By Daniel Melchior
Laurentian has its fair share of literary extraordinaires, yet we are always proud to congratulate anyone on their literary achievements. Natalie Morrill, a sessional instructor in Laurentian’s English depart¬ment, is now in the spotlight, as her “At the Top of the Wall, Alright” story is shortlisted in the Second Annual HarperCollins Canada/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction.
This prize offers current students and graduates of the University of British Columbia creative writing program, the chance to submit their unpublished manuscripts in attempts to receive a publishing deal with HarperCollins Canada. HarperCollins is one of the largest publishing companies in Canada.
This year in a surprise increase of submissions, Morrill is one of three to be shortlisted for the prize.
With her are Chelsea Bolan’s “In the Place of Silence” and John O’Neill’s “Goth Girls of Banff”, both of whom Morrill says, “are very, very talented!”
If she should win, Morrill will be represented by the Cooke Agency, a leading literary agency in Canada, and will undergo negotiations of a publishing contract with HarperCollins.
Hopefully, in a couple of years, At the Top of the Wall, Alright, will be hitting the shelves of bookstores across Canada.
“I finished most of (the submission) during my MFA degree at UBC – I think I spent about 18 months on this project,” says Morrill. “I’ll be honest: getting shortlisted makes me feel a lot better about the number of sunny days I had to spend in front of a keyboard.”
Many history students and enthusiasts, here at Laurentian, might be eager to get a hold of this story, especially after they hear the premise. Morrill provided this synopsis:
“The story is about a man, Josef Tobak, a Viennese Jew, who grows up in the 1920s and 30s, and who looks after the city’s neglected Jewish cemeteries. Following the Anschluss in 1938, he and his family manage to flee abroad, thanks largely to the clandestine help of a long-time friend who’s joined the Nazi party. In exile, Josef is sustained by his belief that his friend is essentially good, that his family needs him, and that he still has a responsibility towards the dead. These beliefs draw him back to Vienna after the war – a highly unusual choice, and one he may come to regret.”
“On the one hand, the plot of the story is loosely based on that of the biblical Book of Tobit, which is about a man whose act of charity is burying the dead, and who goes mysteriously blind in the process,” Morrill explained. “On the other hand, I lived in Vienna as a child, very near to one of the neglected cemeteries in the book: I think that my earliest understanding of the Holocaust was bound up with my experience of that place.”
As many students can tell you, the more effort you put into a project the more satisfied you will be, once completing it.
After eighteen months of working on this manuscript, it is safe to say that Laurentian’s Natalie Morrill has earned her satisfaction.
On Oct. 24, announcement of the HarperCollins prize winner will be eagerly anticipated.