Books·Magic 8 Q&A

How Joel Thomas Hynes was surprised by his main character

The author of We'll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Joel Thomas Hynes is the author of We'll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night. (HarperCollins)

Joel Thomas Hynes knows how to tell stories in many different forms. The novelist, screenwriter, musician and author has appeared in television series such as Frontier and Orphan Black and has written books like Say Nothing, Saw Wood.

His latest book is the dark and funny novel We'll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night, which won the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction was longlisted for the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Below, Hynes answers eight questions submitted by eight of his fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.

1. Sharon Butala asks, "What is the main question that you wish somebody would ask you, although nobody ever has?"

There are a whole lot of questions I kinda wish people wouldn't ask me. It gets so personal out there. I wish they'd ask me about my boots for a change. I have a very particular taste in boots.

2. Charlotte Gill asks, "What does your afterlife look like?"*

3. Pasha Malla asks, "Who is one writer, living or dead, who you wish could edit or critique your drafts?"

Salinger! For the novelty alone. "Yeah, J.D. Salinger edited my new book, no big deal, we're friends. Yes he's dead, but how else was I supposed to get to him?"

4. Jowita Bydlowska asks, "Would you rather win the Scotiabank Giller Prize or have your book made into a movie starring Kiefer Sutherland and why?"

I would much rather win the Giller. Kiefer would cost much more than the Giller Prize payout. And isn't the money what it's all about? Isn't THAT what we're all in it for?

5. Greg Hollingshead asks, "What role does self-doubt play in your life as a writer?"

I've often wondered what self-doubt must feel like. I hear it's awful. So glad that I've never ever experienced a moment of it in my entire writing life. Ever.

6. J.J. Lee asks, "Superman or Batman?"

Again with the personal questions.

7. Shani Mootoo asks, "What was the best surprise you had in the process of writing your latest published book?"

I suppose I was eventually surprised to discover an emotional attachment to my main guy, Johnny Keough. I didn't expect that. But I developed quite a fondness for him. I was doing a rewrite of a section last year and found my heart pounding for him. And it wasn't about pulling off the writing, but more or less I came to feel this sense of service towards a character who was, by nature, very difficult to know. And I went through periods where I hated him, really. To come out of it all feeling genuine compassion toward a presumably sociopathic character was a very interesting experience for me.

8. David McGimpsey asks, "If a robot wrote beautiful poetry, should the robot be eligible to win the Governor General's Literary Award?"

Hold up a second, is the Governor General's Literary Award open to humans?

*I thought it would be poetic and just the right amount of literary pretense to leave question number 2, about the afterlife, blank. To say the afterlife looks like a blank page, or an unanswered question. But then I thought, don't do it, Hynes. They'll see right through it. Then I thought it would also be kinda poetic if, by chance, I might have overlooked that one. But I didn't. I deliberated long and hard over it. Came up with a bunch of different takes on the ideal afterlife, for me. Tried to sound smart and profound. What Hell would look like (maybe perpetually looped in my childhood kitchen with the smell of onions boiling, the pot rattling on the stove and my father on his way home from work). But in any event, I conclude, I'm either dead lazy or an atheist or I believe this IS the afterlife, and I'm gradually getting it right.