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the book report

Alan Doyle

Alan Doyle's first book, 2014's Where I Belong, was a national bestseller; prior to that, he was best known as an actor – his credits include the CBC series Republic of Doyle – and for fronting the Celtic-folk band Great Big Sea. His new book, A Newfoundlander in Canada, was just published by Doubleday Canada. He lives in St. John's.

What scares you as a writer?

Nothing scares me as much as confessing secrets in writing. There's something about a permanent record of deeply personal thoughts or fears. It is like something you can never go back from. In my new book, I confess to feeling ashamed of my first reactions to a tense situation at a gig in Ottawa, and how my first instinct was to make the gig go smoothly rather than stick up for Newfoundland. I admit to feeling so guilty that I even considered anything but outright objection to the whole scene. For whatever reason, I find it much more emotional to write these feelings than to say them out loud.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

When I got my first big acting gig, a seasoned actor pal advised me: "They've hired you because they want you. So just be you and you'll be fine." So in everything I do – acting, writing, songs, whatever – I try to always remember that the more I can be myself, the better it should be received. I don't write lyrics in my songs for me to sing if they are not words and phrases I would not normally use. If I don't say it, I don't sing it.

Which fictional character do you wish you'd created?

Sherlock Holmes. It would be so fun to try and come up with crimes and solutions for him every week or so. I suppose it would be challenging as well, but what a feat to be the person who puts the answers to a mystery in Sherlock's head.

What's the best sentence you've ever written?

"There was once a boy who lived in a tiny fishing village on an island in the middle of the ocean." I love it because it perfectly describes how I see my younger life as a near-fairytale. My childhood was very unusual for a guy who was around 10 years old in 1980. Most of my stories from that time are like my friends' grandparents' stories. In the strangest kind of way, I got to live the same childhood as my father. Not many can say the same, so I'm glad I found a way to demonstrate how I think my childhood hometown is somewhat of a Narnia.

If aliens landed on Earth, which book would you give them to teach them about humanity?

I would like them see the best we are capable of, I suppose, so I figure John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany as it shows anything is possible for anyone. The title character is such an unlikely hero. I'd want the aliens to know that in humanity amazing things can hide in places we might not instantly think of.

Which book do you think is underappreciated?

Ken Dryden's The Game. Often overlooked as just a sports book, this is one of the best counsels on teamwork and team-building I have ever read. The challenges of the greatest sports team in history are so similar to the challenges of a band, or business, or family. I remember touring with Great Big Sea in Germany in the late nineties and reading and rereading this book as I could not believe how many of my hockey hero's stories about dealing with a teammate, or the struggles of balancing home life and travel, were just like what I was experiencing in a van on the Autobahn.

What's the best death scene in literature?

I cannot imagine a more tragic irony than Romeo taking his own life as he assumes Juliet has died, but of course is just under the spell of a drug. It is heartbreaking every time. I've seen dozens of theatrical productions of it and I'm still tempted to shout, "Wait, man! She's just sleeping!"

British writer Kazuo Ishiguro wins the Nobel Prize for Literature, marking a return to traditional interpretations of the prize after singer-songwriter Bob Dylan won last year.


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