Newfoundland writer Kenneth J. Harvey applies his talent to a new direction
Bestselling author Kenneth J. Harvey says he is giving up writing books in favour of making films. Harvey’s debut film, “I’m 14 and I Hate the World,” premiered at the Nickel Independent film festival last week. — Submitted photo by Emma Harvey
He says he’s spent 20 years alone in a room, playing make believe. For the next 20, Kenneth J. Harvey says he’ll be playing make believe with real people.
Harvey, the international bestselling author of novels like “The Town That Forgot How to Breathe,” “Blackstrap Hawco” and “Inside,” has decided to give up writing books and focus on making films instead.
That decision is likely sitting better and better with him as praise for his first film, a nine-minute short called “I’m 14 and I Hate the World,” rolls in.
The film premiered last week at the Nickel Independent Film Festival in St. John’s, and will be screened at two other film festivals in the coming months: Festival Cine//B in Chile and the WorldKids International Film Festival in India.
“I will miss nothing about writing books. Writing books was boring the f--k out of me,” Harvey said in an interview. “And the industry is a mess because of the recession a few years ago and the surge in ebooks. The clucking of the confused publishing executives is deafening.”
Harvey has won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the Winterset Award and Italy’s Libro Del Mare, and has been nominated for numerous other awards for his writing, including the Giller and Commonwealth prizes.
He said people have been telling him for years how great it would be to have one of his novels made into a movie, and that’s his ultimate goal; he’s starting with shorts, with plans to one day turn his novel “Inside” — about a wrongfully convicted St. John’s man who returns to his old neighbourhood after spending 14 years in prison — into a feature film.
Three production companies are already interested in making the movie, with Harvey, who held on to the rights, as screenwriter and director.
“We are a society that reveres motion pictures. You are not a real writer until one of your books is made into a movie,” Harvey told The Telegram in an email. “No movie, you continue to dwell in the shadowed realm of the archaic and the obscure, the bookish and the sacred smells of aged paper where you sit and tap on a keyboard while hair grows out your ears and you mutter to yourself.
“I am hoping to be a real writer soon.”
Harvey’s not a complete stranger to film. He grew up helping his father, who had trained at the National Film Board, with shooting and editing, and feels his books already have a sort of filmic quality about them.
“I’m 14 and I Hate the World” started as one of about 20 different books Harvey had in the works on his computer, rewritten for the screen once Harvey’s daughter, Emma, decided to get into acting.
Emma plays the lead in the film, about, well, a 14-year-old who hates everything. “Plucked from grandeur and plunked down into creepy squalor, a 14-year-old girl learns that how she sees the world is not the only option,” Harvey’s written synopsis of the film states.
“I developed the idea by putting some of my daughter’s comments and expressions into the script,” Harvey explained. “Fourteen-year-olds generally do hate the world with a passion, so I tapped into that.”
The film’s debut, at the Nickel’s sold-out opening night screening, wasn’t nerve-racking for Harvey or for Emma, who also sings an original song in the piece as the credits roll at the end.
“I thought the premiere was a lot of fun,” Emma said. “All of the films were interesting to watch and everyone had a positive energy, which was nice.”
It was nothing like the opening of a literary festival, Harvey added.
“I didn’t have to perform like a trained monkey,” he said. “I just had to sit in a seat and watch what I had already done and hope the popcorn didn’t hit the back of my head. Plus, the event sold out, which helped.
“I have turned up at literary events where I was meant to give a reading and found not a single person in attendance, and I have read to thousands at other events. It’s always a crap shoot. Enough people had seen the film before the premiere and expressed their fondness of it, so I wasn’t expecting it to be a complete bomb.”
Harvey’s already moved on to more films. He recently wrapped up “Confession,” shot in sequence in just one day on Super 8mm film and edited in-camera. The film was shot in the Basilica, parking lots and stores without any permission, in a get-in-and-get-out style.
“‘Confession’ was a great bit of fun,” Harvey said. “We only had one confrontation, at a supermarket chain, when the assistant manager came over and asked us what we were doing. With camera in hand, I reassured him that we were up to nothing important, that we would be done in a few minutes and be gone. He kindly let us get on with our business and walked off, only to spin around in horror when the lead actress, my eldest daughter Katie, swiped a long row of bags of candy off a shelf onto the floor. It was the shot I needed. What could I do? I guess I’ll have to go to confession on Sunday.”
“It’s a Girl,” about a baby that goes over a cliff in a crib, is a “creepy little film” shot in black and white, Harvey said, meant to be a companion to his latest novel, “Reinventing the Rose.” That book, which hit local bookstores around the middle of June, was first published in Russia last year, and quickly became a bestseller.
Part emotional thriller and part legal drama, the novel follows Anna, a St. John’s artist, in a battle against her gynecologist boyfriend, Kevin. Once Anna discovers she’s pregnant, Kevin takes legal action against her, seeking the termination of the embryo as a “return of property.”
Paralleling Anna’s story is that of the embryo, which Harvey tells at the beginning of each chapter and describes in minute, down-to-the-day detail, forcing readers to become attached. He worked with MUN embryologist Gary Paterno to get the precise timing of the embryo’s development.
“I wanted it to be scientific, exact and unsentimental,” Harvey explained.
Although there’s been just one review of “Reinventing the Rose” as of yet — a favourable one, in “Quill and Quire” magazine — Harvey’s already received praise from a number of women across the country he had asked to read the manuscript before it was published and add a sentence or two.
“The general response from these readers was that the book was ‘beautiful,’ which was a relief,” he said.
When asked his personal view on abortion, Harvey, who wrote two different endings for the book (and designed the cover), said he “stands for what is right for the individual.”
“Either decision lingers,” he said.
“Reinventing the Rose” is published by Dundurn Press.