The Cecil Connelly Awards for Literary Persistence
Meet the three winners of #TheCecils, find inspiration in their essays about their passion (and persistence) for writing, and read their prize-winning excerpts from their novels in progress.
Hannah Brown (Toronto) for My Girl Harry
Born in Hastings County, Hannah Brown currently lives in the Beach neighborhood of Toronto. She has two degrees in film from York University. Her work has been published in several North American literary magazines, including a short story “On Any Windy Day” published in Superstition Review and recommended by Emily Wilson (along with the Broadway play Hamilton) as a companion text to her translation of The Odyssey. Her debut novel Look After Her prompted an invitation to the May 2020 Leeds International Festival, and was a Foreword Indies finalist. She is at work on My Girl Harry.
What Keeps Hannah Writing
“Writing isn’t hard. Writing well is. That’s writing with some kind of fresh truth—and if you are a writer, you tune in and listen when you recognize truth is playing. We older new writers maybe could only write in our heads, or scribble a post-it note to stick on the dashboard before the light turned green. But revelatory new truths don’t come solely from new writers who are young and wet and climbing aboard to tell us what they only alone have come to tell us. That lightning strike of truth you felt will still be there, scorching, decades later. Even better, the delayed career of the older new writer gives an advantage, that of seasoned insight. And better than that, if you are an older new writer, you already have what all writers must have: tenacity. You read widely. You pay attention to trusted gentle readers who respect your commitment, especially when they have doubts about what you’ve written. You let the work have a fallow time. Then you can send that work to everyone— agents, publishers, contest runners, admired writers, and the god damn New Yorker —why not? Someone will champion your work. You can send out a story a hundred times, and then, sometimes, if you are lucky, a Man Booker judge may tell you your story is ‘beautiful and troubling’ and recommend it to her 18,000 twitter followers. But you have to make that luck. You have to send her the story.”
Dorothy Ellen Palmer (Burlington) for My Gables Were Never Green
Dorothy Ellen Palmer is a disabled senior writer, retired English/Drama teacher, improv coach and union activist. Her adoption-disability memoir, Falling for Myself, (Wolsak and Wynn, 2019), was acclaimed by The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, and Quill & Quire. Longlisted for the ReLit Award, her novel, When Fenelon Falls, (Coach House, 2010), features a disabled teen in the Woodstock-Moonwalk summer of 1969. Her fiction and nonfiction appear in literary and disability journals, including Reader’s Digest, This Magazine, Canthius, Wordgathering and Nothing Without Us. She is the winner of the 2020 Helen Henderson Award for disability journalism, serves on FOLD’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, and has appeared at FOLD, GritLit, WOTS, The Eh List, and The Next Chapter.
What Keeps Dorothy Writing
“Whenever I see CanLit contests for ’emerging writers,’ I chuckle at the idea it means ’emerging from puberty.’ I did not emerge until my first small press novel, published at age fifty-five. At the risk of channeling Winston Churchill, I’m writer in my sixties only because I had the persistence to ‘never, ever, ever, give up.’
My emergence wasn’t easy. Like Anne in my submitted novel-in progress, I’m an adoptee, but had no Green Gables family, or Avonlea life. Without a scholarship, I couldn’t have attended university as my father wouldn’t pay for a girl. Like many working class girls, I married early and immediately had children. As mother, teacher and unionist, I had to defer my writing dream until I retired. Then I found myself fighting the pain and fatigue of an ageing, disabled body and the interwoven, intersectional barriers of ageism and ableism. Longing for a wide readership, agents rejected me claiming I was too old to provide them long-term income. The pervasive inaccessibility of CanLit festivals and events meant I had to fight simply to get in the door, to convince my colleagues that the inclusion of disabled readers and writers enriches us all.
Today, as a pandemic and its eugenics target us, I’m glad I held fast to my belief that disabled senior voices matter. I’m proud to help build a still-emergent CanLit, one persistently struggling towards the first principle of Disability Justice: nobody, and no body, left behind.”
Jon Redfern (Toronto) for Hard Light of Morning
Jon Redfern was born and raised in Alberta and went to university there and in Toronto. He has worked as a freelance writer for The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star, and did research and story editing for CBC. With his PhD he contracted a full tenure position at Centennial College where he was an English professor. Jon also taught in Siena, Italy, as a correspondent and lecturer at the Siena Toronto Cultural Centre. In 2008, he won the Arthur Ellis Crime Writer’s Award for Best Novel for Trumpets Sound No More.
What Keeps Jon Writing
“I live in Toronto in the downtown in a quiet house where I have my studio for writing. For the past thirty years I have composed essays, book reviews, short stories and longer fiction. Three of my novels have been published by our very fine small presses which, in my view, encourage and support writers whose work is often out of the mainstream, more personal than commercial, certainly in some cases experimental in form and in point of view.
What is my advice? What can I say as a wise older person? Of course the act of writing is both a pleasure and a trial. Being unsure of your effects and your story is so common it is like a recurring headache. Rejection is so much a part of the game you grow used to it—at least I have. Never let the work get you down: that’s my first and foremost idea for success. You either love it or you love it and that is it. Yes, for sure you get tired, you need to take breaks but always go back to it every day if you can. I usually write in the early morning and before I go to bed. Build up a routine. Read your words aloud and pretend you are down at Harbourfront or in a public library in a crowded room (post COVID) and read with gusto and pride and hear yourself. Remember too, that not all your ideas will work. I have five—yes—five complete novels each over 300 pages, and all five are stinkers. Help, but it is true. So keep going. Make notebooks if they help. Let intuition speak and do not over plan until you feel the story is valid then go!!”