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Alexander MacLeod's latest project: Keeping his sanity

Alexander MacLeod, Light Lifting (Biblioasis)

Alexander MacLeod (yes, he is Alistair's son) lives in Dartmouth, N.S. His short stories have been published in Canadian and North American journals and his debut collection Light Lifting (Biblioasis) - seven stories looking at various lives in an industrial working-class city - was only just released when it got the Giller Prize nod. In addition to writing, he teaches at St. Mary's University in Halifax.

What was your first thought, the moment you heard you were shortlisted for the Giller?

I was out running when the announcement came down. This wasn't intentional. I thought they were going to release the news at 11 a.m. Toronto time, noon for us in Nova Scotia, so I went out to clear my head and I planned to be back 15 minutes early. Instead, I think they had their press conference at 10:30 and when I got back the phones were already ringing and my publisher, Dan Wells, was on the other end and he had the confirmation. It was one of those strange moments. He was reading the list and I was sitting in the house by myself and everything seemed the same, but outside, everything was changing. It felt still and chaotic at the same time and I was kind of confused. It's better now - a person can get used to anything - but in those first few seconds, I was definitely overwhelmed.

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In 100 words or less, why should your book win?

I think the book is mostly about characters trying to make a range of different decisions for different reasons and in different contexts.

I was trying to figure out how we recognize (or fail to recognize) significant moments in our lives and trying to represent those moments of decision as a basic choice between one kind of action and another.

There are young parents in the book and senior citizens and high-calibre athletes and guys who work in factories and reckless teenagers and kids playing ball hockey, but they all have to make choices and the stories are mostly structured around the results of those decisions. If the judges like stories that touch on that kind of material, then I hope they'll vote for the book, but I feel like they've already done me enough favours.

If you do win, what will you do with the prize money?

I'd have to use some of the money to pay bills, of course, but if we won, I'd like to try and do something nice for my wife and kids so that they could get at least some fun out of this process. They've been excited and happy about the news and it's been an adventure and all that, but they're the ones who've really paid the price for all the travel and the busyness and the new world order at home.

On the indulgent side, we're definitely going to use some of the money that comes from the book to buy a really good painting for our living room. We've wanted one for years and couldn't justify it, but we decided that any 'art money' we received should probably circulate a bit and transfer over to support a local visual artist who is fighting the good fight.

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Which of the nominees would you most like to have dinner with and why?

I think I'd like to have lunch with Johanna [Skibsrud] I really liked her book and I think we'd have some stories to swap about how all this stuff has come down like an avalanche. I believe she's been in Europe for most of this last month, and it would be interesting to hear about how she dealt with everything from the other side of the ocean. I'd like to talk to Sarah [Selecky] as well, about her stories and the way they fit together.

If you were not on the short list, who would you vote for and why?

If I wasn't on the short list, I'd be supporting Kathleen Winter. I really liked her collection, boYs, and I've taught her stories in my classes, and some of my students wrote great papers on her work. In another, deflected sort of way, I'm also proud of the fact that she's a Biblioasis writer and that Dan's press recognized her talent early on and helped her reach this level.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I'm working on keeping my sanity. I don't have any other literary projects on the go. I feel like I just barely finished the last one.

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What's the weirdest book you read in the last year?

James De Mille's A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder (1888). I re-read it almost every year for a class I teach on Atlantic-Canadian literature.

Most people already know this, but De Mille was a professor at Dalhousie University in the late 19th century. On top of his teaching and research duties, he used to stay up late at night and bang out these amazing novels for the American and British markets. Strange Manuscript is this crazy and hilarious book full of adventures and monsters and shipwrecks. De Mille creates this alternative universe where the values surrounding wealth and poverty are reversed and everybody in the society is trying their hardest to get rid of the burden of possessions. It also has a great frame narrative where Victorian "literary" gentlemen continually comment on the strange manuscript and offer their impressive insights.

Probably one of the best Canadian books of the 19th century: so smart and so funny.

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