Where I Write: Michael Crummey

He is a nimbly versatile novelist (the magnificent Sweetland, Galore, and River Thieves) and poet (I am a huge fan of Hard Light.) Michael Crummey also happens to have a beautiful speaking voice; if you have listened to him read from his work then you may have the experience, while reading his new poetry collection, Little Dogs, of "hearing" it too.

Michael lives in St. John's, where he explores themes that are both particular to Newfoundlanders and common to all. He was recently awarded the inaugural Writers' Trust Fellowship.

Here is where he works: 

This little room used to be a youngster's bedroom, before she decided she wanted to get as far from her parents as the house allowed. She nagged me into swapping my basement office for these digs six years ago. It's a small space, and I decided one wall would be required for books. The floor-to-ceiling bookshelves were measured and cut by my friend Stan Dragland. I managed to hammer and glue them together myself and so far they have held up (although the brackets I initially used to secure them to the wall were insufficient to the weight of those books and the whole thing almost came down on me).


My writing desk is made from leftover bookshelf material and the base of an old metal desk that had been gathering dust in a back porch for years. I am not handy but years of home ownership have forced me to learn a thing or two. I am still inordinately proud of putting together anything that doesn't immediately come apart at the seams.

When my office was located in the basement, I rarely made the trek downstairs. It just didn't seem worth the effort. Most of my writing happened at the dining room table in those days. Except for the dogs, I was alone in the house during school hours so there was plenty of quiet time. But even in the evenings, I would set up there while the youngsters did homework or watched television or picked at one another. I loved how the kids would interrupt to ask what I was working on and glaze over ten seconds into my explanation. They were just trying to be polite, I guess, to include me in their world. But my life made no sense to them. 

            “So,” the youngest said one evening, “you just sit home all day and, like, write stuff?” He was about ten years old at the time.

            “Yeah,” I said. “More or less.”

            “Huh,” he said. “And that's how you make money?”

            “More or less, yeah.”

            “Huh,” he said. And a minute later he said, “That seems like a pretty sweet set up.”

            Yes, as a matter of fact. Yes, it is.

Now that I have an office on the main floor, within a few feet of the kettle, I spend most of my work time at the desk. Although privacy is still not something I can count on or expect. The door is always open and everyone sticks their head in on their way along the hall, the same way the dogs or the cat will wander in to stare at me a while. (My life makes no sense to them, either.) Before she moved into her own place, our oldest liked to sit on the floor with the animals from time to time, telling me about her work or some weekend party. She's been out of the house a week and I already miss those visits.

            As I write this, the daughter who abandoned my office for the basement wandered in to stand by the desk. “What's 54 Hours?” she asked. (The NFB poster is a brand new addition to the decor.)

            “An animated film about the Newfoundland sealing disaster of 1914,” I said.

            “You wrote it?”

            “Yeah, I did.”

            She nodded. “You get paid?”

            “Yeah,” I said. “I got paid.”

            She nodded again, as if it was her job to ensure the financial well-being of the household is a consideration in whatever the hell I'm up to in here. Then she left to carry on with her own more sensible business, without asking what the hell I'm up to in here.

But since you asked: I've just finished a New and Selected poems called Little Dogs, out with Anansi this spring. And I'm working on a couple of documentary film projects, one about the Newfoundland Regiment during the First World War and another about (Hey! Hey! Your eyes are glazing over!) the lives of migrant Filipino workers who've found themselves in Goose Bay, Labrador. And any day now, I swear, sooner rather later, eventually, I'm gonna start working on another novel.