Maybe it was some beast there all along, waitin inside me. Sometimes it crosses me mind that maybe it’s in us all, murder and violence. But it never came out of me till that moment. Sometimes good people does bad shit.
— Excerpt from a draft version of Say Nothing, Saw Wood.
Joel Thomas Hynes’ new one-man show Say Nothing, Saw Wood is inspired by a murder that took place on the Southern Shore.
Jude Traynor, the central character, speaks as a man who has just been released from jail after 7 years inside.
Hynes has storytelling in his blood, but what does he know about murder? Elling Lien spoke with him about the play and his process.
What is Say Nothing, Saw Wood?
It’s a turn of phrase… I only ever heard it in Calvert, my home town, but I know it’s used elsewhere as well. It’s used in Trinity Bay and places like that. I don’t know its origins, I just know its meaning in certain contexts, and it depends how it comes out of your mouth, when and why.
It can mean a lot of different things, and I use it in a number of different contexts in the play… I guess thematically it refers to those things we think we know about other people, or those things that we keep to ourselves which we think we know. In specific contexts it refers to different things, like “mind your own business” or “I didn’t see anything” or “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” It can be a life philosophy, in the sense that – I believe the old girl in there says at one point, “say nothing, saw wood, my own father used to say. You’re better off letting people lead their own lives and carry their own burdens in their own ways.”
It’s about not interfering.
I was told this play is based on a true story…
No… No. There was a murder up on the southern shore over thirty years ago, and this is not that story. It is inspired by that story, which is a big difference than being based on that story. I went and did all my research and I dug up all the documents and newspaper articles and I went into it armed with all the old exaggerations and suppositions and stuff like that surrounding this, because it took on a different form over the course of thirty years in a small town. I guess that’s something a town has to do. It’s a coping mechanism.
And when I got to the actual facts of the case, the actual murder case, it just wasn’t something I was at all interested in putting on stage.
What was it?
Don’t want to say. Not on tape.
But the thing is, it’s very sensitive, in a sense. I only live an hour away, and some people look upon it like what fucking business does he have to be dredging up old stuff that he knows nothing about.
What was it like writing about murder?
I had quite a volatile adolescence and found myself on the wrong side of the law at times, and fucked up in school and just general nuisance. Most of it was alcohol-related.
But I didn’t have murder in me.
But it’s questionable. Who doesn’t, and why don’t they? Who does, and why do they? Do things just happen? Does your arm just move sometimes? Does that sort of event have to come from your heart or have to come from some evil in your head? Or does it just come out of your body?
Does it just come out of the moment?
Who can say?
I like to explore how far outsiders can go before they’re finally outcast. This particular story turns that concept on its nose, in the sense that my protagonist/antagonist has gone beyond the point of no return, and he’s become the ultimate outcast. He wants to make his way back, but he’s not looking for any kind of forgiveness or redemption….
This story in particular deals with an event that happened in a child’s life, because he’s seventeen years old when he committed this murder. When I look back at myself at seventeen, I was a child. [laugh] When I look back at twenty-five I was a child, pretty much. But that’s what it deals with: who you are, and who you can become. It’s a soul-search I guess.
I’m a little hesitant to talk about it like that. I don’t want to scare people off with the darkness, you know? I’ve been tempted to tell the media that it’s just a farcical, black comedy.
Yeah, it’s really about murder and mayhem on the Southern Shore! [laugh]
How did you write the play?
I went through my own process. I wrote the play out by hand at first. I sat down to write a one-man show, a really portable one-man show that you can pick up and take wherever, as long as it’s in your head.
So this was originally for the stage? The script reads a lot like a novel.
It was intended originally as a theatre piece, and as I sat down to write it, I got comfortable in the story and I needed to flesh a lot of things out that weren’t going to make it onto the stage. But I ended up with a short novel, and I went through the process of adapting that to the stage. I had to make a lot of cuts. So there is a larger manuscript—which is the source material for this play—which has a lot more characters and plotlines and everything. That, I’m just going to sit on for a few years and hopefully turn into a novel a couple of books down the road… It’s a very literary piece.
It seemed obvious that there was a fleshed-out world around the characters.
…Yeah, and a theatre audience doesn’t really need all the details that give that. So we chopped out everything that didn’t lend itself to the immediate story at hand. So there’s all kinds of other monologues and events and scenes that have been chopped out.
It was the very same process for my last show. My last show, The Devil You Don’t Know, was co-written with Sherry White. That was an adaptation of Down to the Dirt, which I originally conceived of as a one-man show. I wrote the end chapter first, and I kept going with it, filling in the backstory. I didn’t want to stop. Suddenly I had a novel and we adapted that to the stage.
So it’s an almost identical process to this. Maybe that’s the process that works best for me. I don’t know. I’m still kind of new at presenting my writing to the world, and I haven’t really settled in on any kind of system or process.
So why did you start writing it by hand at the beginning? What is it about pen and paper?
I think it eliminates the middle-man.
I had a conversation with Wayne Johnston about it before, and he said that a word processor, or a typewriter, or a computer lends an immediate air of authority to the text, you know? As though it’s already a finished product. It’s already up there, it’s all so neat and it’s on the screen. All you gotta do is print it off and, in some sense, published a little bit of paper today.
But with handwriting, you’re much more careful about what comes out, and the sentences tend to have a different structure. They tend to have more of a meandering feel to them. They tend to be more image-based. Then when you transfer it all onto a word processor or a computer or what-have-you, you get that extra editorial process.
Writing by hand is the purer form of transferring thought.
Tell me about Jude Traynor, the main character. How did you come up with the name?
The name just popped out. It just kind of came out on paper, and then once I did research on Jude —Saint Jude—whose symbol was an axe, and that he was part of a prophecy… Anyways, I just thought it was pretty cool and coincidental. I didn’t force that name into my script, it just popped in there.
And I got the name Traynor from a family I stayed with in Ireland for a while. [laugh] That’s all. Traynor not being a specific Southern Shore name, which is important. I want to write Irish-Catholic names, but Jesus Christ! It’s just hard to find one that isn’t a specific Southern Shore name… Kavanagh, Keith Kavanagh [from Down to the Dirt], I had a claim to that because Kavanagh is my mother’s name.
Are you running out of names? [laugh]
I don’t think it’s a big issue. This one in particular I had to be careful about, pretty much.
Murder and Mayhem on the Southern Shore! [thumps table]
There’s a scene in the play where Jude kills a fox. Have you ever killed a fox?
[laugh] Yes, I have.
[more serious tone] Yes. I killed a fox with an axe. Different circumstances as what is in the play, but specifically quite the same: caught a fox by the hind leg, it had bust through a bunch of my snares, and I killed him with the back of an axe. I was about fifteen at the time. [pause] [laugh]
Actually, it’s a funny fucking story too. I was with another guy and he was much older. I was drunk and stoned on weed for the first combination. I was really fucked up, and all the woods were coming in at me. As soon as I could focus on something it would break off and just float away. I was really fucked up, hey? I got a rabbit and a grouse, and then there was a fox. And where he was caught by his hind leg, he didn’t understand it and he couldn’t pull away from it, right? And it’s always really troubled me that I killed this fox when I was drunk. And I think I kind of killed it under the pressure of the guy who was with me, who was much older. It has always troubled me.
Anyways, I carried the fox out, slung it over my shoulder and it bled all down my pants…
…Like what happens to Jude in the script…
Yeah. All down my pants. So I came out of the woods, loaded drunk, covered in blood. I went into my friend’s house, which was one of these free-for-all houses on the Southern Shore, anybody could come any time of night or day and make yourself a cup of tea, start up the stove, have a cigarette…
And I sat down on her new couch. When I woke up I was stuck to the couch and I had this fox’s blood dried all over.
Well, she got fucking cracked and she took the covers off the couch and put them out on the front lawn on the clothesline. Word got around that I had ruined her couch. She left the covers up there, flapping like a fucking flag for two weeks, and everybody was drivin up and down the shore saying, “ah, that’s Bride’s couch, Joel ruined it.”
Anyways, when I woke up, the fox was gone. The guy who I’d been in the woods had sold it…
…The guy who pressured you to kill the fox.
I don’t know if I killed it for some macho reason, or I don’t know what the fuck it was. But I look back and think that he, the skittish type that he was, was fucking terrified of this fox, and he was just using me because I was half-cracked and always up for anything.
Anyway, when I woke up, he had sold the fox for fifty bucks, and all around it was like “no, by’ I don’t know who he sold it to.” But it had disappeared.
I was really upset, because, you know, it was mine kind of. It was the first fox I had ever fucking seen up close in the woods, and I felt some kind of special connection to it.
About three years later, I was at a house party in Cape Broyle and I was admiring this fox that was up. I was telling the guy who owned the house about this time I killed a fox, and he nodded, and said “oh yeah…”
I found out about a year later that I was staring at the fox that I had killed.
I remember getting really upset about it for some reason. I was about seventeen or so and I was thinking about how it was sold and kind of mine, and I was planning how to get it back. I found out later it had burnt in a cabin fire.
But rabbit, grouse, what’s the difference with killing a fox? Going into the woods you get a rabbit and a grouse and a fox. Why don’t you kill the fox? Because it’s good-looking? Because you don’t eat it? What?
And foxes, and coyotes, and dogs, they’re all in the same category where I’m from. I know whose dog went into the wrong lawn and got shot, you know? It’s that kind of way. I was very much a part of that world, and therefore, it’s not like my conscience kicked in at the time.
But it obviously played on my conscience a lot because the story wound up in this play…
I would say a lot of the scenes that make up Jude’s childhood are a part of my own childhood mythology. Like the story of the fox, and there are other things that belong in the longer manuscript form that are very much from my own upbringing….
You know, it’s a fucking dark old show. It was a dark thing to write, even the lighter moments had some darkness….
I’m really looking forward to it though. It’ll be an enormous accomplishment for me.
Why is that?
Because this is the story that I wanted to write when I became a writer, you know?
Coming from the Southern Shore, being a less-than-desirable presence at times, and the only thing that really keeps you going is your desire to create and your interest in books—to actually get it all off the ground years later, it’s a major accomplishment for me.
…How are you breaking the script down and putting it on stage?
I’m just standing there, telling the story. It’s very much about getting back to the roots of theatre, which is essentially telling. All the bells and whistles that the caveman had was the mask, dancing around the fire. So all we got is the mask of being in character. It’s just storytelling. It’s just an actor on stage telling a story to an audience.
And it’s a cracking good tale about murder and mayhem on the Southern Shore!
I might dance! [laugh]
Say Nothing Saw Wood, written and performed by Joel Thomas Hynes, directed by Charlie Tomlinson, LSPU Hall 753-4531 (Mon, May 7th – Sun, May 13)