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Joel Thomas Hynes grateful, humble upon winning BMO Winterset Award

Joel Thomas Hynes holds his book, “We’ll All Be Burnt In Our Beds Some Night,” on Thursday at Government House in St. John’s.
Joel Thomas Hynes holds his book, “We’ll All Be Burnt In Our Beds Some Night,” on Thursday at Government House in St. John’s. - Joe Gibbons

Joel Thomas Hynes may be alone in his surprise at being named this year’s BMO Winterset Award winner.

With his latest novel, “We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night,” Hynes had already won last year’s Governor General’s Award for English-Language Fiction and had been named to the long list for the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize, so it wasn’t really a stretch to those on the outside that he might also nab the Winterset when it was awarded Thursday afternoon.

Hynes, however, said he was truly shocked, and used his acceptance speech at the award ceremony at Government House to express his gratitude and congratulate fellow finalists Bridget Canning and Wayne Johnston.

Canning was nominated for her novel, “The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes” (Breakwater Books), while Johnston was nominated for “First Snow, Last Light” (Alred A. Knopf Canada).

“Totally unexpected. Thank you so much. I’m very grateful to be here and very grateful to be shortlisted. I recognize I’m in fine company, and fine company for all the books that have come out in 2017,” said Hynes, who is a playwright, actor and musician as well as a novelist.

His new TV series, “Little Dog” — which he created and co-produced and in which he stars — airs on CBC.

As Winterset winner, Hynes took home a $12,500 prize. Canning and Johnston each received $3,000.

“We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night” (Harper Perennial) is the darkly comedic journey of antihero Johnny Keough, who gets an unexpected version of an extra chance after coming close to doing time in a maximum-security prison. It takes him hitchhiking across the country with an urn full of ashes in tow.

“This book, for me, was a long journey. Getting it published, even. After having four or five books out, you’d think it would be easier, but I had to fight to get this book published,” Hynes told the Winterset ceremony attendees. “It seems like when everyone else was against this book, the arts council was for this book, and I owe a debt of gratitude to the arts council for financing aspects of the writing of this book. If not, I don’t know, I would have had to go on to do something else.”

ArtsNL, the province’s arts council, administers the Winterset Award and provides grants to local artists and arts organizations.

The BMO Winterset Award was established 18 years ago by Richard Gwyn in honour of his wife, social historian and author Sandra Fraser Gwyn, and recognizes excellence in writing by Newfoundlanders, either native-born or resident. This year, 31 books from a range of genres were submitted for the award by publishers from across the country.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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