For Joel Thomas Hynes, the Winterset win was personal

“The child in me is desperate … to be accepted by certain people, by certain communities that would never give it up, would never acknowledge anything beyond who they tarred me to be 25 or 30 years ago,” he said. “It’s fairly confusing at times for me, personally, to be putting out what’s largely considered autobiographical fiction … and to be applauded then and receive accolades and book deals for apparently the worst of your character traits.”

That kind of subject matter can provoke strong reactions from people in the province. But the Winterset, which he won on Thursday for his novel We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night, has been emotionally complicated for the author, filmmaker, actor and musician. “Sometimes the more you get under your belt, the more achievements, the stronger the desire becomes in me to just get that little nod from that place where you’ve always wanted it.” “It’s different for me to be recognized in the province and in the country. The Winterset is somehow a lot more personal.”

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One the one hand, he said it was strange to be in the running with his longtime mentor, Wayne Johnston, who was nominated for his novel, First Snow, Last Light. ‘I just decided to fight’
When he first finished the novel, Hynes said he was determined to have it published — he liked the voice he had found for the book’s protagonist, Johnny Keough, and he wanted the story in the world. It’s not all autobiographical, he said, but it’s all “emotionally true,” and drawn from his own experiences. “I thought it was worthy of the bookshelves, and I just decided to fight,” he said. 

‘I get my fair share of critics or hate mail.’
– Joel Thomas Hynes

He dropped his long-term literary agent who, in earlier drafts, didn’t support the book’s Newfoundland voice, he said. ‘The nomination polarized a lot of my insecurities.’
– Joel Thomas Hynes

He feels accepted by the Newfoundland literary community, particularly after finishing a tour with this year’s March Hare literary festival, he said. “For all the applause and the congratulations I’ve gotten over the last few years, I get my fair share of critics or hate mail,” he said. “I was starting to second-guess my voice or my abilities or my worth in the industry so much that I left that agency, and it was a major professional decision,” he said. 
‘I know there is a lot of misinterpretation’
While Hynes is always ready to fight for the his voice and for the province’s place within it, he said it’s harder to figure out the place his voice has in the province. “It’s a bittersweet thing, to be honest with you,” he said. But he’s still fighting those critics at home. And on the other, the award comes from his home province, awarded to writers from Newfoundland and Labrador by writers from Newfoundland and Labrador — a place with which Hynes has a complicated relationship. “And on the other side of that coin, I feel at times really alienated and misunderstood.”
Win was unexpected
As a result, the Winterset win was “totally unexpected,” he said. “The nomination polarized a lot of my insecurities.”
He’s grateful and humbled by the win, and by the continued success of the book he fought so hard to bring to light, he said. His work is dark and harrowing, exploring a side of life in Newfoundland not often found in the province’s literature. With a Governor General’s Award under his belt, it might be easy to assume Joel Thomas Hynes is taking his recent Winterset Award in stride.