Newfoundland writer Joel Thomas Hynes talks about writing outsiders

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This year’s Canadian Writers in Person Lecture Series featured author Joel Thomas Hynes, who visited York University on Nov. 20 to talk about his novel We’ll All be Burnt in Our Beds Some NightYork University Teaching Assistant Dana Patrascu-Kingsley sent the following report to YFile.

Newfoundland writer Joel Thomas Hynes visited York University on Nov. 20 as part of Canadian Writers in Person Series to talk about his novel, We’ll All be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night, which won the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2017.

The publisher describes the book as “the story of one man’s kicking-and-screaming attempt to recuperate from a life of petty crime and shattered relationships, and somehow accept and maybe even like the new man emerging from within, the one he so desperately needs to become.”

The central character, Johnny Keough, struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, he loses his great love, and sets off in her honour on a trip across the country, from Newfoundland to British Columbia.

“One of the things I wanted to do with Johnny in this book is take a very regional character and move him outside of his geographical comfort and see what happens to him,” said Hynes.

Throughout the book, the reader travels with Johnny, experiencing his world, and often hearing his thoughts. “I think there is something beautiful about somebody like Johnny who is looking for truth, connection, ascension,” Hynes said. “I wanted to crack open a superficially bad guy.”

The original title of the novel was “One of the good guys” and we see here Johnny struggling to be a “good guy” despite his upbringing and external circumstances.

“The fiction of Joel Thomas Hynes is filled with broken characters, unfulfilled dreams, and lost opportunities. He’s like Canada’s Irvine Welsh,” wrote the Globe and Mail in its review of the book.

Hynes said that he’s always written about “hard outsiders” and Johnny from We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night is one such character who is struggling to find a place in the world, to find love and human connections—and on this journey, he gets into some pretty funny situations.

“This book is a work of fiction, but it’s probably more emotionally autobiographical than any of my other books,” Hynes said. And the book feels emotionally true.

On Dec. 4, poet Stevie Howell will be coming to the Canadian Writers in Person reading series, to talk about her most recent volume of poetry, I Left Nothing Inside on Purpose.

Readings are free and open to any member of the public. For more information, contact Professor Leslie Sanders at or Professor Gail Vanstone at All readings are held Tuesdays from 7 to 9pm in 206 Accolade West Building, Keele Campus.