Alice Munro reveals cancer fight

One of the world's most respected authors, Canadian Alice Munro, has revealed she's had a recent fight with cancer.

One of the world's most respected authors, Canadian Alice Munro, has revealed she's had a recent fight with cancer.

Munro, 78, who earlier this year was named the third recipient of the prestigious Man Booker International Prize, honouring her life's work, briefly alluded to her health Wednesday night at a sold-out literary event in Toronto.

In an on-stage conversation with fellow author Diana Athill, Munro said she's had heart bypass surgery and "just had cancer."

Still, Munro said she's "been lucky with her health," unlike her mother, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at a relatively young age and died in her late 50s.

"I think some of us are much luckier than others in life," she said. "I think we are lucky now in the kind of medical intervention that keeps us going."

But Munro and Athill, who is 91, were both lively and upbeat during the speaking event, which was a highly sought after ticket kicking off the 10-day International Festival of Authors.

The women chatted about everything from sex, to Canadian literature, to how times have changed since they began their writing careers.

Sexual ambivalence subject of next work

Munro said she's currently working on a story about sex — or lack thereof.

"I've known people who were genuinely not much interested in sex — and it isn't a matter of their age or what they're brought up with or anything — it's just something that they feel is put on them that they don't really want to have to respond to," she said.

"I wanted to take a person like this, all the trials he goes through life because of other people expecting things of him."

For her part, Athill — who is hard of hearing — joked about how she misses chamber music more than sex.

"That is true, of course," she said with a laugh. "Chamber music I could still very much enjoy if only I could hear it, you see. Whereas when you stop particularly wanting sex it doesn't matter not having it."

Athill said she's finding Canadian literature much more interesting these days than the fiction coming out of England, where she's from.

"You in Canada, and people who live in Australia, have marvellous subjects, my goodness do you have subjects, and in England I feel novels have explored one way or another every inch of life, we're all becoming now very navel-gazing writers in England because we've done so much," she said.

"Whereas [it's different for] people who live in a country which is developing in an extraordinary fashion that Canada is, changing and growing all the time."

More difficult to shock audience: Munro

But Munro said it wasn't always that way and Canadian writers were often discouraged from telling their own stories.

"When I started to write there was a feeling you couldn't write about Canada — nobody would be interested — and there was an extraordinary, I don't know, shyness or a feeling that somehow you had to go to Europe in order to bring out your creativity," she said.

Munro also noted there aren't nearly as many taboos as there were back when she launched her career.

"I don't think you can shock people the way you used to," she said, and reminisced about a story she wrote in university that upset the people in her hometown because she dared to include "Jesus Christ" in the dialogue.

"I hadn't thought about shocking people, I really hadn't, and this sort of thing was happening all the time," she said.

"[It was] always hurting people a little bit, I always hoped they wouldn't read what I'd written."

Munro's most recent book is a short story collection entitled Too Much Happiness, which is nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award and the Writers' Trust Award. She asked her publisher to withdraw the book from consideration for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, saying she wanted to give younger writers a chance to take the spotlight.

Munro has won two Giller Prizes and three Governor General's Literary Awards.