Sink and Destroy hits the bookstores today!

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

After three long years of research and writing (and more research and re-writing), my newest novel, Sink and Destroy is finally in bookstores. Part of Scholastic’s I Am Canada series for younger readers, it’s unlike anything I have ever written. For starters, it’s not comedy. Secondly, it’s about war, and it’s completely unvarnished. As for the honoured part, it’s because some of the last surviving veterans of the conflict were amazingly generous with their time and their stories, sharing intimate details of their lives with me and giving me rare insights into the life of a sailor during the Battle of the Atlantic, a brutal conflict fought in some of the worst living conditions you can possibly imagine.
During World War Two, after Hitler’s Blitzkrieg has conquered most of Western Europe, the Allied armies based in Great Britain, and the British people themselves, were heavily dependent on supplies sent by convoy from North America. Hitler was determined to choke off the Allied supply lines with his submarines aka U-Boats, and thus force the Allies to surrender. It is no exaggeration to say that had the Allies not succeeded in defeating the Nazi U-boat forces, the war in Europe would have been lost. Historical arguments continue to rage about what the consequences would have been, but given the Nazis growing ballistic missile technology as they were overrun by Allied armies from the East and West, I don’t think there’s any doubt that the results would not have been pretty.
Canadians made a huge contribution to the Battle of the Atlantic, and their stories are told here. This book also represents family history for me. Three of my maternal uncles – Bob, Jim and Lionel McDonald – served in the Royal Canadian Navy on convoy escort duty during the Battle of the Atlantic. One of them was injured after his ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat. But another of my uncles evened the score when his destroyer sank a U-boat in the frigid waters of Greenland, and he dove in to rescue both his commanding officers as well as a one of the German commanders.
Sink and Destroy is a work of historical fiction told from the first-person perspective of Bill O’Connell, a teenager from Iroquois, Ontario. Though the novel is based partly on family lore, the details of combat and daily life were achieved through interviews with the veterans. They gave me an amazing window into the war. Things you wouldn’t think about. Like how difficult it was trying to grab four hours of sleep in a cramped mess deck, with sea water pouring in, 60 men all breathing the same air in a jerry-rigged ship with no heating or ventilation system, with people constantly vomiting from being tossed about on 20 metre high waves. And then roll out of your hammock in a sleep-deprived state to find yourself going head to head in a death match against the elite of Hitler’s Kriegsmarine. It really is an amazing story, and it was thrilling to take it out of the realm of dry history and breathe life into it, give it immediacy and vibrancy through the synthesis of the recollections of sailors when they were teenaged recruits thrown into situations that would have tested the mettle of the toughest, most battle-hardened mariners of any era.

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

I haven’t posted in ages, and as I review the past year, I know why. I’ve been involved with writing and producing the second season of Finding Stuff Out, which is now in post-production and reaching the finish line. In addition to its home broadcaster, TVO, it has been picked up by Knowledge Network, Discovery Kids Asia, and POPTV! in Great Britain. It fulfills my twin loves, comedy and science geekdom. I am also 10 days away from handing in the first draft of my historical novel, Battle of the Atlantic, for Scholastic books. That’s been quite an undertaking in itself. Most people in the industry think of me as a comedy guy, and they’re right. However, this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Three of my uncles served in the RCN during the war, and this was a chance to explore my own family history and weave those personal threads into the larger tapestry of Canadian and world history and perhaps understand my own past, and that of my family, better. Plus I got to meet and interview navy veterans in their 80s and 90s, which was an incredible privilege. My pre-television background as a journalist and a history student at the University of Toronto told me that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, especially given that the conflict happened 70 years ago. It’s a chance to hear and record those unbelievable stories of hardship, endurance and bravery before they’re lost forever. But that’s to say it has all been a year that is simultaneously stimulating and exhausting.

In the midst of that, I’ve been developing new projects, both for television and print. Among my current favourites is one that I have the pleasure of working on with Mary Walsh. I worked with her when I was writing and producing This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Mary and I both left that show some time ago, but I had the pleasure of seeing her return to the fold a couple of months ago, as fiery, brilliant and political as ever. Seeing her back in the saddle and in top form inspired me with an idea for a new Canadian sitcom, perhaps “the” Canadian sitcom. I knew Mary would be a pivotal element in the show, so when I offered her the key role and she said yes, I was absolutely thrilled. I can’t talk about the details yet, because it is now going from “glint in my eye” stage to what I hope will be script development with a broadcaster and production company. But hopefully more deets to follow soon…

**** Open Book: Toronto – Proust Questionnaire

Friday, October 7th, 2011

I recently filled out the Proust Questionnaire for Open Book: Toronto. I was in a cheeky mood. I like it. You can read it by clicking here.

**** Chapters Indigo guest blog for Star Academy: Dark Secrets

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

My friends at Chapters Indigo asked me to write a blog entry about Dark Secrets, the funny/scary sequel to my first novel, STAR Academy. You can click here (that grey bit) to go to their site, read it and comment on it. And I hope you will!

**** STAR Academy sequel Dark Secrets released!

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Tuesday is not usually a big day for me. Pleasant, but nothing special. An “in between” day, if you will. But today is an exception, not just because it’s the new season of the Rick Mercer Report, but also because Dark Secrets, the sequel to my first novel, STAR Academy, has officially been released. It has been an interesting process writing the sequel. When I began the first novel, I had no specific plans for another, though I thought the characters and the concept had legs for a series, and wondered about pitching it as such. When the manuscript for book one was finished, my literary agent, Marie Campbell, suggested that we suggest it as a one-off while “leaving the door open” for subsequent books. So I was thrilled when a contract offer came back from Random House/Doubleday, with the specific condition that they would sign the first book if I agreed to write a sequel. My first thought was, “Go ahead, twist my arm…”
But unlike with the first novel, I had no specific plot planned out for the sequel. So it required substantial woodshedding to sort out where I wanted the characters to go. I humbly felt that I had set the bar very high for the first novel, and there was (I can say now) that sophomore jinx fear. Plus, some of my favourite characters were gone. The plot of STAR Academy demanded that I dispatch three of the most colourful, iconic characters that I had created. I have to admit, I mourned their loss, just as much as I had delighted in the process of getting rid of them in book one. And where was there to go, since I had wrapped everything up rather neatly at the end of the first novel?
Well, almost…
There were some intentionally unresolved issues in STAR Academy, and these became the spinal column of the new book. And though I lost some of my favourite characters, the vacuum created by their absence gave me the chance to create some new ones, who, if they never became pals (they were too prickly for that), were certainly formidable frenemies. And as before, there was lots of opportunity to satirize contemporary culture and government. As for Amanda and Derek, I had huge fun developing them and their relationship. Enough said there. You’ll have to read the book to find out exactly what transpired between them. So… long story short, STAR Academy II, Dark Secrets, is done, and, dare I say it, I think it may actually be better than the first book…
But don’t take my word for it. You can read an excerpt here. And that’s just the first few sardonic pages. It gets… more complicated. Love to hear your thoughts.

**** You’ve watched my shows… you’ve read my books and articles… and now you can complete the experience by ADOPTING me!

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Yes, it’s official. I’m up for adoption. I should have done this decades ago… found myself a nice family that could set me up with a remittance, a ticket into skull and bones, or at least a wine cellar to inherit. But this is the next best thing, and it’s for a good cause, the Word on the Street literary festival. Click here for more details of how I can be yours, albeit on a pleasantly temporary basis.

STAR Academy reviewed in FernFolio!

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Just as Dark Secrets, the sequel to STAR Academy, is about to hit the shelves this coming September, I’m happy to see that the original is still generating some favourable reviews, like this one in FernFolio. Click here to read it.

Gemini nomination for Jimmy Two Shoes!

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Jimmy Two Shoes has just been the nominated for a Gemini Award for Best Animated Series!

New Battle of the Atlantic book with Scholastic

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

I have just been commissioned by Scholastic Inc. to write an historical novel set in World War 2 during the Battle of The Atlantic. This story has special resonance for me because three of my maternal uncles served in the Royal Canadian Navy on convoy duty and played an active part in the struggle to defeat Hitler’s U-Boats. Based loosely on the experiences of several real-life teenagers, my novel will follow the adventures and tribulations of a small-town kid who enlists and finds himself in the teeth of one of the toughest, highest-stakes battles ever fought. It’s incredible what people so young went through, and I’m looking forward to getting started on my research, especially speaking with veterans and hearing their stories.

Toronto The Word on the Street 2011 appearance

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Just received the happy news that I have been invited to read from my upcoming novel, STAR Academy: Dark Secrets at the 2011 “The Word on the Street” book and magazine festival in Toronto. I will be appearing Sunday, September 25th in the Children’s Reading Tent. Ideally, I would read under the covers with a flashlight, but I suspect that won’t be possible since it will be daytime. But that would be the right atmosphere for the new book. It’s scarier than the first one, and Amanda, Derek, Sanjay and Evelyn really have to use their wits to avoid being munched on by monsters. More deets to come.