It's always something with Kenneth J. Harvey, who once described himself as "the bad boy of Canadian literature, battling against colonial complacency in the CanLit status quo."
Thing is, the pride and terror of St. John's isn't a boy any more. He turned 51 in January and he's the father of three children, the oldest 25, the youngest 17. Still, he has that youthful energy and determination that in the last 25 years has produced more than 15 often acclaimed books (novels, short-story and poetry collections, among them), a handful of short films and much else, including the creation of the ReLit Awards celebrating independent Canadian publishing and a still-functioning blog, sanctioned in 2000 by the World Intellectual Property Organization no less, criticizing Walmart Canada.
Of course, in some quarters Harvey remains most famous for affixing tiny slices of his own skin to promotional copies of his then-latest novel, Skin Hunt (There Are No Words), about a St. John's serial killer in the Hannibal Lecter mode. But that was 13 years ago and he was only 38 – a (relative) youngster, in other words.
These days a more mature Harvey is on the prowl for $20,000. That's what's needed, he claims, to complete post-production and prepare promotion for The Slattery Street Crockers, a half-hour pilot, Harvey-written and -directed, for a projected 10-episode TV series described as "Coronation Street– meets-Feild Street." The latter is a real, rough-and-tumble neighbourhood of row houses in downtown St. John's where Harvey lived for six years among its "mishmash of workers, punks, dope dealers, old-timers and artsy types." The Crockers are a clan of "thieves, musicians, wannabe movie stars," headed by Samuel Crocker, a municipal worker, "visionary and dynamite keg," and wife/matriarch, Patsy, "defrocked nun and lottery junkie."
Budget for the pilot was a paltry $60,000, meaning the all-Newfoundland crew and cast, composed mostly of unknowns, "did [it] for $100 a day," Harvey explained in a recent interview. This included youngest daughter Emma, cast as Lucy Crocker, the wannabe movie star and "teenaged kleptomaniac." The hope is to push the budget to $100,000 an episode "to pay actors and crew union wages." In the meantime, of the $20,000 Harvey needs sooner rather than later to ensure the pilot airs, as contracted, on NTV in late summer, he's seeking $10,000 via online crowd-sourcing. Twenty bucks will let you sneak-preview a couple of scenes, $5,000 means you're an executive producer. "Various other contribution levels receive other perks, such as an invite to the world premiere of episode one to party with cast and crew."
The Slattery Street Crockers is Harvey's first foray into television. However, with at least five films to his credit – the latest, Geek Assassin, is out in late spring – and a father, Josiah, who trained at the NFB in Montreal, he's no stranger to the squint behind the camera viewfinder. Impressively, too, he's signed Emmy-winning Norm Hiscock ( King of the Hill, Parks and Recreation, Corner Gas, Saturday Night Live ) as consulting producer for The Slattery Street Crockers, and if it goes to series, Hiscock has agreed to direct an episode or two. "[Ken] has a very distinctive voice and knows what he wants. To work on something that he's created would be awesome … fun," Hiscock said from Los Angeles. "His themes and characters are very relatable."
Hiscock, Montreal-born, and Harvey go back to the early 1980s when both were students at Memorial University in St. John's. Harvey always knew he wanted to write and make movies, Hiscock observed, whereas "I had no idea what I wanted to do. But Ken's father owned his own film company … and he was kind enough to show me how to load and use a 16-mm film camera one day. That's when I knew I wanted to something with film or TV."
The two have kept in touch over the years, with Harvey sending Hiscock copies of his books as they came off the press. Naturally, "he sent me The Slattery Street Crockers script for notes and comments," Hiscock said. "I liked it right away . . . I had hardly any notes and mostly just praise … I think it's going to be great."
When fans of Harvey's literary oeuvre see The Slattery Street Crockers' pilot, they'll find it very much in the key and timbre he's been playing since his first story collection, Directions for an Opened Body, came out in 1990. "It is a bit of everything," he agreed. "Comedy, grittiness, drama, darkness, soap opera." At the same time, he stresses it's not "a silly spoof. It is about the real Newfoundland, the core of it, the serious, proud, defiant Newfoundlander."
Warming to his subject, he went on: "I have always had an affinity for the working-class and the downtrodden, the hard-luck story, for that sense of busted up, wounded eloquence . . . [Newfoundlanders] have been beaten by so many blows that we have learned to develop a sense of humour or die …We hold fast to a sort of crippled humour that keeps us propped on our feet and holds us from toppling over."