A Q&A session By the Crazy Irishman with Martin Durkin, Author of: SteelTown For Mary, Memoirs From a Dick
- Q:How did the idea for this book come about?A: Well, my wife was raised in Hamilton, but for 9 years prior to 2008, we had been living in different cities between Kingston and Oakville. During that time, she would tell people about her love for this great city. You could tell it was in her bones. Yet quite often, for people who don’t live here, or have never bothered to visit, they would kinda chuckle and joke about it being smog town. I could tell it hurt her, and it got me to thinking, that I needed to learn more about the city she loves since, I didn’t grow up here.
Early in our marriage around 2004, my wife had an internship at Rogers in Toronto. So for the first time, I was coming to Hamilton to live while she did a 3 month run in T-dot. We packed up our belongings in two trucks and in the middle of the night with help from her family, we drove to Hamilton. Her step father owned a welding shop just off of Burlington Street, and in the back it had living quarters – by which I mean a sink, a microwave, and a shower. We quickly got a bed and set up house. During that time, she commuted to Toronto and I worked with my father in law. Each morning I would drive her from Kenilworth over to the GO Station on Hunter. It was mid winter, so the Christmas decorations were out, and at 5am the city was quiet and beautiful. Hamilton was starting to sink in. While working with my Father-in-law, I was able to see every part of Hamilton working the construction sites.
After 3 months, and a job opportunity back towards the Quinte area where I am originally from, we left and Hamilton was far from my mind. But in that time, the pride of the city, the Skyway Bridge and the Ontario waters were very much becoming a romantic setting in my mind, which would become part of my book.
- Q: So in essence, this book is a love story seen through your eyes and written to your wife?A: Much of it yes, when I talk about the waters, unicorns on the waves, or the Skyway – it is very much her and about the things she shared to me. But that includes the grit and the dirt, and the pride of the city overall. By living in the tougher part of the city for 3 months, I saw it all, and it was invigorating.
- Q: So when did the idea for a detective story come about?A: Well, in 2008, my wife decided she wanted to go back to school and get a degree. She was accepted by McMaster and eventually earned her Masters.
When we initially drove back to Hamilton and were looking at apartments, we searched mostly in the downtown area. While driving around the Hess Village area, I told my wife I was going to write something about Hamilton that would make her proud. In the past, I had written two books of poetry and decided I wanted to write a book of fiction, make it a mystery. Somehow though, everything went on the back burner for about 2 years. I was working in Waterdown on a horse farm, and then in Toronto at an office, my writing had almost dried up. In her 3rd year of school, I decided to sit out on our balcony in the Corktown neighbourhood and start writing a short murder mystery story, and use what I saw around me as a backdrop. I would include the apartment we lived in, the churches, and everything else within plain view, including the abandoned building directly below our apartment building.
- Q: How did the short murder mystery become a collection of poems, which read like a story?A: Well, I had written several short stories about a cop and a few short stories about my neighbourhood, but they weren’t going anywhere. I printed them off and realized I could combine them into one large story, make my lead character become part of the other short stories. But even that wasn’t working. Then it hit me, why not take what I had already written, and make them into poetic chapters. Rearrange the order of the stories, so that it became a murder mystery on one hand, but more importantly a love letter to Hamilton.
- Q:So if the reader reads this collection, would you say it is only relevant to the citizens of Hamilton?A: NO. It is certainly a map of the general downtown area, and I think it shows a very endearing side of what I feel for the city but, I think my lead character has a very universal story. It also tells the story of a retiring detective who is a widower, and has to come to terms with retirement, life choices, and about missing his wife. In the end, I think he comes out on top and there is potential for many more stories about him. My hope is that whether you are from Hamilton or from Belleville Ontario, you can pick it up and find a connection.
- Q:Do you need to be a lover of poetry to enjoy this book?A:Not at all, what I wanted to do was, write something that could read as easily as a story. I just happen to think and write more clearly when I do poetry. But it is my hope that whether you read novels, poetry books, or graphic novels, you can pick this book up and find it enjoyable. I purposely avoided writing in any heavy poetic tones that someone might relate to what you would only read in school. It would be great if it turned some heavy novel readers over to poetry or graphic novels, because I think if you have a love for words, you can enjoy anything.
- Q:Did you break any other rules in writing this book?A: I’m not sure, I guess in a lot of detective novels you find the lead usually listening to jazz. I love Jazz and there are some great Hamilton musicians in the area BUT I decided to go a different route. I wanted my old guy to be a lover of great rock n roll, so instead I have him listening to Tom Wilson through out the story. I grew up on Junkhouse music, when kids were going in to buy Nirvana or Oasis, I was grabbing Canadian guys like, The Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo, or Junkhouse. I actually saw Mr.Wilson perform on the Rita MacNeil show in the mid 90’s, and was blown away, the next day I ran out and purchased, STRAYS. My most favourite song on that album was BIG LAKE. It’s funny at the time, I had no idea about his relationship with Hamilton, or my future relationship to this great town. But when I started writing, I realized very quickly I needed a musical score, and who better when it comes to this town.
- Q: Will there be any other books on the near horizon?A: Definitely, once I started writing SteelTown, the flood gates opened. In the last 6 months while my wife completed her Masters, I took time off and started writing full time. In the last 3 years, I’ve probably written 3 other poetic novels, and am working on a sequel to SteelTown. My lead may be retired, but there is so much more to explore about him, and I am by no means finished with writing about Hamilton, it is a second home to me now.
- Q: What is the publishing date for this book, and where can people find it?A: The release date is going to be announced VERY shortly, and will appear electronically with a PRINT version to follow. There will be more details being released online shortly.
Touted as a working man’s poet, Martin Durkin has been writing professionally for the last 12 years. He has appeared in over twenty anthologies across North America, including, “And left a place to stand on”, a collection of poems and essays about the late great Al Purdy. Durkin has also published two collections of poetry, “Hypnotic Childhood”, and “The Sound of Quish”.
In 2013 Durkin was part of the Purdy Rednersville show, reading some of his latest work.
In 2014 a new book of poems called, ‘Steeltown for Mary, Memoirs from a Dick’ should be hitting the shelves. The book was edited by Richard Turtle whom Martin met during the Rednersville show. Thus far,the reviews for this book have been very positive………
Steel Town is so much more than a book of really good poems. It is a graphic novel without the artwork, a Sam Spade movie without motion or sound, a compelling social commentary without complicated language and a detective story without any of the boring bits. It’s also one hell of a good idea and an even better read……..RICHARD TURTLE (editor)
“An unusual and remarkably rich and evocative narrative told so adeptly by an author who knows how to use in almost impossibly few words to engage the reader. Durkin brings Hamilton and its characters to life, stanza by stanza.” -Graham Crawford,Owner Hamilton HIStory + HERitage
From Lindi Pierce, Heritage writer, researcher and member of the Local and National Al Purdy A-frame association boards….”If Dashiell Hammett had written poetry, he would have written this!”
“With this book he takes a long step forward into the ranks of Canadian poets of consequencee.– Chris Faiers, Canadian Poet and Recipient of the Milton Acorn People’s Poetry Medal