By Shannon Clarke
Feature image from: sarahselecky.ca
“I didn’t want to be home alone so I went to gym,” she says, speaking quietly over the phone.
In fact when it was long-listed, it was a friend who called to tell her and, in preparation for the shortlist announcement, the Toronto-based writer (who describes herself as “anxiety prone”) decided she didn’t want to look for herself.
But when her friend couldn’t find the finalists online, Selecky took to her Twitter page where she was greeted with a deluge of congratulations.
This Cake is for the Party is often called her debut but Selecky, 36, has been writing and publishing for years. Some of the stories in the collection have appeared in other publications but the book represents a ten-year labour of love.
“It’s like putting out an album, it’s a culmination of everything you’ve done” says Selecky.
Cake is, quite literally, Selecky’s baby. After a decade of nurturing, it was ready for the literary world, exposed for consumption and criticism. It’s no wonder then, that Selecky was apprehensive at first to read the reviews.
“I always thought I wouldn’t be that writer, but I was quite curious,” she says adding: “I gave most of the reviews to my husband who would tell me which ones were okay to read.”
Luckily, says Selecky, most of the reviews were positive.
“Most readers found something positive and relatable in the stories.”
Most relatable is the theme of loss and betrayal which connects the 10 narratives and their different characters. But implicit in this is the theme of picking up the pieces of life when things suddenly change: friendship, love, plans and responsibility.
Selecky was one of three women on the shortlist for the prestigious literary prize last year, alongside winner Johanna Skibsrud who, at 30, is also the youngest writer to ever win. The long list included seven women and six men which had journalists and bloggers, including The Globe and Mail’s Peter Scowen, examining the changing gender ratio in Giller Prize nominees and winners (a woman has won five times while a man has won 11). Scowen boldly suggests women writers have been overlooked for the award, despite the jury being equally split with three men and three women. Nevertheless, it was an exciting year for Selecky who has been compared to writers Alice Munro, Ann Beattie and Margaret Atwood.
“I try to distance myself from the book – This Cake is for the Party was nominated for the Giller Prize, not me. Who I am and who Sarah Selecky the author is, are not the same. But of course it’s an honour.”
The book is dedicated only to ZZ. Selecky says her mentor, writer Zsuzsi Gartner who is currently working on her own book was the first editor to read her work and really understand it.
“I met her at a one day workshop. I felt seen for the first time. She read my work and saw something in it.”
Since that workshop in Campbell River, British Columbia, they have continued to work together and Selecky has infused what she has learnt from Gartner into her own classes. Selecky leads workshops for writers, stressing the importance of reading, critiquing and editing to her students. She places a particular emphasis on non-competitive writing.
“I’m not trying to find the best writer, or a winner,” she explains.
Don’t expect any sour feelings over the Giller Prize results. Selecky writes, first and foremost, because she loves it, not to win prizes, and isn’t going into 2011 aiming to outdo herself.
“Competition doesn’t bring out the best writing.”