25th Trillium Award

On Writing, the CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize Edition, with Jenny Manzer

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CBC Canada Writes Creative Nonfiction Prize

There's a reason so many readers love creative nonfiction. Fact, as they say, is stranger (and stronger) than fiction, but when it's paired with exquisite writing, complex emotion and keen observation, these real-life stories are utterly captivating. The ten finalists for the CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize / Prix du récit Radio-Canada have been chosen, and each of these talented writers has an incredible story to tell.

Open Book is pleased to feature each of the English language finalists in this week leading up to the announcement of the Grand Prize winner on Monday, July 22. Today, Jenny Manzer tells us about "The Boy with the Galloping Heart," the story of how her son and his swiftly beating heart made their way into her world. You can read the essay here.

Open Book:

Tell us about the essay that's been selected as a finalist for the CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize.

Jenny Manzer:

It?s called ?The Boy with the Galloping Heart? and recounts how my first pregnancy went from very typical to highly unusual in a heartbeat. My son developed a rapid, galloping heart rate in the womb, and it was terrifying not knowing why it happened or if the problem would resolve. It was, as I mention, a deep black lake.


When did you realize that you needed to tell this story?


I remember being struck at the time by how vulnerable and helpless I felt and how much I wanted words — a name — for what was happening. Probably in the back of mind, I knew I would write something about it one day — because I so craved an explanation. If it had all ended in tragedy, I?m not certain I would have ever written about, I admit.


What was the biggest challenge you faced in the process of writing this piece?


The first was remembering the anchoring details precisely — the exact sequence of tests and developments went by in a blur. The second was compressing the events to fit a tight word count.


Are you tempted to expand this essay into a longer project, or do you feel it's complete? How do you know?


This particular story of my son?s birth seems complete to me because the conflict — his wonky heart rate — resolved. It launched me into motherhood, however, which is an ongoing saga with daily conflicts, big and small. I?m sure I?ll write more about those: ?The Boy Who Hurt His Leg on a Slide and Couldn?t Walk Home from School But Was Caught Jumping on a Trampoline an Hour Later,? for example.


Can you recommend a great work of creative nonfiction that you've read recently?


I?ve read a number of good ones lately, but Don?t Let?s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller stands out as a powerful, often brutal, brave memoir about a childhood in Africa.

Jenny Manzer is a magazine editor and a freelance writer for publications such as Maclean?s, Chatelaine, Reader?s Digest, and The Globe and Mail. In 2005, she received the Michener-Deacon Fellowship to write a series on Canada?s drug safety system, which was published in the Ottawa Citizen. A native Torontonian, she lives in Victoria with her two young children and her husband, who is also a writer. She studied journalism and fiction at the University of Victoria and has just completed a novel that mixes the two called Save Me, Kurt Cobain.

Find out more about the CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize / Prix du récit Radio-Canada by visiting their website.

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