When William Neil Scott sat down to write the first draft of his debut novel Wonderfull, awards were the furthest thing from his mind. But they just keep coming, most recently London Reads, on April 23.
“I wrote it for a manuscript course I was taking with Aritha van Herk at the University of Calgary,” he says. “For that whole year, I’d been picking up ideas and discarding them, basically producing 30-page beginnings of novels that never got finished.”
By the time he committed himself to telling the story of the mythical village of Garfax and the young Oswald Brodie, he only had one week left to finish the manuscript. “The initial pressure was to complete the course,” he says. “I had no expectations other than that. I needed the pressure of that week to finally get to the end of a first draft.”
The affable Scott, it must be noted, is no swaggering Norman Mailer type. “The main thread running through this process has been a lack of confidence,” he admits. “When I made that first draft, I thought it was the worst thing I ever wrote. I had no perspective…. It wasn’t until it was actually accepted by NeWest Press that I realized I potentially had something.”
He effectively rewrote the entire book after it was accepted, a process that took the better part of two years. He then took to the road on his own dime to promote the book, doing readings across the country, at a time when only the most successful authors tour.
The effort seems to have paid off: The magical realist tale won Trade Fiction of the Year at the Alberta Book Publishing Awards, and was shortlisted for the 2008 Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. The small, literary novel that he hadn’t believed in himself was beginning to take on a life of its own.
“It’s just thrilling to see,” Scott says. “You can’t control or predict the reaction that other people have to your work. I’ve been really surprised to see how well Wonderfull has been received and championed by the people who have read it.”
And the ball just keeps on rolling. In October last year, it was announced that Wonderfull had been shortlisted for the London Reads competition, the western Ontario city’s version of the popular Canada Reads competition. Though he says he was “terrified” to be nominated alongside literary heavyweights like David Adams Richards and Lawrence Hill, Wonderfull ultimately won the competition. “Surprised doesn’t even come close to describing how I felt.”
While the myth of the author as a lone figure is romantic, Scott doesn’t buy it. “The whole process of Wonderfull, for me, has been one of realizing that I am surrounded by people who care about me and the work that I do,” he says. “I am incredibly thankful and grateful for the opportunities that the people who have read Wonderfull have afforded me. People think writing a book is magic. And that’s partly true. It’s a kind of magic, I suppose, but it relies on both parties.”