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Author to Author: Lisa Moore interrogates the tragic terrain of Donna Morrissey’s latest novel, The Fortunate Brother.
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Lisa Moore: The Fortunate Brother has been described as a murder mystery. It’s true there is a mystery and the mystery is occasioned by a murder. But this novel feels so deeply embedded in place, circumstance and character, as well as mood, that it seems to me all kinds of mysteries abound. The mystery of grief, the mystery of alcoholism and its hold, and the mystery of love, and its opposite: controlling cruelty. Can you talk about the mystery of the murder here? What did this murder let you explore that might be different from the things you explore in your previous novels?

Donna Morrissey: The thing about murder/mystery is the incredible attention to the slightest detail, as with time – was it 5:30 or 5:35? Who opened the door; did you open the door? Did your father open the door? Were you wearing gloves; was your father; was Kate…?

“Continue Reading… It was fun and yet terrifying, knowing that every single detail had to be accounted for or the entire thing would collapse. Most surprising is the incredulity of watching inanimate objects take on their own life, following a certain pathway as though they too are characters following an arc of development.

Lisa Moore: Between the mother and father in this novel, Addie and Sylvanus Now, there is an abiding love, but it is a love that is vulnerable to the threat of Sylvanus’s drinking. These characters have a deep knowledge and understanding of each other. I found it very moving that you have captured the complexity of a love that is at once enduring and also threatens to burst asunder. How did you do that?

Donna Morrissey: This novel is very closely related to my family. Our parents were deeply in love, we watched them kissing and hugging all during our growing up years. Then, with our brother’s death, my mother watched in dismay as she lost her husband too, to the bottle. She fought bitterly for him. And it broke him to hurt her so. But, his pain was too deep … or, he too weak … to break the addiction. But, despite the fighting/ suffering, they still slept with their arms around each other. I always remember that, how they slept holding each other. Please God they’ve found peace now.

Lisa Moore: The physical setting of the community in your novel is very concrete. If somebody blindfolded me and helicoptered me in, I could find my way around. This is a testament to your powers of description. But even more than the clarity of the physical space where the novel unfolds, there are the more intangible elements of the novel: fog and other kinds of inclement weather, darkness, rain, the navigation of moods and the ways in which people can hide in a small community, even while they are out in the open. How do you, as a writer, make all of these things so concrete and present for the reader?

Donna Morrissey: Mm, tough question, Lisa Moore. I think growing up in small places creates an intimacy between us and it. We learn its every mood, every crevice. We can smell the air for the kind of day it’s going to be. Outdoors is where us kids reigned, searching out nooks, crawling under rocks, lying on our backs, facing whatever the wind, sea and sky was heaving at us. I can’t really get a scene right until I can feel it, and to do that I’ve got to get the weather right and the exact spot where the scene is happening. I never have to think hard; it’s all right there. Just – right there!

Lisa Moore: The Fortunate Brother is taut with suspense. Were you conscious of creating that suspense while you were writing, or did the story simply unfold in front of your writer’s eye, with the suspense more or less built-in? Another way of asking the same question: Was the suspense tweaked in the editing, the way one tunes a guitar? By tightening each strand of the story, very carefully, so as not to break the string, until it rings out music?

Donna Morrissey: Nicely put, the guitar analogy. I think of tension as a string that has to be continuously taut. Actually, I can’t move forward if the string loses its tension. That’s how I always know I’m going wrong or the writing is not deep enough, when I lose the tension. So, yes, I am very conscious of it, it is the energy that drives the writing.

Lisa Moore: Your writing is painterly. If I were to pick your painter-twin, I would say William Turner: stumbling colour, light breaking through veils of mist or fog or smoke, atmospheric conditions that can become suddenly luminous. The reader/ viewer understands what she’s experiencing first with her senses, and then logic or reason. If you had to choose a painting or a piece of music that mirrors some of your stylistic concerns in this novel, what would it be?

Donna Morrissey: Jaysus, Lisa, your questions read like poems … my who? Painter-twin?? Ahem, of course, oh yes, absolutely, William Turner! (Quickly googling here) … Ah! Yes, yes, The Painter of Light … light is everything, everywhere, even in our brightest hour we are grovelling for the light…

Lisa Moore: You have mapped out a parcel of territory in your novels as surely as Faulkner’s “postage stamp.” He has famously said: “I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it.” Do you feel that way about Newfoundland?

Donna Morrissey: Yes. Yes, I do. And now I have this great quote to validate my feelings. All of our greats – George Eliot, Hardy, Steinbeck – they all wrote about their native soil! And our Newfoundland – what hearts do pound and bleed and boast within its rugged crust! No! I shall never leave here.

Lisa Moore: What’s next for Donna Morrissey? Are you one of those writers who is already drawn arse over kettle into the next book when the previous one is just hitting the shelves? Or are you willing to sit back with a flute of champagne, your breath in your fist, enjoying your rich and textured accomplishment, this beautiful novel, The Fortunate Brother?

Donna Morrissey: Aww, gawd, you’ve a way with words. And yup, arse over kettle into the next one. And it’s taking place in old old Newfoundland on the ice fields and my agent bemoans it can never be popular, too bleak, too bleak … and I say, I can’t help it, my maidy, it’s what’s coming. Thank you, Lisa. Thank you very very much! An interview where the questions are more intriguing than the answers (-:

GoodReads: Ask the Author

Readers nominate their favourite authors to ask questions and receive answers.
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Question: How do you deal with writer’s block?

Donna Morrissey: I simply walk. Walking is a stimulant. It oxygenates the brain. It makes images fuller and imagination soar and I become inspired and see the scenes unfolding…..Please God it’s always that way. Great way to keep in shape, too!!

Question: What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Continue Reading… Donna Morrissey: When you’re closing in on the middle of a new story and seeing that yes, yes, there is another book about to be born. That is sooo fulfilling. The knowing that there is another book. And when I’ve written a piece, a metaphor, that reads lovely to me. That feeling is soooo good in the chest!! And of course, readings to individuals who connect with my words and give me their time, to sit and listen to me. That is such an honour. There are no adequate words to say, thank you!!

Question: What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
Donna Morrissey: You simply need to live your life fully. And whenever you’ve a block of time, put yourself in the seat and be loyal to it. Nothing happens if we don’t’ commit ourselves to the seat. )-:

Donna Morrissey: You simply need to live your life fully. And whenever you’ve a block of time, put yourself in the seat and be loyal to it. Nothing happens if we don’t’ commit ourselves to the seat. )-:

Question: What are you currently working on?

Donna Morrissey: Oh, a complex, mysterious story that won’t give itself to me fully, but in little bites and pieces. Always there is the anxiety that the ending will consume itself, that it won’t ever be given to me…

But, trust in the process, Donna. My mantra given to me by a professor who feared I would outrun my life before my life was done living itself.

Question: How do you get inspired to write?

Donna Morrissey: I simply sit and start picking at the keyboard. Inspiration comes from the words I put on the page…when they start making sense and forming images and carrying the story forward.

Donna Morrissey: Oh, a complex, mysterious story that won’t give itself to me fully, but in little bites and pieces. Always there is the anxiety that the ending will consume itself, that it won’t ever be given to me…

But, trust in the process, Donna. My mantra given to me by a professor who feared I would outrun my life before my life was done living itself.

Question: How do you get inspired to write?

Donna Morrissey: I simply sit and start picking at the keyboard. Inspiration comes from the words I put on the page…when they start making sense and forming images and carrying the story forward.

Question: Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?

Donna Morrissey: The Fortunate Brother grew out of two previous books. I wanted to tell my mother’s story, fictional it, but it was not a story that would restrict itself to one novel. Or, two. Finally, with this third, I’ve laid her to rest. Note: All three novels stand on their own, but the characters travel through the pages….different time periods, different voices, different settings….different books!!!! My mother’s story brought to the mythic. Bless!!!!

January Magazine

Interview with Linda Richards
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Atlantic Books Today

Bridgette and Donna Morrissey tell the tale of writing their first children’s book with Michelle Brunet
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The Globe and Mail

Review: The Fortunate Brother is a bold departure for Donna Morrissey
Read Article

Curled Up

Interviewer Luan Gaines chats with Donna about Sylvanus Now
Read Article

Donna on CBC Radio

Atlantic Voice with Angela Antle
A revealing and entertaining conversation with Donna Morrissey about her new novel “The Fortunate Brother”. Angela Antle spoke with Donna at the annual Writers at Woody Point Literary Festival.

The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers
Donna Morrissey on The Fortunate Brother.

CBC NL Virtual Book Club

Awards and Recognitions

Thomas Raddall Award – Winner, 2017 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel of the Year – Winner, 2017
Nova Scotian’s One Book to Read – Winner, 2017 Ontario Evergreen Award – Shortlisted, 2012
Globe & Mail – Top 100 List Commonwealth Award – Shortlisted, 2005
Libris: First Time Author of the Year Award – Winner, 2002 Gemini – Nomination for Best Writing, 2001
Chapters’ Annual First Novel Award – Winner, 2000 Adsum House Award: Woman of the Year – Winner
Lieutenant Governor of NS Master Works Award – Nominated, 2017 Dartmouth Book Award – Shortlisted, 2012
Booksellers Choice Award – Shortlisted, 2009 Booksellers Choice Award – Winner, 2005
Barnes and Noble USA: Discovery Author of the Season – Winner, 2003 Canadian Booksellers Association Novel of the Year – Shortlisted, 2002
Winifred Holtby Prize in England</strong – Winner, 2002 US Margaret Alexander Edwards Award</strong – Winner, 2001