Bloggers: A lesson from Roddy Doyle and Stompin’ Tom Connors

Books really can cause a stir. Particularly when the authors are Roddy Doyle and Stompin’ Tom Connors – you know, rock star, party-worthy types.

Both came to mind this week – Stompin’ Tom because he passed away on Wednesday; Roddy Doyle because I came upon an article he wrote about writing. They’re both cultural giants, and they both had book launches this town still remembers.

I’d never seen so many people at a reading before I saw Roddy Doyle pack to the rafters a nondescript brown building on Dupont Ave. in the west end of Toronto. The building was then the Irish Canadian Cultural Centre (or something like that). So a place used to a party.

But I’ll wager they rarely attracted a crowd like Roddy did. The night he was there he was reading from Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha. The place was jammed with  the various media and literati types that get invited to things like these as well as regulars to the cultural centre. The Irish diaspora rounded things out.

Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

One of the regulars was sanguinely – as only the Irish can – making a case for stopping by each week. “Look,” he said as he lifted his pint to his lips. “If you’re going out of a night anyway, why not stop by here first for a pint or two?” He took a long draught. “It wouldn’t do you any harm and would help us out.”

For some reason I never got back there. Perhaps they really did need the help – the building now holds a Portuguese Cultural Centre – a sign of how the area around it is changing. One wave of immigrants comes, moves on, and another one moves in.

When he wrote Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha he was still a school teacher with two babies at home.

Which begs the question: if he can find the time to write, why can’t I? That, basically, was the gist of the article I came across last week. It was tweeted out from The Giller Prize, Canada’s biggest literary award – the Grammys of literary awards with a big purse to boot – of which he has been a judge.

Doyle’s advice: ‘Just do it. Make the time’. He put aside an hour a day – even with a full-time job and a full family life – and wrote books that have captured some of his country’s culture.

If Roddy Doyle can put aside an hour a day well, maybe so can we.

We may not be able to capture our country’s culture – but we don’t all have to be literary. Sometimes hard work and the simplest ideas capture a culture.

Stompin’ Tom Connors’ certainly did. During his lifetime he was an abundantly prolific songwriter – a folksy country artist, one of the few who actually tried to mythologize towns, big and small, across this country. Sudbury. Tillsonburg. He captured the things Canadians love and turned them into something we could sing about. Hockey. Celebrated the people and legends. Big Joe Mufferaw. Lady k.d. lang.

Stompin' Tom Connors

Stompin’ Tom Connors

As one writer in Maclean’s magazine notes, “Stompin’ Tom Connors knew a country without culture does not exist.   A country that doesn’t know how to tell its own stories is illiterate and irrelevant…”

Which is why, when Stompin’ Tom came out with his memoirs a number of years back, his book launch was one of the hottest parties in town. It was held at the appropriately evocative The Matador – a legendary after hours club that had hosted some of the best musicians in country music over the years.

While this was a book launch, music was his true medium and so Stompin’ Tom took to the stage to tell us something about himself by playing his music.

This is the song I asked him to play: 

It may seem a silly little ditty but it captures something about this country and something about himself – what he noticed, what he thought important enough to write about.

The same goes for the rest of us out here, trying to tell our own little stories – some of us better than others. The way we see things, the things we notice, our observations on the world. They count.

So when we don’t think we can find the time to write about them – think of Roddy Doyle. Or when we think we don’t have anything important enough to write about – think of Stompin’ Tom.

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  1. Do Canadians generally have a strong national identity Deb, or is the country just too big? Regional is easier to identify with I guess. As an outsider I wouldn’t link country music with Canada. And trust the Irish to have their own community – Roddy Doyle is a great writer all right.

    1. That’s a huge question, Roy! In fact, asking ‘what is the Canadian identity’ is something of a pastime in this country. Sure, there are regional identities – Newfoundland, Quebec, the West, British Columbia – but there are also characteristics that transcend region. Some would say one of those is multi-culturalism, although that can be a loaded word. If I were to recommend writers to read to get a sense – probably Michael Ondaatje (In the Skin of a Lion); Mordechai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is considered a classic – but there are tons of new writers out there as well – Andrew Pyper for mystery; Lisa Moore and Anne-Marie MacDonald spring to mind. Our fiction is fairly diverse – but perhaps that’s just a reflection of what inspires it.

  2. Thanks for making me smile this morning as I watched the Stompin’ Tom video. A lot of inspiration for bloggers as well as writers, nicely summed up in your last paragraph.

    1. Thanks, Judy. I don’t know about you, but I do find it difficult to find the time to write. As these two show, you’ve just got to do it because you love it.

  3. There’s a lesson for us all in this post. Sometimes we spend too much time trying to find the words instead of just recording the ones that are already there. Stompin’ Tom showed how it was possible to capture the flavor of something in a simple way, and don’t all chefs say the simplest dishes, where you can taste each ingredient, are the best.
    Despite only having lived here for a couple of years, I couldn’t help feeling a tug of sadness at Tom’s passing – it seemed as though Canada had lost a piece of itself. Here’s my post marking the occasion:

    1. Read your article – nice tribute – and insightful comments. Yes, we can really overthink our posts sometimes … to the point where we get bogged down in the process instead of just letting the words and the writing flow. You may have to rework the writing, finesse the ideas … but the point is to just write.

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