Scotiabank Giller Prize·The Giller Files

What's it like being shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize for the first time?

Michelle Winters, author of the novel I Am a Truck, will take CBC Books through what it's like being a first-time finalist in this special series.
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.

Today, she shares what it's like to find out you're nominated for the richest prize in Canadian literature. The winner of the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize will be announced on Nov. 20, 2017.

One day you're wondering whether it's appropriate to gift the remaining copies of your book from the box/footrest under your desk, the next day you're commissioning a velvet pantsuit. Being shortlisted for the Giller Prize is disorienting to say the least. Watching something as small as this book shoot up so fast, into something so big, you have to stand way back to try to grasp the enormity of it.

It's like looking at an image of something white and not knowing whether it's an extreme magnification of a single grain of salt or the Arctic photographed from space.

Status alert

We sold 300 copies of this book in 2016 — we printed 800 — which I thought was an excellent run for a small Canadian press. I've heard of small press books that don't break triple digits in copies sold — so I thought we'd really killed it. I can't stress how little expectation I had that this book would get noticed by the Giller jury. I didn't know the longlist announcement was even coming out, so when I saw that I'd been tagged on Facebook by Alison Pick — a writer I really admire — I couldn't imagine why.

When I looked at her post and realized she was congratulating me, it was like someone had smashed my head between a set of cymbals, like a cartoon. My ears were still ringing from the longlist when the shortlist announcement came out, and it was an even bigger blow with the cymbals. It's reverberating all the time in there now. I can barely keep my balance.   

Thrust into the spotlight

Getting shortlisted means that not only have people read your book — which is hard enough to believe — but now they want to talk about it; and they want to talk about you. Given that writers toil in solitude, agonizing forever over the right word, the idea of having to suddenly speak out loud, in front of people, without any time to come up with the right words, well, it takes some adjusting. I'm making it up as I go, but I think I'm getting better at it. I'm learning a lot about the writer I tell people I am.

Next steps

Getting shortlisted also means that people are asking what I think this will do for my career. Well, I don't have the first idea. New Brunswickers have a way of keeping our expectations at a reasonable level, so whatever happens from this point is just icing on an already spectacularly delicious cake. All I can say is that I'm really looking forward to that pantsuit.

Michelle Winters is the author of I Am a Truck. Next time, she will share what it's really like being an unknown Canadian author.


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