The Chimps wins the Charles Taylor Prize!

It is my distinct honour to announce that The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary has won the 2012 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction. The Taylor Prize is our country's most prestigious non-fiction book prize, and although the ceremony was three days ago, I am still in shock about the whole thing. I will never forget the moment my name was announced, in a packed Sovereign Ballroom at the King Edward Hotel in Toronto, and the wave of applause that followed. But what happened next? It's all a bit foggy. I remember kissing my wife, hugging my parents and giving my editor a high-five. I also remember wading through the standing ovation towards His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, so I could shake his hand. Then I was on stage for a while, thanking the jury and hugging Noreen Taylor, who founded the prize eleven years ago in honour of her husband. I gave a speech, during which I broke down a bit, forgot to thank my agents and my publisher, and listed off the names of the chimps of Fauna, one by one. Thankfully, I remembered to thank my wife.

And then I became the subject of a rather intense little media scrum. The funniest thing about the scrum, or the only thing I remember about the scrum, is how damn polite it was. There were about fifteen audio recorders in my face, and at least four video cameras, but for the first few seconds, no one asked me any questions. It was hilarious! We were all just standing there silently, each reporter waiting for the other to take their turn.

Anyway, an hour later, it was just me, my family, my agents, my publicists and Noreen, standing around and chatting in the Ballroom, none of us keen to leave. We ended up in the bar (of course) but it seemed to take forever to get there. My fellow shortlisted authors were long gone; I never got to say a proper goodbye. And now it's three days later, The Chimps has had more publicity than I ever thought possible, and it feels as though the general anesthetic is finally beginning to wear off after one hell of an awesome trip to la-la-land.

What a ride. I am so thankful. I guess it's about time to start thinking about my next book, huh?

This is Noreen and me, immediately after the win. It's weird... I don't look unconscious.

The Chimps a finalist for the Charles Taylor Prize

The ride continues.... Last week, The Chimps was selected as one of five finalists for one of our country's most prestigious book awards, the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction. My wife Samantha was at the announcement, and she tells me that the jurors actually quoted from my blog during the press conference. Journalist and author Stevie Cameron read this post, about the thrill of making a prize list, aloud to the crowd. Not sure what else to write here, as I'm beginning to feel a little too blessed by the literary gods this season. So I'll just leave you with the jury's citation about my book, which are some of the kindest words yet written about The Chimps:

BRILLIANTLY BLENDING SCIENCE AND STORYTELLING, primatologist and author Andrew Westoll takes us deep into the world of the haunted and haunting rescued research chimps of Fauna Sanctuary. Pulled from decades of horrific lab conditions, rescued chimps live out the balance of their long lives in sanctuaries such as Fauna, cared for and loved by an extraordinary group of people. Westoll deftly draws the reader into the wild day-to-day ride of life with the Fauna chimps and soon their Otherness falls away. Through his lens, the chimps are revealed as the individuals they are, with all their foibles, damage, and possibility – and the reader’s world view shifts on its axis. Heartrending and heart-warming, this is a stunning and important work of art and documentary and science.

By the way, I found out I was a finalist from Samantha, who texted me - fingers shaking - moments after hearing my name announced. The text read: "You're on the list!!!!!!!!!!!!" I might never delete that one from my phone.

When it rains...

A writer's life is a solitary one, filled with strange days, sleepless nights and constant self-doubt (and if you happen to be a writer's new wife, multiply these afflictions by a factor of ten).

But then, if you are lucky (if you have written a good book, yes, but more importantly, if various prize juries have taken notice of your book, for whatever reason), your book begins to take on a life of its own once it's published, and all of the struggle and angst just disappears.

This has happened to me over the past few months. Today, I found out The Chimps has been longlisted for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction. And last week, I found out it had made the shortlist for the BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction.

It is difficult to overemphasize how good these two nominations have made me feel. Partly because I 'd desperately hoped I would be so lucky with my first book (which I wasn't), and partly because I'd just sort of assumed I wouldn't be so lucky this time around (because I wasn't the first time around). How strange it is that our expectations are often so incongruent with reality.

I don't know whether I should laugh, or cry, or celebrate, or feel badly for all of my fellow writers who haven't made the cut this year but might well do with their next book, or the book after that. Well, ok, I do know what to do: I will celebrate. I will celebrate well, with frozen vodka and good cheese. But not without reminding myself this good feeling is transitory, just as the bad days and awful nights are, those nights when you can't sleep and you can't write and all you're doing is keeping your future wife awake with your tossing and your cursing.

Here's to the chimps of Fauna. From hereon in, everything is unexpected.

(photo credit: Toby, by Jo-Anne McArthur)