Jeffrey Moore is in the running for Commonwealth fiction prize

Jeffrey Moore, who teaches translation in Études franćaises, has been nominated for a Commonwealth Writers prize for his novel, Prisoner in a Red-Rose Chain.

He will receive £1,000 (about $2,300) and a ticket to the awards ceremony in New Delhi in April. There, he will find out whether he has won the best first book award. He and Montreal-born novelist Shauna Singh Baldwin were named finalists from the Canada-Caribbean region, and are up against nominees from two other regions.

Naturally, Moore is delighted. "It was a shock -- a bit stressful, too," he confessed last week when the news broke. Writing his first novel "swallowed up the '90s," he said.

"I got so tired of the whole process that [when it was finished] I thought I would try writing a film script. Frankly, it's easier to write dialogue, and lots of people want to see films." Now that he's hitting the big-time, however, his Toronto agent is pushing for another novel with a bigger publisher, so he's reconsidering.

MooreOne reason writing Prisoner in a Red-Rose Chain was so difficult was that he had imposed a firm structure on it, rather than letting it evolve. He describes it as "the story of an obsession." A boy is blindfolded by his uncle and told to choose a page from a book. The page, torn from an encyclopedia, has seven entries beginning with "Sh," and they will all be significant in his life.

The novel, published by Saskatoon-based Thistledown Press, was short-listed for a QSPELL award for English-language Quebec writers last fall, but the Commonwealth Awards are much, much bigger, including almost every country but the United States. The big Commonwealth Award goes to a seasoned writer, and Moore is excited at the prospect of rubbing shoulders in New Delhi with nominees for best book Salman Rushdie and J.M. Coetzee.

Moore was born in Montreal but raised in Toronto. He attended the University of Toronto and the Sorbonne, and has taught translation part-time since the early 1980s at Concordia and the Université de Montréal. He also does translation himself, mainly of museum catalogues, dance programs and other arts publications.

- Barbara Black

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