David Adams Richards looks back at his early years as a writer

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First aired on Mainstreet NS (13/03/13)

In a career that has spanned almost 40 years, David Adams Richards has published more than 20 books, from novels to non-fiction and essays. The award-winning author recently dropped by the Halifax studio of Mainstreet Nova Scotia. He was in town to give this year's Cyril Byrne lecture at St. Mary's University. The theme of Richards' lecture is his early years as a writer, and includes readings from Blood Ties, his second novel, which was published in 1976.


When asked why he wanted to revisit the early work, Richards told host Stephanie Domet that it was one of his favourite novels, and he still looks fondly on the characters. The story takes place over three years in the late 1960s, and "deals with a young girl coming of age and deciding to leave and go to Toronto," he said. "Going down the road was something so many of the kids I knew back then did, and unfortunately still do."

Richards said that the book deals "with family dynamics, loyalty and love, and betrayal...I think some of my favourite women characters that I've ever created are in this book."

Blood Ties was called "the best novel to come out of the Maritimes in a generation" when it was first published, but Richards still struggled to make a living. "Money-wise it didn't do very much, but that's the plight of being a writer. So I'm not the only one in that boat," he said.

Richards sees Blood Ties, which he wrote when he was 23, as marking the end of a particular period in his writing life. He groups it with his first published novel, The Coming of Winter, which he wrote at 21, and an earlier book that wasn't published. Afterward, he started to seek different thematic structures for his novels (the next book, Lives of Short Duration, took four years to write). "I moved away from many of those characters, but they still remain dear to me."

When he was just starting out, Richards and his wife went through some lean times -- once he had to sell his car to pay the rent -- but he felt driven to write. "I don't think I'd respect myself if I didn't do it," he said.

"For me, the only way to communicate my ideas about the world is through novels," Richards said. He's doesn't believe that novels are any less popular today than in earlier time periods. In the 1890s, he pointed out, some people read penny dreadfuls, while "a lot of people read tabloid stuff now. That's fine, it's great, and a lot of it's entertaining." Others read Emily Brontë back then, and nowadays read Alice Munro or Alistair MacLeod. "That's great, too."

Richards acknowledged that he hadn't gone back to Blood Ties for a long time, but he was looking forward to revisiting it in the lecture. "I think going back will be pleasant for me. It takes me back to a time when I knew a lot of writers who are gone [now]. So it's going to be nostalgic."

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