Author/musician/artist Darrell Duke
In August 2013, Darrell Duke released his third book, Thursday’s Storm: The August Gale of 1927 (Flanker Press). It tells the fatally tragic story of the Annie Healy crew struck by a hurricane raging through Placentia Bay, Newfoundland 86 years ago. Duke spent 20 years researching and interviewing the loved ones of those lost seamen to complete the tome. Arts East caught up with the author, playwright and singer-songwriter, originally from Freshwater, Placentia Bay, to find out more about what went into Thursday’s Storm and also his life as an eclectic artist.

What motivated and/or inspired you to write this book?
DD: The inspiration to write this story began 20 years ago, in August 1993, while sitting in the front room of my Great Aunt's home in Fox Harbour, Placentia Bay, Newfoundland. Having always noticed an old photo of a man on her wall, I finally got the courage to ask who it was. My aunt, Bernadette Foley Murray, started to cry a little, wiped her eyes with a tissue which always seemed to be at hand, and said, "That was my father. He was drowned."

That was the start of 20 years of interviews and research into the life of my Great Grandfather, Jack Foley, and the six other sharemen lost with him. The first attempt to capture my aunt's version of the story was through a song I wrote called The Annie Healy. The schooner, Annie Healy, was built at Fox Harbour in 1900 and was lost on August 25th, 1927, with all hands during what is now known as The August Gale of 1927 (and now the subtitle to Thursday's Storm). Along with a friend, Scott O'Keefe, I first recorded the song in 1997 for inclusion on a cassette produced as a fundraiser for the community of Fox Harbour (to help refurbish the facade of the old church). I've re-recorded the song which will be part of my new music album (set for release in spring 2014).

Interviews and research for the story continued and with so much interesting info gathered, I decided to turn what I'd collected into a stage play called Thursday's Storm: The Annie Healy Story which was produced in Newfoundland in the summer of 2000. Earlier that year, the story gained national exposure through the CBC's Great Canadian Story Engine. From there, interest came from CBC Radio One in Toronto. From there, the media interest trickled back to here. The show's debut at the old hall in Fox Harbour sold out and the audience included many children of men lost with the Annie Healy. Other shows were held at my then-theatre in Argentia, NL.

Did the work come together quickly or did you really need to work at it?
DD: Gathering the work consisted of much patience and learning (how to non-invasively pry old lips to reveal information and inevitable emotions stowed away since the interviewees were children). Sixty-six years had passed since they lost their Daddies. Phone calls were uncomfortable for both parties, so a lot of trips were made to the homes of these old women and old men, along with many hand-written letters.

What was the most challenging aspect of the process?
DD: The most challenging of the process was being present when these old folks cried like babies, as if it were the first time they'd received the bad news. Allowing them to continue to search their minds for memories cast aside without saying, "You know what, I've asked enough, I've done enough, etc. and I'm sorry I've upset you" was a great challenge, too. The tears never stopped, but neither did their interest in digging it all up and, ultimately, they were grateful their story was going to be told.

What was the most rewarding part of the experience?
DD: There were/are many rewards. Befriending many old folks was the best. They're all dead now. Learning how difficult life was in those times and how good we'll always have it in comparison was/is eye-opening and rewarding. Seeing emotion pour from listeners of the song never gets boring because I feel just as strongly about the loss those people endured....and everyday, almost, there's a new piece of info I missed along the way (mostly because people find it easier to discuss something once it's more public, I believe). Of course, without a publisher, there'd be no book, so that's the biggest reward, signing that contract saying your book will be published and the great feelings which come from knowing others out there believe in your story and your ability to tell it. After 20 years, it is still shocking to see the story in book form. I couldn't be happier.

What has the response to the work been like so far?
DD: The response to the book has been amazing. It went into its second printing three weeks after its original release. It's also doing very well as an e-book.

What made you want to be a writer?
DD: I've always enjoyed writing (wrote my first song at 12 and stopped counting years ago, but there are, easily, well over a thousand songs). I was toying with poetry and short stories long before that. My first book (a collection of original poetry), If you Look Closely, You'll see, was published in 1999. It was my ticket away from a long, hard life of boozing and fighting and all the other troubles that sort of existence brings. I've written five stage-plays and produced four of those. My education as a journalist wasn't a total waste of time. I worked a couple of small papers here (in NL), but found it stifling, as it wasn't a great outlet for creativity. It did introduce me to lots of old folks and I always tended to try and stick to stories about them and the lives they once lead.

My first best opportunity to write a book came from a tiny Newfoundland community called Tickle Cove, located in Bonavista Bay South. Its people wanted its history told, to try and capture the memories of its eldest residents before they died and before the community fell into oblivion which seems to be the great vision of our government (to slowly kill rural life and to grow the great city of St. John's). It is very odd and backward, considering government spends millions of dollars annually on those mind-blowing TV commercials depicting our province and its many natural wonders and beauty. It's rural Newfoundland they show the most.

So, I had an opportunity to remind readers of government's ill an effort to encourage folks to stand up for themselves, their ancestors, their communities, what's left of them. That book is called When We Worked Hard: Tickle Cove, Newfoundland (Flanker Press 2007) and has been in the NL school system since 2008. I was paid for eleven months and spent an additional three years working on it for free. I was never paid for the 20 years of work required for Thursday's Storm.

Are they the same reasons you do it today?
DD: Yes, the reasons are the same. I love the stories and want to play my little part in ensuring they'll always be around in some format for future generations to learn from, to appreciate, perhaps, somehow. The process is definitely one of inspiration.

In your estimation, what makes a good book?
DD: I think that's subjective, like everything else. My idea of a good book is one where everything is laid out for you; the colours, the imagery, the feelings, dialogue reflecting emotions or lack of dialogue where emotions are too much to handle (as was the case for so long in the story of TS)....where you feel like you're part of the scene, the conversation, the victories, if any, and the tragedies. But that's just my opinion at the moment.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
DD: For aspiring writers: Keep writing, and write what you know (as Stephen King wrote in On Writing. I've never read his novels.) If it's history you're after, start with every old person you know. They may be a little leery of you and your intentions, but every mind has, at least, one great story, and everyone's story is important enough to become a short story or book.

What’s next on your creative agenda?
DD: I'm working on my next book, a novel set, primarily, in Ireland in 1778 depicting the plight of my fourth great grandfather and his subsequent journey to Newfoundland (how part of my family got here in the first place). I'm researching for the novel after the next one, putting together a children's book - a series of short stories with central characters, lobsters in this case...stories I've been making up since my daughter, Emma, was born. She's four now. I'm also dabbling in screen-writing with the intentions of turning my Thursday's Storm into a film, completing stories for a book of short stories, and recording songs for my next album.

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