Establishing a room of one’s own has always been part of the literary vocation. And in a year that has seen the entire world—not just fiction writers—relegated to the confines of home, the themes of safety, belonging, and self-determination in the face of (occasionally life-threatening) external pressures have never resonated more deeply.

Whether seeking identity and refuge in a new city, life’s most indulgent pleasures, or relationships—precious, volatile, and sometimes both—the characters animating the shortlisted works for this year’s Amazon Canada First Novel Award mirror the desires of their authors to carve out a space of their own. So, we asked them: how does writing help you make a home in the world?

Learn more about the shortlisted novels of the 2021 Amazon Canada First Novel Award.

“Writing allows me to sort out my relationship to people and places that are both known and unknown to me. Gutter Child, for example, was a book I wrote in pursuit of an answer to a question that troubled me. The characters I created are inventions of the mind, drawn from people I know and people I have observed, and things I myself have lived. They were vehicles that helped me navigate my curiosity and unpack the questions that kept me up at night—questions about why we are here, where I belong, and how to fix what’s so broken. I suppose writing is my way of coming to some measure of peace and understanding about my place and my purpose, of finding my way in the world. It’s a way of coming home.” –Jael Richardson, Gutter Child

“My life began as being displaced, in a way, as my mother lost her Indian status when she married my father. They subsequently moved west to northern British Columbia. As a result, my siblings and I— although we can trace our ancestry directly to some critical figures in Plains Cree history—were raised in a much different social and geographic setting. I began writing when I was about eleven or so. Observing, considering, and recording in the form of writing became my way of making sense of the world. My writing gave me a place inside, a sense of how to remain connected to my prairie Cree roots while living on the West Coast. Writing itself has been a real part of my sense of home—a place where I can find true north—for a long, long time.” –Michelle Good, Five Little Indians

“In Orange, my characters do not belong anywhere. But that is not to say they do not belong. They are international students, always on an exchange, moving from space to space and culture to culture. They experience places from the exterior—hopefully not in an Orientalist way. Through writing, trying to articulate, and using language and my two characters’ inter-subjective experiences of these places, I find that I also come to a better understanding of where I, as a writer, want to be coming from: a place that is separate but also interconnected. Being someone who grew up in post-colonial Hong Kong—and who wishes to continue writing about the Chinese special administrative region—having this critical distance, I realize, is very important.” –Sheung-King, You Are Eating An Orange. You Are Naked.

“Similarly to how I approach life, writing is a way to curate the world. The characters in Happy Hour insist on fun, glamour, and excitement in ways that are far beyond their means. My work tries to celebrate femininity and pleasure in ways that both my friends and I have experienced. To put it down in writing gives those experiences space to be taken seriously, when lightness, joy, humour are often cast aside as unimportant. The world I make in my fiction is the place I want to invite people into, so, in a way, like my home.” –Marlowe Granados, Happy Hour

“In Vanishing Monuments, I found myself subconsciously writing toward my curiosities—particularly the curiosity of writing a non-binary character. That led me into learning more about myself, which I think is the way home and fiction writing coincide for me. Both fiction and home are places where the ghost of myself is free to haunt, where I am able to oscillate and experiment and percolate. Like home, my fiction is constructed to reflect myself back to me—often by means of many small tchotchkes dispersed throughout the work. It is a space where I can feel both safe and daring in a way I have been unable to achieve in this life.” –John Elizabeth Stintzi, Vanishing Monuments

“Through writing, I can build softer worlds that offer more opportunities for catharsis than “real life” often allows. My imagination and shifting perspectives of the external world (and my internal one) have kept me company since I was a child. During some of the more challenging experiences of my childhood, I sunk myself into stories of my own creation, as well as into the books around me. I do the same now as an adult, though it’s less about escaping and more about making meaning. One of the trippiest realizations I keep coming to is the utter uniqueness of each of our perspectives and experiences of the world. Writing gives me some semblance of the quality or flavour of my experiences. I think of the poem “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith; it reminds me that I have the power to choose the better, more honest, more edifying story in an attempt to make meaning of this chaotic world. This is the gift of storytelling.” –Francesca Ekwuyasi, Butter Honey Pig Bread

Katie Underwood