There are a handful of Newfoundland authors whose names I heard over and over while growing up. Kevin Major is one of them. Some of his novels such as his first book Hold Fast, I discovered years ago as a teenager. Hold Fast was published in 1978 and just this summer has been turned into a movie. You can follow its progress on Facebook. Other novels such as No Man’s Land, which I’ll review this weekend, my siblings introduced to me when they read them as part of their high school curriculum. This week, I had the great pleasure of actually interviewing Kevin Major.
Allison: You grew up in Stephenville and have since lived in Eastport and St. John’s. How did these places shape you as an author?
Kevin: Growing up in Stephenville didn’t amount to a typical Newfoundland upbringing. My parents had come from outport Newfoundland to settle there. We were freshly Canadian, and we were living next door to a very large U.S. Air Force Base. Let’s just say I came under a lot of different influences. I have yet to explore Stephenville as a fictional setting, but I think it will come. Eastport was an entirely different experience. Rural life was new to me and certainly was a stimulus for my early books, such as Hold Fast.
Allison: What are some of your favorite Newfoundland traditions? Have you ever encountered mummers?
Kevin: Bonfire Night. Gathering capelin on a beach. Jigging for squid. And, not only have I encountered mummers, I have been one on a few occasions.
Allison: What is the most unusual Newfoundland food you have eaten? Where can one buy the best fish meal?
Kevin: I love what people on the Eastport Peninsula called “scrad”, which is lightly salted cod, dried for just a couple of days. That and bakeapple tarts with a dollop of can cream.
Allison: After graduating from university, you traveled widely abroad. What did you most miss about Newfoundland? What brought you back?
Kevin: Newfoundland to me is family and landscape. Both drew me back and held me here. That and a sense of humour in the face of hard times.
Allison: A lot of people ultimately leave Newfoundland for work. What keeps you here?
Kevin: Writers have the luxury of living where they want. I saw no reason to be near the centre of publishing in Canada, i.e. Toronto. I preferred to maintain a distance. I like being in the midst of what I am writing about.
Allison: Why did you write first for young people? Why have you started recently writing for adults?
Kevin: My initial interest in writing for young people came from my years as a teacher in outport Newfoundland. It came from seeing that none of the novels available for my students to read were set in any place familiar to them, or spoke to them in their own voice.
I think I explored all the themes I wanted to explore in writing about young people. It was time to move on. I have actually moved in two directions, books for younger kids, and books for adults.
Allison: How did you balance the unpredictable schedule of being a substitute with trying to produce regular writing?
Kevin: It was a good balance. I was working essentially in one school. So there weren’t the pressures of a new school with a new collection of unknown faces each day. I am disciplined with my time, an essential trait as a writer.
Allison: I admire how you have embraced your position as a leading author of Newfoundland-based books. Have you ever been tempted to expand your scope?
Kevin: The best of universal writing is also regional. The themes are broad, but are grounded firmly in a local setting. Generally, I see no reason to choose other settings. There is all too much to write about here.
Allison: Congrats on Hold Fast being made into a movie! My understanding is that production of this film just wrapped up. I read some details on your blog. Are there any other behind-the-scenes impressions you can share with my readers? When and where will the movie be released? I’d love to see it!
Kevin: It’s been very exciting to see Hold Fast in production as a movie. It was shot in various places around Newfoundland (Tors Cove, Bauline, Gros Morne, etc.), so visually it will be wonderful. I am thrilled that almost all the cast and crew are from Newfoundland. And to get such fine young actors in the two boys at the core of the story (after a tireless search across the province) is especially thrilling. The movie will shine. Those young men will touch your heart.
Allison: Your newest book New Under the Sun was rejected many times. After having so many books published, were you surprised to have to search awhile to find a publisher? How did you keep faith in it? What encouragement would you offer to aspiring authors?
Kevin: Nothing surprises me about publishers anymore. (That was not the first struggle I had finding a publisher when I’ve written something off the track of what I have done before.) Belief in oneself is an absolute necessity as a writer. If you are an aspiring author, hold to that belief. You might have to pay the bills with another job, but hold strong, and hopefully your work will land in the lap of an editor who understands you.
Allison: You attended at least a few literary festivals in Newfoundland. What do you feel are the benefits of them?
Kevin: They bring authors and readers together. They celebrate the written word. They give everyone something to feel good about. They are places that raise the writing spirit.
Allison: What’s next?
Kevin: Write, write, rewrite, rewrite. And in the end, a new adult historical novel. Set in Newfoundland … and New York.