Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Daniel Coleman reveals the best and worst parts of writing his RBC Taylor Prize-shortlisted book, Yardwork

Hamilton, Ont.-based author Daniel Coleman answers eight questions from eight writers.
Daniel Coleman is a professor and author. (Wolsak and Wynn Publishers Ltd.)

In Yardwork, Daniel Coleman explores how Hamilton, Ont. has been shaped by political and cultural events throughout history. The book is also a meditation on the meaning of home, as Coleman navigates his role as a newcomer to the city. Yardwork is a finalist for the 2018 RBC Taylor Prize, a $30,000 award for Canadian nonfiction.

In the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A, Coleman answers questions on the writing life from eight fellow writers.

1. Nicolas Dickner asks, "Which writing skill would you like to improve?"

It's always a challenge to find sentences that surprise and sparkle without shouting for attention to themselves as sentences. I admire writers who can use everyday language that doesn't announce itself as poetic or erudite or beautiful even as it makes me as a reader suck in my breath and see the familiar in a totally new way. I aspire to write like that.

2. Ian Brown asks, "What was the lowest point in the writing of your latest project? And the highest?"

Lowest point: when I rewrote the entire manuscript in what I now see was a fake voice. It took several front-to-back revisions to rescue it. Highest point: when I finally felt I'd got the sequence and pace right to highlight a scene that I think is the best writing in the book.

3. Guillaume Morissette asks, "Do you believe in universal income? Would writing in Canada be better or worse if we had universal basic income instead of the Canada Council?"

I don't know. I remember talking to a Canadian actor working in Moscow who had basic income. It seemed to me it enabled the kind of long-term development of craft or project that the anxiety-inducing, short-term, grant-to-grant model undermines. There would, however, still need to be some system for accountability.

4. Tabatha Southey asks, "What are you drinking?"

Anything local, especially tap water and Niagara reds.

5. Pasha Malla asks, "Who is one writer, living or dead, who you wish could edit or critique your drafts?"

For literary nonfiction, Aldo Leopold, who could write sentences that fly, even when he's writing about banal things like mud or marshes or weather.

6. Bill Waiser asks, "Do you work from an outline or freestyle?"

A mix. I usually have an outline of chapter ideas that provides a map of the overall book, but I work mostly freestyle within each chapter.

7. Hoa Nguyen asks, "What passages or pieces of literature have you committed to memory?"

I have a logbook of poems and passages that I keep active in memory, reviewing a different one each day to keep it fresh. It's amazing to me how a line from a poem I've memorized years ago and reviewed regularly can still open up with new meaning when I review it again.

8. Melanie Mah asks, "Who are some of your favourite writers?"

Peter Blue Cloud, Bono, Bruce Cockburn, Leonard Cohen, James De Mille, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Esi Edugyan, Louise Bernice Halfe, Thich Nhat Hanh, Trevor Herriot, Linda Hogan, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas King, Barbara Kingsolver, Patrick Lane, Lee Maracle, Don McKay, Mary Oliver, Michael Ondaatje, E.J. Pratt, Rumi, John Terpstra, Richard Wagamese...I could go on and on.