British writer Rachel Joyce was an actress, mother of four and author of more than 20 radio plays before she attempted to write her first novel.

And that debut, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, has earned her a place on the long list for the 2012 Man Booker prize.

Joyce began writing the book at a time her father was dying of cancer, even though she knew he would not live to read it. The British writer freely admits the book was a fantasy about trying to keep her dad alive.

In an interview with CBC’s Ilana Banks, Joyce talks about her main character Harold Fry, a man who has difficulty communicating with others and who is estranged from his son.  When he gets a letter saying his old friend is dying, he begins walking from the south to the north of Britain in an attempt to keep his friend alive.

Joyce writes inside a garden shed at the Gloucestershire home she shares with her husband and children. She says she tore out pages from the road map of Britain kept in the family car to map out Harold Fry’s journey. As she wrote, she papered the inside of her garden shed, covering one wall and starting on another before she finished the novel.

Joyce talks with CBC about the unexpected honour of a Man Booker nomination and how her novel about a man facing the loss of a loved one became a life-affirming project.

The Man Booker short list will be announced on Sept. 11.