Books·CBC Literary Prizes

How Sandra Murdock wrote the story that won the 2018 CBC Nonfiction Prize

The winner of the 2018 CBC Nonfiction Prize discusses the creative process behind Easy Family Dinners. The 2023 prize is open for submissions until Feb. 28, 2023 at 11:59 p.m. ET

The 2023 CBC Nonfiction Prize is open for submissions until Feb. 28, 2023 at 11:59 p.m. ET

Sandra Murdock is a writer based in Dartmouth, N.S. (Arleigh Hood)

The 2023 CBC Nonfiction Prize is now open! You could win $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, have the opportunity to attend a two-week writing residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point, a cultural hub on Toronto Island, and have your work published on CBC Books.

The prize is open until Feb. 28, 2023! Submit now for a chance to win!

To inspire you, check out the story behind Easy Family Dinners by Sandra Murdock, which won the 2018 CBC Nonfiction Prize.

Sandra Murdock is the winner of the 2018 CBC Nonfiction Prize for Easy Family Dinners. As the winner, Murdock received $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and a two-week writing residency. Her story was published on CBC Books, you can read it here.

In Easy Family Dinners, Murdock reveals how she dealt with living with a loved one who is battling alcoholism.

In her own words, the Dartmouth, N.S.-based writer discusses how she wrote her winning essay.

Breaking the silence

"Those of us who experience it, we tend to be silent about it. We don't tell our stories. We feel that we shouldn't tell our stories because we want to protect the people and we want to protect ourselves. Any time we're faced with addiction, there's a lot of silence around that as well. I felt that it was important to share this because I know there are people out there that are going through similar experiences. They're questioning themselves and what's really happening, 'Am I going crazy?' Because that's what it feels like.

"Being open and sharing our stories is changing things. I think that addiction and alcoholism is something that we need to be talking about more and keep talking about it. This is my contribution to that."

LISTEN | Sandra Murdock reads Easy Family Dinners: 
Featured VideoDartmouth, N.S. writer Sandra Murdock reads her essay "Easy Family Dinners," which won the 2018 CBC Nonfiction Prize.

Lessons learned

"I knew by choosing this particular event that I would have a clear narrative with a beginning and an end. The framework of that specific afternoon worked well for that. Writing it felt like a practice run at first. It was only after I'd written it down that I realised I had something solid to work with. It was the first time that I really sat down and knew I needed to complete this piece. I knew I needed to be honest and dig around all my feelings and make sense of them."

Putting it out there

"It was an important act to take. I needed to take that step, make that promise to myself that I wasn't just journaling. I wasn't just trying to work through my feelings, I was actually trying to make something good out of it. I was trying to make something solid and meaningful out of emotional chaos. I didn't think about what could potentially come of this. I told myself, 'You are actually going to do this. This is a writing project and you are going to treat it seriously.' This is part of respecting the story: believing in it enough that I could put it out there. Believing that my story deserved to be told and to be told well."

Sandra Murdock's comments have been edited for length and clarity.