I'm not convinced that aspiring writers want advice. No one has asked me for any, and I don't think I went around looking for tips. I suspect that the people who know they're going to write just get on with it, no matter what discouragement you offer them.
—Esmé Claire Keith, Author of "Not Being on a Boat"
First time novelist Esmé Claire Keith won the McNally Robinson Book of the Year at the 2012 Manitoba Book Awards.
She took home the $5000.00 prize for her novel Not Being on a Boat
Keith was up against strong competition, including Dancing, With Mirrors
by George Amabile, King: William Lyon MacKenzie King: A Life Guided by the Hand of Destiny
by Allan Levine, Dale Barbour's Winnipeg Beach
by Wayne Tefs.
SCENE wanted to know more about Esmé Claire Keith.How does it feel for you to win such a prominent award with a debut novel?
It feels good. I'm happy that the jury liked the book and I'm happy that the book is getting some attention. I was surprised to get the award, but I'm trying not to let that interfere with my pleasure. Where did the idea to write "Not Being on a Boat" come from?
I started out imagining a guy in a small boat that was taking on water and slowly sinking. I was imagining the main character as a person who prefers to deny that he's facing a problem, and who foolishly tries to save face, instead of turning to and taking real action to solve it.
As I kept writing, the character rationalized more, offering all kinds of self-serving excuses explaining why it would be ridiculous for him, say, to start bailing. And he became a little bit more complicated: insecure, pompous, self-applauding, vicious when the spirit moved him.
And then the boat got bigger. The steward, Raoul, showed up pretty quickly, and I loved the dynamic between the demanding narcissist and the diligent flunky who satisfies his ridiculous requirements, or at least tries to give the impression that he does.
I definitely started out thinking of it as a short story, but the original idea generated a lot of other ideas, and I gave myself permission to follow them. Tell us about your path to becoming a writer.
I always wanted to write and, especially when I was young, I just assumed that I would write some day. When I was a child and through high school, I was very serious and disciplined about writing. Then I grew up and lost that kind of intense focus.
In university I read much more widely, and it occurred to me that good writing is actually pretty difficult to pull off. So, that was something to think about.
And then, life takes over and I had to figure out how to earn a living and so on, and I didn't do much writing at all for a while. I came back to make a more concerted effort I think about fifteen years ago. It's definitely been a slow process. I kept at it because I continued to enjoy the writing itself. What role did your parents have in you becoming a writer?
My parents were and are book people. The house was full of books and everyone read and then talked about books as if they mattered. When I was a kid, I would look at the titles of the books on the bookshelves, the adult bookshelves,- and I remember thinking that they must hold untold wonders. I still find just the titles, and the spines of some of those books irresistible: At Lady Molly's
by Anthony Powell, or A Division of the Spoils
, by Paul Scott. What did you read when you were younger?
I read a lot of awful books when I was a kid. The list includes robust historical romances and teen problem novels. Rereading some of these in my twenties, I was astonished by how bad they were. It makes me laugh, because now I'm a terrible snob about what I like and what I can stand to read, and when I was thirteen I couldn't get enough of these really bad writers. And I read it all with such zest and enthusiasm. What advice do you give to other aspiring writers?
I'm not convinced that aspiring writers want advice. No one has asked me for any, and I don't think I went around looking for tips. I suspect that the people who know they're going to write just get on with it, no matter what discouragement you offer them. What's next for you?
I'm waiting to find out. Right now I'm circling around a couple of ideas, but nothing has really asserted itself as a major project. I think that I'm comfortable with that. Although I'm also assuming that something will rise up sometime soon.Listen to Esmé Claire Keith read from Not Being on a Boat on SCENE On Air on Saturday May 5, 5:00 p.m. on CBC Radio One.