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Q&A: Will Ferguson

To celebrate this year's Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist, we asked each longlisted author a series of questions to help us gain insight into their novel and their thoughts on the craft of writing. Here's what Will Ferguson, author of 419, had to say.

ferguson_will.jpgQ: What inspired you to write 419?

A: It grew out of the research I did for my previous novel, Spanish Fly, a story about con men and call girls set in the dustbowl of the Great Depression. In researching the classic swindles of that era, I came upon a reference to the "Spanish Prisoner" con game, which dates back to the days of the Spanish Armada. A footnote added: "Today's Nigerian 419 con is a modern variation on this." That the root of these email spam-scams could be traced back 500 years fascinated me. And although 419 is very much set in today's internet-saturated world, the con itself taps into something much older in human nature. That's what hooked me.

Q: What would you say is at the core of your book?

A: A sense of longing. The characters in 419 are all searching for each other -- they just don't know it.

Q: If your book was being made into a movie, which actors could you envision taking on the main characters?

A: I wrote the character of Winston with the Nigerian-born British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor in mind. And Sarah Polley would be perfect for Laura. Other than that, the image I had of the characters was primarily in my own mind, and not based on any specific people, actors or otherwise.
Q: Which Scotiabank Giller-longlisted book (other than your own!) would you most like to see take home the prize?

A: C.S. Richardson's The Emperor of Paris, though I confess I haven't read it yet. I read his previous novel, however, The End of the Alphabet, and thought it was brilliant.

Q: Where is the absolute best place for you to write?

A: Many years ago, I used to write in the Local History room at Calgary's main library -- I was sort of the unofficial "writer in residence." Now I work at home, in the same office for the last nine years. When I'm proofing pages, though (I never edit on a screen; I need to see it on the page), I often find a quiet corner of Mount Royal University, which is nearby -- just to get me out of the house.
Q: Is there a specific subject matter, event or location close to your heart that'd you love to write about in the future?

A: Rwanda. The story of the genocide and the astonishing recovery of that country represents both the very worst and best that human nature is capable of. I'm drawn to tragic places, I'm not sure why. It's probably the reason I spent so much time in Northern Ireland.

Q: What book has moved or affected you most in the past year?

A: We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch.

419.jpgQ: What is one insight into the craft of writing or the writing life that you wish you'd known much earlier?

A: Your time estimates are wrong. Period. It doesn't matter how carefully you budget your time, or how reasonable and detailed the timeline is -- it will always take much longer to finish your manuscript than you ever expected. So there's no point stressing about it. Just keep working toward the end and the deadlines will take care of themselves.

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More 2012 longlisted author Q&As


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