The Next Chapter

The most thrilling writing experience Cary Fagan ever had

Cary Fagan's latest book, The Old World and Other Stories, merges his love of vintage photographs and short-story writing.
The 35 stories in The Old World were inspired by old photographs Fagan collected from antique shops around Toronto. (House of Anansi Press/Mark Raynes Roberts)

Cary Fagan is an award-winning author of books for both children and adults. His short stories and novels are full of wonder and whimsy, often inspired by the sights and sounds of Toronto, his hometown and place of residence. Fagan's latest work, The Old World and Other Stories, is a collection of 35 short stories that were each sparked by a single vintage photograph.

I got interested in photographs quite a few years ago. I think most people find old photographs enchanting. If you go into a vintage store and you see a shoe box of photos, you look through them — people's weddings and babies and funerals — there's something very melancholy about them. You think, "Why do the families not own these photos? How did they get dislocated from them and lost in the world so that some stranger can come and buy them? Who are these people looking at me? Most of whom are probably dead. What happened to them?" It's a very poignant thing. So I became very attracted to the photographs and I started buying them. I would get up in the morning, I would choose a photo to write about and then I would do something else in the morning, let my unconscious kind of think about the photo. I'd look at the photograph really deeply. In the afternoon I'd go downtown. I'd pick a cafe, I'd bring the photo, I'd perch it near me and I would write a story and find what I felt was the story that photograph wanted to tell. It was a really exhilarating experience. It was probably the most thrilling writing experience I've ever had and I did that almost every day until I had written the first draft of the stories.

Cary Fagan's comments have been edited and condensed.