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Sunday, December 06, 2020

Interview with Hilary Fair: Q4 2020 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest Runner Up

Hilary Fair is a writer and psychotherapist, with previous lives working in publishing and pottery. She completed graduate work in English Literature, then in Spiritual Care and Psychotherapy; in between her studies, she worked for major Canadian magazine, The Walrus; sat on an editorial committee for a small arts and literature journal; and attended the Haliburton School of the Arts to study ceramics—a craft she had admired all her life. Hilary has written for the The Stratford Festival’s Fanfares magazine, The Walrus blog, and Open Book: Toronto; as a graduate student, she co-authored a paper that won the Woman’s Caucus Award at Western University. Her fiction is forthcoming in Change Seven magazine.

--interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Q4 2020 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Hilary: I forget how I actually found WOW (a lucky Internet stumble!? or Literistic? I'm not sure), but the structure and tone of the competitions was really appealing to me. My writing had been in a bit of a hibernation period; lockdown had started to shift that, and I started to remember my own mini goals: find calls, submit to them. I submitted work to the Q3 call and was long-listed, which was motivating! I'm grateful to WOW for the quick turnaround times and generosity of feedback and encouragement. No doubt it's part of what prompted me to try again. You're a lovely group, and your work is meaningful.

WOW:  Thank you for the kind words about WOW! Your entry, “Persons Unseen” is a compelling, tense read. What inspired you to write this essay?

Hilary: The rebound of a writing routine through lockdown prompted me to take my first CNF class, and this piece is what I wrote for one of the Lesson assignments. That event happened seven years ago, and I remember anyone who heard the story (orally) said, "You have to write about that"--but I just couldn't. I've tried a few times to write this piece, and what I learned in the CNF course about lyric and braid and fragmented forms unlocked something for me. And this piece has become the foundation for something lengthier. I was inspired to write it, I guess, by the need to write it--both to get it out of my body after all this time, and also to meet the requirements of my course :-)

WOW: Are you working on any writing projects right now? What’s next for you?

Hilary: I am in another CNF class, so busy tinkering away with new small assignments. There are many threads! I also have piles of short stories in need of revision, or further exploration--that feels like a nice New Years project to look forward to.

I'm also teaching short fiction in the Sarah Selecky Writing School. My students will submit their story drafts next week, and I'm looking forward to sitting with their work.

WOW: What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Hilary: I'm reading tons of wonderful lyric essays, thanks to the course work I'm doing right now.

The Book of Delights -- Ross Gay: this was recommended by my first CNF teacher and it is a true delight to pick away at. I'm inspired by the form, the collection, the project. Gay was a wonderful discovery.

How to Pronounce Knife -- Souvankham Thammavongsa: she just won the Giller Prize here in Canada and though I am only a few stories in, I can already see that she will be instructive about subtlety as it punctuates depth.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake -- Aimee Bender: I love Bender's short stories and have often come across this title but somehow never read it. I found it in a book exchange and jumped at the chance to take it home.

My Brilliant Friend -- Elena Ferrante: given to me for my birthday by my oldest brilliant friend. She never misses with a recommendation.

WOW:  Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Hilary. Before you go, can you share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice?

Hilary: Another friend of mine, who is training as a coach (and who is also brilliant), nudged me out of my writing slump last winter by helping me remember my own rhythms (i.e., working first thing in the morning, even just doing a quick prompt) and pushing me to set up the routines that supported those rhythms. She gave the example of a ballet dancer she had heard on a podcast who said, essentially, I didn't make a habit of going to the gym to train at 6am, I made a habit of hailing a cab at 6am. So, we started small: laying out my notebooks, pens, the accoutrements for tea the night before. So that the next morning, when I am easily impressionable, I am directed optimally. It reduces the likelihood of an Internet rabbit hole and that sense of a "lost day" considerably. I think this applies regardless of the rhythm/routine: create the conditions that support it--set the running shoes by the door, the notebook and pen on a table cleared of all the other life clutter. Go.


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.


  1. Marcia--Thanks for doing this interview, and for linking Hilary's story.

    Hilary--Congrats for making the top ten. I can see why the judges loved it. It was compelling and because of the pace and the details, I felt like I was there with you. Thankfully, I was not.

    Your advice about getting into the habit in small steps makes sense. From what worked for you proves we can "trick" our brains into getting into a groove.

    Good luck with your future writing, and congratulations again.

  2. Best wishes on your continued success!


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