Skip to main content

The Wonderful Dogfish Racket ~ Part 1

Tom Dawe is one of Newfoundland's most distinguished writers. He is an Order of Canada and Order of Newfoundland and Labrador recipient, St. John’s Poet Laureate and he has published 17 volumes of work.

His latest is The Wonderful Dogfish Racket (Pennywell Books/Flanker Press), illustrated by fellow Newfoundlander, C. Anne MacLeod.

In this Q&A, Dawe shares some intriguing insights into the children’s book (also beloved by adults), his creative process and his life as a writer.

What motivated or inspired you to write this book?
TD: I have always been interested in folklore and history.  “The Wonderful Dogfish Racket” had its genesis in a couple of images from my childhood – an old man shooting crows for money because the government had placed a bounty on these creatures in response to farmers’ complaints – and my elders talking about the dogfish plague and the government bounty that got out of control.  So I constructed a tall tale around the dogfish problem.  As the book progressed, the plot became richer with folklore, the usage of old Newfoundland and Labrador words, legend, motifs of politics, witchcraft, gender issues, etc. 

Did the work come together quickly or did you really need to work at it?
TD: I was a long time struggling with the ending until the charmer rescued me.  Once she came into the story things moved faster. 

What was the most challenging aspect of the process?
TD: With so much material in my head and notes and scraps of paper all over the place, the task was how to sort it all out.  Of course there is always the problem of starting, confronting the blank page, that dreadful space. 

What was the most rewarding part of the experience?
TD: It was a pleasure to work with Anne MacLeod.  How wonderful to be looking forward to her beautiful paintings, her refreshing interpretation of the story.  Additionally, I had great fun playing with the language, making rhyme, etc.

What did you learn during the process?
TD: I’m not sure what I learned.  Perhaps what I really learned resides in that type of realm St. Augustine was talking about when he said, “I know until you ask me.” 

What has the response to the work been so far?
TD: I’ve seen no review in print yet, though many people have said that they enjoy the book, pointing out how much it is a volume for adults as well as children.  Everybody seems to love the extensive glossary for old words, phrases and folklore at the end.

What made you want to be a writer?
TD: Whatever it was gave me no choice in the matter.  I don’t remember when I didn’t want to create something.

Are they the same reasons you do it today?
TD: Yes.  It’s something I have to do.  I’m miserable if I don’t.

Is your creative process more one of inspiration or perspiration?
TD: This is a difficult question.  For me one is critically relative to the other.  Many things inspire me but I tend to be lazy; yet a lot goes on for me in such essential laziness.  Once I get down to work, I am inspired even more as other ideas crowd in on me.  The most difficult thing of all is staying on track.  I’ve always been a more Renaissance person than a specialist. 

In your estimation, what makes a good book?
TD: Long after the covers are closed, a good book still speaks to me.  Often there are whispers inviting me back to certain specific sections.  Sometimes a firmer voice calls me back to the whole.  I have a very large library because I find it difficult to part with a good book.

What are your thoughts on the current state of literature in Atlantic Canada?
TD: I am no expert on the topic of Atlantic literature but I read a lot and it seems to me that the literature of this area is in great shape.  The Atlantic Canada Book Awards seem to get richer each year with many fine titles appearing. 

What can we do better?
TD: Just keep doing what we are doing.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
TD: Good writing is a celebration of the concrete or the specific.  Never be too abstract.  And always write about what you know.  Above all, keep journals and notebooks in which you jot down everything that catches your fancy. 

What’s next on your creative agenda?
TD: I’m just finishing up my legacy project as poet laureate for St. John’s (2010-2013), a limited edition collection of poetry called, “Shadows in the Aftergrass: Poems Sometimes Haiku.”  Also, I am contemplating some new poems, a journal and a children’s book based on an old Christmas ghost story.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll hear from the illustrator of The Wonderful Dogfish Racket, C. Anne MacLeod.

Popular posts from this blog

Charles Hsuen

Even after almost 30 years as the voice of jazz in Halifax, Charles Hsuen shows no signs of slowing down. His passion to preserve and promote the genre to listeners of all ages cannot be overstated. Recently we spoke with Hsuen about his roots, and his life-long love of big band, bebop, swing, Sinatra and more.
What are your own roots? My roots derive from a rather mixed background. My father is of Vietnamese / Tibetan / Chinese heredity, but grew up in India, before immigrating to Canada in 1967. While my mother’s roots stem from Indo-China, she grew up in Brunei before immigrating to Canada in 1969. Both extended families ultimately settled in Toronto and my parents met and married in the early 1970's. The last name “Hsuen” (now XUAN), pronounced “Schwen,” comes from the Last Emperor of China Henry Pu Yi who ruled using the name Xuantong from 1909 until his forced abdication in 1912. The story was of a tumultuous reign, his forced resignation and eventual attempt to reclaim his ti…

Danny Bilsborough

Danny Bilsborough, NSCC alumna and owner of Danny B Studios, has spent most of her days consulting various clients on software options for their new business endeavours. 
Although she’s been involved with assessing some really exciting projects, nothing makes her happier than grabbing her brush and splashing colour on a canvas. That’s why she’s decided to take the plunge into becoming a full-time artist.
“I was always so scared to try using colour, but when my daughter was born and the opportunity came to incorporate these new palettes into her life, they quickly found their way into mine,” she says.
Colour brings light to many things and gives people a sense of enjoyment. Markus Maier explained in his academic journal titled Color Psychology that colour carries great meaning and can have an important impact on people's affect, cognition and behaviour.
Bilsborough’s favourite pieces to create are those of nature and animals – a quick look at her online Etsy page confirms this. She be…


Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the passing of Elvis Presley, International World-Champion Elvis tribute artist, Thane Dunn and his Cadillac Kings, will perform seven shows throughout the Maritimes over the coming months. Recently we spoke with the King of Kings about his passion and profession.
What are your roots? I was born in Moncton, New Brunswick. I've lived everywhere from California to Toronto but Moncton always has had a special place in my heart. My musical roots have always been early Rock and Roll and also old Country and Western like Buck Owens and Stonewall Jackson. I’ve always been a huge Jim Morrison fan. He had a lot of similar traits to Elvis.
What first inspired the Elvis tribute? I always loved the man and I’ve had people tell me I looked like him and in early bands I was in people would say I sounded like him. I had a few months leading up to the decision to do it where it seemed every time I turned on the TV there was Elvis, the radio would be playing Elvis…