Newfoundland is worming its way more and more into my soul, and out again in my writing.
When I started writing in the ’90s in Scotland most of my stories were set either there, or in London where I spent the ’80s. I appear to need to be tied to a sense of place for work to come easily. With Newfoundland, the ties fell into place naturally.
We came over on holiday in 2005, primarily on a whale watching trip to Trinity, and fell in love immediately with the area. There is much here that reminds me of home, in both the maritime landscape, and the warmth of the people, and although they’re mostly of Irish descent around here, I felt an immediate kinship with their stories of ekeing a living out of a harsh sea, as it’s something my own family have much experience of on the opposite side of the same ocean.
When my IT job in Edinburgh went tits-up in 2007, I’d had just about enough of working for the man after 25 years of wearing a suit and commuting into busy cities, having worked in London, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. I talked to my wife, Sue, about the possibility of downsizing totally, and it was just when I was starting to get some serious pro-level story sales. We knew from our holiday that we could get a nice house with a great view dirt cheap (compared to Scottish prices ) over here on The Rock. So we sold up in Scotland, whacked some money in the bank, bought a house on the shore here, and I tried writing full time. I’ve not starved us yet, more than ten years down the line.
We chose Catalina, a fishing town up on the Bonavista Peninsula. It’s a long way from any kind of night life, bookshops or cinemas, but it’s not quite in the middle of nowhere. We have roads, a post office, a supermarket and some takeaway places. We even have running water and electricity. The people are very friendly, as I said earlier, mostly of Irish descent around here, and it’s lovely and quiet, which suits me just fine.
The local accent here is very strong, and strange on the ear at first, but I’ve come to understand most of the people well enough, although there are still a few old timers in the town who leave me completely baffled, and we communicate mainly by smiles, hand-gestures, and nods of the head.
We have an open view across a wide bay, the opening of which is out onto the Atlantic, we have whales out there, moose and bear in the hills, bald eagles overhead and squirrels in the garden, as well as the ever shifting moods of the bay itself. It’s not a bad way to live.
It also seems to suit my writing. As I said earlier, the ties to the landscape fell into place quickly. The third Derek Adams book, THE SKIN GAME was stalled in its opening act back in Scotland and I hadn’t been able to get past a blockage, but that first winter after we got here I realised that if I could come to Newfoundland, then Derek, The Midnight Eye and protagonist, could come here too. After that the rest of that one fell quickly into place and a pack of Scottish werewolves howled at the moon under a Newfoundland sky.
After that I wrote a handful of short stories set on The Rock, testing the waters as I let the place seep into my soul. It’s got its hooks deep in me now. My home will always be Scotland, but The Rock has my heart and soul on loan in the meantime.
Since those early short stories I’ve been exploring various parts of the island and its culture in my novels. THE DUNFIELD TERROR takes place around Trinity, where I spent my first year here working on a whale tour boat, FUNGOID takes place in the island capital St. Johns, and also up this peninsula where I live while SONGS OF DREAMING GODS is set in a corner townhouse in St. John’s again. THE BOATHOUSE is set here in our home port of Catalina, and my latest, THE GREEN AND THE BLACK, is set in a derelict Victorian mining colony in the island’s interior.
There will be more, as I haven’t covered the whole glorious gamut of this place yet.
And I still need to get a moose in somewhere.
If you’re at all intrigued by any of this, check out the books I’ve mentioned. You never know, you might fall in love with the place too.