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Books Terry Fallis: ‘I like to splash around in the English language when I write’

Author Terry Fallis.

Tim Fallis

Terry Fallis is the author of the novels The High Road, Up and Down, No Relation, Poles Apart and The Best Laid Plans, which was adapted for television and the stage. He is a five-time finalist and two-time recipient of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. His new novel, One Brother Shy, was recently published by McClelland & Stewart.

Why did you write your new book?

Well, my career on the PGA Tour just never panned out. More importantly, in this book I wanted to try to step slightly off the well-worn path all of my other narrators have trod. My four narrators across five novels have all been decent, thoughtful chaps who are trying to do the right thing. They've also been somewhat hapless, a bit helpless and occasionally hopeless. In One Brother Shy, my narrator is not merely flawed but more seriously damaged as well. He's still suffering from the after-effects of a traumatic bullying incident 10 years before the novel opens and has not become the person he was on track to be. This darker thread runs through the novel, but I hope there are laughs along the way.

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Whose sentences are your favourite?

I have been a Sherlock Holmes fan since first reading the canon as a teenager. I still read at least some of the Holmes stories annually. The sentences of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are among my favourites. Of varying lengths, I particularly love his longer, flowing, ornate sentences. Always balanced and clear, never convoluted, Doyle exhibits an almost unerring ability to choose just the perfect word. His sentences have a rhythm to them – almost a pulse – that bring his words, and ultimately his stories, to life.

What agreed-upon classic do you despise?

Now, this is a high-risk question. Here's hoping I'm not alone. I nominate The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway's first novel about the furtive and fraught relationships of a group of expats set against the backdrop of Pamplona's annual Festival of San Fermin. The novel introduced the world to Hemingway's pared-down prose and simple language where what he left out is even more important than what he put in. I like to splash around in the English language when I write so his writing in this novel falls flat for me, very flat. I have just never been able to read Hemingway with the same reverence he seems to have engendered in so many, for so long.

Who's your favourite villain in literature?

Professor James Moriarty is among literature's first supervillains. As the arch-enemy and nemesis of Sherlock Holmes, he was ruthless, heartless and diabolical. Never before had literature seen such an intelligent, nay brilliant, criminal mind. Known as the Napoleon of Crime, his battles with Holmes were a clash of very evenly matched intellectual titans with little assurance that Holmes would prevail. On top of all that, Moriarty wasn't a very nice person and had no sense of humour. When he and Holmes plunged over the Reichenbach Falls in The Final Problem, Holmes survived but no one knows if Moriarty lived or died. And we still don't.

What's the best death scene in literature?

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Spoiler alert. The scene in the closing pages of John Irving's masterpiece, A Prayer for Owen Meany, when Owen Meany dies, left me breathless and heartbroken. Yet, I suppose it should not have come as a surprise. In fact, Owen Meany himself had foreseen his own death on a particular date. I remember being exhausted by the time I finished the book due largely to the power of that final dramatic scene that brings together so many threads in the novel. It's a classic death scene in a classic novel.

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