Getting to Know IWR Faculty Member Terry Fallis

Getting to Know IWR Faculty Member Terry Fallis


A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis is the award-winning author of six national bestselling novels, including his latest, One Brother Shy, all published by McClelland & Stewart. The Best Laid Plans was the winner of the Leacock Medal for Humour in 2008, and CBC’s Canada Reads in 2011. It was adapted as a six-part television miniseries, as well as a stage musical. The High Road was a Leacock Medal finalist in 2011. Up and Down was the winner of the 2013 Ontario Library Association Evergreen Award, and was a finalist for the 2013 Leacock Medal. His fourth novel, No Relation, was released in May 2014, debuted on the Globe and Mail bestsellers list, and won the 2015 Leacock Medal. His fifth, Poles Apart, hit bookstores in October 2015, was a Globe and Mail bestseller and was a finalist for the 2016 Leacock Medal. One Brother Shy was released in May 2017 and became an instant bestseller. The Canadian Booksellers Association named Terry Fallis the winner of the 2013 Libris Award as Author of the Year.

Workshops: The power of a plan: Outlining your novel and Make them laugh: Writing Humour

How did you originally get involved in the Retreat? 

It was a conversation with a friend, the fine Canadian writer, Allison Pick that introduced me to the Iceland Writers Retreat. She was on the faculty in 2015 and raved about the experience. And that was all it took. I researched the retreat and was very impressed with the program, the people, not to mention Iceland. As a closeted chess fan, I’ve read so much about the 1972 World Chess Championships in Reykjavik when Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky. Then I read about Iceland’s strong literary culture and became slightly preoccupied—okay, “obsessed” is likely the better word for it—with somehow getting myself to Iceland for the retreat. So I proceeded to wage a two-year relentless campaign to elevate my profile in the right Icelandic circles trying not to look like I was waging a two-year relentless campaign. I’m sure Eliza wondered about my casual, friendly emails sent at strategic junctures. So you can imagine my excitement when the call came. I’m thrilled to be a part of this celebrated gathering in such a literary city.

Have you ever participated in a similar kind of retreat, either as faculty or as a participant? If yes, how did the experience benefit you and/or your writing? 

Yes, I’ve attended many writers festivals, workshops, and retreats over the years and have almost always enjoyed myself and learned something, too. Anytime I can commune with other writers, be they aspiring or established, I’m inspired. Writing is a rather solitary pursuit, so the chance to hang out with, and learn from, other writers always leaves me energized and motivated to dive back in to whatever novel I’m writing at the time. I think most writers need to recharge their creative batteries periodically. Festivals and retreats help me do that. But seldom is the cultural and geographic backdrop quite so stunning as will be in Iceland.

What are you most looking forward to about the Retreat?

Now that’s a tough question. As noted above, I enjoy spending time with other writers. There’s often an almost instant rapport among a group of writers, even a diverse gathering of scribes. I always look forward to those opportunities. I also really enjoy teaching and talking with writers who are working so hard to to break through. I know what that’s like. Of course, I’m really excited to see and experience a new and very special country for the first time. Finally, I’ve been listening to the New York Times Book Review podcast since it started. So I’m happy for the chance to meet Pamela Paul, the host of the podcast. (As a fellow podcaster, I understand that strange sensation when you feel that you really know someone even though you’ve never met them. That’s the power and intimacy of the human voice in your ear-buds.)

Is there a particular piece of writing advice (or a writing exercise) you would like to share with our followers?

Well, I’m leading two workshops, one on how to outline your novel, and the other on humour writing. I hope to impart some advice in those areas, but more broadly speaking, I’m often asked how I find the time to write when there’s so many other demands on our time including our families, our day-jobs, and the need to eat and sleep periodically. I think if you really want to do something—like write a novel or a short story—you can always, somehow, some way, find the time to make it happen. It requires commitment, belief, and some time management skills. (It occasionally helps if you are also a little deranged.) And when your desire to write overpowers the forces in your way, you may find as I did, that the writing doesn’t actually feel like work. It simply feels like it’s what you’re supposed to be doing.

Don’t get me wrong. Intellectually, I know that writing is in fact work—difficult, taxing and sometimes frustrating work. It just doesn’t feel like work when you’re doing something you love, or have wanted to do for a long time. So take that all-important next step. Make the move from wanting to write, promising to write, planning to write, and actually start to write.

What and/or who do you find inspiring?

I’ve always been inspired by polymaths—those rare people who were born with an extra helping of curiosity and have amassed knowledge, insights, and understanding across a dizzying array of subjects. Leonardo Da Vinci, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, even Stephen Fry might be examples. Curiosity is such an important asset for writers, and it is the gift that keeps on giving.

How has writing influenced your life?

Relatively speaking, I came to writing novels quite late in life. I didn’t write my debut novel until I was 45 years old, and that was 13 years ago. Yes, I know, I don’t look like I’m in my late fifties. It’s a cross I must bear. So I’ve spent the last decade or so trying to make up for lost time. If you had told me back in 2006 that in 2018 I’d be just finishing writing my seventh novel, I’d have suggested you check your medication. Becoming a novelist changed my life in many ways. Most of all, becoming a writer has made me extraordinarily happy.

What do you find to be your biggest challenge in your writing life?

I suspect I’m not alone in this, but I think finding the time and energy to sustain a disciplined writing life in the midst of everything else I have on my plate can be a considerable challenge. It is also difficult to strike the perfect balance between promoting your previous novel and writing your next one. Obviously, both are important. Both take time. Both yield rewards. But it divides your time, your mind, and your life. And that can be tiring.

What are you working on currently?

I am currently writing my seventh novel, If at First You Succeed. In fact, if all goes well—oops, I may have just jinxed myself—I should have the manuscript nearly finished by the time we land in Reykjavik.

Any final comments you’d like to share with our followers?

Storytelling is an ancient and noble calling. It may be a tough life—okay, it’s definitely a tough life—but the rewards are many. I’ve never worked harder, yet I’ve never been more fulfilled. I’m so thrilled to visit Iceland and I look forward to a wonderful, productive, and enlightening retreat with so many fine writers. I have no doubt that I’ll learn more and take away more from this experience than I can possibly offer in return. But I’m going to try!

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