Canadian writers on their favourite words

In the spirit of the new Novelist’s Lexicon, the National Post asked Canadian writers to choose one word that “opens the door to their work”, and riff on it.

A few excerpts:


“I’m going to cheat and offer “almost.” It’s cheating because it isn’t my own original thought: It was the painter Andy Patton, a lifelong friend, who used that word about my writing in a conversation long ago. Not just because I work with elements of the fantastic to create an “almost” past, or because I’m fascinated by the limits and near misses life imposes on aspirations and relationships, but also because I have always been aware (and have characters equally aware) that our very best work as artists can only ever be … almost good enough. Guy Gavriel Kay’s most recent novel is Under Heaven.


“Sooner or later, you have to do the dishes. This insight arrived late, and by then, the kitchen was a shambles. But I’ve been alert to it since, the reality that no matter our circumstances, we all have chores. Chores and jobs. And although these things are not the stuff of drama, they separate the fiction that interests me — concrete stuff — from that which does not. Characters cannot simply moon about, reflecting endlessly that we also exist more heavily, in layers, like overwrought pastries. Characters act in the world; they do things. They must. Who does the dishes, and how often, this matters. It carries consequences, among them cutlery shortages, fruit flies and bad smells. No scene is set, therefore, until I locate the detergent. — A.J. Somerset’s debut novel, Combat Camera, was recently published.”


“I like the way this word — like writing itself — implies a double responsibility: to disruption, as well as to continuity. I see the process of writing as a way of constantly re-imagining, and therefore of re-configuring, the world — but the trick of it is that that reconfiguration can only ever happen out of the materials that are already available to us. Sometimes, because of this, it seems that we’re just going around in circles — that we’re destined only to repeat ourselves, over and over again. I don’t think of this as necessarily restrictive, though. Instead, I see it as a reminder that in language (and therefore, inseparably, in both thought and action) there is infinite possibility.  Johanna Skibsrud’s debut novel, The Sentimentalists, won the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize.”