An Interview with
Kenneth J. Harvey

by Diane Goettel
Canadian author Kenneth J. Harvey
THE ADIRONDACK REVIEW: Where did you get the idea for The Town That Forgot How to Breathe?

KENNETH J. HARVEY: The title and the idea for the book came one day when I had bronchitis. I was walking up over the stairs in my house and when I reached the top storey, I was out of breath and had to collapse on the bed. While I was sprawled off there, struggling to breathe, I thought: What if we had to concentrate on breathing? What if the act of breathing was not automatic and we had to do it ourselves in order to survive? From that incident of sickness, The Town that Forgot How to Breathe was conceived.

TAR: How long did it take you to write?

KJH: About four years, including rewrites.

TAR: Where did you do most of the writing? Were you near a large body of water?

KJH: Yes, I live near water. The Atlantic is just around the corner from my home where I have an office. I'm presently doing up an old barn to turn into my writing studio. That's been a challenge, but it should be finished this summer.

TAR: Your book has been optioned by a big-time Hollywood production company. Do you worry that translating The Town That Forgot How to Breathe into a feature of film may take away from its literary merit?

KJH: No, the movie is the movie. They can never change the book itself.

TAR: How has your experience with US publishers been different from your experience with Canadian publishers?

KJH: Not much difference, really. They, more or less, operate in the same way.

TAR: Who are your favorite novelists?

KJH: Richard Brautigan, Mickey Spillane, Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, the Brontes, Flannery O'Connor, J.M. Coetzee, Guy de Maupassant, Leonard Cohen, Charles Bukowski, John Banville, Nikolai Gogol, Paul Bowles, Timothy Findley, JD Salinger.....

TAR: Do you consider yourself to be a Canadian writer?

KJH: I consider myself to be a Newfoundland writer first, and a Canadian writer second. Newfoundland was once a country, before it joined Canada in 1949 as the tenth province. We are an extremely distinct culture, as, I hope, is evidenced in the novel. Here are a few interesting stories that happened while writing the book. They might be of interest:

When I was writing a certain ghost section in Town, a number of strange things began to happen in my home. The section detailed a telephone conversation between Jessica (the dead girl) and Dr. Thompson. As I was writing the conversation, which was even creeping me out a little, something fell from the wall in my office, went crashing to the floor, and scared the daylights out of me.

When I was writing another ghost section, there came a huge crash from the kitchen. I jumped from my chair and went out to see that two wine bottles had fallen from the small wine rack we have on the floor. It appeared as though they had shot out of their holes as the rack is perfectly level. One of the bottles had smashed the cat's dish to pieces. Fortunately, neither of the bottles was broken. I stood there for quite a bit of time, baffled by the incident. I left it all there, so I could show my family when they returned home. I even took pictures of it. It was a strange mystery.

In another instance, my wife had gone to bed earlier in the night and had checked the woodstove to see that the fire had gone out completely; the fire box was cold. Around four o'clock in the morning, she went to the downstairs' bathroom. When she entered the living room, the room was dark, no light from the woodstove or anywhere else in the room. When she came out of the bathroom (which is directly off the living room), the woodstove was lit, blazing hot, roaring orange firelight filled the room.

And yet another episode: I was sitting in my living room one night, having just come out from working in my office, not knowing who was in the house. My son's room is directly above the living room and there is a heating vent in the floor, so I can hear what's going on up there. He had music playing, music that was familiar to me, and I'd hear him singing along every now and then. The voice sounded a little peculiar and so I thought he might be singing in a show/play voice of some sort. Eventually, the voice died off and I heard the front door open. My son and my wife entered. They had been at the store. My son walked into the living room, his face pink from the outside, fresh air coming off of him. Neither he nor my wife had been in the house. Since I finished the book, there have been no more bizarre incidents. I don't know if that's a good thing or bad thing.