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Professor Michael Helm's novel reviewed in Edmonton Journal

Professor Michael Helm's novel reviewed in Edmonton Journal

Professor Michael Helm, assistant professor of English in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, has published his third novel, Cities of Refuge. Helm's novel has attracted media attention through reviews and interviews.

Helm's brother, Richard, interviewed him about the novel May 2 in the Edmonton Journal:

It's a tricky business this, writing about your own brother. But what can I do? He’s produced another damned novel and I’m supposed to write about people who write novels.

Besides, this one’s mighty good.

Michael Helm is 48, he teaches English and creative writing at York University in Toronto and makes his home in a leafy little acreage just outside of Dundas. His writings on fiction and poetry frequently appear in North American newspapers and magazines, including Brick magazine, where he has been an editor since 2003. He fancies himself something of a golfer.

Michael and I chatted recently, just a few days before Cities of Refuge hit store shelves.

Q: Are you comfortable being interviewed by your brother?

A: As long as we stick to the book. You don’t mention my strangeness at age seven and I won’t mention any of that stuff from your teen years. I mean, how does a guy get his pants on backward between classes? And then not notice? So none of that. But otherwise it’s fine. And Mom would have approved. So thanks for asking.

Q: It’s been six years since [your last novel] In the Place of Last Things. Is that about the cycle that works for you? Do you sometimes wish you could knock these things off like Alexander McCall Smith?

A; The math is three novels in 13 years, and that doesn’t count the time it took to write the first one. The writer’s either slow or exercising heroic discretion.

It just takes time to get it right. When a novel is forming in the imagination, characters are like invisible planets. I know they’re there because there’s a kind of gravity at work, and this gravity seems to draw a certain kind of language and that’s why I end up writing about this character and not that one. I hope this doesn’t sound pretentious – I’m trying to be exact. If this sounds mysterious, it is, and whatever offers me this mystery is probably why I write.

Q: What's up next? What are you working on now?

A: I have a couple of novels in early stages. I’d like the next one to be short, but it seems to have other ideas.

Novelist Robert Wiersema reviewed Helm's novel for the Journal April 23:

Take Cities of Refuge, the new novel from Toronto writer and previous Giller nominee Michael Helm. The novel begins with a rape scene, but the novel is neither a thriller nor a healing journey, though it includes elements of both. It is set, in part, among Toronto’s immigrant communities, but it is not just an immigrant novel. It struggles with the weight of history, and with philosophical issues, but it is neither historical, nor a novel of ideas. And so on. It is, in short, a mosaic, and a stunning read.

Helm is the author of The Projectionist, which was a Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist, and In the Place of Last Things, a regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book.

Posted by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer, with files courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.