Joel Thomas Hynes is an actor and author from Newfoundland, an actor who has invented himself as a character, loosely based on himself, and then become the author he invented his character to be. Something like that anyway. He’s very funny, touching, acerbic, raw, scatological, and Rabelaisian. He’s a voice, a character actor — everything he writes has that down-home outport dialect that is at once subversive, hilarious and charged with poetry (and offense). He has made himself a piece of performance art, performed himself on stage, in films, in bars, in streets. He has become his other self. Wonderful to see.
This is an excerpt from a new novella, Say Nothing Saw Wood, just published in a beautiful edition by Running the Goat Books & Broadsides in Tors Cove. With illustrations by Gerald Squires. Read the text, and take a look at the video below of his Manifesto monologue.
“O’ great saint Jude, whose traitor-sounding name, by man’s perceptions crude, confused is with the infamy and blame of him who to our gain and his disaster betrayed so kind a Master.”
Lost causes. Great St. Jude. Jude Shannon Traynor. Sounds a bit girlish I s’pose. Shannon is after me mother. Never knew her. Traynor being me father’s crowd. Leonard J. Traynor, so says me birth certificate. J for Joseph or John, one of them other bible names. Use to think it mighta stood for Jude. Len’s long gone too. All was left of him was the hood of his oilskin coat. Boat was called the Shannon Marie. People said Len was just askin for it to name ’er after a dead woman. I always thought it was a nice name for a boat.
They were takin in their gillnets for the year-end. Himself and his brother Angus. October. That undertow off Claire’s Head. So. Yeah. Angus, every time he told the story he always told it different. Sometimes he said Len fell overboard and other times he said he jumped. They stuck the hood of Len’s oilskin into a coffin with a set of rosary beads, a few flowers. Sunk the works into the dirt.
Dont remember much about Leonard. At the hay in the stable one summer, gettin me to jump it down. Never leave the prong lyin flat in the hay. Accident waitin to happen. I got one decent memory of his face, ’bout a month before he was lost. Maybe. Hard to keep things straight. Sometimes I dont know if a memory is a real thing or just some lie I’m tellin meself to help me get by.
Len, standin at me mother’s grave. Sunday clothes. Hard time keepin his balance, sorta lopsided. He dont say a word. Blesses hisself, bangs a nail back into her fence with a chunk of marble. Turns and looks at me. I’m sure he’s gonna crack me one. His teeth are… and his eyes. I used to like to think I had his eyes. Grabs me by the back of the neck and shoves me forward. I trips, lands face first onto me mother’s grave. Next he got me up in his arms, walkin me out through the gates of the graveyard. Funny walk, like he got a limp in both legs. Thick smell of tobacco off him. Tobacco and salt fish.
Tomorrow’s the fifteenth. Twelve years to the day I was shipped off to Dorchester. Life-seven. Non-capital murder. There’s no such thing as that no more. All a matter of degrees nowadays. I aint been back to the Cove in twelve years. I s’pose I’m calmed down a bit. Jail. Few years workin the bush out west, after I got out. Cracked to be headed back, what? I mean, I shagged it up once. Once. I was seventeen years old. A lifetime ago. Sharp as yesterday sometimes too.
The night her purse was found I took to the woods behind the house. Sloshed me way through the Beaver Gullies till I hit the highway in back of the Cove. Long old night. Got a run though. Right to Town. Knocked around the bars on Water Street. Got talkin to some foreign fella off the boats. Offered me a berth. Vodka. I came to in Victoria Park, just about froze to the ground, some old queer rootin at me belt. Missed me boat of course. I got drunker then. Later on that morning I read me name in the paper. Jude Shannon Traynor. It was funny, seein it in print like that. I read it over and over. Just that bit. Just me name.
Couple more days beatin around Town like that and gettin picked up was a bit of a relief, really. Smell of diesel, me head bouncin off the steel floor of the Paddy Wagon. I started screamin for Margie. I mighta been bawlin.
“You need not say anything, you have nothing to hope from any promise or favour and nothing to fear from any threat, whether or not you say anything. Anything you say may be used as evidence.”
Say nothing, saw wood, I said, over and over. Say nothing, saw wood.
Eight weeks locked up in St. John’s waitin to go to court. Lawyers. Doctors. Mounties. Plead guilty, make it easier on yourself. Not guilty, I said. Well, they paraded every arsehole and his dog into the court to have a say about me. This head doctor makin me out to be some kinda crackpot. Fellas I hung around with all me life.
Margie. She wouldnt even look at me in the court. Never once came to see me all the while I was held in St. John’s. Wrote her a bunch of letters from Dorchester. She never wrote back. They werent exactly love letters I s’pose. Couple of letters from Harold when I first went away. Deep shit, how some moose tried to mount a cow in the lower meadow. Harold. One thing that struck me as odd though was Harold’s version of how the purse was found. How Mrs. Alfreda’s horse found the purse in the stall of our stable, carried it down the lane in his mouth and dropped it at Angus’s feet. But how there was a few fellas standing around at the time. Don Keough and them. How they all put it together that something wasnt quite right, that there mighta been something else. Poor old Angus, no choice but to turn me in. I s’pose it all gets twisted up after a while and it dont matter what the truth is so long as there’s a good story. And everyone else’s hands are clean.
—Joel Thomas Hynes
And watch JTH’s MANIFESTO here.
Joel Thomas Hynes is the award winning author of the novels Down to the Dirt and Right Away Monday; the notoriously cheeky chapbook God Help Thee: A Manifesto; a collection of poetic non-fiction called Straight Razor Days; the novella Say Nothing Saw Wood; and numerous acclaimed stageplays. Hynes has written and directed two short films, Clipper Gold and Little Man, and has also performed numerous leading and principle roles for television and film including Down to The Dirt, Crackie, Hatching Matching and Dispatching, Rabbitown, Republic of Doyle and Re-Genesis. His first novel, Down to the Dirt, is available in numerous translations around the globe and has been adapted to stage and the big screen. The movie, featuring Hynes in the lead role, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, received many accolades and awards at national festivals and was showcased at Cannes Film Festival. Hynes most recently penned the feature film adaptation of Say Nothing Saw Wood, which is currently in post-production and will hit the festival circuit in the spring of 2014.