St. John’s Newfoundland writer Michelle Butler Hallett is the author of This Marlowe (2016, Goose Lane Editions), an excellent historical fiction novel set in Elizabethan England. Now, it was my intention to interview her about the writing of the novel, doing the research for it and such, but there already exists several YouTube videos of Michelle explaining just about everything one would want to know about writing and researching for This Marlowe, so I gave up on that idea; Goose Lane had beat me to the punch.
Here’s one of Michelle explaining the process of writing This Marlowe:
I then learned from Kathleen Peacock, Goose Lane Edition’s publicist, that Michelle is an honorary Miramichier! Now there’s something I would like to know more about! So I wrote Michelle and she agreed to tell the story, which makes for interesting reading:
1989, Ottawa. My boyfriend (later husband), David Hallett, joins me at Carleton University, and we settle in. David is pursuing his MA and wants to focus on Canlit, on fiction. He’s thinking about Robertson Davies. His supervisor doesn’t care for Davies’ work and suggests instead a novelist from New Brunswick. I got my hackles up, expecting this Ontario professor to then ask us if we know the guy, New Brunswick and Newfoundland being so close together, ah ha ha. The prof is nowhere near that stupid. In fact, he’s smart as hell, twigging right away to David Hallett’s likely response to these novels from the guy in New Brunswick: surprise, empathy, and recognition. Over the next two years, David Hallett completes his MA thesis, focusing on the novels but also collecting and commenting on a collection of appalling book reviews which expose the reviewers’ prejudices and ignorance, which paint an image of the novelist in question as some backwoods savant. The reviews were meant to put one David Adams Richards back in his perceived place — they failed, naturally — but these reviews also stung us. So much hatred for Atlantic Canada, hatred and blame? So much regionalism? So many toxic presumptions from academic minds supposedly trained to think outside such folly?
Around this time a prominent national journalist suggests Newfoundland be towed out to sea and sunk.
2001, Mount Pearl. My husband and I are back in Newfoundland, and we now have two young children, one of them an infant. Apart from a short story in 1994, I’ve published nothing, and I’m in some despair. Have I deluded myself? I knew since the age of seven I wanted to write fiction, and by 2001, aged thirty, I’d hoped to be further along. After a difficult pregnancy, I’ve slipped into a post partum depression — not that I recognize that. I’ve been working full-time except when on maternity leave, working through sickness and writing bad fiction and terrible drama, since 1995. My husband David is also struggling: a freshly minted PhD, he can only get adjunct work. I spy an ad in the Globe and Mail books section for the Humber School for Writers, for a correspondence course: established writers for mentors, close attention to your manuscript. I take the risk. I get matched with David Adams Richards. My husband finds this coincidence fascinating; years later he’ll write an entry for the CanadianEnyclopedia.ca on DAR. I learn a lot. DAR is kind and encouraging — and also blunt about my weaknesses. I respect this. I consider his advice and even take some of it.
Some of it.
I never said I was smart.
2004. I enter and win a short novel-writing competition run by the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick. (In 2004, the comp was open to anyone in Canada. It’s now kept to NB residents only.) The prize is named after David Adams Richards. I’m invited to the WFNB AGM in Miramichi. (I get a speeding ticket on the drive from Dieppe to Miramichi. This is what comes of being excited, driving a rented Jeep when you’re accustomed to a five-speed Sentra, and playing the Tragically Hip really loud.) Several Miramichiers reach out to me, make sure I’m looked after, fed, on and on … and, listening to voices, studying the signs of a resource-based economy and the economic tyrannies that might spring from it, I feel at home. I didn’t expect that.
2007. I’m invited to give a workshop at the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick’s AGM, once again held in Miramichi. I stay and visit with friends I made in 2004, make new friends, and really enjoy my time there. I give a reading and a workshop. I get to meet DAR and thank him, and then badger him into signing some books for my husband and a friend. I attend the WFNB awards dinner … and there, to my surprise and delight, hear Dorinda Glover pronounce me a Daughter of the River, an honourary Miramichier. I wept: happy tears.
I’ve promised myself a return to the river almost every year since, this time with my husband and children. I’ve failed them: money, time, illness. Trees and water, though, trees and water: I’ll get there.
We hope you do, Michelle!
You can learn more about Michelle’s other writings here on her blog: https://mbutlerhallett.wordpress.com/
Her Facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/michellebutlerhallettwriter/