I’m a novelist, playwright, and, since I retired from teaching in 2015, a voice, television and film actor, and if I’d enjoyed significant success in any of those fields, I’d be living on a grander scale than I actually do!
I have four novels and a collection of stories for children in print. I wrote most of my plays as a much younger man, and wouldn’t want to see them staged again – but they were staged, some decades ago, in a number of Canadian and American cities, and in Cork, Ireland. And for a late-comer to acting for camera, I’ve done a fair bit of television work, appearing in several network series (albeit in small roles), and in fifteen feature films.
The pandemic has dealt as harshly with me as it has, I’m sure, with most readers of this piece. I had a number of contracts lined up, and they were all cancelled. Additionally, when I did eventually find work again, and presented myself on set, I was alarmed, on two occasions, to find that the producers were not taking Covid precautions as strictly as they’d advertised they would.
My gravest professional disappointment during this period is that I didn’t have the opportunity to do public readings for my most recent novel, The Rogue Wave. My theatre background helps me give a lively reading, and my experience is that when I read for an audience, I sell books. Launching in April of 2021, as we did, with bookstores and libraries closed, that simply wasn’t an option. The book got some wonderful advance publicity from Canadian librarians, but, painfully, that publicity hasn’t translated into sales.
Has my writing changed as a result of Covid? It has. I have always been a serious sort of fellow – though that hasn’t prevented me from producing some comic work. But Covid has dramatically heightened my sense of my own mortality, and of the mortality of those I love. When I put pen to paper now, or sit down at my computer, it’s as though there were a quiet but persistent voice in my ear saying, over and over again, “life is fragile: take nothing for granted.”
That perception inevitably colours my work. When I survey the rough draft of my newest novel, still untitled, I recognize that there’s a sombreness, a pessimism, that oozes out around the edges. The subject matter of this novel dictates that some of that must stay…but some of it I will need to edit out. Why? I made a promise, years ago, that if I took a reader to a dark place, I would lead her out again – or, at least, let some light shine in. Yes, I think that writers of serious fiction should show some of the world’s wickedness, but there is also goodness and beauty in the world: it too should be shown.
If nothing else, this pandemic has underlined my belief that artists have a moral obligation to show reason for hope. Not all artists will agree with that, and I certainly wouldn’t censor those who dissent, but that’s the credo that guides me.