When I was a schoolgirl in Ontario, long before my family moved to Newfoundland , I learned the song, I’se The B’y in a music lesson. I expect my protagonist Rachel did too. I had no idea what places like Fogo or Twillingate were like. I learned those place names by rote; precious little thought went into them.
Later, when we moved to Newfoundland we lived in St John’s; beyond excursions to nearby Ferryland, where my uncle lived, we didn’t do much exploring and Fogo didn’t chime any louder.
But for the past few years, Fogo Island has been ding dinging loudly in my thoughts.Ever since I read an article about returned Newfoundlander, Zita Cobb, who built The Fogo Island Inn as a way to turn around the economy of her birthplace. You know it’s very much in vogue when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spends Easter weekend there with his family.
If I ever make it back to Newfoundland, Fogo Island will be on my itinerary.Watch this clip featuring Zita Cobb and tell me you don’t want to go check it out too.
In Chapter 19 of Up She Rises, Rachel impresses Peggy, a fellow teacher, by singing along to the chorus of Drunken Sailor:
“Sure you fits right in, maid,” said Peggy.
I picked at the label on my beer bottle. “My dad used to sing that song.”
She cocked her head. “Is he a Newfoundlander?”
I ignored the present tense. “Irish.”
“We’re more Irish than that crowd in Ireland,” Peggy said, clinking her beer bottle against mine.
Looking at her red hair and freckles, I had to agree.
Last week the Irish Times published an article written by Sinéad Ní Mheallaigh, currently teaching Irish Gaelic in Newfoundland. She says she only fully understood the expression “more Irish than the Irish themselves” when she arrived in Newfoundland. I had to laugh when I read this excerpt from her article:
These people celebrate St Patrick’s Day for a full month. They decorate their houses. They all dress in green for school and work. One bar even has a party on September 17th, marking six months to go. There are a number of Irish-Newfoundland groups here; the Irish Newfoundland association and the Benevolent Irish society both organise annual dances and events. On the morning of St Patrick’s Day, the pubs organise a buffet breakfast from 7.30am, with live music. Schools get a day off to celebrate.
Ni Mheallaigh’s article made me homesick for Newfoundland and Ireland. It’s a lovely piece and well worth a read.
What makes you homesick?
The Newfoundland dialect is wonderful grand. Descriptive, authentic, charming. You couldn’t set a novel in Newfoundland and not include some dialect, but I wanted to get the balance right. Too much and you risk alienating anyone unfamiliar with it, too little and it won’t ring true.
Upon her arrival in Twig, Rachel meets Phonse Flynn and immediately she is faced with a strong accent and unusual vocabulary:
“You might want to save the view for a fine day,” he said. “It’s right mauzy today, see?”
“Mauzy.” He gestured at the air.
Phonse doesn’t explain mauzy to Rachel, but this does:
What do you think about use of dialect in fiction? As a reader or as a writer?
The initial idea for Up She Rises came to me during my studies for a Masters in Creative & Critical Writing at Winchester University. Eventually, the first few chapters were submitted as my dissertation. It was a requirement that students include a critical analysis of their creative component and a friend suggested that I cite the reference book Anne of Tim Hortons.
The book wasn’t available in the UK at the time so I didn’t bother. But it’s the best damn title I’ve ever heard. It incorporates two of my (and Canada’s) most beloved icons: Anne of Green Gables and Tim Horton’s donuts.
During my childhood, I worked my way through the entire Anne oeuvre simultaneously with Tim’s donut range. It doesn’t get much better than that.
When my protaganist Rachel O’Brien arrives in Twig, she has only the contents of two suitcases to help her survive the year. In one suitcase is her comfort read, a battered copy of Anne of Green Gables. Which leads me to the clip below.This is not quite how Rachel arrives in Twig, but it’s a fine example of the brilliant humour of CODCO, a Newfoundland comedy troupe popular in the 1980s.
What’s your comfort read? And why do I want a donut right now?
The title of my novel is Up She Rises, taken from the chorus of a traditional sea shanty called What Do We Do With A Drunken Sailor. It’s a song I heard and sang along to many times during my years in Newfoundland.
I chose the title Up She Rises for two reasons. First, because Rachel is drawn into the traditional music scene in Twig. And second, because she arrives in Twig at a very low time in her life. But over the course of the school year, she begins to rise again.
Enjoy Great Big Sea’s version of the song: