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A Coast Lines conversation

A Q&A with Coast Lines featured author Donna Morrissey

Campus and Community

By Janet Harron

Rage the Night, Donna Morrissey’s (BSW’92) latest bestseller, is the story of one man’s quest to discover the truth of his birth and is a riveting account of the Newfoundland sealing disaster of 1914.

She is the author of the nationally bestselling memoir Pluck, which was a finalist for the Atlantic Book Awards’ Non-Fiction Award, and of seven acclaimed and bestselling novels.

Among her honours are the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award (a three-time winner); the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Fiction for The Fortunate Brother; Sylvanus Now was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize; and The Deception of Livvy Higgs was a One Read pick for Nova Scotia in 2017.

Her fiction has also won awards in the U.S. and the U.K. and has been translated into several languages.

Born and raised in Newfoundland and Labrador and a Memorial University alumna, Ms. Morrissey lives in Halifax, N.S.

Rage the Night is the current Coast Lines Book Club selection for March and April 2024.

JH: Where did your interest in writing come from? When did it begin?

Head and shoulders shot of smiling white woman in her late 50s with dark hair wearing a blue shirt
Donna Morrissey
Photo: Submitted

DM: Someone once told me if I could write the way I talked, I should never put down the pen.

I was 40 years old, picked up the pen at Atlantic Place, downtown St. John’s, and have never put it down.

JH: How has your education at Memorial University informed your perspective/worldview?

DM: My university years at Memorial informed me of me, firstly.

I was working in a fish plant, had chronic anxiety and other illnesses and was led to the doors of Memorial by friends.

Those university years showed me the door inward to self.

It showed me the door outwards onto the social fabric of society, and it helped bring me the confidence to explore them both.

As with the pen, I have never stopped exploring.

JH: When/how did you transition from social work to writer?  Is there a connection between the two disciplines?

DM: During my fourth year of social studies, I had to write a true life account of a personal moment in my growing years.

It wildly triggered my excitement of creating story. That assignment became a script called The Clothesline Patch.

It was made into a film and I won a Gemini nomination for it.

That project was quickly followed by another short story based on needs versus wants, another classroom assignment.

That led to Kit’s Law, my first novel, and then inspired another novel, The Deception of Livvy Higgs.

It would be difficult to “unweave” Donna the student and Donna the writer.

For once whetted, my appetite as a student will be forever leading me.

JH: What takeaway do you hope stays with readers of Rage the Night?

DM: The theme most warm to my heart in Rage the Night is the fortitude of the human heart.

That we all have an identity both inside of us and outside within the group that helps cradle us.

And it is the fortitude of each individual’s spirit to learn those two hearts and to weave them together without becoming lost in either.

My prayer is that, like [the character] Roan, like those souls lost on the ice, that during our toughest battles, we draw on each other, and as importantly, we find the courage and fortitude within ourselves to withstand the hardship, and, keeping the circle going, drawing others along with us.       

JH: What is your Newfoundland and Labrador hidden gem?

DM: Always, the camaraderie, humour and fortitude that weaves the fabric of our big Newfoundland heart. May God keep it and bless!

The words Coast Lines are in orange, against a pink background, with a landscape of abstract books underneath.

Coast Lines book club

Donna Morrissey will appear with Allison Graves (MA’17,  PhD candidate and author of the short story collection Soft Serve) at Coast Lines and Coffee on Sunday, March 24, at the Emera Innovation Exchange, Signal Hill Campus, in a discussion moderated by Angela Antle (BA’91, PhD candidate).

Register for this special event here.

Copies of Rage the Night are available through the Memorial University Bookstore, the official Coast Lines bookseller.

Visit the website for more information on Coast Lines and how to join.

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