Potato Necklaces and Banana Peel Hats — An Ode to Le Chateau Circa 1984

I’m always a little confused when people dis the fashion of the 1980s. 80s fashion was cool and innovative, political, even… then I remember that most people equate 80s clothing with baggy acid wash jeans, huge hair, shapeless over-sized t-shirts, and too much neon. But that would be off the mark.

Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1984, wasn’t exactly a hotbed of alternative fashion. If you were a young person inclined towards punk, post-punk, mod, new romantic, or new wave music and styles, your best bet for cool clobber was to write away to the UK clothing shops that advertised in the back of Star Hits magazine, wait impatiently for a catalogue that may or may not ever arrive, make your selection based on black and white, usually photocopied images and weird European sizes, purchase and send an international money order, and hope like hell that your gear arrived and (haha!) actually fit.

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Book Review: Aubrey McKee by Alex Pugsley

Aubrey McKee
Alex Pugsley

This collection of stories about a well-to-do kid from Halifax’s South End is apparently meant to be the first in a 5-part fictionalized autobiographical series. This book covers Aubrey’s childhood and teenage years in the 70s and 80s, and includes a cast of characters that range from his parents’ friends to drug-dealing ruffians from the poorer parts of town, to a collection of eccentrics and misfits who are the early adopters of Halifax’s vibrant punk music scene in the early 80s. But Aubrey’s life is pretty insular and posh. Private school, tennis lessons, and yacht clubs all play a role in his development and it’s only when another character tells him off and points out that his life is nothing at all like that of other Halifax youth (a refreshing twist, because I wasn’t sure the author actually had that self-awareness up to that point and was beginning to think he might be an awful jerk), that it became clear that somebody had the great good sense to consider Aubrey a poncy twat, and to call him on it.

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The Long Road to the Pot of Gold

When I came up with the idea to write a book about the Halifax Explosion, back in 2004, I didn’t think it would be a 13-year journey. The bulk of the writing was done in ’04-’05, but just as I was getting ready to send the manuscript out to agents, I took a header on the front walk and ended up with a broken arm. By the time I had healed I was working on two different food-writing gigs and so set the MS aside. I had been advised by a friend within the publishing industry to get my name out there by doing some other writing, that it would be an encouragement to potential publishers, so I did that.

Fast forward to 2014 or so, and after writing a different book, editing a collection of other people’s writing, and generally writing about the Toronto food scene for a decade, I thought it might be time to dust off Pot of Gold. I had always thought to publish it closer to the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, which is an anchoring event within the plot, and so, after a few more drafts (making the final version maybe the 10th draft overall) I sent it out into the world. 

Except the timing of the mainstream publishing industry is slow like a molasses-covered turtle, and with each agent taking months to reply/reject, by the beginning of 2017, I realized that it wouldn’t get published in time unless I did it myself. Which is never ideal because there’s no promotion, it’s not on store shelves… but the explosion is such a major part of the book — even though the bulk of the story is set more than a decade later — and I really want to acknowledge what was, for me, a big part of my childhood, and something that I think every Haligonian has as part of their own family history in some way. So even if I don’t sell a single copy, at least I know I did it and that it’s out there, as my tribute to the city I grew up in and the people who lived and died during this devastating event.

Over the years I have read every single book published about the explosion, it’s a topic of fascination still. There are a number of non-fiction works that delve into minute detail of the events of December 6th, and in recent years the number of fiction titles has grown as well, adding different voices and points of view to the two “classic” (tired, cliched, misogynistic) titles that for years were the only works of fiction about the subject.

I hope that, some day, Pot of Gold stands proudly with those other works as yet another voice, another point of view, about the horrific events that destroyed the lives of so many innocent people.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, I have included the relevant chapter here for free. While the rest of the novel takes place between 1929 and 1945, the prologue and the explosion establish the characters, their relationships, and many aspects of their lives.

Please visit the Pot of Gold book page to read the prologue.

The End of the Desperate Season, or What I Didn’t Do on My Summer Vacation

Counting down the days, hours, minutes. Summer doesn’t officially end for a few weeks, but the psychological end of summer will happen tomorrow afternoon, when the CNE closes, when the last stupid air show plane buzzes the neighbourhood, and when kids head home to pack their pencils and books and return to school.

The leaves are already beginning to change on a few trees, and there’s a crispness to the air most mornings that wasn’t noticeable before I went to Halifax a few weeks ago.

Autumn is my favourite season; it’s not too hot or too cold; it’s sunny but you usually need a jacket (I like jackets); and the eating is especially good as the harvest reaches its peak. I don’t even mind winter especially – except maybe those days when there’s freezing rain, or where the sidewalks are slippery because people don’t shovel.

But I’m delighted to see the end of summer.

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