Monday, October 04, 2010

The National Post Profile: Small Towns, Big Honours

by Mark Medley

Alexander MacLeod needs some sleep. Bleary-eyed and bushy-haired, the author looks like he had a late night. He smiles sheepishly when pressed for details. All five of his siblings converged on the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto’s west end the previous evening to help launch his debut collection of short stories, Light Lifting, and the night featured literature, music and perhaps even a drink or two.

He has reason to celebrate. A little under 48 hours ago, sitting alone in a motel room in Guelph, Ont., MacLeod learned that Light Lifting had been longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada’s most prestigious literary award. The shortlist will be revealed Tuesday morning.

“This certainly wasn’t the plan, he says, downing the first of what will be many coffees over the course of the following hour. “Nobody cared about this book. Noooooobody cared about it. And then on Monday this news came out, and since Monday …”

Since Monday, MacLeod has received a crash course in publishing; he’s been hounded by agents and the media, thrust into a position he didn’t expect to be in. Talking to MacLeod, you get the sense he finds it all a bit amusing. Although he’s the son of acclaimed Canadian writer Alistair MacLeod, whose novel No Great Mischief won the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2001, he’s always been far removed from the literary limelight. Says MacLeod of his father: “We never talked about stories — ever. We never talked about literature — ever. We talked about everything else.”

Light Lifting is a collaboration between two old friends: MacLeod and Dan Wells, the publisher of Windsor, Ont., press Biblioasis. There was no contract signed, no paperwork to be filed away, and even now he describes the book tour as “just driving around in a Volkswagen, selling books out of the trunk.”

“I was on Cape Breton Island, he was in Emoryville, Ont. So we were both very far from — this,” he says, meaning Toronto, the publishing centre of Canada. “Doing this last night, here … there’s definitely power in this city. It’s here. But it’s not where we live.”

For the past six years, MacLeod has lived in Dartmouth, N.S., with his wife and their three young children. He teaches English at St. Mary’s University, and coordinates the school’s Atlantic Canada Studies program, and his day job is one of the reasons this book has been so long in coming. MacLeod published his first short story when he was 21; he’s 38 now.

“I was supposed to be the big hotshot young guy.”

What happened?

“Good question,” he says. “Life.”

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