Terry Doyle recently accepted The Percy Janes First Novel Award for his novel Union, at the 2017 NL Arts and Letters Awards at The Rooms.
The Percy Janes Award is named for the acclaimed Newfoundland author, known for his novel House of Hate. The $2500 award is presented annually to a first time-novelist from Newfoundland and Labrador for an exceptional, unpublished manuscript.
Past winners of the award. such as Joel Thomas Hynes, Sara Tilley, Patrick Warner, and Craig Francis Power have all gone on to great acclaim in writing careers.
“I was over the moon when I learned I won. I heard in February so I had to keep it somewhat of a secret for three months, but I didn’t do a great job of that because I was too excited,” Doyle said.
Doyle began writing fiction while travelling in his early twenties. Inspired by the honesty in Dave Eggers’ semi-autobiographical novel A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Doyle decided he wanted to be a writer and started work on a novel.
When he got home, Doyle worked for 4 years on a novel before quitting. Afterward he got a trade, got married, and became a father, almost forgetting his previous ambitions. However in February of last year a close friend of his became ill and Doyle found himself writing again.
“My best friend, Justin, was diagnosed with brain cancer and that was the catalyst that got me to start writing again … That was my motivation, I wanted to do something I could be proud of and not have regrets. I saw my friend knowing that he wasn’t going to live, that was a profound couple of months for me,” Doyle explained.
Doyle began by keeping a journal about the time he spent with his friend. While the process of writing was therapeutic, documenting what his friend was going through became painful.
Doyle switched to writing a new novel, Union, which draws heavily on his experiences of working as a residential plumber and working on an industrial site at Bull Arm.
“I realized that in the interim when I wasn’t writing I had gained all this life experience that no one else was writing about which was being a tradesperson,” Doyle said.
During the writing process Doyle struggled with grief but having his young son in his life kept him focused.
“He’s happy and positive and affectionate, if it hadn’t been for him I just wouldn’t have been in a place mentally where I could work on this novel,” Doyle said.
In the fall of last year he brought twenty pages of Union to Sara Tilley who was the Writer In Residence at Memorial University. As a past recipient of the Percy Janes award, she encouraged him to submit his draft to the prize. Doyle wasn’t expecting to win and was thrilled when he heard.
“It’s pretty special to be associated with Percy Janes, it’s a huge honour. I read House Of Hate for good karma after I submitted by manuscript,” Doyle joked.
Doyle was reluctant to give advice for other first time novelists, saying he didn’t feel qualified. When pushed, he handed out some encouraging recommendations.
“I think that first draft can be as rough as possible: just get the story down, don’t worry about the quality of the sentences or making mistakes. Just get the ideas out until you get to the end. Once you get to the end of the story you’ll to have time to go back and fix it, edit it, make it better,” Doyle said.
Doyle is currently polishing the most recent draft of Union with the plan to begin sending it out to publishing houses. He already has an idea in mind for a second novel.