Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Halifax Chronicle-Herald Review

A review from the Sunday December 22, 2009 Chronicle Herald (Halifax). I previously listed the link, but that link is now broken. So here's what reviewer Judith Meyrick had to say about Hard Ol' Spot. It truly is an honour to be singled out among such talented writers.

Hard Ol’ Spot short fiction at its best


Sun. Dec 20 - 4:46 AM

Hard Ol’ Spot — An Anthology of Atlantic Canadian Fiction selected by Mike Heffernan (Killick Press, $19.95)

Selecting short stories for an anthology is a challenge. The content, the varying styles of the authors, it all must somehow "hang together" — make a whole. Mike Heffernan has walked this fine line well, and his new anthology, Hard Ol’ Spot, brings together a collection of stories that represents the best of Atlantic authors. Darren Whalen gives each story "a visual signature," his illustrations heading each story, sketching their essence.

These are stories about growing up and learning the hard way, about taking stands, and the Ocean Ranger. There is a quality to these stories that is uniquely Atlantic Canadian. They tell of the harshness of living in outport Newfoundland. They talk of resilience, and joy and dying, and throughout them, the Atlantic Ocean roars and simmers.

In six short pages, At Sea tells of a sailor suffering the deep misery of seasickness in raging seas. Don Roy somehow holds out hope, that a lifetime of poor choices and missed opportunities may still be redeemed.

Michael Crummey’s ability to place his readers inside his stories is remarkable. The Night Watchman tells of a company man, hired to walk the streets of Black Rock, to keep his employers informed of happenings in the night. And of Ellen, "although it’s only in (his) head that she’s part of the story at all."

But it is Winnie in Gerard Collins' "Hold Out" who speaks loudest by saying very little at all. The town is beyond dying, and residents are being offered $50,000 to leave. Only trouble is, it’s all or nothing. And Winnie won’t leave her home and her memories behind.

A good anthology is a cause for excitement among lovers of short stories and Hard Ol’ Spot — An Anthology of Atlantic Canadian Fiction is no exception. Heffernan’s collection showcases Atlantic short fiction at its best.

Mike Heffernan is the author of Rig: An Oral History of the Ocean Ranger Disaster. He lives in St. John’s.

Darren Whalen is a visual artist from Newfoundland. He lives in St. John’s.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Sometimes you see a movie that just hits you where you live. I just watched the movie “Once” and absolutely loved every single, quirky, music-loving, self-consciously shy and joyful moment of it.

A few years ago, not so many really, I took my guitar to a music studio downtown. I’d scrounged a few hundred dollars I really didn’t have and poured it into a couple of days at the studio, setting down tracks with just me and my guitar, singing a half dozen songs I’d written and thought were pretty good—mostly because friends, family, sometimes audience members, and the occasional music industry person told me were pretty good.

My songs were the only good thing about my music career really. I was a so-so singer with not much of a lower register and a higher register that was nobody’s darling, I’m sure. I was a good middle-range singer and a self-taught guitar player who should have taken some lessons.

But the songs. Ah, the songs. You could give me a topic, a word, a thought, a picture, and I’d write you a a strong melody, with a hook, and handsome lyrics at the drop of a loonie. Okay, no loonies involved, necessarily. Although, like the guy in “Once” who busks and sings his own songs only in the night time, I once played on a street corner in downtown St. John’s just so I’d know what it would feel like. F**ckin’ hard work. Constantly entertaining—or trying to. Constantly playing. Fingers getting sore. Strumming and singing against the wind. Nobody listening, not really. Sure, I made maybe fifty bucks or something like that for a morning’s work. I never did it again. But I learned a lifetime of lessons.

For a few years after that, I made my living with my guitar, singing with various bands, strumming to keep up, but the songs…ah, the songs. I wrote ‘em, I sang ‘em, and people would say, “Did you write that?” It was the moment I lived for.

That was the thing about the movie that got me: I remembered—no, felt and re-lived in my mind—that moment when the song was everything—that sense of urgency, of having to lay it down, get it out, get it right, and never think for a moment that no one would care about it or that it would never be recorded or nurtured or anything else. You only cared to sing the right note, to say the right word, to be brilliant in that very moment. To sound like music.

That’s creation at its finest, at least for an artist.

It’s a feeling I lived for. I still do that with my writing. I feel fortunate to have a book that’s coming out next year that someone actually wants to publish. Maybe someone will even read it.

But there’s nothing like that feeling of having to get it out, knowing it’s important because it matters to you and only you.

With music, every time you sing the song, there’s the chance for brilliance—for a moment that makes sense of the world even if all around you is chaotic shite. If you sing with someone else, all the better. The smile spreads slowly across the hard-lined face of the songwriter who hears his words on the lips of someone who gets it, who knows what it means, more or less, and who wants to sing it with you.

I miss that feeling. I crave it sometimes. There are times when I just know I’m going to pick up that guitar again soon and head down to a St. John’s recording studio, this time maybe with some real money in my pocket, and a band to back me up—a band who’s practiced and professional, who knows what you need and that what you need is for them to be in the moment, to love the song every bit as much as you do, except you know that they couldn’t possibly.

Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. Not for fame or fortune. I’ve never done anything for those reasons. But for love. The pure joy of creating something from nothing and from seeing something through to the end.

Now that’s a movie.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Making it Big on the set of Doyle

So I made my big break on the new t.v. show The Republic of Doyle last night. You might have missed me, though, if you didn't know what to look for. Heck, I'm sure my own my mother didn't recognize me in that big penitentiary guard hat and fog-gray uniform.

I enjoyed the show and early reviews were fantastic, from the Globe and Mail and from family and friends. I hope the show gets picked up for another season because it means millions of dollars into the local economy and a lot of actors, background actors (like me!), technicians, make-up people, and tons of other people get some work they can depend on for a while.

St. John's has never looked more beautiful, except maybe on a sunny day in autumn, and I love that they imported sunshine from the mainland, much as they did with most of the primary actors who were posing as local. They did a great job, mind you--can't fault them on that. And it was good to see a lot of local people playing minor roles--Sean Panting as the lawyer, plus a few other familiar faces, and of course Bell Island's own Allan Hawco in the lead role. For someone who doesn't look or sound like the prototypical lead actor, he's making a fine living for himself, it would seem, just by being a pretty good actor. The writing was actually quite good for a first episode. These things, from what I know, usually take a while to gel, and there were some inspired moments that made me laugh out loud. I'm looking forward to the next episode.

Oh, and as for my small role. If you look real close near the end when Shaun Majumner is entering (leaving?) a cell to meet with his father, the guard who lets him in (out?) is me. At first, you just see an extreme close-up of my cheek bone as I close the cell door. A few seconds later, you see me walking away in my over-sized hat that looks like it belongs on the head of an actor with a much larger head (I'm sure there are some).

While the part was small (there might be others as the season go on--it's hard to say how they edit these things), I was grateful to have made it on screen at all. They cut these scenes down to their barest, most essential bones so they only need a glimpse of, say, a guard to suggest the idea of a prison. Plus, there were nearly a dozen of us there that day as background actors and only two of us actually made it into the first episode. Hopefully, some of them will be seen throughout the season. They're good people who put in a long day's work that day. The whole thing was an enlightening and joyful experience that I hope to repeat many times, if the show gets picked up again. I kept having to turn them down over the past few months because of my teaching schedule. But if they shoot again this summer, I hope to be there.

Besides, a writer needs his experiences. I've already found the whole thing useful in writing my new novel called "Two Sisters" (almost finished).

Back to work.