The Boat People got a nice little review in the March 19th issue of THE NEW YORKER. The mention is in the briefly noted books section alongside new releases by Peter Carey and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. THE NEW YORKER. I mean...what else is there to say?

Also this week: the novel is back on the best-seller lists (#2 on the CBC and #7 on the Globe & Mail). And I'm still loving the messages and cards and texts and emails from friends (and strangers). My favourite at the moment is a note from my pal Jess in PEI who, among other things, wrote: "I am endlessly impressed. I literally turn every page and think to myself: holy fuck." I love and appreciate all the blurbs on my book but there's something hilarious and arresting about the reviews from non-writers.

If you are in Quebec City this Thursday, March 15, there is a Canada Reads event taking place at The Morrin Centre at 7pm. I won't be there but author Neil Bissoondath will be talking about my book. You can hear a little teaser and his thoughts during an interview with CBC Radio's Breakaway host Saroja Coelho here. And if you can't make the event, parts of it will be aired on Breakaway next week. I'll post a link when it's online. (I feel like I say this often about links and then never get around to posting them. I'm working on it. A link round up of some sort is coming. Promise!)

And finally, recommended reads! Here is a short story that I loved and listened to three times last week. It's Antonya Nelson's "Naked Ladies" read by Lorrie Moore. I also just devoured Elisabeth de Mariaffi's latest novel HysteriaIt's a thriller set in the 50s. That's really all you need to know. And I'm nearing the end of Madeleine Thien's Do Not Say We Have Nothing, which of course I'm the last person in this country to read. It's beautiful and I'm totally stuck in, wanting to know what happens next.

Hey, Ladies!

DEAL NEWS first: We've sold Arabaic language rights for The Boat People to Fawasel Publishing! It's ironic that one of my first foreign language deals is for Arabic rights. When I was a kid in Dubai, Arabic was hands down my worst class. My parents even hired a tutor and one of my earliest memories was kicking up a massive tantrum when it was time to go for those lessons (I was a brat). In school, the language teacher was a terrifying woman who used to march up and down the aisles checking our progress. She had a ruler that she held with one hand and smacked against the palm of the other. And that ruler, more often than not, ended up across my knuckles because I wrote too slowly. I hated Arabic with a passion but now, as an adult, I think it's actually quite a beautiful language. I love that it's written right to left. I love the way it looks on the page, flowing like a river. But I digress...

This book deal, like all the others, would not have happened without my hard-working, whip-smart agent, Stephanie Sinclair. She is just one in an army of women who made my career possible and The Boat People a success. Other notables include my three editors: Anita, Melissa, and Margo, and my marketing/ publicity team: Erin, Charlotte, and Sarah. And then there were all the early readers and the other writers who gave me advice, a leg up, loaned their time and talents: Lisa (x2), Carrie, Susan, Melissa, Kristen, Elisabeth, Megan....there are too many to name.

In honour of International Women's Day the CBC complied a list of 18 women authors to read in 2018. The list includes my pal Eva Crocker, whose debut collection made a big splash last year. For those of us in St. John's, Eva's work has been our little secret for a few years and I'm always happy to see her get the wider praise she deserves. Also on the list: the wonderful Djamila Ibrahim, Canisia Lubrin, and S.K. Ali. Every time my name or my book makes one of these lists, I always feel so honoured by the company. 

For IWD2018, I also did an interview with Kobo about the importance of questioning authority, speaking up, and getting your elbows out. Other interviewees include literary heavyweights Eden Robinson, Zoey Lee Peterson, and Gurjinder Basran. (Parenthetically I just read Basran's Someone You Love Is Gone on the flight to Vancouver and was blown away. It's an arresting, gorgeous novel).

It's March 8th but when your social and family and work circles are filled with loud, brash, opinionated, clever, creative, hard-working ladies, every day is defined by women. I’m so fortunate in this regard, to have been raised by a mother who worked in finance and brought home the proverbial and literal bacon (although there was an unfortunate stretch where said bacon was of the turkey variety), who taught me how to expect good things and showed me by example how to make them happen. And I am surrounded by aunts and cousins who refuse to shut up. (Try. And. Make. Us.)

In the interview with Kobo I said that there's no substitute for sensible real life women. Surrounding yourself with the right people will undo and mitigate so much of the damage that is heaped on us by social media and advertising and sexual predators. I'm grateful for my girl friends who are rock stars who inspire me daily with their marathons and child-rearing and kick ass careers. They are teachers and doctors and mothers and executives and artists making this world a better place with their compassion, their humour, and most of all their persistence.

March 8th is just one day on the calendar. What is important, as women, is how we live our lives every day of the year. In closing, I'm going to quote Gurjinder Basran whose advice can be applied to writing as well: "I would tell them that confidence isn’t inate. It is something that builds with experience. So, to have confidence to speak up, they simply must start. Nothing magical ever happens in our comfort zones!"

Springtime in Vancouver

On Tuesday there was a snow day in St. John's and I escaped to Vancouver where it was spring. I was there, of course, for the Incite: New Voices of CanLit event at the Vancouver Public Library. Three cheers to the Vancouver Writers Fest for putting on such a stellar event. I was especially impressed with how well they curated the authors. I had never met Kim Fu, Guillaume Morissette or Djamila Ibrahim before but the four of us had a great chemistry on and off stage. That doesn't often happen. (And we spontaneously colour coordinated with the library's colour scheme...ha!) It was really special to be at the Vancouver Public Library too because in The Boat People's fictional Vancouver, 350 West Georgia is the site of the Immigration and Refugee Board Building. As my editor Anita said: reading in that space was like bringing the story home.

 With the teacher at Westside (photo courtesy of  Westside's instagram )

With the teacher at Westside (photo courtesy of Westside's instagram)

My publicists took full advantage of my visit and packed the schedule with interviews and appearances. I began Wednesday with something better than coffee: a taping of Can't Lit with the hilarious, vivacious, sharp- tongued duo of Jen Sookfong Lee and Dina Del Bucchia. (I'll post an update when the episode is live.) I've been listening to Can't Lit for a while so being a guest was a real treat.

Then it was off to Westside School's Miniversity for a reading, Q&A, and another podcast interview. First, Westside doesn't look like any highschool you've ever seen. It's more like the open-plan offices of a start-up company. Second, the students are SMART. They were engaged and asked good, thought-provoking questions. It was my first school visit and Westside set the bar high. Plus, they gave me a mango as a parting gift. Someone clearly did their homework. (Please send mangoes, people)

 After taping one of my favourite interviews. (Photo courtesy of Roundhouse Radio and Minelle)

After taping one of my favourite interviews. (Photo courtesy of Roundhouse Radio and Minelle)

While I was in town, The Tyee ran a review of The Boat People. It was a wonderful, hilarious piece by Crawford Kilian but BE WARNED: THERE ARE MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS. If you've already finished the book, you are safe to read the review here. I love the classification of The Boat People as 'political horror.' Yes. It is horrific. Parenthetically, I hadn't actually realized I'd written a political book until quite late in the game. One day, I was walking down the street listening to a podcast where some foolish (male...natch) person was opining: "women don't write political books." And I thought: "don't we? wait a second...I did!"

Saying women don't write political books is idiotic. Everything is political. Austen, Eliot, Gallant, Roy...we are all political authors writing about political things. Second, I suspect that most of us don't go into our projects thinking: "right. This is going to be political." We just write books and because we are thinking human beings, our books end up being about world events or personal traumas or relationships between people and guess what? All that stuff is political. Sex is political. Washing the dishes is political. Culture is political. Refugee law is political. Men don't have a monopoly on politics. /Rant

Back to Vancouver! While there, I also taped an episode of CBC's North by Northwest with Sheryl Mackay and an interview with Joe Planta at Stay tuned for links when both those interviews go live.

And finally, my very last interview was a long chat with Minelle Mahtani for Roundhouse Radio's Sense of Place (available now so go have a listen). They have a segment called "Acknowledgements" where they bring in an author and someone they thanked in their acknowledgements page.

 David, me, and Minelle. Photo courtesy of Roundhouse Radio.

David, me, and Minelle. Photo courtesy of Roundhouse Radio.

On our way to Roundhouse, my publicist Laura promised this would be one of my favourite interviews. She wasn't overselling. Minelle is an incredible interviewer. She asks deep, thoughtful questions and knows how to get at the big stuff, the emotional stuff. Plus she listens. I mean really listens. Two thirds of the way through our interview we brought in Lisa Moore. The conversation was wide-ranging. We discussed dialogue, location, language, bigotry, bureaucracy, and found a similarity between my novel and Lisa's February. And bonus: David Chariandy dropped by, unexpectedly, to eavesdrop. Knowing that both Lisa and David were listening in to my chat with Minelle wasn't at all nerve-wracking....nope, not at all! In all seriousness: what a lovely way to cap off my time in Vancouver, speaking with Minelle and Lisa and David and listening to them discuss literature with each other.

And did I mention it was spring in Vancouver, my favourite Canadian city? So lovely. Please invite me back!

ps. The Boat People was #1 on the CBC's Bestseller list last week and #5 on the Globe & Mail's list.


"Where are the quotation marks?"

Why are there no quotation marks in your book? This is one of the most common questions I get from readers. It's a good one. It was one my editors challenged me to answer as well (because good editors hold you to account for every. single. thing.).

Quotation marks dictate. They tell the reader: "this is who is speaking and here are the exact words they used in this exact order." Sometimes as a writer this is exactly what I want to do: tell the reader something. In The Boat People I did not want to tell the reader very much. There are many places in the book where I purposely left room for ambiguity. After all, this is what the book is about: the slipperiness of truth. Are stories true? Who gets to tell them? Or as Meg and Brianne might ask: What is truth, even?

There are many points in the book too where I wanted to blur the lines between direct and indirect dialogue, between thoughts in a character's head and the words they say out loud. I wanted the reader to decide for themselves. Direct dialogue, like quotation marks, signal truth and accuracy. This is what the character said, these words in this order. But indirect dialogue is different. It is a kind of summation, the gist of what was said, as perceived by the listener.

In the scene Back to Hell, Grace listens to Hema give her testimony, mediated by the interpreter, and wonders: How much of this story is real? How much is hers? Is the interpreter doing his job faithfully? In this scene, and many others, I wanted the reader to be unsettled and uncertain, just as Grace is. Think about Mahindan, sitting there in hearings, not understanding a word of English, feeling bewildered by the legal proceedings in this strange new land. By making things uncertain, a little difficult even, I hope to put the reader in his shoes.

Right coast, left coast, and all the news in between

Reading at the Association for New Canadians Training Centre. Photo by Andrew Sampson, CBC.

On Tuesday night the CBC and the Association for New Canadians hosted a local Canada Reads event in St. John's and it was a full house. I usually know the crowd at literary events but standing at the podium, looking out at the audience, I thought "who ARE all these people?"And that's when it hit me that this is what happens when the CBC promotion machine starts churning. It's not just friends and friends of friends supporting my book anymore. (I know...I know...why is this STILL a surprise?)

I have to hand it to the CBC and the ANC: they pulled off a fantastic evening with very little notice. There was music, food, and a great group of speakers who told their own arrival stories. I was struck in particular by the gentleman who arrived in Canada seven months ago after spending 17 years in a refugee camp. Seventeen years. Let that sink in. This is what people endure just to come here, just to have all these freedoms and privileges that most of us Canadians blithely take for granted.

L to R: Luwam, Bwisengo, Celestine, and Aveen share their stories while the CBC's Heather Barrett listens. English teacher Grace is on the far right. Photo by Andrew Sampson, CBC.

The five newcomers who shared their stories were seriously, seriously impressive. One young woman is about to graduate highschool with a full scholarship to Memorial University. After the staged part of the event, people stuck around to socialize and I heard the word "resilience" in more than a couple of conversations. Resilience is part of it, sure. But I think there's something else going on here. When good fortune isn't given to you on a platter you don't have the option to be lazy. It's something I've been thinking about a lot since Tuesday.

Segments of Tuesday's event will be aired on Weekend Arts Morning so tune in for that (I'll post a link to the podcast version when it's up). And Andrew Sampson (who kindly let me use his photos) wrote an article about the event.

Signing books. Photo by Andrew Sampson, CBC

In other news, The Boat People received a very favourable review in the Winnipeg Free Press. Here are a couple of my favourite lines: "Bala’s strength is in showing the human side of everyone involved" and "Many details of the situation — trying to evaluate individuals amidst federal government concern about letting in criminals — might have been dull and bureaucratic if Bala’s narrative were not so clear and engaging."

Reporter Dana Gee interviewed me recently for a piece that ran in both The Vancouver Sun and The Province. We talked about the best and worst parts of novel writing, character creation, and the engine of rage that powered my work.

I was on the St. John's Morning show on Thursday chatting with host Jamie Fitzpatrick (author of The End of Music, one of my very favourite books of 2017) and my Canada Reads champion Mozhdah. The segment isn't online yet but for those of you who missed it, I'll post a note as soon as it's up.

Next week I'm off to Vancouver for a couple of days of interviews and an evening event at the Vancouver Public Library. If you are in Van-city, the event is free but you do need to get tickets. Presented by the Vancouver Writers Festival, Incite is a free reading series featuring Canadian authors. I'll be reading from The Boat People and answering questions along with few writers Kim Fu, Djamila Ibrahim, and Guillaume Morisette. As always, I'm as excited for the reading and Q&A as I am to meet fellow authors.

Kerry Clare at 49th Shelf asked me to recommend a reading list for fans of The Boat People. The piece went live earlier this week.

American War toppled me off the top of the mountain and The Boat People is #2 on the CBC Bestseller list this week. No hard feelings. I absolutely adore Omar's book (see aforementioned reading list). We are both going to be at a couple of events in the next few months and I can't wait. Keep an eye on the events page. I post upcoming events, appearances, and readings as soon as they are confirmed.

And speaking of Canada Reads authors, all the finalists will be speaking with Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter in the coming weeks. This week's episode features Mark Sakamoto speaking about his luminescent book Forgiveness. The conversation is well worth a listen.

Finally, check out the book's new cover! My first sticker! (Not available in stores just yet)

Date night in Turkey

DEAL NEWS: The Boat People will be translated into Turkish! My clever agent Stephanie has sold Turkish language rights to a publisher over there. It's our first translation deal and hopefully not the last one.

A few years ago my husband and I went to Turkey on holiday. On one of our last nights in Istanbul, we took the ferry across the Bosphorus, away from the touristy part of town to residential Kadıköy. It was, hands down, one of our funnest date nights and also one of my favourite holiday memories of all time.

We wandered through the market, treated ourselves to the best coffee in town, got enmeshed in a hyper competitive game of tavla (we got so into it, in fact, that the waiter serving us tea forgot we were tourists and addressed us in Turkish). There was nothing particularly special about the evening except this feeling of complete immersion in a place and the wonderful familiarity of this easy-going corner of the city. People more or less ignored us and so we could forget we were outsiders and just imagine for a few hours that we were locals on a stroll through our neighbourhood. And what do we do when we're at home? Visit a book shop, of course. There was a lovely little one in Kadıköy, somewhat shabby and dusty and bursting with books. What a thrill to think of The Boat People IN TURKISH in that store.

Numero uno

A few updates:

I'm on this week's episode of CBC Radio's The Next Chapter. The episode is archived and you can listen online or download the podcast to your phone. Shelagh and I had a short chat about news headlines, purgatory, and quotes we remember from Pier 21.

I had a longer talk with host Angela Antle on CBC Radio's Atlantic Voice. She devoted this weekend's full episode to my book and we discussed everything from the importance of editors and writing groups to word choices and Canada Reads. Listen online or download to your favourite podcast app.

At the end of the month, I'll be taking part in the Incite Reading Series at the Vancouver Public Library. I'll be on stage with Kim Fu, Djamila Ibrahim, and Guillaume Morissette. The event is free but please register if you'd like to come. There are a few other readings and public appearances in the works and I keep the events page pretty up-to-date.

Shelf Awareness gave The Boat People a really lovely starred review. Here's an excerpt: In her emotional debut, Sharon Bala composes empathetic characters and encourages her audience to endure their struggles. She grips her readers and dives into the humanity of the world she's created; when they resurface, they'll be gasping for air. Breathlessly beautiful,The Boat People reminds everyone of the value of compassion in a world claiming no shortage of hatred and violence.

And finally, The Boat People was on the Globe & Mail's best seller list again (for the third time in a row) last week AND was THE NUMBER ONE best seller on the CBC's list. Why the difference? The Globe & Mail collects its data mainly from larger sellers like Amazon, Chapters, and Costco and the CBC focuses its numbers more on independent booksellers. In any case, it's really, really wonderful to see the book being embraced by all fine establishments where books are sold. I've been getting photos of the book front and centre in all kinds of shops across the country, from Nelson, BC to Calgary, AB to North Bay, ON to, of course, good old Broken Books right here in St. John's.

About last week


Last Tuesday The Boat People was announced as a finalist for this year's Canada Reads! And really the only thing better than being a finalist is having my book on the same pile as these beauties. I read American War last Fall and have been pushing it on everyone ever since but last week I also got a chance to read The Marrow Thieves and Forgiveness (Precious Cargo is up next) and trust me, the competition is fierce. These are all beautiful, important books, and I have been saying this since the long-list came out: there is room on bookshelves and nightstands and e-readers for more than just one book. Go read them all!


So I spent two days in Toronto last week doing interviews and posing awkwardly for photo shoots and just generally feeling like my own glamorous stunt double. The best part was meeting the other authors and panellists and getting to chat with my champion Mozhdah Jamalzadah who, among her other impressive accomplishments,  has sung for the Obamas NO BIG DEAL.

The ten of us were sequestered away at CBC HQ going from interview to interview and then on Tuesday night we were on stage at a live launch event. You can watch it here. I've been using the word surreal a lot lately but starting every day with hair and make-up really took surreal to another level.

As nice as it was to be feted and just generally taken care of (CBC Books are really good at that, by the way), the highlight of my week was Wednesday afternoon when I went over to Penguin Random House's offices for a staff book club. Well, I thought I was walking into a book club. Actually, I walked into a champagne surprise party. My publishing house is wonderful. Truly, I feel so fortunate. The number of people who came out to book club, who asked thoughtful, insightful questions, who seemed genuinely invested in the characters...THIS is the reason the book is doing so well (second week in a row on the best-seller list, y'all!) A few photos below, courtesy of Laura Chapnick from Penguin Random House's publicity team.

Other nice things that have happened of late: Author Kerry Clare wrote a very kind review of the book on her book blog Pickle Me This. Kerry writes funny and incisive posts so it was an honour to make her reading list. The Chronicle Herald ran an interview I did with reporter Elissa Barnard  and then there was this story in the Canadian Press that called me a "young author." Youth is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose but I'll take it! And The Georgia Straight published this wonderful story. Books reporter David Chau spoke to me before the holidays for an hour and a half. It was such a fun chat but afterward I felt so bad for him - having to transcribe the recording and then figure out what parts to write up. He did an admirable job. January, you were a very fine month. Roll on, February!

We had a time

Here are some shots from last Thursday's book launch. The party was held at the Eastern Edge Gallery and coincided with the members exhibition so we were surrounded by paintings and photographs and mixed media installations by artists who are also members of the gallery. We were also fortunate to have a string duo - my friend Lauren Smee and her partner Sarah Jane Johnson - on hand. So it was the intersection of all my favourite things - music, art, literature. And of course cake, food, and wine!

The team at Eastern Edge were just lovely to work with and FYI, the gallery is one of the few accessible spaces in the city. I would highly, highly recommend them for all your event needs. Probably the nicest and most surreal moment was standing at the lectern, about to give my reading, and looking out over the crowd of all my favourite townies. It was standing room only. The place was on wheels!

ps. In case you are wondering, "we had a time" is a Newfoundland expression loosely meaning "we had a great time/ a time to remember." And "the place was on wheels" means "the place was jam packed and the crowd was boisterous." Don't you just love language?

Toronto Star

The Boat People got a rave review in this Saturday's Toronto Star. And check out this prime top-of-the-fold real estate! Reviews are hard to come by, especially in major dailies and to score this kind of space is even more extraordinary. A) My publicist Erin is a genius and B) I am NOT taking any of this for granted.

Elsewhere on Saturday, I spent a couple of hours signing novels at Broken Books. If you are in St. John's, swing by their new and larger digs at 245 Duckworth Street (former home of Afterwords Bookshop) where there are still tons of copies for sale.

 Saturday Star (January 20, 2018)

Saturday Star (January 20, 2018)

Reviews, interviews, and the Magic 8

The amazing, incredible, hard-working team at McCelland & Stewart.

I'm home after four days on the road promoting my book! Eight interviews, three days, two cities. Here are a few of the highlights:

My favourite interview of the week was the one we recorded for The Sunday Edition. Michael Enright, in addition to being a thoughtful and incisive interviewer, is an old friend of my in-laws so we'd met a couple of times before. As a result, I was totally at ease in the recording studio and I think that comes through in the interview.

Live television interviews are daunting, particularly if they are first thing in the morning and you've tossed and turned more than you've slept the night before. But the team at CTV's Your Morning are such pros they made my interview with Lindsey Deluce easy, like chatting with a new friend.

Sue Carter wrote a really nice piece for The Toronto Star and Metro on the book. And author Marissa Stapley gave the novel a glowing review in Saturday's Globe & Mail. It's behind a paywall but here are a couple of lines from the review that I appreciate: "Bala has vividly conjured worlds, both on Canadian soil and back in Sri Lanka, that show the dualities of living in any country – and that show how powerful the need for safety, the need for home, is in all of us...The characters Bala brings together in The Boat People are different and the same. What we also get from a novel like this is a new way of seeing." YES! This is exactly what I want people to take away from the book. There is no "other." At heart we are all want the same things even if our skin colours and accents are different.

This is my job now: defacing books.

There is little I love more than a good literary quiz. The CBC asked me to complete the Magic 8 Q&A. You can read more about my hatred of jargon and my love of podcasts.

This past Tuesday was also publication day in the US. I was in Toronto and celebrated in my very favourite way - dinner and champagne at home with a group of my oldest friends.

Mari Carlson wrote a very favourable review in BookPage. My favourite line was the last one: "The Boat People reminds us of the fragile nature of truth." The truth, and its imprecise nature, is something I was consciously working through as I wrote and I'm glad that resonated.

And here's an essay I penned for Signature over the holidays on writing about dark subjects.

But it wasn't all interviews and media appearances last week, I also spent some time signing books. If you are in Toronto and would like a signed copy, I scribbled my name in the books at the Indigo at Bay and Bloor and the flagship store in the Eaton's Centre.

Book promotion is a thrilling and exhausting (I didn't sleep for three days straight) and as fortunate as I felt to have such an amazing publicity team who scored the book all kinds of coverage (I've only scratched the surface in this post), I was absolutely overjoyed to flop into my own bed on Friday night. I've spent the weekend sleeping in and reading (Mira T. Lee's "Everything here is beautiful" - which is just as advertised in the title) and going to yoga and spending time with friends. Bliss!

More interviews next week and on Thursday we're having a launch. It's free and open to the public so please join us at the Eastern Edge Gallery from 7:30-9:00pm. There will be food and drinks and live music and books for sale and a short reading too.


Sredni Vashtar

I read a few short stories this week - mainly from Carmen Maria Machado's enthralling collection. But the one that I loved the most was Sredni Vashtar by Saki. I first heard it while grocery shopping. The podcast I was listening to ended and my player skipped directly to the latest episode of the Guardian Books podcast where Susie Grimshaw read the story. I was trying to track down olives and frozen spinach and knew I wasn't giving the story my full attention but still it captured me. I wanted to savour each and every individual word. I ended up listening to it again on the walk home and then again a third time at home, giving the prose my undivided attention. It's a fantastically hilarious story and each word is a gem but, perhaps because the protagonist is a small boy, there is something fairytale like about it, something that seems to come alive when it's read out loud. And maybe that is part of why it resonated with me. I wonder if the connection would have been as strong if I'd read it on the page.

In any case, have a listen. It's a deliciously wicked tale.


 The Globe & Mail loves these books!

The Globe & Mail loves these books!

There is nothing I love more than a good list. To do lists. Grocery lists. List stories. The other day while putting books on hold at the library, the librarian asked where I got my reading list. "Is this from Goodreads or a prize longlist?" she asked. I explained that it was DIY, a curated set of titles that are coming soon or very recently out.

But at the moment my favourite kind of lists are the ones that mention The Boat People. My book is first on the Globe & Mail's list of most anticipated reads. (The list is probably ordered by publication date) Travelling Book Junkie included my novel in their round up of January reads. I'm in excellent company on Signature's Best Books of January list. And named The Boat People one of their Best Books of the month.

Bonus content!

Good news for fans of The Boat People: the Newfoundland Quarterly online has published some exclusive bonus content, a scene called "More Folly Than Sense" that is not in the book. It's accompanied by a brilliant illustration by Megan McNeill who is a talented artist as well as my friend and neighbour.

This is a flashback that takes place 22 years before the novel begins. I love this scene and it was one I wrote for the very first draft. But it's set so far in the past that it really didn't have a place in the novel. I'm glad it's available though because it shows a side of northern Sri Lanka that you don't get to see in the book - the carefree, idyllic days that people of a certain age still remember. And I think it's important to think about this, in the context of Sri Lanka and Syria and Libya and every single other place that's been ripped apart by war. Once upon a time there was peace.



The big day is HERE. The Boat People is on shelves and e-readers and nightstands across Canada TODAY.


For the past couple of weeks I've been getting notes from friends who pre-ordered online and received their books early and it's been such a thrill to see photos of them holding their very own copies. I am so excited about sightings of my book IN THE WILD.

It's been such a thrill too to randomly stumble on mentions of the book in articles. Last week I was reading Jen Sookfong Lee's year in review article on Open Book and was pleasantly surprised to find my name in the same paragraph as the words "new Canlit." Y'all...I'm a card carrying member of CANLIT now.

Toronto Life.JPG

On Boxing Day my friend Erin texted me the photo on the right. There she was, minding her own business, catching up on the new Toronto Life and BAM...there's my book in its own red column.

Four and a half years ago, The Boat People was a vague idea I had for a novel. Twenty two months ago it was a publication deal. Last April it was a final manuscript. In July, there was an Advance Reader Copy. And today it's a real book on shelves.

The Boat People isn't mine anymore. Not really. When a book is released it becomes its own entity, a thing in the world, something that belongs as much to the readers as to the writer. I hope you love it.


Happy new year! It's January 1st and as good a time as any for resolutions. Every year my list of goals include a few that are work-related. For 2018 I plan to:

Sleep more
Sleep is important for health and sanity of course but it's also crucial to the creative process. If you don't believe me, just listen to this recent episode of Hidden Brain and pay attention to the anecdote about how Keith Richards wrote the song "Satisfaction."

Read one short story a week
Short stories are highly underrated which is really too bad because I think they have the power to teach us more about craft than any other form. I have a bad habit of reading collections I love fast, just gobbling them up, story after story without pause.

It wasn't always like this. When I was first learning to write, I'd read a story slowly then again and again. I'd think about all the different elements - character and plot and pace and ponder the ending, why it worked or didn't, and whether I would have written it differently. Slow, methodical reading can be so satisfying, like putting a single square of dark chocolate on the tongue and allowing it to dissolve. I want to do this more. And also, I want to read short stories more consistently. So I'm aiming for one a week and when I find one that really speaks to me, I plan to read it over and over and think about it slowly. Today I read Carmen Maria Machado's "The Husband Stitch," which is the first story in her debut collection Her Body and Other Parties. I've read the story before and it has that fantastic depth and texture that the very best stories contain. There's so much going on beneath the surface of the story. It demands re-reading. It demands slow and thoughtful consumption. This week, I plan to give it both.

Read more current books
As a reader, I'm always behind the times, getting round to books two or even three years after they are published. But being a professional writer means being asked to recommend and talk about new reads. Last year by total fluke I happened to read a bunch of the newest books (Son of a Trickster, The End of Music, Brother, All Is Beauty Now, Bellevue name just a handful) which came in handy. This year I plan to be more purposeful. So far my list includes: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, Neel Mukherjee's latest A State of Freedom, Mary Beard's Women & Power, Machado's debut mentioned above, Zadie Smith's new essay collection, Feel Free, Kim Fu's The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore, The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey, and That Time I Loved You by Carrieanne Leung. That's for starters.

In praise of agents

...or maybe just mine.

Soon after I'd signed with my agent Stephanie, an acquaintance said (appalled): "but why would you want to work with an agent? they take 25%!" Well, first off, my agent is not taking a quarter of my royalties. Secondly, there would be no royalties without her.

Look, I think it's like real estate agents. Sure you could buy direct from the owner and negotiate a three per cent price reduction or whatever the realtor going rate is these days. But a good agent will save you from a lemon, point out the water damage, the cracks in the foundation, have advance knowledge of a gem before it hits the market. Of course a useless agent will do squat all and give the entire profession a bad name. So in all things the advice is: find a good professional.

Agents have knowledge of, and relationships with, editors. They don't just send your manuscript to a house, they target specific editors who would be a good fit for you and your book. Second, they know how to play the game. I only have the murkiest sense of what this game is to be honest but it involves a clever balance of hype and reticence, careful timing, and the intervention of benevolent deities called scouts. Stephanie has tried to explain it all to me but it's like when my husband Tom starts talking about string theory (or whatever it is that he does). My eyes gloss over and all I hear are cats

International sales are a completely different beast. Agents go to the big book fairs where they champion your book. They have contacts with overseas editors and subagents. They know how to time submissions. In short, agents get you the best deal possible and as many deals as possible.

And then once a deal is made, they negotiate the finer points of the contract. Even after you're working with a publishing house, the agent stays close, to make sure you're getting good editorial support, the right sales and marketing treatment. If things go pear shaped, they intervene. It's not just the business side of things either. Agents can help with interview prep and presentation skills. They check in to make sure you're not hiding under the bed hyperventilating into a paper bag. Sometimes Stephanie really feels like my personal cheerleader, therapist, and coach, all rolled into one. But most importantly, she takes care of a whole ton of stuff behind the scenes (and there is A LOT going on back there) leaving me free to WRITE.

Politics and the prize

There's been a lot of talk about literary prizes and prize culture of late, including this thought-provoking article in Maclean's about the intersection between awards and political literature. In it, Brian Bethune gives an interesting take on the difference between the Giller and the Writers' Trust Awards: "The Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize is the most sensitive to change of Canada’s three major literary awards, and its juries are more likely to be staffed by writers still early in their careers. It’s always been the most predictive in the sense that authors are more likely to win the WT and then go on to the Giller than the reverse."


The Boat People gets a passing mention as one to watch for in 2018, with Bethune wondering how, in the tumultuous present moment, readers and authors will respond to new fiction that is politically charged. The truth is that I never set out to write about politics. To me, The Boat People is about a man who is trying, against all odds, to survive, to secure salvation for his son. At its heart, I think every novel is like this - a coming-of-age tale, a survival narrative, a love story. We are all writing variations on Hamlet and Cinderella and the Odyssey. The politics is incidental.