Total Offence


Surveying the audience, I thought – Uh-oh.

It consisted not only of the adults and older teens I’d expected, but also a good number of younger teens, as well as several preteens, and I’d prepared to read an episode in which a man reveals to a friend that he’s dying, and another about the shooting of a dog, and between them the passages included the words frigging, fucked, fart, bastard, crapping, pissing, and shit.

Three shits, actually.

I’m not usually given to self-censorship, but thought – maybe the language is a tad inappropriate for young ears, the content a little on the heavy side for the youngsters.

First thought that followed: Maybe I could kind of wheel around the potentially offending words, maybe fudge the f word (‘Come out feeling like I’m f-f-f-ed’), replace ‘Crapping and pissing’ with ‘Doing its business’, change ‘You bastards’ to – er – ‘You cads’, or, ‘You rascals’, or, ‘You very unpleasant people’. None of them seemed to work, didn’t quite have the intended effect.

And of course all I’d brought with me were Footprints and Second Wind, the books I’d planned to read from. The occasion was the Saint John Fog Lit Festival’s Emerging Writers Awards, the presentations interspersed with readings by Lisa Moore (Caught, February, Alligator), and me, and music by Dwayne Doucette, of Earthbound Trio.


Lisa Moore reads from February

Fortunately we were at the Saint John Free Public Library (“Canada’s first free public library”), so I scurried across to the children’s section where – whew – I found all the Brunswick Valley books about Toby and his soccer mad friends. I grabbed Total Offence and explained to the audience that it was a late substitution for the passages I’d planned to read from Footprints and Second Wind, because I didn’t want to risk giving offence to the younger members of the audience, choosing instead probably to give offence to the older element by reading the passage in which Toby and his stepfather make chocolate chip cookies, and Toby sneezes into the cookie mixture, and it’s too late to start all over again, so … You get the picture.

(In hindsight, I’m not sure the snot and goobers that appear in the Total Offence passage are that much worse than shit, etc.)

The readings and the music, and – especially – the readings by the winners, made for an enjoyable and engrossing afternoon, and congratulations go to those winners, who are:

Youth Poetry English: 1st – McKinley Leonard-Scott, You left on the twelfth day. 2nd – Diyasha Sen, Dusk and Dawn. 3rd – Gwyneth Moir, ‘Little Poems’.

Youth Poetry French: 1st – Ania Hache-Wilczak, La voix que tu entends pas. 2nd – Nicholas Connors – Une vacance de stéréotypes.

Youth Fiction English: 1st – Meaghan Boyle, Lacuna of Thought. 2nd – Melinda Worboys, Fear. 3rd – Kathryn Reilly, The Four Doors.

Comic Book: 1st – Stephen Hurley, Stephen’s Comics Annual of 2015!

Adult Poetry English: 1st Annette Robichaud, Castoffs. 2nd – Helena Hook, The Man in the Shed.

Adult Fiction English: 1st Sloane Ryan, Speak Now. 2nd – Jake Swan, Wood Lake. 3rd – Kyle Peters, The People Around You.

Adult Literacy: 1st – Stephanie Adams, Free.


When Fiction and Real Life Collide

I’ve been absorbed and transported by Michael Crummey’s Sweetland, absorbed in the story, transported in memory back to my early days in Newfoundland a few years after the time the novel is set in, captivated not just by the story, and its stunning evocation of period and place and its capture of detail about Newfoundland outport life, but also because, reading it, I kept thinking – I was there, green from England, teaching music, speaking in a puzzling hard-to-follow foreign accent and reading that puzzlement on the faces of the students, at the same time as I struggled to understand them, as much a curiosity and a faranji at that spit end of the old outport life in Newfoundland as I was in Ethiopia years later.

Remnants of the last days of that outport life:

A trip up the bay to abandoned island communities with a friend who had grown up there, and whose father returned to spend every summer there, until the summer he refused to ‘come in’. Tumbledown wharfs, leaning fences, empty houses, glassless windows like accusing eyes.

The priest who gave me a ride to Gander in my first week in Newfoundland and railed all the way against the Smallwood resettlement programme, describing how he’d had to bring parishioners in from the islands to the mainland for medical attention because there were no longer any medical facilities on the islands.

Kids arriving at my door at supper time with a dish from Mom when I was living in Newfoundland alone, then standing silently in the doorway to watch me eat, as if suspicious I’d feed myself in as alien a way as I spoke.

Students visiting and watching in silence from the same doorway when (then) wife and baby arrived, watching these curiosities as if they came from outer space, strange adult beings with funny voices and a baby that looked surprisingly normal and even felt normal when, after being invited and urged to do what they so obviously wanted to do, to hold it (him), they took him and held him gingerly and tenderly, but still wary, who knew what strangeness lay beneath the swaddling blanket.

Visiting friends on Christmas morning and eating a Christmas morning snack of dried capelin.

All this as unforgettable as Sweetland.

Mystery Readers

Idly perusing stats for this blog, I’m astonished – probably naïvely – all over again at the number and variety of countries in which it is or has been read. Who are these readers? How do they stumble upon a trivial blog by a no name writer living in a little town in a little province in Canada?

Some of them I can guess at, family members or friends living or working around the world, in England and Spain and Hong Kong and Ethiopia, but others are a tantalising mystery.

I mean … Iraq! Who is reading my blog in that troubled country – unless maybe the geologist I sat beside, flying from Frankfurt to Khartoum, with whom I exchanged names and emails (promptly and foolishly lost), and who urged me to visit him, and he’d show me around. Could it be that brief friend has stumbled across the blog and is reading it now?

So here they are – not out of self-aggrandisement, but out of naïve wonder at the way our messages effortlessly travel the world – the latest list of countries:

Canada, England, Scotland, United States, Ethiopia, Russian Federation, Spain, Hong Kong, Australia, Luxembourg, Jersey, Macao, Iraq, Denmark, Italy, Republic of Korea, St. Lucia, Greece, Switzerland, Jamaica, Philippines, France, Columbia, South Africa, Panama, Czech Republic, Germany.