Colin McAdam (MA 1994) has been compared to James Joyce, credited with reinvigorating Canadian fiction and hailed by Britain’s Daily Telegraph as “the real deal: a grown-up author with talent to burn.” All of these accolades have poured in since his first novel, Some Great Thing (Raincoast Books, 2004), was published this spring.
“It’s a bit overwhelming,” admits McAdam, 33. After six months of trying unsuccessfully to sell the manuscript in Sydney, Australia, where he and his wife lived before their recent move to Montreal, he was simply happy to get his book published – let alone in the UK, Canada and the United States.
After completing his undergraduate degree in English at McGill University in Montreal, McAdam arrived at U of T and earned a master of arts in English. He was determined to be a professor, but the course load “put me off academic work for awhile,” he says. “It was so rigorous.”
He left academia for a year to work on a novel, which ended up in his bottom drawer. Then, while completing his PhD at the University of Cambridge in England, he started Some Great Thing. The story follows the lives of a plasterer and a city planner in the developing city of Ottawa in the 1970s. “I realized it was becoming a story about two people who didn’t know where they were,” says McAdam, who, as the son of a Canadian diplomat, was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Denmark, England and Canada. “They were trying to find place, build place in their mind. Ottawa emerged as a place that was appropriately blank.”