Fic­tional char­ac­ter came from fa­mil­iar place

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - VIC­TO­RIA AHEARN

Cana­dian com­edy star Mary Walsh says her de­but novel “Cry­ing for the Moon” isn’t the story of her life, but it does bor­row some el­e­ments from her past.

The har­row­ing tale fol­lows teen Mau­reen, a down­trod­den, Catholic school stu­dent from hard­scrab­ble St. John’s who gets preg­nant dur­ing a choir trip to Expo 67 in Mon­treal. Af­ter be­ing forced to give the child up for adoption, she gets caught in a web of al­co­hol ad­dic­tion, do­mes­tic abuse, mur­der and drug deal­ers.

Walsh, a St. John’s na­tive her­self who cre­ated the CBC com­edy “This Hour Has 22 Min­utes,” notes she didn’t go to Expo 67, didn’t get preg­nant and didn’t try to poi­son her boyfriend, as Mau­reen does.

But the 64-year-old did grow up not far from Mau­reen’s neigh­bour­hood, “where all the boot­leg­gers were.”

Walsh was raised by her aunts and un­cle, near her par­ents’ home, which was too damp for her to live in af­ter a bad bout with pneu­mo­nia.

“There are so many par­al­lels,” says the af­fa­ble satirist and Gemini Award win­ner, who’s re­ceived the Or­der of Canada and a Gov­er­nor Gen­eral’s Per­form­ing Arts Award.

“I was com­ing of age when it was free love and groovy, and peo­ple who sold dope were con­sid­ered to be re­bel­lious su­per­stars, kind of — as op­posed to now, they’re con­sid­ered to be the bot­tom of the bar­rel and re­ally ter­ri­ble peo­ple … So I am a prod­uct of that era and so the book is a prod­uct of me.”

Like Mau­reen, Walsh was also once in a vi­o­lent re­la­tion­ship, which helped her un­der­stand her hero­ine’s heart­break­ing mind­set.

“I think that the bat­tered wo­man de­fence, which didn’t ex­ist in 1970, is a valid de­fence, be­cause I feel that I was — as I’m sure most peo­ple who have been bat­tered — was trav­el­ling out­side of my­self and was not ... there,” says Walsh, not­ing she’s read stud­ies sug­gest­ing that phys­i­cal abuse changes the brain.

“I wasn’t al­ways aware or con­scious of what I was do­ing and nei­ther did I want to be, be­cause I des­per­ately wanted not to be in the sit­u­a­tion that I was in.

“That helped me to write Mau­reen’s predica­ment and I found that very dif­fi­cult, be­cause I guess I didn’t re­ally want to be there again.”

Walsh, an ac­tor, co­me­dian, ac­tivist and direc­tor, has also bat­tled al­co­hol ad­dic­tion but has been sober for over 20 years now.

“I be­lieve that al­co­holism, like heart dis­ease or di­a­betes, runs in fam­i­lies,” Walsh says.

“I be­lieve it is a men­tal, phys­i­cal and spir­i­tual ill­ness, and that it’s a dis­ease and it’s a chronic ill­ness, and it doesn’t just get better be­cause you went to the re­hab.”

Walsh says she’s al­ways been a vo­ra­cious reader and wanted to write a novel since she was young.

She started ex­plor­ing the is­sues Mau­reen faces when she cre­ated the back­story for Marg De­lahunty, her in­fa­mous War­rior Princess char­ac­ter who am­bushes politi­cians on “22 Min­utes.”

Like Mau­reen, Marg is also from St. John’s, also con­ceived a child dur­ing Expo 67, and gave it up for adoption, and also longs to re­unite with that child.

“Mau­reen’s voice was al­ready there,” Walsh says.

“Peo­ple of­ten ask me if I’m go­ing to do an­other book and I of­ten think, ‘Well, is there an­other book that’s wait­ing there in the way that this one was?’”

TIM LEYES, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Mary Walsh says she grew up not far from her main char­ac­ter’s neigh­bour­hood. “There are so many par­al­lels,” she says.

HARPER­COLLINS CANADA

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