Writer weaves life’s experience into rich, detailed prose

Author’s first book wins top Canadian literary prize


Advertise with us

In the vast and sometimes-turbulent waters of Canadian literary awards, Nicholas Herring netted quite the catch with his first cast.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe:

Monthly Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.

In the vast and sometimes-turbulent waters of Canadian literary awards, Nicholas Herring netted quite the catch with his first cast.

Herring’s debut novel Some Hellish, published in September 2022 by Goose Lane Editions, won the $60,000 Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, one of Canada’s top fiction awards, in November. Of the book, jurors noted “What Cormac McCarthy did for cowboys and horses, Nicholas Herring does for fisherman and boats…”

Not bad for a carpenter from Murray Harbour, P.E.I. — although for Herring, who still works in construction building wharves, not much changed in the short term. “I won the award on a Wednesday and I was back to work on the island on Friday,” he says by phone from Vancouver before his Jan. 25 book event there.

The 40-year-old Herring makes a stop in Winnipeg tomorrow to read from and discuss Some Hellish at McNally Robinson Booksellers’ Grant Park location, where he’ll be joined in conversation by Winnipeg-based Giller Prize-winning novelist David Bergen, who also served on the Atwood Gibson Prize jury. The event will also be streamed via McNally Robinson’s YouTube page.

Asked for additional thoughts on Some Hellish prior to the launch, Bergen offered, “There is no second-hand filch in this novel, to borrow from Herring. I was utterly taken by the language of fishing and of work, which becomes a language of love and despair and humour.”

Some Hellish follows the life of Herring (yes, the same name as the author), a lobster fisherman in western P.E.I. whose life is in shambles — he’s barely making ends meet, his marriage is falling apart, he’s living a hard life of drinking and taking drugs and living dangerously. And when a catastrophic event happens on board his boat, he returns to shore (eventually) with an entirely new perspective on the teetering life around him.

“I think from a very early age, I just had some sense that I wanted to be a writer,” says Herring, who has spent a few seasons of his own working on lobster boats. “I was always a big reader. My parents always encouraged me to write stories — it just sort of came somewhat naturally to me.” He ended up going to Waterloo, Ont. and did a bachelor of arts in English at St. Jerome’s University, followed by a master of arts in creative writing from the University of Toronto.

Herring started Some Hellish while at the Banff Centre in January 2020; he returned home, and found himself laid off from construction in April because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which gave him more time to write and eventually finish his first draft.

The McCarthy reference by the Atwood Gibson jury is apt; there’s a a density and richness to Herring’s prose while describing what some might call “simple” blue-collar workers. “I’ve always had that kind of relationship with art where I just sort of absorb it like, kind of like a sponge,” he says when asked about influences. “You don’t really know how these things work, but it’s all just kind of in your head, like a kind of soup that you hope will come out eventually.”

That absorbent quality also paid dividends in the dialogue of Some Hellish — Herring, like many authors, is a keen listener and observer of those around him, and the conversations between characters in his book was shaped by this eavesdropping. “Everybody on the island is a character in the best sense — you leave your house and, and if your ears are open, you’ll always catch something that’s potentially some line of dialogue,” he says. “It might seem like just a throwaway line, but then you think, oh wow — people say the strangest, most beautiful things all the time.”

Herring hasn’t yet started writing his next book, although he and his wife (who helped him with sorting out dialogue by reading bits out loud to each other) are expecting their first child in May, at which point he hopes he’ll be able to dive into new work.

The couple’s forthcoming child, added to his first book published and big literary win, has made for quite the last few months for Herring. “We found out she was pregnant, two weeks after the book came out; we didn’t really anticipate we were going to be able to have kids,” he says. “The combination of my book coming out, finding out my wife is pregnant and then winning the award — it feels nice to have a little bit of good luck for a while.

“I’m just trying to be grateful, which I am — it’s not that hard to be grateful for all of this.”


If you value coverage of Manitoba’s arts scene, help us do more.
Your contribution of $10, $25 or more will allow the Free Press to deepen our reporting on theatre, dance, music and galleries while also ensuring the broadest possible audience can access our arts journalism.
BECOME AN ARTS JOURNALISM SUPPORTER Click here to learn more about the project.

Ben Sigurdson

Ben Sigurdson
Literary editor, drinks writer

Ben Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.

Report Error Submit a Tip


Advertise With Us

Arts & Life