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Five questions for Terence Young

Kyle Dupont

Terence Young in Ciutadella

Terence Young was the poetry winner in our first ever Great Canadian Literary Hunt back in 1996. Since then, he has gone on to publish a number of boo,ks and poetry including The Island in Winter which was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry in 1999. Currently living in Victoria B.C., Young teaches English and creative writing at St. Michaels University School. He is also the co-founder of the Clearmont Review, an international literary journal for young writers. We recently spoke with Terence about literary contests, teaching and the Canadian literary scene.

This Magazine: It has been awhile since you were featured in This Magazine, so could you let us know what you’ve been up to recently?

Terence Young:It’s only natural to look at the fate of the music industry (why would anyone ever put those two words together?) and apply it to issues current in publishing. Books are going the way of the CD, some say. There are ongoing cuts to periodicals – witness the changes to the Canadian Magazine Fund – and, while e-books are really handy, their links to large corporate distributors also represent a threat to independent book stores and, consequently, to small presses whose works probably don’t appear as e-books.  Recently, author Seth Godin advised new writers not to expect to make a living as a writer, that they had no right to, not unless they were prepared to market themselves and their books seriously in a variety of social media, even to the point of giving their books away for free. So, we’re in for some interestingly rough weather, I think, in the coming decade, in Canada and elsewhere, while we all try to sort these things out. That doesn’t mean there aren’t talented, ambitious Canadian writers, dedicated to their craft and eager to find readers. I’d name a few, but I just know I would neglect some people in my list, and I would hate them to think I didn’t consider them among the vanguard of new voices. That said, the real test of most committed writers is whether they allow all the gloom and doom to discourage them, or learn to ignore it and just get about doing the business they love, which is to write. In that regard, the Canadian literary scene is doing fine, in BC, the prairies and in the East. Just pick up a copy of The Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review Event, The New Quarterly, Grain, Prism, This Magazine, or any of a dozen other journals to see how vibrant and vital Canadian writing is.

This: You were the winner of the first annual Great Canadian Literary Hunt for poetry in 1996, what did that do for your career?

TY: I don’t really have a “career,” or at least not one as a writer who supports himself from his work. But winning the contest for poetry certainly inspired me to continue assembling my first collection of poems, which I submitted the following year to Signal Editions in Montreal. I was happy to see it nominated for the Governor General’s award in 1999, but it’s always nice to remember that This Magazine saw merit in my writing a few years before. This Magazine’s enthusiasm for the poem I submitted, and later for my fiction, is a strong contributing factor to my confidence as a writer and my faith that, every once in a while, I can get it right.

This: I understand you teach English and creative writing, what advice do you give to students trying to find their way onto the literary scene?

TY: Times are changing for young writers these days. Now, there are many good online literary magazines like Dragnetmag.net, to which they can send there work, as well as to the veterans of the publishing scene like This Magazine and even my own periodical, The Claremont Review, now in its 21st year. These venues are vital to cultivating the “farm league” of writers, who will become Canada’s literary establishment in the years to come. So, my best piece of advice to young writers is to study the periodicals to which they want to send their work and to read widely and voraciously as well. The only really consistently strong writing teacher is the literature itself, and any aspiring writer who isn’t interested in reading other writers is probably not going to be successful.

This: What’s your take on the current literary scene in Canada?

TY: It’s only natural to look at the fate of the music industry (why would anyone ever put those two words together?) and apply it to issues current in publishing. Books are going the way of the CD, some say. There are ongoing cuts to periodicals—witness the changes to the Canadian Magazine Fund—and, while e-books are really handy, their links to large corporate distributors also represent a threat to independent book stores and, consequently, to small presses whose works probably don’t appear as e-books.

Recently, author Seth Godin advised new writers not to expect to make a living as a writer, that they had no right to, not unless they were prepared to market themselves and their books seriously in a variety of social media, even to the point of giving their books away for free. So, we’re in for some interestingly rough weather, I think, in the coming decade, in Canada and elsewhere, while we all try to sort these things out.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t talented, ambitious Canadian writers, dedicated to their craft and eager to find readers. I’d name a few, but I just know I would neglect some people in my list, and I would hate them to think I didn’t consider them among the vanguard of new voices. That said, the real test of most committed writers is whether they allow all the gloom and doom to discourage them, or learn to ignore it and just get about doing the business they love, which is to write. In that regard, the Canadian literary scene is doing fine, in B.C., the prairies and in the East. Just pick up a copy of The Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review Event, The New Quarterly, Grain, Prism, This Magazine, or any of a dozen other journals to see how vibrant and vital Canadian writing is.

This: What value do you put on literary contest for young writers?

TY: I’m all for contests, especially now that the revenues generated from many contests help to support our community of small magazines. I know from my own experience with The Claremont Review that a contest is indispensable with regard to our survival. Contests also generate a buzz about writing, and, especially if the contest is genuinely “blind,” they can bring to light new voices. Every contest is a kind of yardstick, one that conforms to the tastes and aesthetic preferences of the judges, but it is my experience from having judged a few contests, myself, that serious consideration is always given to the quality of the writing, no matter what style it is written in.

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