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Prized inspiration: How past Writers’ Trust winners influence nominees

Steven Galloway wrote The Confabulist, a fictional account of Harry Houdini nominated for a Writers’ Trust award.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The winners of the Writers' Trust awards will be announced on Tuesday evening at a ceremony in Toronto, hosted by The Globe and Mail's very own Jared Bland. A total of $139,000 will be awarded in six categories, including the first Latner Writers' Trust Poetry Prize.

In advance of this year's ceremony, books editor Mark Medley asked the finalists for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize to reflect on a previous winner of the prize who has influenced their own work.

André Alexis, nominated for Pastoral, published by Coach House Books.

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As sometimes happens with short lists, the winner doesn't always leave the deepest impression. In my case, a number of the nominated books have been more influential. Of those, Muriella Pent has been the most important.

It isn't just that I find it memorably amusing. It's that I admire how Russell Smith dealt with Toronto as physical, emotional and fictional space. As I was writing my first novel set in Toronto, Fifteen Dogs, I had Russell's explorations in mind. Muriella Pent has been helpful in a way none of the other books on this list – winners or nominees – has been.

Steven Galloway, nominated for The Confabulist, published by Knopf Canada.

This is a question that can only get me in trouble. Of course, I admire all of the past winners. I suppose the two people whose work most influences me are Miriam Toews and Joseph Boyden.

These are, in my opinion, two of the finest writers our country has ever produced. They are writing books that will be read long after the kerfuffle of a book's release is over, books that I will tell my children to read. They make me want to be a better writer, and proud to be a fellow Canadian writer.

K.D. Miller, nominated for All Saints, published by Biblioasis.

Besides teaching me so much about writing, Alice Munro once taught me something about being a writer. It was 1986. She had just launched The Progress of Love and was doing a reading in a local library. I couldn't afford to hand her one of the glossy new hardcovers to sign, so I took along my least-tattered Munro paperback – Lives of Girls and Women. She opened it tenderly, looked up and gave me a gracious smile before signing her name.

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I learned that night that the reader is to be honoured – even if she shows up with a second-hand copy of the wrong book.

Carrie Snyder, nominated for Girl Runner, published by House of Anansi.

I've admired Miriam Toews's writing since discovering her, as so many other readers did, with her third novel, A Complicated Kindness. (She won the prize in 2008 for The Flying Troutmans.) I've since read every book she's ever written. I come to her books like I come to the books of Alice Munro (another past winner), knowing that I will love what's on offer, that it may challenge me, but it will also entertain and most of all comfort me.

What brilliance, to combine humour and shadow, to write light that has weight. She is a writer one wants, instinctively, to thank for her writing.

Miriam Toews, nominated for All My Puny Sorrows, published by Knopf Canada.

Colin McAdam. (He won the prize last year for A Beautiful Truth.) His voice is original and fiercely intelligent. It somehow possesses this combination of hard-won world weariness and exuberant, unshakeable faith in a better world.

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The essence of his prose, for me, is contradiction … my favourite thing … contradictions and layers and layers of meaning. He exposes all of our treacherous and base instincts but with the unspoken caveat that, in spite of our horrible human ways, we must always, relentlessly, struggle to love each other. Aside from McAdam's great talents as a storyteller it's this feeling I get from his work that moves me profoundly and that I strive to duplicate in my own writing.

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About the Author
Books Editor

Mark Medley is the Globe and Mail’s Books Editor. Prior to joining the paper he spent more than seven years at the National Post, where he served as an arts reporter and books editor. More

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