Image stolen from Inside PR
Though only into its fourth month, 2011 has been good to The Best Laid Plans author Terry Fallis, recent winner of this year’s Canada Reads. Fallis learned on the first of April that his follow-up novel, The High Road, was short-listed for the 2011 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. This is his second time on the shortlist, as his first novel was the 2008 winner.
Fallis, a Toronto-based public relations consultant and vice chair of Thornley Fallis, is Canada’s latest literary success story. After writing The Best Laid Plans and attempting to publish it, he released chapters as podcasts on his blog, which garnered enough positive responses to inspire him to self-publish in 2007. Submitting his satirical novel for the Stephen Leacock Medal was the first big step that eventually led him to a publishing deal with McClelland-Stewart in 2008.
“I had ten copies of the book in my office in a box that had come with my original publishing package,” he said. When he checked the Leacock Medal’s website, in what he calls a “moment of false bravado,” Fallis saw that the contest accepted self-published novels. “It said that they needed ten copies, and seriously if they said they’d needed eleven copies, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation today.”
The Best Laid Plans and The High Road follow Daniel Addison, a former speechwriter for the Liberal Party of Canada, and Angus McLintock, the unlikely candidate for the Cumberland-Prescott riding in Ontario. The two men spend one novel attempting to keep Angus out of politics, and the next trying to get him back into it, dealing with outrageous antics along the way — like an S&M sex scandal, and a drunken FLOTUS on a snowmobile. Though the series is at the surface a comedy, Fallis maintains that he wrote them with a deeper intended meaning. “I’m shedding light on problems in our democracy and how we practice politics in this country,” he explained. And as a former member of the Liberal Party, he would know.
Fallis, a graduate of the McMaster University engineering program, entered politics during his second year at school as a representative of the engineering faculty in the Student Representative Assembly, and spent three years in the assembly, working as the vice president, speaker, and then president.
Hooked on politics, Fallis moved into the federal arena, working as a policy advisor to Jean Lapierre, the Minister of State for Youth. When the Liberal party was defeated in the 1984 election, Fallis became Lapierre’s legislative assistant.
“[Lapierre] was learning a whole new policy area, and so was I, because he was the international trade critic,” he said. “So I got to say goodbye to all my youth policy, and started learning what international trade and trade policy meant,” A year later Fallis moved from Parliament Hill to Queen’s Park, to work with the David Peterson Liberal government, as a legislative assistant to then-finance minister Bob Nixon.
Fallis said that at that point he felt he’d learned almost as much as he could, and didn’t want to be considered a “political hack.” So, with some reluctance, he left politics and moved not into a career in engineering, but consulting and public relations in January of 1988. He spent seven years as a government affairs consultant, capitalizing on his political experience by helping clients to deal with the provincial government.
Fallis stepped out of the government consultation business in 1995, when he co-founded Thornley Fallis with Joseph Thornley. The firm deals only with communications consulting, which Fallis did to avoid negatively affecting his wife’s career in the government.
Today, Fallis is juggling the often-hectic job of public relations consultant with writing on the side. Fallis admitted that pieces of himself make their way into his novels because of his limited time to write. “I think it’s inevitable,” he said, “particularly for someone writing his first novel who has no time for research.”
Having read Fallis’s novel The Best Laid Plans and its sequel, The High Road, meeting him in person is, in fact, almost comparable to meeting one of his thoroughly fleshed out characters. There are pieces of him strewn through Angus, the gruff but sentimental engineering professor with an unwavering love of the English language, and Daniel, the verbose, staunch Liberal who can’t seem to escape politics and, for the most part, sees the democratic system with tired, jaded eyes.
“I could write about all of those things from my head and from my own experiences,” Fallis said, of the content of his two books. “With the exception of S&M, which I knew nothing about. But the Internet was very helpful in that.”
Though Fallis said he does plan to do more with those characters, they won’t be in his third novel. “I’m writing something else now, another novel,” he said. “It will be a satire, it will be a funny novel, but not with these characters.”
“Another political satire?” I asked.
“No! One about the public relations industry.”
Well, you’ve heard the saying: write what you know.