the poems and the prose together one day and that was the start of what became the final piece.

7. Did you tell the people implicated in your story that you were writing/had written it? If so, how did they react?  
My family and my son, in particular, know about my story. I told them after I’d written a draft close to the final one. Their reaction? My husband cried, and my son just smiled and said, “good job, Mum.”

8. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?  
I’ve known since I was about ten that I wanted to be a writer. 

9. What other nonfiction writers inspire you?
There are so many nonfiction writers I admire. A few are: Joan Didion, Adam Gopnik, Philip Gourevitch, Barbara Kingsolver, Lawrence Weschler, Ian Brown, John Vaillant. 

10. How does it feel to be shortlisted for this prize?
It feels both astonishing and wonderful to be shortlisted for the CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize. I’m very grateful that I live in a place where a national organization like CBC values and celebrates writing.


Judy is a graduate of UBC’s MFA program and the Banff Wired Writing program. Since beginning to write in mid-life, she’s written short stories, one of which was nominated for the Journey Prize, radio documentaries for CBC, and non-fiction articles. She’s also worked as a writer-in-residence with Grade 6 and 7 students, helping them write and perform plays about issues important to them. In a distant previous life, she practiced law. She believes that writing and stories can change lives.


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