The Next Chapter

Why Kevin Hardcastle writes about the day-to-day struggles of the working class

The Toronto-based writer discusses the inspiration behind his debut novel, In the Cage.
Kevin Hardcastle's debut novel is called In The Cage. (Biblioasis/Katrina Afonso)

Kevin Hardcastle is a busy writer. He is currently a juror for the 2018 CBC Short Story Prize and he was named as a writer to watch by CBC Books earlier this year. His debut short story collection, Debris, won the Trillium Book Award in 2016 and his first novel, In the Cage, came out this September. 

Hardcastle spoke to Shelagh Rogers about the inspiration behind In the Cage, which follows Daniel, a former mixed martial artist, who is reluctantly pulled into the criminal underworld when he starts working for a local gangster. 

Exploring the high stakes of everyday life 

"I love to write about things where something is at stake. With poor or working-class people, and people going through day-to-day struggles, something is always at stake. Day-to-day things that might seem like a nuisance become fatal for some people. So automatically there is drama, a story. Then you have to write characters that readers will care about that go through this. The minutia of their lives becomes much more interesting because everything matters. Everything that they are doing has an impact and it can have a catastrophic impact depending on how it goes."

Finding inspiration in his father's story

"I saw Daniel as a somebody who had a lot of skill and a lot of potential, but it never gets realized. He keeps missing his shot. That was mostly informed by my father. Daniel was a welder because that was my dad's trade. He was a very skilled man, but he could never get proper work where we lived. That was an immediate entry point to the character. But my dad wasn't a tough guy like Daniel. Daniel is a macho, trained and skilled fighter.

"It's the idea of somebody who has to keep bashing their head against the wall — and they are doing it for the people they love — but they just can't catch a break. That's what life does to a lot of people."

Using violence as a driving force

"It seems to come naturally to me and it doesn't bother me at all. I don't know how it ended up being my speciality, but I think it's one of the things I do best. While it is difficult and it isn't for everybody, I had to find a way to do it where it doesn't alienate readers or becomes oppressive. It's not there to be edgy. It's not violence just for violence's sake. It has a purpose. I try to be economical and I try to have it be a driving factor of a story. If I'm going to use it, I have to use it right."

​Kevin Hardcastle's comments have been edited and condensed.