On the Death of Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney died today and we are all poorer for that.

Seamus Heaney

I’m not an intellectual, and don’t claim to understand great poetry. I can only feel it, and wonder in awe at the craft, and the intellect that created it. Over more years than I care to think, Seamus Heaney’s poetry has touched me deeply, again and again. Sometimes like a sledgehammer to the chest, and other times, prising open a long forgotten childhood memory of freshly caught mackerel pulled from the cold sea or a ripe blackberry already staining tiny fingers. He spoke to something deep within me, and gave me joy, solace, and lightening-bright insight in the commonplace.

Heaney was born in Co. Derry, deep in the Irish countryside. Here is an excerpt from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech describing his childhood:

In the nineteen forties, when I was the eldest child of an ever-growing family in rural Co. Derry, we crowded together in the three rooms of a traditional thatched farmstead and lived a kind of den-life which was more or less emotionally and intellectually proofed against the outside world. It was an intimate, physical, creaturely existence in which the night sounds of the horse in the stable beyond one bedroom wall mingled with the sounds of adult conversation from the kitchen beyond the other. We took in everything that was going on, of course – rain in the trees, mice on the ceiling, a steam train rumbling along the railway line one field back from the house – but we took it in as if we were in the doze of hibernation. Ahistorical, pre-sexual, in suspension between the archaic and the modern, we were as susceptible and impressionable as the drinking water that stood in a bucket in our scullery: every time a passing train made the earth shake, the surface of that water used to ripple delicately, concentrically, and in utter silence.

You can read the full speech here: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1995/heaney-lecture.html

I met him in 2002 when he came to Montreal to receive an Honorary Doctorate from Concordia, and I still treasure the memory. He was the man we should all strive to be, warm and gracious, and ready to share a story with anyone.

He was a man who saw and felt more than the rest of us, a man for whom everything was alive and connected, a man from whom we can all learn. We are lucky to have been alive when this man was writing poetry.

Vigilante Season, the second book in Luc Vanier series, is coming in Oct

Those Magic Words: “Vigilante Season has been sent to the printer.”

My publisher, Linda Leith, called last week to tell me that Vigilante Season, the second book in the Luc Vanier series, was finally on its way to the printer, marking the end of a long summer of hair-pulling revisions and re-writes. Writing Vigilante Season was great fun, but revising and editing it was less so. It’s a humbling experience to work with good editors and fact-checkers. Nobody’s perfect, and we all benefit from having someone pointing out the imperfections. Everyone did a great job, but I think the fact checker had the most fun, stopping people driving the wrong way up one-way streets and making sure the dead stayed dead, and didn’t reappear like zombies ten pages later.

So I am happy to see Vigilante Season go to print. It’s hard to let go, but it’s satisfying to get it finished at last.

In the novel, Inspector Luc Vanier is in Hochelaga investigating the brutal murder of a local drug dealer. Hochelaga is a blue collar neighbourhood in Montreal’s east end that has been all but abandoned by the political class, and a paramilitary group, the Société des Patriotes de Montréal, has stepped into the vacuum and begun flexing its muscle. The local police commander is proud of the declining crime statistics, but Vanier suspects the neighbourhood cleanup may involve murdering the unwanted. When Vanier is suspended for beating a young suspect, he’s on his own, fighting to prove his innocence and discover who really controls the streets, while struggling to help his son, Alex, back from Afghanistan and crippled by PTSD.

Vigilante Season will be published in October 2013, and Quill and Quire has listed Vigilante Season in their fall preview of the “most anticipated Canadian Fiction.”.

Donal Ryan – The Latest Candidate for Patron Saint of Unpublished Authors

Let’s hear it for Donal Ryan – The Latest Candidate for Patron Saint of Unpublished Authors

We’ve all got our favourite stories of authors that overcame crushing rejection to be finally vindicated by literary or commercial success. The website Literary Rejections documents hundreds of rejections that probably still keep publishers and agents up at night, pining for a second chance at Lolita (“I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.”), or even Chicken Soup for the Soul (“Anthologies don’t sell.”). Every aspiring author thinking about giving up should visit the site for solace and inspiration.

Now, into the Parthenon of the finally vindicated author, steps Irishman Donal Ryan, a 36 year old civil servant from Limerick who writes in his spare time. His manuscript for The Spinning Heart was rejected 47 times, and that was his second book, the first was probably filed away in a sock drawer somewhere. According to the Irish Independent, his manuscript was only noticed after an intern pulled it out of the slush pile at Dublin’s Lilliput Press and “raved about it” to the boss, Andrew Farrell. Farrell thought enough about it to make an offer, and, after Lilliput agreed to publish it, Doubleday Ireland wanted in on the action. Donal went from sitting by the window, waiting for the postman to arrive dragging the usual canvas sack of rejections and bills, to having a co-publishing deal with two respected publishers. In 2012, Lilliput published The Spinning Heart in hardback, and Doubleday did the same in paperback.

The Shining Heart went on to win Ireland’s Bord Gáis Energy Book of the Year prize, and last month it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Longlist in this case is a bit of a misnomer, because the Mar Booker list has only 13 titles.

In an interview for last year’s Dublin Book Festival, Donal mused about the best and worst things about writing. He said, “The worst thing about writing, so far, is rejection. Months and years of unread manuscripts; unanswered letters; emails floating ignored in the ether; crushed hopes; politely delivered heartbreak.”

Now, doesn’t that ring a bell? If you’re not up to fifty rejections, you’re not even trying.