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They write attention-getting books, they compete for awards ... and they're married

Holly Hogan and Michael Crummey playing scrabble. (Mark Cumby - image credit)
Holly Hogan and Michael Crummey playing scrabble. (Mark Cumby - image credit)
Holly Hogan and Michael Crummey playing scrabble.
Holly Hogan and Michael Crummey playing scrabble.

Holly Hogan and Michael Crummey spent part of the last year on the road, sharing the floor on a joint book tour. (Mark Cumby)

Holly Hogan and Michael Crummey are both authors who have celebrated books in the last year — they are each nominated for the BMO Winterset award, which will be presented Thursday — and are also partners in life.

The couple have had quite the year, sharing a book tour across Canada, and seeing their respective work earn attention far from their St. John's home.

Crummey, author of books like River Thieves, Sweetland and The Innocents, has been a force in Canadian publishing for a couple of decades, and is known for his immersive fictional exploration of Newfoundland's cultural and historical depths. His latest novel, The Adversary, returns to those themes, this time with a Cain-vs-Abel vibe.

In contrast, Hogan, a seabird biologist, is now in the literary limelight with her husband. Her first book, Message in a Bottle: Ocean Dispatches from a Seabird Biologist, was shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Awards in the non-fiction category.

Bringing together nature, science and adventure, Hogan shines a light on our plastic-addicted lifestyle, giving accounts of its devastating effects on the marine environment—and highlights global efforts to combat it.

Both books — as well as Hollow Bamboo, by St. John's writer William Ping — are up for the Winterset Award, which will be presented Thursday at Government House in St. John's. The annual literary prize was founded by the late Toronto journalist Richard Gwyn to honour his wife, the writer Sandra Gwyn, and her roots in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Michael Crummey, author of The Adversary.
Michael Crummey, author of The Adversary.

Michael Crummey's latest novel is The Adversary, which returns to familiar themes about Newfoundland and family connections. (Mark Cumby )

Crummey, who said he identifies as "Holly Hogan's husband," and Hogan sat down with me recently for a conversation about their books, their writing and their life together.

Although the two authors are married, they make for a bit of a literary odd couple. For instance, Crummey's focus is on the past, while Hogan's eye is on the future.

As well, they not only explore different genres and audiences but also have two different writing processes.

Hogan recalled how she started the "really long project" of writing a manuscript, and was advised to write 500 words a day.

"Michael pays no attention to that, but for him, it's a minimum," she said. "For me, it was a maximum, so I had my 500-word dance every day."

Hogan, whose book details her experiences and research, found strengths as she continued through the writing process.

"I was very vocal about all of my little tiny accomplishments, whereas Michael would disappear into an office and then three months later emerge with a draft of a book. It's really annoying," she said with a smile.

A private process — until it's not

Crummey, on the other hand, prefers to be more reserved about his process.

"I don't like talking about it because I don't know what it is.… So for me, figuring it out is the process of putting the words on the page, and for Holly, a lot of figuring out was talking it out and throwing out ideas and saying, 'Well, what about this?'" he said.

"I feel like it's really, really private — until it's not," he said. "I really don't want anybody else's hand in my head rummaging around at that, you know, until I feel like it's ready to be rummaged at."

Holly Hogan, Author of Message in a Bottle: Ocean Dispatches from a Seabird Biologist.
Holly Hogan, Author of Message in a Bottle: Ocean Dispatches from a Seabird Biologist.

Holly Hogan's first book is Message in a Bottle: Ocean Dispatches from a Seabird Biologist. (Mark Cumby)

They do, though, rely on each other's insight into what they're trying to write.

Hogan has read all 13 of Crummey's books, while Crummey has read Hogan's book probably about 13 times.

LISTEN | Holly Hogan discusses her first book with CBC Radio's The Next Chapter:

Crummey is certain, too, who will be get to see his future manuscripts first.

"Holly is one of my first readers, and so for some reason she assumed I should be one of hers," he said.

"So I did."

A veteran of Canada's literary fiction scene, he was thrilled to see Hogan find her voice on the page.

"When she got the contract, I said to her, 'I'm thrilled and this [is] going to be a really important book.' And I knew it was going to be a really good book, because she's just got such a way with words, and she knows the subject inside out."

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