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Short Story Prize

The Shortlist: Q&A with Mathew Howard

There are five names on the shortlist for this year's CBC Short Story Prize. Before we announce the winner, we want to introduce you to the finalists and their stories.

Mathew Howard's story "Old Hands" is one of the five stories on the shortlist. He tells us about what inspired the story, and the self-awarded writing accolades he won as a child.  

Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in Australia and moved to Canada in 2006, first living in Victoria and Halifax before finally settling in Toronto with my husband, Mitz, our two sons, Tyler and Riley, and a small dog/child named Finn. I come from a theatre background, but am currently a full-time stay-at-home dad and write as often as I can. I’m also stumbling my way through a masters degree in public policy.

What do you usually write?
Non-fiction, essays, fiction, including short stories, plays and poems; anything really! Like most writers, I have a drawer full of half-completed projects, but am slowly working through them, while adding new unfinished projects to the pile (sigh). I’m also working on a longer piece. Magic realism tends to feature in my fiction writing. I’m drawn to worlds where anything is possible.
Have you submitted to the competition before?
This is my first entry and hats off to my wonderful husband for encouraging me to submit. I had an idea for a story and the competition gave me a goal. When I hit that “submit” button, I was pleased to have challenged myself and completed the story!

What is your story about?
A man’s house is sinking into the sea. The rest is really up to the reader.

What was the inspiration for your story?
I’m an incurable news-junkie. A few years back, I read a story about an elderly man drowning in a flood as he was trying to save his home and I was moved and horrified. The image sat with me over time and evolved into this story.

How long did you work on the story? How many drafts did you write?
I wrote the story on and off for around two weeks. I think this is the seventh or eighth draft. 

The drowning house in your story is a very effective metaphor. What gave you the idea to use it to evoke the end of this old man’s life?
We finished a renovation a few years ago. Peeling back layers of wallpaper and tugging out old electrical cords gave me a visceral sense of the house as something organic.We think of both our bodies and homes as permanent, but in fact they’re constantly changing and to some extent degrading. Both are fragile.The idea of a house submerged in water came straight from the news, but the slow disintegration of a house struck me as an evocative way to describe dying or forgetting or letting go.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I recently found a stack of poems and stories I wrote as a kid. I clearly had a high opinion of myself; most are covered in glowing accolades, written in suspiciously familiar handwriting. “1991 Novel of the Year by an Eleven Year Old” was a particularly tough win. I drove my parents mad with poetry and story recitations. These days, I’m writing more and still chasing that dream, when I’m not changing diapers and listening to my own kids’ stories.

Name one of your favourite Canadian writers. What is it you love about their work?
I didn’t have a lot of exposure to Canadian writers growing up, but in retrospect, my little Australian library card was always filled with Ondaatje and Atwood novels. In the Skin of a Lion will always be one of my favourite novels. I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Ruth. I attach deeply to her characters and her writing is intelligent, incisive and full of surprises. Derek McCormack is masterful with language and reminds me to edit, edit, edit. I also love writer and performer Nina Arsenault, whose work is blindingly honest and courageous. They have vastly different styles, but are each there on my shoulder when I sit down to write.

How does it feel to be shortlisted for this prize?
I’m truly surprised, humbled and very excited. I entered the competition because I had a story to tell and given the daily bedlam of parenting, needed a goal to commit it to paper. I had a lot of fun writing the story and feel deeply connected to it. The fact I can now share it with a wider audience is an honour and a complete rush. Fingers crossed; I’d love two weeks alone with a typewriter in the woods!
Mathew Howard is in the running for the CBC Short Story Prize. 

Read his story Old Hands

The winner will be announced on March 26. The Grand Prize is $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, a writing residency at The Banff Centre, and publication in Air Canada’s enRoute magazine.

Photo credit: M. Delisle


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