POP Montreal 2016 profile: Will McClelland’s “The Minted”

Imagine Toronto being destroyed by a horde of 300,000 raccoons. If that’s not enough, throw in some demons and muzzled members of Canada’s Parliament for good measure. Those are just some of the crazy ideas brought forth by Canadian novelist Will McClelland in his new book The Minted – and the backstory of its creation is just as intriguing.

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Having started the book at age 23 – first by working on it for 10 years before spending the next four trying to get it published, and throwing out hundreds of pages in the process – the now-38-year-old author conceived the idea for the novel in part through the band he’s opening for tonight at the Fairmount Theatre with a book reading at POP: the Sadies.

“If the Sadies were American, they would have been on the cover of Rolling Stone five times already,” he says. “I know this will sound like boosterism of friends, but I’ve been saying for a long time that they’re the best rock n’ roll band in the world.”

Having seen the band open for Neil Young back in 1993 in his early teens with his younger brother Andy – a musician known as Li’l Andy who’s also playing tonight’s event, and who we interviewed for POP last year – and thinking their set was “more intense” and “more rock n’ roll” than Young’s was, the brothers would eventually get connected with the Sadies personally.

In Andy’s case, it was through playing shows with them; in Will’s, it was through a four-month solo hitchhiking trip he took across Canada where he bumped into the band in Canmore, AB whilst on tour – an experience which would serve as a major source of inspiration for the novel. More specifically, it was from watching them play a show – and show up fashionably late beforehand – at the Canmore Hotel, leading to him eventually selling merchandise for them.

“They’ve been my favourite band for over 10 years, and I’m very lucky and honoured that I get to hang out and work for and be friends with my absolute favourite band,” he says.

“There are certain characters [in the book] that are such a psychotic mania unto themselves that they were created just listening to the Sadies driving around late at night on country roads, riding in front of the headlights of my truck, with the Sadies blaring on logging roads that are closed. That’s how I wrote my Gules character – he’s like a demon made out of moose blood.”

Focusing on the character of The Moose, the anthropomorphic leader of an animal rebellion in Canada, the book’s story is told through multiple footnotes and journal entries. It tells the story of animals going through the process of minting – in other words, having their souls captured and turned into money – and responding by causing a mass uprising against urban Canada in the year 2030. It’s a compelling – yet dark and sometimes terrifying – ride through a dystopian, sci-fi version of our country, but also one seemingly defined by how Will views the way we are right now.

“I’d been fascinated by both Canada and the idea of Canada for a long, long time, and had always studied Canadian literature; Canadian music; Canadian film,” Will says. “When I set out on that trip originally, I don’t know what I thought I would discover or experience, but… we’re real hypocrites in this country in terms of who we think we are, and who we actually are.”

“An easy example [would be] in terms of how we think that in some way we’re rugged or of the natural world, or the North is pristine, when in fact we’re one of the most urbanized populations in the world… All the different ways in which we take the North for granted and have turned our back on the North, turned our back on First Nations, you get beyond a certain point in this country and you realize government’s not even really there – it’s just corporations that are there.”

Although the book was still in its infancy, Andy – who also uses animals as a literary device in his lyrics – would get one hell of a taste of what was to come, having been sent initial ideas about it via email from Will during his hitchhiking trip.

“Will started talking in these emails in the voice of this character [The Moose], and it was a really destabilizing, weird experience,” he laughs. “I’d be getting these emails that would start pretty normally and then go off on these strange, metaphysical, angry, polemic rants about Canada. I would think, ‘This kind of sounds like Will, but it kind of sounds like someone has invaded his email account or taken over his voice.’ It was fun to see that develop.”

As far as what one can take away from the experience of reading the book, Will hopes readers will feel more comfortable to face Canada’s dark history after finishing it, even though the country is seen as “the source of ultimate evil” by many of its characters.

“There’s many, many different veins and branches of dark, genuine ongoing shame in this country,” he says. “But there’s also a very unique experiment. Canada’s a country that does not work in theory, but somehow does work in practice – you sense that in Toronto, you sense that in Montreal, you sense that in Vancouver, and not just those multicultural superstar metropolises of Canada [either]… There is a lot to be proud of here.”

Will McClelland will do a reading from his new book The Minted – which is available now – tonight at the Fairmount Theatre, alongside The Sadies, Li’l Andy, and Charlotte Cornfield, with the show due to start at 9:30 p.m. Tickets for the event are $18 apiece plus service charges. If you’ve got an hour to spare, you can listen to our full interview with Will and Andy below.

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