Writing a novel, it seems to me, is much like mouthing off in a near-empty bar as the night staggers to a close: it’s all fun and games up until you realize that you’re about to take a high-grade shit-kicking. That six-foot-five biker cracks his scarred knuckles and smiles, and you realize only at that unfortunate moment the wisdom of keeping your mouth shut.
This thought is prompted by the news that advance review copies of Combat Camera will soon be released into the wild, like downrange gophers at a convention of Arizona machinegun enthusiasts.
I read Mark Sampson’s novel Off Book on the flight out here, which proved to be a grave mistake; all that talk of Quinpool and Spring Garden Road had me geographically confused, and I forgot my destination. Halifax is one of my favorite cities. Instead, I descended into Edmonton. I can say little more on that subject, as I remain traumatized by the discovery of my true location.
One of the functions of fiction, I think, is to record our language as we use it. Off Book includes the phrases “fill your boots” and “the [superlative item] in NATO,” which interested me. I have always thought of these as Canadian military slang, having only encountered them there. But the gap between the language of the Maritimes and the language of Canada’s military is small, given the strong military presence in Halifax and the disproportionate contribution of Cape Breton and Newfoundland to the army’s ranks. Halifax is the only place in the country, other than the military, where I’ve encountered the word “numpty” (or “numptie”), meaning a foolish person, which is originally of Scots origin. It seems likely that this small and colourful word has spread across Canada, via the Army, thanks to Nova Scotia.
Is Cape Breton, indeed, the thought control centre of Canada?
It is certainly overrepresented in our fiction. Calculate the percentage of Cape Bretoners in the Canadian population as a whole. Then count the number of books set there. What’s up, wonders Seinfeld, with that?