From Newfoundland to California, 'outcasts and renegades' keep Joel Thomas Hynes busy

For Joel Thomas Hynes, the Winterset win was personal

If you aren't familiar with his work, you could be forgiven for assuming that Joel Thomas Hynes is a full-time novelist.

After all, his most recent book We'll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night, part of the inaugural year of NL Reads, was longlisted for the Giller Prize and won the English fiction Governor-General's Literary Award in November.

But Newfoundland-born Hynes is a quintessential mutli-hyphenate creator, with credits not only as a writer but also as a musician, actor, producer, and director on his long artistic resume.

He's glad to indulge the writing itch when it comes, Hynes said, but ultimately he's glad to have different projects to juggle, even with the inevitable complications that arise.

"To be honest with you, I'm very happy to be able to do other things and pursue other careers in the arts because I think the life of a novelist is very, very solitary," Hynes said. "I don't know if I would genuinely want that."

He has plenty of upcoming chances to indulge his multiple creative sides, even if the award win for his fourth novel does have him booked up solidly for speaking engagements and appearances over the coming months.

Hynes is the creator, star, and an executive producer of Little Dog, a comedy series premiering on CBC on March 1.

A few days later he'll be back in Newfoundland to release his latest albumDead Man's Melody at The Ship Inn in St. John's on March 6. 

After that he'll join the travelling 2018 program of The March Hare, Atlantic Canada's largest poetry festival.

"I'm juggling a lot of different creative endeavours and hoping for the best, and trying to work out a strategy that doesn't always pay off," Hynes said of his busy career in the arts.

But sometimes — like when you win one of the country's most prestigious literary awards — it does.

Not the most conventional approach

Now that his teenaged son Percy Hynes White — whose mother Sherry White is a producer on the television series Frontier — has begun acting, Hynes has the experience of seeing the industry in another light.

"It's been very interesting," Hynes said of watching his son navigate his own path in the entertainment industry. 

"It looks a certain way from the outside, for sure. It just looks like all great news and fabulous news and opportunity and all that, but it's also very challenging. He's 16 years old and has those sorts of interests, you know? He's very interested in being 16 years old and hanging with his friends."

Hynes isn't sure that his own 15-plus years in film and television have necessarily shown his son, who recently appeared on the television series The Gifted, a clear path forward in the industry.

"My approach hasn't always been the most conventional approach. I run with my ideas first and I don't care if there's money on the other end of it, or if there's awards or anything like that on the other end of it. I live for the kind of meditative qualities of creating," Hynes said.

"But thankfully he's got the foundation underneath him to be able to rise up to the challenge, and he's doing a really good job."

Writing from a different coast

Hynes has begun work on his next book, which will focus on a place that has become a home away from home over the past decade and a half: Venice Beach, California.

"I'm writing about a kid who grew up on the breach down here, surviving on the beach, so I'm working with a lot of fairly modern urban slang and that sort of thing. But I don't know if it's such a grand departure, to be honest," Hynes said of the novel, which is still in its early stages.

"I've been coming back down here for about 15 years now and just sort of waiting for the right story, the right type of character, and the timing," Hynes said. "So I think I'm gonna run with it now. I don't feel like I'm appropriating someone else's town since it's been my adopted homeland for a long time now down here."

A warm-weather locale may not seem familiar to Newfoundlanders, and indeed Hynes has typically situated his writing on the island. We'll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night was something of a departure, with its main character taking a grief-fuelled roadtrip across the country from Newfoundland to the Pacific coast.

But Venice Beach may still feel familiar to fans because it draws many of the same types of people that tend to populate Hynes' writing.

"No matter how broken you are or what your story is or where you've come from or what you've risen up out of or what you're running from, people say if you can last long enough to make it to Venice Beach you'll be okay," Hynes said.

"This area that I stay in has just got outcasts and renegades and broken-winged individuals from all over the U.S. and Canada and Europe. People come down here to drop out of mainstream society. So it's not that foreign, in terms of the types of characters that I'm interested in."

The panel discussion for NL Reads will be held at the A.C. Hunter Library, on the third floor, in St. John's on Feb. 28 at 6:30 p.m. Readers can also vote online for their favourite of the four selected books.