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It's been a busy year for Megan Gail Coles.
In February, House of Anansi published her debut novel, "Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club." A story that takes place in a single day, the book revolves around a group of restaurant workers in downtown St. John's stuck in a blizzard. Blending humour and drama and building toward a moment of reckoning, it examines societal issues such as misogyny and abuse.
A Globe and Mail reviewer called the book "a dark, taut, funny novel that feels for its characters’ pain while remaining caustic toward the enablers and the kinds of violence that polite society allows."
Coles moved to Montreal earlier this year to pursue an interdisciplinary studies PhD at Concordia University. In September, her novel was long-listed for the prestigious Giller Prize, and a few weeks later it was one of six books left on the shortlist for the richest literary award in Canada, valued at $100,000. The winner will be announced next Monday, Nov. 18, at a gala event in Toronto.
Coles has been kept busy trying to juggle her studies with the publicity blitz surrounding her novel, which is now guaranteed to reach many more readers than she first expected. Last month, she was part of the six-city Between the Pages tour, which brought together all six Giller finalists (fellow Newfoundland and Labrador writer Michael Crummey is also shortlisted for his latest novel, "The Innocents").
"It will be on store shelves in a way that it would not have been, alongside all these other books by very well established, somewhat famous Canadian authors," she told The Telegram over the phone while taking a break from reading philosophy texts. "I really could not have asked for a better boost."
Coles is also the author of an award-winning short story collection, "Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome," and has written several plays. She intends to keep writing in both mediums, and for her PhD she plans to write a play inspired by Muskrat Falls dealing with ecological grief. It's an issue that has affected her family in the past through the cod moratorium. Coles is from the Great Northern Peninsula, and her father, Nelson, still commercially harvests fish. Coles used to go on the water with him to help supplement her income while she attended theatre school.
1. What is your full name?
Megan Gail Coles.
2. Where and when were you born?
In October 1981 in St. Anthony.
3. Where do you live today?
I'm currently doing this interview from the Plateau part of Montreal, where I'm a student. But in my real normal life, I divide my time between St. John's and Savage Cove. Savage Cove is my ancestral community.
4. What is your favourite place in the world?
There's an old road that goes behind Savage Cove, which was the original community road, and that is my favourite place. The bog behind the graveyard is my favourite place on the planet. I take my dogs out there and let them off their leash, and they run over the berry bog and I can see Labrador. Forteau is right near. Right handy to us.
5. Who do you follow on social media?
I follow all the Newfoundland and Labrador politicians.
6. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I don't really like to shop for clothing. I'm not a big shopper.
7. What was your favourite year and why?
I'm pretty keen on this year.
8. Can you describe one experience that changed your life?
The first time I entered the gymnasium as a child and saw the Scholastic Book Fair, I was forever changed as a person, because there were all these stories — what felt like an infinite number of stories — to be read and imagine. It kind of opened up this other world of possibility.
9. What is your greatest indulgence?
Probably my dogs. I have two poodles. They go get their hair cut. They're right here (in Montreal) looking for squirrels ... there's a lot of them in the Plateau right now. I lived here before when I went to theatre school, and I don't remember it ever being quite this bad. It is maggoty with squirrels.
10. What is your favourite movie and book?
My favourite movie from childhood was "Anne of Green Gables," and my favourite book — it feels wrong to even choose a favourite book. But a book I read regularly is "A Fine Balance" by Rohinton Mistry. It's quite large, but I go back to it for some reason. I don't know why exactly. On some level, it is an epic tale of a nation that is experiencing post-colonization. It's a post-colonial India with a lot of socioeconomic inequality. So I think that might be why I keep reading it, because I feel like on a much smaller scale and in a different kind of way, Newfoundland is like that. We struggle with a lot of the same universal aspects.
11. How do you like to relax?
I like to swim.
12. What are you reading and watching right now?
I am reading Ocean Vuong's new novel "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous." My favourite television show right now is probably Hasan Minhaj's "Patriot Act" on Netflix. It's like a political comedy show. It's about America, but it's also very global. Every week he picks one issue, like the opioid crisis, and he explains it. That's the kind of stuff I watch — a lot of documentaries and things like that.
13. What is your greatest fear?
I suppose climate change is my greatest fear. It should be everyone's greatest fear, shouldn't it?
14. How would you describe your personal fashion statement?
I'm tidy. I wear a lot of Boss dresses, and it's not very fussy. I don't put a lot of time into it. I have a lot of dresses. I just put one on and I put on a blazer, add some shoes and I leave and go do my job.
15. What is your most treasured possession?
My grandmother's house in Savage Cove is pretty special to me. I inherited it. My aunts and uncles and father gave it to me. My dad and I restored it, which was a real large project for a father and daughter, because we have very different ideas about how the house should be restored. So we basically stripped it down to its studs and built it back up again, because it's an old house. It's a pre-Confederation house, so it needed new everything. You can't get insurance for these kinds of houses unless they're redone.
16. What physical or personality trait are you most grateful to a parent for?
I'm very empathetic. I think that is the quality in me that informs everything that I do. All the writing and the personal choices. I constantly think about how other people will feel. My mother is a nurse, so I think this is something that's very integral to her being able to do her job well.
17. Which three people would join you for your dream dinner party?
I wouldn't mind having dinner with the premier right now. You can write Dwight Ball on it. I have some things I wouldn't mind discussing with him. And there's a philosopher that I would quite like him to meet. His name is Slavoj Žižek. And (Canadian social activist and writer) Naomi Klein.
18. What is your best quality?
I think I'm funny. It comes in handy.
19. What is your worst quality?
I have been known to lose my temper.
20. What's your biggest regret?
I try, honestly, not to spend time with regret, because I think regret is like shame and guilt. I put those three into this trifecta of damaging emotions. They hinder progress. I understand that I make mistakes. Making mistakes is human, and then I try to make reparations and then move forward without making the same ones in the future. … People get trapped inside regret and then they can't progress, or they double-down. In Newfoundland and Labrador we doubles-down, and that's not good either.