Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Special Feature: Interview with Becky Blake, winner of CBC Canada Writes

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Becky Blake (Photo credit: Ayelet Tsabari)

Every year, the CBC Canada Writes Short Story Contest, the granddaddy of Canadian writing competitions, receives thousands upon thousands of entries. From that mass, a few talented voices rise above, and finally one outstanding story emerges victorious.

This year's honour goes to Toronto writer Becky Blake, whose story "The Three Times Rule" wowed readers and judges. The grand prize consists of not only $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, but also a coveted residency at the Banff Centre, an invitation to read at the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival (on April 27, 2013) and publication in Air Canada's enRoute magazine. Becky, a multi-genre writer with experience in theatre and screenwriting in addition to fiction, joins the likes of Michael Ondaatje, Carol Shields and Camilla Gibb as a winner of this prestigious contest, which has now run for more than 30 years.

Today we speak with Becky about the genesis of her short story, how inspiration dictates form and the magic of bedtime stories.

Open Book:

Tell us a little about your winning story.

Becky Blake:

It’s a four-page story about memory and sex. I’ve been working on it, off and on, for about 12 years.


Where did the idea for the story come from?


When I first wrote this story I was dating quite a bit, without a lot of success. So I think the story was originally about how hard it is for two people to connect. This past year, I had an impulse to add in another layer about the links we try to make between our past and our present via memory. There’s also some information about moth wings in the piece. I almost always include a little science project or nature fact in my stories. I’m not entirely sure why.


The word count limit for the contest is 1500 words. Did this constraint affect your writing process at all?


No, not really. I specifically chose this story because it was already the right length (between 1200-1500 words). A lot of my stories are pretty short.


You write in multiple genres. Do you know from the beginning what form an idea will take?


Yes, my ideas usually dictate their own forms to me. Fiction almost always comes from a first line, theatre comes from a voice and nonfiction comes from a question.


As part of your prize, you'll be reading at the Blue Metropolis festival in Montreal. What are you most looking forward to? What makes a great public reading, in your opinion?


I used to be an actor so I really enjoy reading in public. It’s a chance to connect with an audience and to feel them engage real-time with my work. If things are going well, it’s like reading a bedtime story to a whole room of people. I love that feeling. I also like to make people laugh, but that’s not always possible with the kind of stories I write.


Who are some of your favourite short story writers?


Some of my favourites are Julio Cortázar, Pasha Malla, Sarah Hall, Junot Díaz, Etgar Keret, Daniel Alarcón, Barbara Gowdy, and Raymond Carver. Each of those writers has at least one collection of short stories that has really influenced or moved me.


What are you working on now?


I’m just putting the finishing touches on a novel about a Canadian woman who becomes a pickpocket in Barcelona. I’m also working on some new short stories. Most of them are about sex and science.

Becky Blake was born and raised in Kitchener and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. In addition to writing fiction, Becky has worked as a journalist, specializing in travel writing; as an actor and playwright (her one-woman show, Rocky Sucks Rocks, was produced by First Draft Theatre Company at the Theatre Centre East in 1996 in Toronto), as an advice columnist for the men’s website DailyXY; and as a script consultant. Recently, she worked as a script consultant on sister Kara Blake’s new documentary, Derby and Groma (Philtre Films), which will be launched at Hot Docs on April 27, 2013 in Toronto.

For more information about Becky Blake and the other finalists, please visit the CBC Canada Writes website.

To read Becky's winning story, click here.

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