Greg Hollingshead talks about discovering the unusual in everyday events

On Nov. 3, York’s Canadian Writers in Person course presented Greg Hollingshead reading from his latest collection of short stories, Act Normal. York teaching assistant Dana Patrascu-Kingsley sent the following report to YFile.

Greg Hollingshead
Greg Hollingshead

When Greg Hollingshead visited York University to read from his latest collection of short stories, Act Normal (2015), he selected the short story “Sense of an Ending” for his presentation. It is a story about a young woman’s uneasiness with what she feels is the “weird” comfort and acceptance in her husband’s family. What she thinks of as strange interactions are just brushed off by her husband. A grandmother goes down on all fours to tear away a steak from the dog that stole it, and that is all ‘normal’ to the family. Meanwhile, the young woman, Micheline, is always expecting something terrible to happen because in her world, something has to be wrong. This uncovering of the unusual in everyday life is part of all of Hollingshead’s stories in this volume in which people act anything but “normal.”

Hollingshead has written six other short story collections and novels. In 1995, his third story collection, The Roaring Girl, won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. In 1998, his novel The Healer won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and was shortlisted for the Giller Prize. His 2004 novel Bedlam was long listed for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. In 2012, he was awarded the Order of Canada.

Greg Hollingshead Act NormalAct Normal came out to excellent reviews. “Every sentence in Act Normal is a surprise. In fact, the stories are the sentences, each one veering into the next shock, until you’re far from the expected territory. Greg Hollingshead gives us what all great short story writers do: the pleasure of breaking with pattern for the wild and strange,” said author Tamas Dobozy. “I found myself rereading every paragraph, amazed, not wanting to leave behind a single word.”

Hollingshead said he writes down on six by four inch cue cards the stories he hears from friends and acquaintances, and he has boxes of these cards. Every once in a while, he goes through them, and “some of the stories are still alive” and then Hollingshead says that he knows he’ll have to transform those into short stories. He explained that he “thinks of fiction as framing true things in a way that makes them credible.”

For Hollingshead, the beauty of writing short stories is that you don’t need to work thematically. “You start with a feeling. From that you get a voice, an image, a scene, and then you go from there,” he said, noting that he writes for the pleasure of telling a story and getting it right.

On Nov. 17, Sean Michaels will read from and talk about his novel Us Conductors. Readings are free and open to any member of the public. For more information, contact Professor Leslie Sanders at or Professor Gail Vanstone at All readings are held Tuesdays from 7 to 9pm in 206 Accolade West Building, Keele campus.