Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Winter Draws on Real Life for Giller Contender 'Minister without Portfolio'

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Winter Draws on Real Life for Giller Contender 'Minister without Portfolio'

Article excerpt

Winter draws on real life in new novel

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TORONTO - Author Michael Winter -- who writes each morning on a computer that's not hooked up to the Internet -- uses a rather vivid image to describe how web-surfing can pose a potential distraction for writers.

"Would I rather be in a room with a little puppy dog just coming in and jumping on me? Or would I rather go into a room with a dead dog putrefying?" says the author, whose new novel "Minister Without Portfolio" was longlisted earlier this week for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

"And that's the novel. The novel is the dead dog, stinking up the room. The puppy is the Internet. I don't need that. I have to resuscitate this dog. Nine to 12, I just write in the study."

The Newfoundland-set "Minister Without Portfolio" tells the story of Henry Hayward, who takes work as a contractor in Afghanistan to mend his heart after a broken relationship. But after a routine patrol turns fatal, a grief-stricken Henry returns home to care for the people and places around him.

Winter -- whose previous novels include 2007's Giller shortlisted "The Architects are Here" -- explores themes of origin and place through the characters and a house that is central to the plot.

Henry vows to fix up the house south of St. John's that his friend, Tender Morris, had hopes of restoring. It's eventually moved to a new location.

Winter admits he drew on several events from his own life for the novel, including watching a friend's house get moved because it turned out she didn't own the land it was on.

Two characters in the novel also accidentally set a forest fire, which happened to Winter and his brother.

But perhaps the most dramatic real-life parallel is Henry's fall into an incinerator at the dump while disposing material from the house he's working on.

"That's a true story. I fell into an incinerator," recalls Winter, who divides his time between Toronto and Conception Bay, N.L., with his partner, novelist Christine Pountney ("Sweet Jesus"), and their five-year-old son Leo.

"We bought an old house in Newfoundland and we were fixing it up and pretty much what happens in the novel happened to me. I was bringing old roofing materials to the dump, but you don't just dump it at the dump. …

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