Helen Chau Bradley on their debut short story collection, Personal Attention Roleplay, shortlisted for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize.

Helen Chau Bradley is a writer and musician living in Tiohtià:ke (Montreal). Their writing has appeared in carte blancheCosmonauts AvenueMaisonneuve Magazine, the Montreal Review of Books, and elsewhere. They are the author of Automatic Object Lessons, a poetry chapbook. They are the Fiction Editor for This Magazine, and the host of Strange Futures, a speculative fiction book club. Personal Attention Roleplay is their first book.

Can you tell us about your book in three sentences or less?

The stories in Personal Attention Roleplay explore the excitement, dread, and disappointment of intimacy, whether between friends, lovers, bandmates, or family members—sometimes even with the dead. Its protagonists are sometimes isolated, sometimes multiply voiced—and more often than not queer, Asian, and disoriented by the details of the contemporary world.

What inspired this book?

I’ve always been drawing to the short story as a form, the way that it allows for experimentation within a tight frame. I like the puzzle-like aspect of it: what can be achieved, how much tension can be built and destroyed within the brief space of a short piece? I wanted to try injecting a variety of queer, Asian standpoints into the types of eerie, unsettling short stories I like best—work by writers like Mariana Enríquez, Yoko Tawada, Julio Cortázar, Mercè Rodoreda, to name a few. Of course, I can’t come close to these writers, but the attempt was what drove these stories to exist, and I think that’s still worthwhile.

Describe your writing style in five words or less.

Eerie and neurotic—but funny.

What first drew you towards writing?

Reading! And bookselling. Being around books my whole life made me determined to write my own, and the urgency of that desire eventually became strong enough to trump my fear of failure.

What do you wish you had known when you first started writing?

That there’s no Right Time to start writing, there’s no Perfect Story Idea that has to come together in your head in order to make your desire to write “legitimate.” If you want to write, the time to try is probably now. Also, that you don’t have to do a writing degree to be published and read.

Do you have any writing projects in the works right now?

I’m working on a novel, tentatively based in my current attempt to learn Cantonese, my mother’s first language. Of course, since I’m doing everything I can to avoid actually working on this project, I’m also accidentally working on another collection of stories, written entirely thanks to the propulsive power of procrastination.

What’s the best book you’ve read recently?

Dennis Cooper’s The Dream Police.


The Kobo Emerging Writer Prize was created to bring literary recognition to Canadian talent and kick-start the careers of debut authors. A $10,000 CAD cash prize will be awarded to a book in each of three categories: Nonfiction, Literary Fiction, and a rotating Genre Fiction category. In addition, each winning author receives promotional marketing and ongoing communications support throughout 2022.

Helen Chau Bradley is one of six authors nominated in the Literary Fiction category for 2022. Best-selling novelist, short story writer and essayist Heather O’Neill will select this year’s winner, to be announced on June 22, 2o22.

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