Chapbook: The Original Title

Available now as a beautiful chapbook published by Maureen Scott Harris is the Page Lecture I gave at Queen’s University in 2015. “The Original Title” is a talk about editing and being edited and bears directly on my novel Late Nights on Air. Here is the first paragraph:

I was in my study gathering up the piles of pages all around me after finishing Late Nights on Air. The title of the book had changed as I worked on it, and the subject. The subject, therefore the title. (It was The End of Shyness for a long time, then Dido in Yellowknife for a while, and then Late Nights on Air after a friend told me everyone would call the book Dildo in Yellowknife.) But I was still attached to the initial subject and the initial title.

To purchase the chapbook you can write to Maureen Scott Harris at 19 Biggar Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M6H 2N5. Or reach her by emailing

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Globe & Mail Lauds New Zealand Trip

Marsha Lederman in the Globe & Mail gives an exciting account of the recent trip to New Zealand by Canadian writers. I was lucky enough to be one of them.

Thinking back on it, it seems to me that I went very far away and then I came home again, not necessarily changed but jolted out of myself. On this beautiful October day, I am glad to be home in Ottawa, even if the coffee isn’t quite as good.

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Radio New Zealand Interview

In August and early September a little band of Canadians travelled to writers’ festivals in New Zealand and Australia, so now I am a connoisseur of the flat white, a more potent latte than you’ll find in Canada and a source of rivalry between the two countries down under (though perhaps Australia doesn’t know it, in the way that an older sibling tends to be unaware of the younger). Each thinks it has the better coffee. I praise both.

            Our little band was organized by Hal Wake of the Vancouver Writers’ Festival and accompanied by Marsha Lederman of the Globe & Mail. The three authors were the outstanding writer/storyteller/performer from the Yukon, Ivan Coyote; Sheila Watt-Cloutier of Inuvik, whose The Right to Be Cold flows out of years of impressive work defending the world of snow and ice inhabited by the Inuit; and me.

            Radio New Zealand’s Kim Hill interviewed a number of authors who attended the Christchurch Festival. Her interview with me is here.

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NOW’s Top 10 Best Books

His Whole Life made the Top 10 Books of 2015 in NOW Toronto Magazine, with this citation: “Hay’s expertly realized novel, set during the 1955 Quebec referendum, is a poignant portrait of a complex family dealing with loss and regret, riffing on a 10 year-old boy’s question: “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” For the full list click here.

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CBC Winter Reading List

CBC Books has drawn up a list of twelve books to banish winter blues and included His Whole Life as one of the twelve. For the full list click here.

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BBC Radio Essay

As part of a week-long series of radio essays called “Art in a Cold Climate” on BBC 3, I was one of five writers from five different northern countries given the task ‘to select and reflect on a work of art which in some way captures the essence of their nation.’ A tall order, but I couldn’t resist. I chose a work by David Milne, long a favourite painter of mine and of my mother’s, herself a painter. To follow the series and hear the essays on the BBC, which are part of its Northern Lights season throughout December, you can click here.

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NOW Magazine

A four N review by Susan G. Cole of His Whole Life in Toronto’s NOW Magazine calls the novel “superb,” “a poignant portrait of a complex family dealing with loss and regret.” Well, to be accurate, she says, “nevertheless superb,” because she takes exception to one of the elements in the story. Fair enough. The full review is here.

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Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Finalist

It was a great pleasure to have His Whole Life on the shortlist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, 2015.

The jury’s citation reads: Set on the cusp of personal and national change, His Whole Life is a resonant and penetrating novel that explores the complex evolution of love and affection through a rich array of relationships. At this story’s centre are a mother and son so richly realized their delights, pleasures, and aches become the reader’s. Elizabeth Hay deftly – in elegant and luminous prose – explores how life can betray us or bring us to the surface, and all the subtle ways that one human being can fail, or serve, another.

The jurors were Aislin Hunter, Shani Mootoo, and Richard Wagamese.

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Interview by Shelagh Rogers

Shelagh Rogers did an on-stage interview with me about His Whole Life for The First Chapter, her CBC Radio books program. We spoke on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at the Woody Point Writers’ Festival in Woody Point, Newfoundland. Listen to our conversation here.

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Globe and Mail Interview

The Globe and Mail interviewed me about His Whole Life and about which books have meant the most to me. The first question they asked was why I wrote my new novel (later I got to talk about big-band music, Pauline Kael’s fearless movie reviews, and a sexy porcupine):

It flowed, or hacked its way, out of two long-standing regrets: that years ago I gave away my dog and that I never managed to convince my children that Canada was an exciting place to live your life. I let those regrets come forward and crowd my mind and the strands of a story emerged involving a mother whose young son loves Canada and wants a dog. They spend winters in New York City and parts of every summer on an Ontario lake. In the background is the 1995 referendum in Quebec. I wanted the boy’s family to be falling apart and staying together as the country falls apart and stays together. At 10, Jim already has sources of guilt and shame that give his life a rough and uneven texture. That’s the sort of texture a novel needs. And the question that interests me is how do we live with ourselves, given our failings and mistakes.

Read the rest of the interview here.

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