25th Trillium Award

On Writing, the CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize Edition, with Matthew Hooton

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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, Matthew Hooton talks to us about his spellbinding essay, "This Tongue," one of the five pieces in the running. 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.

Matthew Hooton:

My essay is a mix of childhood memories and stories from the four years I spent living and traveling in Asia, which includes my questionable decision to swallow the still-beating heart of a cobra.


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


When I was a kid, I rewrote my favourite stories featuring me as one of the heroes — you know, Matthew slays Smog the dragon etc. I think I was just exercising creativity without trusting my imagination or experiences, but I also had a deep desire for my own life to be epic — bigger and better than I perceived it to be. Earlier this year, I was rereading emails I?d sent home, and realized that some of my journeys and experiences didn?t need embellishment in order to be worth writing about. So I wouldn?t say I needed to write this, rather that it was a joy to realize I could.


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


The story isn?t a single anecdote, nor did I present it in chronological order, so one challenge was trying to create a narrative that might engage readers emotionally despite this dislocated structure. But that?s technical — I also had to wrestle with whether or not I wanted to write about myself and family. Always a tough call, but including memories of the death of my grandmother raised the emotional stakes, and left me weighing the impact of going public with a deeply personal story.


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


Nothing I write ever feels complete. That?s not to say I?m not proud of my work, or wouldn?t perhaps leave published text as is, but I don?t view anything I write in isolation. One piece leads to another. Becomes a chapter. A scene. Another letter to a friend. Who knows where those snakes might pop up next?


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


One? Killing me here. Guess I?ll go with Bruce Chatwin?s essay, ?On Yeti Tracks.? Here?s a quick quote from it: ?My whole life has been a search for the miraculous: yet at the first faint flavour of the uncanny, I tend to turn rational and scientific.? The essay, which is unsurprisingly about one of Chatwin?s treks in Nepal, appears in his collection What Am I Doing Here? — one of my favourite books.

Matthew Hooton holds degrees in creative writing from the University of Victoria (BA), and Bath Spa University (MA). His first novel, Deloume Road, was published in 2010 by Knopf Canada and Jonathan Cape UK. He has also written creative nonfiction for venues such as the CBC, Geist, Reader's Digest and Monday Magazine. After years of working as a freelance editor and writer in South Korea, he now lives and writes on Vancouver Island, where he teaches Creative Writing part-time at the University of Victoria and sits on the fiction editorial board of The Malahat Review.

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

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