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2019 Kobo Emerging Writer Prizes
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2019 Kobo Emerging Writer Prizes

By 49thShelf
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An ace selection of titles are up for this year's prizes, which are nominated in the areas of Romance, Literary Fiction, and Nonfiction. Read them all!
Ayesha At Last

Ayesha At Last

A Novel
also available: eBook Paperback
tagged : humorous

Soon to be a major motion picture by Warner Brothers Entertainment and Pascal Pictures

Pride and Prejudice with a modern twist—a feel-good, laugh-out-loud comedy of love where you least expect it

Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth …

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Archibald Full Frontal

Archibald Full Frontal


What will endure…love, revenge, or Archibald?

It’s the summer of 1990 in West Vancouver. Maggie, a 23-year-old nursing school drop-out, has just started a job as a live-in personal assistant to Archibald, a flamboyant, elderly novelist with a quick wit, sharp tongue, and a penchant for nasty practical jokes.

In between picking up his medications and groceries, Maggie desperately tries to hold the unravelling threads of her life together. She’s stuck between the competing attentions of Sam, …

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The Dictionary of Animal Languages

The Dictionary of Animal Languages


Shortlisted for the 2019 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize
Longlisted for the 2019 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize
A novel of love, longing, and art set in interwar Paris, The Dictionary of Animal Languages will appeal to readers of All the Light We Cannot See and The Disappeared.

Ivory Frame is a renowned artist. Now in her nineties, the famously reclusive painter remains devoted to her work. She has never married, never had a family, never had a child. So when a letter arrives disclosing t …

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My eyes became her eyes, the eyes of someone who died young. Which makes them hard to live with. But Skeet doesn’t know this. Or Ondine. Or Valentina even. The only one left who knows is me.

Any eggs in the coop, Frame?

Yes, I tell him. But he hasn’t heard. He’s shaken out the coffee beans and ground out my voice.

The fork tines clink rhythmically against the steel bowl like the metallic call of a long-legged grassland bird I have transcribed. I am attuned to sounds. After all the animals I have recorded, read glyphic and elemental, like songs. He turns on the tap at the sink. He knows water works better than milk. It occurs to me we are a woman and a man in a stone house. The man making breakfast. It could be one of those tender moments that occur, the kind between sex and full- dressed protocol. But this isn’t that. I haven’t told him of the letter. It is a bit of a trick, this timing between it and Skeet arriving out of nowhere by the same low sun.

We eat our food slowly, in comfortable silence. My legs dangle from the too-high chair like a child’s. Skeet butters the bread in angular little lines, and says, This place is smaller than I thought.

I know, I say. It’s intensely orchestrated, three-quarter size. She must have culled everything and photographed from cunning angles. What is that? High or low, I can never remember.


He sips his coffee looking straight ahead. I am reminded of my fondness for him. How nothing between us is insincere.

You know this valley has been called the Playground of Kings, I say. The Garden of France. Which makes you think it should be those things, but all I see are these hot yellow fields of sunflowers that will soon be cut, gleaming and bristling like a big cat’s pelt. They could be cornfields in middle America. I hold up my mug, feeling the steam on my skin. This coffee doesn’t taste like anything. It has happened to food too.

He looks out the window and blinks at the sun.

I suppose it has a certain kind of beauty. He eats his toast. The beauty of death.

I’ve missed you, Skeet.

Anyway Frame, what does it matter? You’re like an animal. Not even one percent changed by geography. He pauses. How are you?

Well you and I both know that isn’t true. The leg is better, I tell him, but that is hardly an event. Aren’t you going to ask me?


About le grand projet.


He is distracted. Normally this is his first line of inquiry. His eyes downcast, on the envelope with the letterpressed insignia and the same French font as all the graveurs on the table by the front door. A letter is pulled from a postbox and everything is pulled with it. Maybe it is me who is distracted.

Skeet gets up and paces the room, his fingers following the papers taped to the walls. I forgot this about him. He cannot sit for more than a few minutes. He goes quiet for a while and then turns to face me.

The photographs are everywhere, interlocking and branching patterns, extreme density interspersed with silences. All the data, the transcriptions in fieldbooks and papers with rubber bands in shopping bags on the floor. For a moment, I see the way someone else would see it. Not Skeet, but someone normal. How barking mad it all looks. As though I might have finally and definitely lost my mind. Despite feeling off-pitch, the project reassures me. I have always known myself in it.

After a long silence, Skeet sucks in air. Fuck.

Oh my god. What?

He stops dead. Frame. What?

I don’t know how to tell you this.

What? You look so worried. This look on your face, I’ve never seen it before.

He breathes out. He’s not sure which thing to tell, there are so many.

What’s going on? Is it about the project? I say, unsure.

Well— he hesitates. Yes and no.

Thud. We both startle at the sound. The bird again. It began hurling itself at the window before I left the house yesterday morning. I switched off the light and removed the keys and discs from the windowsill, all the deceptive things, to warn it off. Thud. It hit the glass again. The sun was bright and the wisp-white clouds passed above as I walked out to the car. In the  country you are always driving. The glass is hot; the driver’s seat swings wildly. I keep a breadboard wedged behind it, which allows my feet to touch the pedals and fixes the seat in position. The sky is vast and clear. There is only one road out. The fields blur, silvered by clouds that momentarily close over them. A relief from the gold sizzle that rattles the grasses dry and forces dogs to lie in shade, ribcages labouring. Everything grows from the cracks. Roses, ditches of poppies, trees bending with fruit. This time of year people come. They file into castles with conical spires. They pose in front of churches. I have no emotion for it. The beauty is general. The car radio crackles. What’s-her-name is singing, Yeah what have I got? / Nobody can take away. And it suddenly strikes me as funny that we see ourselves as immortal. What I have got somebody is about to take away. Nobody gets out of here alive. The sun flickers in like a heartbeat through the evenly spaced plane trees that parallel the road, their wide calico trunks tessellate.

For months nothing arrived from the conservatory or the university, but today, in the small metal postbox, finally, a letter. I think of countless fieldbooks full of animal sounds shaped into images, webbed maps, rough chorales, thin silver frequencies. They all funnel into this single gesture, a woman swivelling on her heel, handing me a white rectangle, eyes fixed on the next person in line. Except they don’t. I open it standing at the blue and yellow counter. Everything is bright and vibrating in the room. Pain swings and pits behind my eyes. Every little thing shoots off course, like looking up at the night sky of another hemisphere, not a single star you can name.

I drive home with the open letter on my lap, passing right by the short gravel lane to the house. It seems impossible that something that weighs almost nothing can contain such stunning facts. My breathing is panicked and sharp. The fields ripple and ride in waves from the wind. White cows all facing the same direction, lining up not as the farmers say to predict rain, but because the earth is one big magnet. The windows are down, open to birdsong and the thin layer of dust that bangs up from the cracked dirt road. These things I have seen a hundred times before I am now observing with total attention. The sky is saturated and smooth as stone, cut through with small grey wings. Cold perspiration films on my body, my clothes stuck to the leather seat. My hands are shaking. Of all the time it has taken between it and now. Facts never come soon enough. What is a fact? So much of life is lost vacant time of which you remember almost nothing. Memory is not a fact. But what is memory? Billions of infinitesimal particles collected from outerspace, Edison said.

Skeet moves his chair, the low timbre of wood dragging across the stone floor.

I first met Skeet years ago, at an airport, a kind of shack at the end of the tarmac where I was waiting for him in Whitehorse. He was tall with a good set of eyes, a bit of wildness in them. He looked serious, but had a part-grin that hid crooked teeth, the kind you don’t see anymore. The first thing he said after looking around was, You get the feeling that this is a town where people arrive on horseback. He is friendly but remote. The fieldwork is such a welcome antidote to all the hours bent over laboratory recording equipment. We spend great swaths of time sitting in cold, dry snow, waiting. Our eyes darting, anticipating the flashes of grey that will appear against the blinding white. In town we see a raven kick snow off a roof that slides and lands on a man’s head. It fits with the legend, where the Haida say they are the creator, but also the trickster. There is a white raven in legend too. Supposedly it brought the world into existence. It stole the sun and the moon and then flew through a smoke hole, turning black but also bringing light to the world.

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The Philistine

The Philistine


Nadia Eid doesn't know it yet, but she's about to change her life. It's the end of the ‘80s and she hasn’t seen her Palestinian father since he left Montreal years ago to take a job in Egypt, promising to bring her with him. But now she’s twenty-five and he’s missing in action, so she takes matters into her own hands. Booking a short vacation from her boring job and Québecois boyfriend, she calls her father from the Nile Hilton in downtown Cairo. But nothing goes as planned and, stumbli …

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Split Tooth

Split Tooth

also available: Hardcover

Longlisted for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize
Shortlisted for the 2019 Amazon First Novel Award
Shortlisted for the 2019 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize
Winner of the 2019 Indigenous Voices Award for Published Prose in English
Winner of the 2018 Alcuin Society Awards for Excellence in Book Design – Prose Fiction
Longlisted for the 2019 Sunburst Award
From the internationally acclaimed Inuit throat singer who has dazzled and enthralled the world with music it had never heard before, a fierce, tend …

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Sometimes we would hide in the closet when the drunks came home from the bar. Knee to knee, we would sit, hiding, hoping nobody would discover us. Every time it was different. Sometimes there was only thumping, screaming, moans, laughter. Sometimes the old woman would come in and smother us with her suffering love. Her love so strong and heavy it seemed a burden. Even then I knew that love could be a curse. Her love for us made her cry. The past became a river that was released by her eyes. The poison of alcohol on her breath would fill the room. She would wail and grab at us, kissing us, kissing the only things she could trust.

Fake-wood panel walls, the smell of smoke and fish. Velvet art hung on the walls, usually of Elvis or Jesus, but also polar bears and Eskimos.

The drunks came home rowdier than usual one night, so we opted for the closet. We giggle nervously as the yelling begins. Become silent when the thumping starts. The whole house shakes. Women are screaming, but that sound is overtaken by the sound of things breaking. Wet sounds of flesh breaking and dry sounds of wood snapping, or is that bone?


There are loud pounding footsteps. Fuck! Someone is coming towards us. We stop breathing. Our eyes large in the darkness, we huddle and shiver and hope for the best. There is someone standing right outside the closet door, panting.

The door slides open, and my uncle sticks his head in.

Towering over us, swaying and slurring. Blood pouring down his face from some wound above his hairline.

“I just wanted to tell you kids not to be scared.” Then he closed the door.

a day in the Life
It’s 9 a.m., late for school
Grade five is hard
Rushing, stumbling to get my pants on 
Forgetting to brush my teeth  
Dreading recess
The boys chase us and hold us down
Touch our pussies and nonexistent boobs 
I want to be liked
I guess I must like it 
We head back to class
The teacher squirming his fingers under my panties 
Under the desk
He looks around and pretends he’s not doing it 
I pretend he’s not doing it
He goes to the next girl and I feel a flash of jealousy 
The air gets thinner and tastes like rot
School is over
I leave for the arcade
Watch out for the old walrus
The old man likes to touch young pussy 
We try to stay away
I wonder why nobody kicks him out 
Things are better at home now
Three’s Company and a calm air 
Archie comics and Lego 

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Searching for Terry Punchout

Searching for Terry Punchout

also available: Paperback
tagged : literary, sports

Shortlisted for the Amazon Canada First Novel Award * Shortlisted for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize

Garden State meets King Leary in this slapshot debut novel.

Adam Macallister's sportswriting career is about to end before it begins, but he's got one last shot: a Sports Illustrated profile about hockey's most notorious goon, the reclusive Terry Punchout-who also happens to be Adam's estranged father. Adam returns to Pennington, Nova Scotia, where Terry now lives in the local rink and drives the Z …

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Summer Cannibals

Summer Cannibals


Shortlisted for the 2019 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize
A bold and gripping literary debut about three very different sisters who return to their family home to face imminent tragedy and their tumultuous pasts.

Summoned to their magnificent family home on the shores of Lake Ontario--a paradisiacal mansion perched on an escarpment above the city--three adult sisters, George, Jax, and Pippa, come together in what seems like an act of family solidarity. Pregnant and unwell, the youngest, Pippa, has lef …

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The house had its way of holding them. Their father liked to tell how he’d bought it with a credit card—a cash advance to make up the ten percent needed for the deposit—and it seemed as equally and gloriously ridiculous, that this should all be theirs. That first day, after the papers were signed, the sisters had run laughing and shrieking through the house with its three floors, two staircases, seven bedrooms and all the rest— living, dining, family, library, kitchen, butler’s pantry, bath- rooms, hallways, passageways and entryways. They explored and claimed rooms and then just as quickly relinquished them as they found another and another, shouting that they were lost, crying out that they’d found “the best thing ever,” bare feet thud- ding up and down, up and down, across and over. Doors slammed. Drawers were pulled open and locks fiddled with. The old laundry chute was discovered and heads were put through the small doors on each landing that let into it as they prodded each other, but none of them were brave enough to go to the chute’s terminus in the basement. That rough stonewalled basement the original builders had dynamited from the solid limestone of the escarpment the house was perched on. Beyond the house’s walls, at the base of that cliff, was the city—gridded to the enormous lake like a mesh to keep the jutting land, and all it supported, from tumbling down.
     I can’t hear the children, their father had said, looking at his wife triumphantly. This house swallows them.
     They were leaning on the metal fence at the cliff’s edge, the whole world spread out in front of them, and anyone would think these parents too young to have all this. That something was wrong; a mistake. But they knew that this was nothing less than what they deserved: the five acres of parkland which they would turn into exquisite gardens to surround the grand house with a landscape to match it in size and manner—this had always been owed to them. They were a couple whom people referred to as ‘handsome’ and it suited them because they resonated good breeding and all that went with it: high birth, property, education, bloodlines you could trace back to royalty. They were handsome and they knew it to be true, and theirs was a world that rewarded such things. David and Margaret Blackford were exactly where they were meant to be—at the dead end of a private lane you could drive by without noticing because the newer, smaller houses of the neighbourhood acted like a palisade of brick and mortar to keep the riff-raff out. The lane’s three big houses were dealt in along the cliff’s edge, a vestige from a time when it had all been fields and the founding families of that region had built their houses on the escarpment’s very brow. This view had always been worth braving the winter gales that howled up off the lake and even then, in the early century, the occupants knew the defensible value of a horizon.
     At the lane’s entrance, where it met the ordinary street, was a bulging masonry wall behind which was a cloistered convent: a rundown mysterious place their father forbade them from entering. Even the name of the convent terrified: Sisters of the Precious Blood. Their father, who rarely noticed what his girls whispered about and even more rarely took an interest in it, had—with that single restriction—made the place irresistible. In the years to come, one of the nuns would take daily walks up and down the lane from the convent to the family’s driveway and back again, having taken a vow of silence and contemplation. And the girls would tempt her, with their father’s encouragement, because he saw the nun’s appearance at his property line for what it was: a trespass. They would lounge near the gate on their bicycles and then speed out to intercept, shouting hellos, riding circles, going no-hands, skidding their tires, trying to get her to respond. Doing everything short of touching her as she walked in an eddy of robes like a villain from a comic book, her presence making the vampire crypts and legions of undead seem more likely than ever. And when the sun would go down the girls would scramble to shut their bedroom windows, even on the hottest nights, afraid she’d come for them. As if she were the greatest threat to their security, their little paradise. The only person they had to fear.
     Their driveway, where the nun turned, was defined by two stone pillars which were knocked over regularly by the garbage truck and snowplow. The drivers piled the wreckage back up at new and eccentric angles in a sneering indictment of this fancy house with its crude gateposts that deserved to be bulldozed because maybe then the rich bastards would put up something appropriate, like electric gates with a keypad to come and go. A code they’d have to be trusted with. It was only the cases of beer at Christmastime—put out on the porch steps to freeze overnight—that stopped them from leaving the blocks where they fell. Instead of a metal gate, the girls’ father used an old sawhorse to block the property’s entrance from the regular snoopers who liked to just barely roll their cars along the lane and down the long drive as though this were their right—to take in the acres of gardens and the orchestrated countryside at a crawl, stopping to exclaim over new blooms or a shrub’s lush foliage when their selfsame shrub back at their modest home was still bare. As if that was treason. Just another betrayal to add to their list of grievances against these upstarts who took and kept everything for themselves. The gawkers would stop at the house and look around contemptuously before turning to inch back out, trawling for every shred of evidence to justify their position that here, without question, was the rot underpinning the nation’s decay.
     The girls’ father believed that the simple wooden sawhorse he placed at the gate, with his own hands, was a denial of that judgment that wealth begat indolence because there was something practical and self-reliant about that barrier. And it fit perfectly, he would say, with the Georgian style of the house which echoed gentle country living and turnstiles, fox hunts and steeplechases, noblesse oblige, even though (their mother would remark) this was Hamilton, Canada—a town founded in the monstrous flick- ering shadows of the steel mills on the southern shore of Lake Ontario. A place where at night, deep in the east end, you could see the climbing flames firing the stack that spewed soot onto the narrow red brick houses in the adjacent streets, coating them, Blakean. This was Hamilton, a workers’ town.
     They were sisters: Georgina, Jacqueline and Philippa. Adults
now, and with families of their own, but the youngest, Pippa, was sick. Eight months pregnant with her fifth, she’d left her hus-band and four children in New Zealand and was coming here. The others were coming home too. More than three decades had passed since they’d run through the house on that first day, and there’d been days—too many to count—when the house had sat hard and unloved within its ruffle of green grass and hedge and flower. When the sky was dull and grey and the windows reflected bleakness, all flat and giving nothing back, and it seemed a place of such uncompromising severity that its stone walls would let nothing in or out. And then some mornings, it would rise with the sun and display the warmth inherent in its blocks and the glass would gleam and the garden, that lush profusion, would reflect inward to the rooms and fill the house with life. Figures would move from window to window as though it were a dance and they partnered with the air. And it was on those days that the world was right and days were measured in increments of joy. It was all there was and would ever be. It was family.

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How Far We Go and How Fast

How Far We Go and How Fast

also available: eBook

Sixteen-year-old Jolene, named after the girl in the Dolly Parton song, is from a long line of lowlifes, but at least they're musical lowlifes. Her mother is a tanning-salon manager who believes she can channel her karaoke habit into a professional singing career. Jolene's dad, a failed bass player, has gone back to the family demolition business and lives by the company motto: "We do not build things; we only tear them down." But Jolene and her big brother, Matt, are true musicians, writing so …

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