The Giller Files

On the road: Michelle Winters on hanging out with her fellow Scotiabank Giller Prize-shortlisted authors

Michelle Winters, author of I Am a Truck, explains what it's like being a first-time Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist.
I Am a Truck by Michelle Winters is on the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist. (Invisible Publishing/Sara Heinonen)

Michelle Winters got the surprise of her life when her debut novel, I Am a Truck, made the shortlist for the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Winters will be sharing her Giller journey with CBC Books in a five-part series. In part one, she shared the sudden shock of being shortlisted. In part two, she revealed the gory details of the publishing process.

Today, in the third installment, she talks about the thrill of going cross-country with her fellow shortlisted authors on a six-city tour. 

In olden times, you could get nominated for the Giller prize, go get yourself a fancy outfit and show up at the gala three weeks later to find out who won. This year, the Giller committee is test-driving a six-city tour of Canada, which is at once like a band camp for literary grownups, an opportunity to enjoy a sumptuous array of hors d'oeuvres and a reminder of just how excited people get about books.   

Hanging with the Giller gang

Ed O'Loughlin, Rachel Cusk, Michael Redhill and Eden Robinson are effortless to be around. They're smart and funny and fascinating. Eden Robinson can disassemble a car and put it back together, Rachel Cusk has romantic feelings for the Dartmouth ferry, Michael Redhill flirted with my mum and the sight of a mushroom vol-au-vent sends Ed O'Louglin into giddy reminiscence of his days as a young journalist.

O Canada!

So far, we've done Wordfest in Calgary, the Vancouver Writers Festival, and Between the Pages in Ottawa and Halifax. We go, we read and we talk about our books in a room full of people who've paid to watch us do just that. Imagine! Then we eat hors d'oeuvres together and people come up, shake your hand, look you in the eye and tell you how excited they are about reading. They tell you how they never get enough time to read everything on the longlist before the shortlist comes out — because when the shortlist does come out, they want to know the books on it.

They're completely invested. They throw their own Giller parties, get dressed up and make their own hors d'oeuvres with no other stake in the game than the love of a good book and a party. Then there are book clubs and writing groups who show up because they want to become better writers and learn more about what they're reading.

Laptops and lobsters

The conversations are so stimulating you almost want to bust out a laptop and start writing. In Ottawa, we got to roam the National Gallery talking with the guests about art and literature at the same time, and in Halifax, a man told me the most amazing story about boiling lobster in the shovel of a backhoe. "I'm not a writer," he said, "so you can have that one."

Without question, it's a lot of work. It's packing and unpacking your least wrinkle-prone outfit, carrying tiny toiletries in a Ziploc bag and learning the value of a Tide stick. But for the company, the inspiration and the lobsters-in-the-backhoe story, it's the absolute chance of a lifetime.

Michelle Winters is the author of I Am a Truck. The winner of the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize will be announced on Nov. 20, 2017.


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