Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

CBC Canada Reads Interview Series: Jane Urquhart

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Jane Urquhart

Today's instalment of our CBC Canada Reads interview series features Jane Urquhart, the acclaimed writer whose novel Away (McClelland & Stewart) is being defended in the competition by academic and historian Charlotte Gray.

Jane tells us about returning to a book she wrote more than two decades ago, Ontario's literary culture and the best way to celebrate a literary win.

Hosted by popular CBC personality and author Jian Ghomeshi, Canada Reads pits five fantastic Canadian books against one another in a (mostly) friendly competition, with each book championed by a Canadian celebrity in a series of broadcast debates. For more information about CBC Canada Reads, please visit their website. The 2013 debates run from February 11-14.

Stay tuned to Open Book: Toronto for interviews with the2013 CBC Canada Reads writers and panellists this week and next.

Open Book:

Tell us about your book and when you wrote it.

Jane Urquhart:

I began to write Away about twenty-five years ago after reading Irish literature, poetry, history and folklore for a decade or so. My interest in Ireland was sparked early by being born into the kind of large extended family that is sometimes referred to as an Irish tribal unit. Part of the large diaspora dispatched from the homeland by the famine of the 1840s, my own tribe, The Quinns, considered themselves to be fiercely Irish in spite of the fact that, once they arrived in the backwoods of Canada, neither they, nor their descendants, ever returned to the island they spoke about with such passion. Having few facts at my disposal, I wanted this novel to forge a kind of creation myth concerning how family’s like mine entered Canada, how they established themselves once they were in place, how they managed politics and religion, and how the magical and spiritual beliefs they brought with them played out in the new land.


What was most difficult about writing this book and what was most pleasurable?


Because I never approach a novel with a solid plan in mind, what is always most difficult for me is making the leap of faith required to allow the first draft of the novel to take me where it wants to go. Once that is accomplished, however, the whole experience is pleasurable; getting to know the characters, the landscape, the interiors of rooms, and all the narrative surprises that happen en route.


Tell us about the experience of meeting the panelist who will be defending your book.


I have known and liked and admired Charlotte Gray for some time so it was triply gratifying to hear that she had selected my book. That, as a celebrated historian and biographer, she would be drawn to Away was deeply affirming for me.


How would you describe the literary culture of the region your book is representing? Is there another book in addition to your own that you feel captures the spirit of the region?


Ontario’s literary culture is vibrant, diverse and filled with world class writers. Although it is a great honour for me to have Away selected, there are dozens of other books from the region that could capture aspects of the spirit of the place.


If your book wins the competition, how will you celebrate?


First I will take Charlotte out to dinner and order a quantity of champagne. Then I will
go home and continue to allow my work-in-progress to take me where it wants to go.

Jane Urquhart is the author of five internationally acclaimed novels and has won Le prix du meilleur livre étranger (Best Foreign Book Award) in France, the Trillium Award and the Governor General’s Literary Award. She is also the author of a collection of short fiction, Storm Glass, and four books of poetry. Her work has been translated into numerous foreign languages. Urquhart has received the Marian Engel Award and is a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France and an Officer of the Order of Canada.

For more information about Away please visit the McClelland & Stewart website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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