TORONTO - After spending eight years at the library toiling over her debut novel, "The Golden Mean," British Columbia writer Annabel Lyon has been rewarded with nominations for three major Canadian literary prizes.
An engaging look at Aristotle's relationship with Alexander the Great as told through the voice of the great philosopher, "The Golden Mean" was named a finalist Wednesday for a Governor General's Literary Award, worth $25,000.
It has also made the short lists for the $25,000 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the $50,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
"It hasn't really had time to sink in yet, I've got to say," Lyon said breathlessly Wednesday over the phone from her Vancouver home, just minutes after dropping off her four-year-old daughter at pre-school with her two-year-old son in tow.
"I woke up and had to get the kids ready for school and then the phone rang and I'm sort of answering the phone with one hand and feeding my daughter with the other hand and then I had to drive her to school and I've only just gotten home.
"So it hasn't sunk in yet, really."
Lyon, who has also published two collections of short fiction, spent eight years writing "The Golden Mean," acting on a passion she developed for Aristotle during her philosophy studies at B.C.'s Simon Fraser University.
The University of British Columbia creative writing instructor recalls being pregnant with her second child in 2007 and waddling her way to the library so she could write the book while her husband, Bryant Ibbetson, looked after their little girl.
"I took the SkyTrain, and we live at the top of a steep hill, and I did it until I was too big with the pregnancy to make it up the hill anymore," she said with a laugh.
"He was a big baby, and then after he was born, starting when he was about six months old, then I started again and would work in the New Westminster library."
Writer Judy Fong Bates, who read 181 books as part of the fiction jury along with Wayne Johnston of Toronto and Shaena Lambert of Vancouver, said Lyon is "certainly a writer to watch and her project was certainly very daunting."
"It's very impressive to try a historical piece that was set back thousands of years," said Fong Bates, who is based in Campbellford, Ont. "It was just a very, very impressive book."
Of course, Lyon's children are too young to know the mark their mother is making on the country's literary scene.
"Mommy's horsey book," is what her daughter calls it, said Lyon, in reference to the cover that depicts a nude man slumped over a white horse.
"They don't understand it," she said. "They're just: 'Oh mommy, stop working so much and come play with us."'
Lyon faces some stiff competition.
CanLit legend Alice Munro also made the Governor General's Award list for her short story collection "Too Much Happiness." Munro took her name out of the running for the Giller prize, saying she wanted the spotlight to shine on younger writers.
Despite her decision to opt out of the Giller, Munro's book did earn a spot on the Writers' Trust short list as well.
Newfoundland writer Michael Crummey made the fiction list for his novel "Galore," while Kate Pullinger, who lives in London but is originally from Cranbrook, B.C., is in the running for her novel "The Mistress of Nothing." Victoria's Deborah Willis rounds out the nominees with a nod for her collection of short stories entitled "Vanishing and Other Stories."
In an interesting twist, acclaimed Toronto fiction writer M.G. Vassanji - who has twice won the Giller Prize - made the Governor General's short list for non-fiction for "A Place Within: Rediscovering India."
Also on the list is journalist Eric Siblin of Westmount, Que., for "The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece." Siblin, who has worked at The Canadian Press in Montreal and at the Montreal Gazette, has also been shortlisted for the Writers' Trust non-fiction prize.
Others on the non-fiction short list include Toronto's Randall Hansen for "Fire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany, 1942-45"; Trevor Herriot of Regina for "Grass, Sky, Song: Promise and Peril in the World of Grassland Birds"; and Eric S. Margolis of Toronto for "American Raj: Liberation or Domination? (Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World)."
The winners will be announced Nov. 17 in Montreal.
Lyon, who is now writing a children's book and plans to pen a sequel to "The Golden Mean" "many" years from now, said she hopes to attend the galas for all three prizes, but isn't expecting to win.
"I feel incredibly privileged to get to go to two of Alice Munro's parties," said Lyon. "I'm saying that completely not facetiously at all - I'm honoured to get to meet her and I fully expect that she will win and I think she fully deserves it.
"She's just head and shoulders above everybody."