Shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language fiction, Michael Kaan and Jocelyn Parr answered a few questions for us ahead of their IFOA 2017 appearance. We discussed what it’s like being a debut author, the moment they found out they were shortlisted for the GGs and of course, their award nominated books. You can find both Michael and Jocelyn with the other nominees at the GGBooks @ IFOA event on October 23.
Michael Kaan: The Water Beetles is based mostly on memoirs that my father wrote in the 80s and 90s about his experiences as young boy during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong in WWII. But what inspired it was mostly the driving need to write and to find a story that I believed would connect to other people. I also wanted to find a way to talk about aspects of the war that are less well-known to western readers.
Jocelyn Parr: A friend happened to loan me a tremendous book called Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy. It was filled with many very short, very intriguing articles, one of which described the brain institute that displayed Lenin’s brain in the early years of Stalin. I stumbled upon that article and then read everything else I could find about the institute. There didn’t turn out to be very much because the history of the institute had been systematically erased once the cult of Stalin surpassed the cult of Lenin. When my sources ran dry, I started inventing.
IFOA: What’s it been like so far as a debut author?
Parr: Wonderful. Full of love.
Kaan: It’s been pretty remarkable, because the book isn’t just my first novel but my first real effort at creative writing.
IFOA: Where were you when you found out you were shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award?
Parr: It was really early in the morning and I’d looked at my phone to see what time it was. A friend I don’t normally hear from had sent me a message on facebook saying congratulations on being shortlisted for the GGs. I remember lying there for quite some time with this huge smile on my face, as I tried to soak it in.
Kaan: I was in Montreal at a meeting at the time. I’d gone down for breakfast and when I returned to my room, I found a ton of messages on it. The first one I read was from a friend of mine who’s also a writer.
Kaan: The Life and Death of Harriet Frean by Mary Sinclair and Wolf Hunt by IvailoPetrov
Parr: I’m always re-reading Leanne Simpson so maybe that doesn’t count. I just finished Leanne Shapton’s Swimming Studies, which is gorgeous. I also recently fell back into Jorge Luis Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings and I was just given Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster so that’s next.
IFOA: What are you working on next?
Kaan: Another novel, and sketching ideas for others. The main project is based on an episode of the Mahabharata, but set in the 19th century.
Parr: I have two projects on the go. One is a novel about which I don’t want to say much except that it’s about female friendship. The second is a book I’m thinking about as an auto-geography. My parents built my first childhood home in Pakaranga on Maori land and my second in Ladner on traditional Tsawwassen territory.
Their parents moved countries because they worked as ship builders and priests, insurers and engineers. The book is an account of my families occupations: how in both the land we settled on and the jobs we took, we have manifested the settler dream of easy movement across the globe. Our ventures relied on an ignorance of indigenous histories that the book tries to rectify. It’s written as a series of short interlocking pieces, sometimes tender, sometimes hard, occasionally funny.
Congratulations to Jocelyn and Michael on their nominations and we’re excited to read more from them!
Jocelyn Parr was born in New Zealand but grew up on Canada’s West Coast. Her writing has been published in France, Germany, and Canada and in magazines such as Matrix, Grain, and Brick Magazine. She now lives in Montreal, where she teaches history at Dawson College.