Bill Arnott’s Showcase Interviews: Ann Shortell

Thanks again for joining our Showcase Interview series – meeting artists through Q&A with a Quirky Question to keep things fun! Today we’re chatting with award-winning author Ann Shortell. After becoming social media friends, Ann and I met at Whistler Writers Festival where she was taking home hardware as Fiction Winner for her historical novel, Celtic Knot: A Clara Swift Tale. As part of the event, we were reading to a big, enthusiastic group. I delivered some one-liners, the laughter loud and boisterous. (Good room. Hot crowd.) Then Ann took the stage, batting cleanup. She joked about following a tough act, then brought the house down! Comedically, she killed. And I got to add to my CV, “One-time warm-up act to a star.”

Hi Ann, very fun to visit again! Thanks for taking a seat at the Showcase table. Everything here’s served family-style, so let’s dig in. Please introduce yourself with a bio:

Vanitas, vanitatum! In another century, I claimed to be an investigative journalist, a best-selling author, a columnist and media commentator. I’ve long-since abandoned any claim to those titles. Whether through burnout or epiphany, one day the light changed in my life, from Fact to Fiction. It hasn’t switched back. My 2018 debut novel, Celtic Knot: A Clara Swift Tale, reimagines the assassination of Irish-Canadian poet-politician T. D’Arcy McGee through the eyes of a bright, educated, young immigrant housemaid. It’s been described, in mashup terms. as Alias Grace meets Anne of Green Gables. Be still, my heart, if ’twere so.

Q. (A lovely intro, although I didn’t understand the Spanish, but bueno!) Please tell us what you feel you’re best known for.

A. I’d like to say the 2019 Whistler Independent Book Award for Fiction. It all depends on the crowd, no? Other 20th-century Canadian journalists may recall me as a one-time business writer. Some of my husband’s sports & poker friends were shocked at the launch party to discover that I write.

Q. And what brought you here?

A. As far back as memory goes, I made up stories for imaginary friends and read everything that came across the family threshold. Everything. Including the Reader’s Digest army jokes. I once questioned why peoples’ names were listed on a page of Chatelaine. When my mother said, “They choose the stories,” I said that would be my job too. We moved when I was nine. My parents told me one thing about the new house: it was closer to a library.

Q. (That’s brilliant.) Who’s a role model/mentor of yours?

A. Thank the goddess for great friends. Author Angela Ferrante was my boss at Maclean’s in the ’80s. She’s still my boss, in life and in writing. I met novelist/poet Bryna Wasserman in a Susan Swan two-week novel-writing intensive at the University of Toronto. Bryna is my most incisive critic—she once texted “911” and attached two particular pages of Celtic Knot. Angela & Bryna did multiple manuscript edits of that novel for me. I hope they’ll do the same for the sequel.

Q. (A sequel that a ton of us are looking forward to!) Tell us, please, what’s your favourite book, album, movie and food dish?

A. Book: Pride & Prejudice, Album: Joni Mitchell Misses (I love most of her songs, including some on this album. And also the audacity of an artist reissuing less-loved works to give listeners a second chance, Movie: The Front Page, and Food Dish: Salmon Teriyaki.

Q. (Yum!) And what are you currently working on?

A. I’ve been boosted through the Covid lockdown by a 12-week novel coaching session with Stanford’s Ammi Keller. Celtic Knot was workshopped—from early pages to second draft—through Stanford’s Online Writing Certificate program. Ammi taught two of those courses, so she knows the territory as we dig into my sequel, working title An Irish Goodbye: A Clara Swift Tale. I appreciate the pressure of ‘Tuesday deadline, Wednesday Zoom.’

Q. What’s your advice to others?

A. Trust your gut for the first draft, make huge changes based on feedback, then trust your gut for the finale. Also, never despair. I have two other novel manuscripts tucked in drawers. Preserved, not yet buried.

Q. (Great advice.) Now, for our Quirky Question. Make a choice. Eggs: scrambled or fried?

A. Scrambled, in a New York minute.

(Bill.) Too fun. Thanks, Ann. Well, there you have it: a literary star, student, savourer of salmon and all-around good egg, so long as it’s scrambled. (Note to self: improve this joke before publishing.)

Cheers friends. Stay safe, healthy, and see you next time on the Showcase!


Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of the Gone Viking travel memoirs (Gone Viking: A Travel SagaGone Viking II: Beyond BoundariesGone Viking III: The Holy Grail) and A Season on Vancouver Island. He’s won numerous book awards and received a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.

4 thoughts on “Bill Arnott’s Showcase Interviews: Ann Shortell”

  1. I am presently reading Celtic Knot and must say, it’s a wonderful tale. After reading James Fisher’s review, I purchased a copy and quite happy I did. I’ll be watching for the sequel. Nice to learn more about Ann.

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