C/O Charlotte Schwartz

Questions of literary expression and political tensions at the core of this alum’s debut novel  

Chinmayi Yathiraju, contributor

Amidst an enduring global pandemic and rising political tensions, one needs only scroll through social media to become uncomfortably aware of our precarious and shifting political climate. There are several difficult issues that arise in the face of this transition, including the effects of individual actions on our political atmosphere and the turning of blind eyes to social issues. These are the kinds of issues alumnus Luke Beirne explores in his debut novel, Foxhunt.  

Having grown up surrounded by books and a father who is a writer, literature has always been a constant in Beirne’s life. During his undergraduate studies, his passion for writing developed further when he took creative writing courses. Since then, Beirne has written in a freelance capacity and has been published in various magazines including the Hamilton Arts & Letters magazine. Foxhunt is his debut novel. 

Set in 1950s London, Foxhunt follows Canadian writer, Milne Lowell, who leaves Montreal to work for a literary magazine supporting free expression. However, with rising political tensions and the progression of the Cold War, suspicions about the magazine’s affiliations begin to rise, leading to disconcerting encounters and calling everything Lowell knows into question.  

The inspiration for Foxhunt came from Beirne’s undergraduate thesis project, when he first learned about the political affiliations of a major literary magazine and its role in perpetuating propaganda.  

The inspiration for Foxhunt came from Beirne’s undergraduate thesis project, when he first learned about the political affiliations of a major literary magazine and its role in perpetuating propaganda.

“I thought it was an interesting thing that one of the largest literary magazines in London at that time was being used for propaganda purposes. One of the things about that magazine was that people claim they didn't know . . . if they really didn't know that they were contributing to propaganda, how could their words be used for propaganda purposes?” said Beirne.  

During his years completing his master’s degree in cultural studies and critical theory at McMaster University, Beirne’s research led him to a similar story of another magazine from the United States. Fuelled by his interest in literary culture and his fascination with the history of the Cold War and political propaganda, Beirne began writing Foxhunt in the fall of 2018.  The novel took shape over the next three years, with much of his initial draft having been written at his home in New Brunswick.  

In researching the historical context relevant to his novel, Beirne was able to delve into the relationship between the Cold War and the professionalization of creative writing. He was intrigued to learn the University of Iowa’s writers’ workshop, which has inspired and offered the framework for creative writing programs and workshops across the world, had links to the Cold War.  

“I thought that it was very interesting, that the way that creative writing has been structured — and is still structured — has certain political implications,” said Beirne.  

While his previous works have centered around genre fiction, Beirne considers Foxhunt to be a distinctly character driven novel. Grappling with complex social phenomena and the development and spread of propaganda, this is a novel he hopes will stay with readers long after turning the last page.  

Beyond simply enjoying the story, Beirne hopes readers walk away with questions and can return to the story to find new insights and develop new interpretations.   

“People go along in their daily lives and don't think about the political implications of their actions . . . [This novel] is an exploration of themes that are relevant today in terms of passivity and ideology, political participation and how people get sucked into things,” said Beirne.  

“People go along in their daily lives and don't think about the political implications of their actions . . . [This novel] is an exploration of themes that are relevant today in terms of passivity and ideology, political participation and how people get sucked into things.”

Luke francis Beirne, author of foxhunt

Brimming with suspense, political drama and allusions to various literary works, Foxhunt is a rich and thought-provoking novel on the pursuit of creative expression as it is entangled with the surrounding political climate.  

Foxhunt will be released on April 1, 2022.  

 

This is a shameless self-promotion. You should write for me. Seriously. I’m a nice enough editor and I’ll be eternally grateful if you choose to write. But beyond doing me a favour, writing for the opinions section can be an extremely rewarding experience.

For one, writing an opinion piece is a lot different than simply stating your opinions aloud. When you write an opinion piece, you are forced to confront your own assumptions and really delve into why you hold the opinions that you do. This can lead to the strengthening or even complete change of beliefs. At the very least, writing an opinion piece will force you to understand the nuances of your opinion.

You’ll also have to argue effectively, or at least learn how. No one will agree with your opinions, even important ones, if they are not well-substantiated and well-written. Thus, writing for the opinions sections provides the unique opportunity to format your opinions in a formal and argumentative way that is meant to convince others of your stance. Not only will this help persuade others to think similarly but the ability to effectively communicate your thoughts and beliefs is an essential skill for almost all professions.

Speaking of professions, writing for the opinions section is a fantastic opportunity for students for a multitude of reasons. You’ll inevitably become a stronger writer, an important skill in today’s job market. When you write for the opinions section, your piece will likely go through several rounds of editing before being accepted. You will essentially receive feedback on how to become a better writer, something that is difficult to obtain outside of classroom assessments that have the risk of grades attached. If all goes well, you’ll also be published, which is an incentive in itself.

Writing for the opinions section also allows you to make your voice heard. Do you think that our opinions section focuses too much on certain issues and not enough on others of equal or greater importance? Do you disagree with some or all of the opinions that are published? Are you tired of reading opinions from the same person each week?

These are all valid criticisms but they don’t mean very much without any action. Sure, you can post a lengthy Facebook comment, detailing how much you hate The Silhouette’s opinion section and disagree with all our published articles. But that comment probably won’t reach a wide audience. The only way to actually make a change is by writing opinion articles yourself. Disagree with something we wrote? Write a counter-piece. So long as whatever you write falls within our guidelines, it’ll undergo the same scrutiny and revision process that all other articles are put through.

University is the perfect time to form new opinions. Now is your chance to refine and make these opinions known. If you ever have an idea for an opinion piece, please send me an email at opinions@thesil.ca.

 

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Every few months, we get a message from a student or alumnus who wants us to take down something they’ve written for the paper. Our policy around removal has always been that if the published article poses a safety risk or creates any other form of danger, we’ll take it down or take your name off the article as requested. Otherwise, we will work with the person to find alternative ways to mitigate their discomfort with having the article published.

Sometimes their requests are unreasonable — for example, requests to take the article down because the writing was bad, the author no longer agrees with an opinion article they submitted or that a true fact published in the paper will damage someone’s reputation. I understand these concerns. Now that all of The Silhouette’s articles go online, student’s writing, or the news about their on-campus activities is no longer just under university-wide scrutiny. Anyone around the world has access to it. This has been great for many of our writers and articles. We get readers from unexpected countries (as far as Australia!), and have expanded our readership significantly. It also means we get more complaints from people who don’t want the articles they wrote or are mentioned in to show up in their Google searches.

Wanting to delete articles you’re not proud of is fundamentally misguided. It speaks to a lack of understanding of individual growth. Whether it’s because your writing wasn’t as good as it could be, or you said something you don’t believe anymore, your acknowledgement of both shows how much you’re grown and improved as both a writer and a person. Publishing a controversial opinion in any online platform is an important decision. You have to be prepared for the backlash and the feedback, and be ready to defend your point of view. If you change your mind later and realize that you don’t even know the person who wrote those horrible things, then it’s up to you to own up to it.

Wanting to delete articles you’re not proud of is fundamentally misguided. It speaks to a lack of understanding of individual growth. 

If you fear a damaged reputation because you reported true facts, all I can say is: that’s too bad. The Silhouette won’t censor itself to help you clean up your public image. These situations can vary in severity, but they all speak to the need to act ethically, kindly and wisely in all aspects of your (public) life. This is especially true for student politicians.

While student newspapers and organizations are less serious and more forgiving than their “real world” counterparts, they’re still no joke. It’s a reality that’s not meant to scare you, but to inspire you to make the best of your time here. Put a lot thought into what you write and how you act. Stand up for things you believe in, but be open to changing your mind. If you make mistakes, the best thing to do is to own up to them. Even if we delete your article from our servers, rest assured that the internet at-large is not such a forgiving place.

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At the recommendation of a friend, I started 2016 with a series called All For The Game. The first book was free on iBooks, and the other two books in the trilogy were less than a dollar each.

Although I was confused why they were so cheap, I didn’t pay much thought to it. It wasn’t until I was halfway through the second book in the trilogy that I found out it was self-published, and at that point the occasional typos and the unexpectedness of the character backgrounds started to make sense. A particular one was that the trilogy, in the barest of summaries, features a sport loosely based on lacrosse. In this case, however, the author took some liberties and applied her own changes. The most significant changes were that each team can be open to both male and female players, and that each team can contain a mix of both. In fact, one of the founders of the sport itself is a woman.

This was information I tucked away for further musing until earlier this month I stumbled upon another self-published book, The Posterchildren. It’s a superhero story with a POC main character and diverse sexualities throughout the board. A friend informed me, after I’d started telling them about the book, that the author had gained a substantial following in the fanfiction community, and that the book itself was largely influenced by already existing material from the DC Universe.

This got me wondering, then, if an author needed to self-publish to guarantee that their book, which features people of colour identifying as members of the LGBTQ community, will be published. I think the answer might be yes.

Some mainstream authors look down on what Forbes is now referring to as “indie publishing.”

Of course, there are non-self-published books out there featuring diverse characters. That’s not to say, however, that the world of fiction isn’t lacking at all in diversity. The LGBTQ genre of fiction mostly features gay men, and a significant share of the genre are stories with unnecessarily tragic endings to cater to a teenage audience ready to gobble it up and cry about their doomed OTP. There’s also always the well-written coming out stories, and while some of these stories are needed, it doesn’t make sense that the genre is, quite literally, defined by coming out and tragedy. It doesn’t make sense that, while the rest of the YA genre gets yet another girl-falls-in-love-with-bad-boy series, the LGBTQ genre continues to struggle with redefining itself with other aspects of fiction such as lesbian superheroes. As a consequence, some authors have to resort to self-publishing to incorporate some diversity into a genre that’s overshadowed by mainstream stories.

Some mainstream authors look down on what Forbes is now referring to as “indie publishing.” A lot of the publishing process can be credited to the editors and publishers themselves, but I highly doubt it’s fair to dismiss self-published authors for that reason. Yes, there might be typos and awkward parts due to lack of professional editors, and it might be hard to find these stories without it being through a recommendation. However, no matter how much more diverse the fiction world is beginning to get, it will still be difficult for some authors to find the grounding they need to provide the representation they can. Getting published is hard enough as it is, and harder still for authors trying to release protagonists identifying with the asexual spectrum and sports with strong female players playing alongside “the boys.”

We shouldn’t look down at these self-published authors and scoff at them. There might come a time where self-publishing is the new mainstream, but I hope that, if that time does come, diversity and representation of minorities will have been properly incorporated into mainstream fiction.

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This marks the end of my second year writing for The Silhouette. Last year was the first time I ever got my feet wet in the world of sports writing. It was something I wanted to get into since high school and McMaster gave me a great outlet. This year I was the Sports Reporter for the school paper and got a better feel of what sports journalism as a job felt like in a university setting.

This opportunity has allowed me to have conversations with people I never thought I would talk to and develop a love for my school I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. It has opened doors that would’ve remained closed. I don’t know what my McMaster experience would be like if I didn’t walk into The Silhouette’s office in September 2014.

A little initiative on my part went a long way.

One of the first things I learned at The Silhouette was that my job wasn’t to write recaps or “gamers.” That’s boring and it would be a waste of my time and your time. As a student writer on a university campus that has teams that participate at the provincial and national levels in the OUA and CIS, I have a landscape full of potential content awaiting me. Access to student-athletes, coaches and games were at my fingertips. I have unique inside access to these things because I am a student here. Outside journalists don’t have this access.

I had classes with student-athletes and made friends with them even before getting this writing job. I learned right away from my former Sports Editor Scott Hastie that I should not hesitate to take advantage of the opportunities I have right in front of me. I started to meet with coaches and student-athletes regularly and quickly learned that, while they do hold respected positions in the sports world, they are human beings with stories.

They are not that much different from you and I.

This opportunity has allowed me to have conversations with people I never thought I would talk to and develop a love for my school I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. It has opened doors that would’ve remained closed. 

The more I talked to these people and wrote about them I started to see it as more than a job. I genuinely enjoyed getting to hear their thoughts and understand their perspectives. As time went on my interviews felt more and more like conversations, which by the way, is how it’s supposed to be. I remember being nervous before some of my first interviews back in 2014, but now I just embrace each one as another chance to understand a person and their profession. Scott Radley, from The Hamilton Spectator, told me that a good sports writing piece will have the ability to make someone who wasn’t at the game or someone who knows nothing about sports want to read what I wrote.

Regardless of age or background, humans like to read about other humans. Telling human stories is when the best writing comes out. It doesn’t even have to be sports. Sports Reporter is my job title, but what I’m doing is telling the stories of human beings through the language of sports — a language I just so happen to speak.

This year I came to this realization: it’s about relationships and people.

It always has been and it always will be no matter what my job title is.

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When I first heard that a movie called The End of The Tour was in the works about American author, David Foster Wallace, I was very cynical. When I found out that Jason Segel was being cast as the recently deceased literary genius, my worries were not alleviated. With Segel being paired with Jesse Eisenberg as David Lipsky, I was bracing myself for disaster considering the dissonance of their personalities.

The tour referenced in the title refers to how the film tells the story of the five-day interview Lipsky did with Wallace for Rolling Stone at the peak of Wallace’s career, following the publication of his novel, Infinite Jest. The interview between the two strangers morphs into a sort of lengthy first date, where the two discuss the ups and downs of life, and attempt to find truth in each other and themselves. Lipsky turned this interview into a memoir in 2010, after it wasn’t featured in Rolling Stone in 2006 as intended. The memoir in turn inspired the making of The End of the Tour.

After avoiding it for some time, I finally gave into my curiosity and watched the movie. Running one hour and 46 minutes, the movie was long, but it rewarded those who stuck with it until the end with a hefty dose of inspiration and much to ponder. The movie echoes what Lipsky did in his own book, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, in its heavy reliance on using Wallace’s own quotes, rather than trying to speak for him. There is, of course, the other aspect of speaking on his behalf, with the film crew being left to devise their own interpretation of Wallace’s actions, behaviours, speech patterns, but they do so with care. There was nothing outlandish about Segel’s portrayal of Wallace, and that has to be respected.

There was one part, however, that was a little off-putting. About three-fourths of the way through, conversation between the two men felt rushed — it seemed as though they were trying to jam in as many quotes as they could before their time ran out. The shift starts just after a tense moment of jealousy between the two men over a woman. This inspires a heated conversation in Wallace’s living room, and continues into the night, when Wallace enters Lipsky’s bedroom to ask if he’s awake. Given that Lipsky is, and he says so, Wallace stands in the doorway and spouts lines about depression and an over-analysis of the self. It seemed like they needed to invent more ways and places for the two to converse, and this is just an attempt at a new, creative setting. The slate is wiped clean between the two in the morning after Lipsky tearfully writes down notes from what Wallace had said that night.

The movie largely focuses on the secondary character, Lipsky, almost making him the main character. Eisenberg is essentially used as a vehicle to express Wallace’s ideas, to be a prompt. The focus on Lipsky is also an attempt to talk about what it’s like to meet and talk with someone you admire, a mentor of sorts. Lipsky expresses his own feelings of inadequacy and adoration for Wallace, through both saying it and directing a prolonged, mesmerized look at him. This tactic makes the movie more palpable and accessible to an audience, where you can find some of yourself in the Lipsky character. The sentiments quoted in this film are universal. It’s a truly pleasurable experience consuming something that resonates with you, and this film fits easily into that category.

I could not rave about this film enough. Both Segel and Eisenberg deliver performances that echo two great men in a way that is poignant and memorable — I was wrong about my initial objection about their casting. I would easily recommend this movie to both fans of David Foster Wallace and strangers to his incredible written works. At the very least, The End of The Tour brings viewers into the world of a brilliant writer where they can find the little sparks of life that still keep Wallace alive in his interviews, short stories, and critically acclaimed novels.

Photo Credit: Rolling Stone

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