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Short Story Prize

The Shortlist: Q&A with Becky Blake

Becky Blake won the 2013 CBC Short Story Prize for her story "The Three Times Rule". We talk to her about the inspiration for her story and the challenges of writing about sex.

Tell us about yourself.
I’m a Toronto-based writer.

What do you usually write?
I usually write fiction, both short and long. Lately, I’ve been doing some script work for film, and I’m just about finished a novel that I’ve been working on for almost four years.

Have you submitted to the competition before?
Yes, twice I think.

What is your story about?
My story is about how much distance exists between our external and internal worlds, and how the internal stuff can be pretty difficult to share with other people. Sometimes we can’t even figure it out ourselves. 

What was the inspiration for your story?
When I first wrote this story I was in my twenties, and I’d been going through a period of rather disappointing dating. Not that the story is autobiographical, but I think that the first draft came out of pondering this failure to connect. In more recent drafts, I also wanted to explore the associations that get made in our memory between past and present—how certain details return to us at seemingly random moments. 

How long did you work on the story? How many drafts did you write?
I’ve been working on this story off and on for a very long time. I remember taking it to the Toronto Reference Library in 2001 to workshop it with Russell Smith when he was writer-in-residence there. He must have said something encouraging because I’ve had the file in my ‘Active Stories’ folder ever since. This past autumn I decided to rework it, adding a new layer of interiority for the main character: what she’s thinking and remembering. This seemed to give the story a more interesting density. I’ve always been a pretty slow writer, but I think twelve years for four pages is a record, even for me!

The character in your story has personal rules about casual sex. Were you nervous about writing about sex in your story? 
I’m never nervous to write about sex. The problem is that sometimes people actually read what I’ve written and that can be a bit stressful. I think the trick is to write sex scenes as if no one will ever read them, and then deal with the fallout later. 

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
According to my mom, my first word was ‘book,’ and I think a passion for reading and a passion for writing are connected. The first story I remember writing was in Grade 1. It was called “Seaweed Soufflé” and it was about an underwater dinner party. 

Name one of your favourite Canadian writers. What is it you love about their work?
There are so many Canadian writers I love, but in relation to this particular story, I’d like to mention Tamara Faith Berger. I’ve always felt really grateful to her for her no-holds-barred novels. I’m pretty sure I was reading her book “Lie with Me” around the time that I wrote the first draft of my story, and it proved to me that I didn’t need to censor myself. When you ask me how it feels to write about sex, I’d say that Tamara Faith Berger’s work is part of the reason I just go ahead and do it. 

Photo credit: Ayelet Tsabari


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