TORONTO â€” 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 â€” 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 â€” as I’m sure most people who have been battered â€” 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,” says Walsh.
“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,” says Walsh. “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?'”
As Walsh tours for the book, she’s also preparing several other projects, including “A Christmas Fury,” based on her short-lived series “Hatching, Matching and Dispatching.” The cast will also include Mark McKinney, Jonny Harris, and Shaun Majumder.
Walsh is also writing a screenplay for a film and working on a comedy tour with Ron James and Thomas King, among others, for Canada’s 150th anniversary.
“It tells the story of Canada but the story that hasn’t been told,” she says of the comedy show. “We didn’t discover Canada, we invaded Canada. It was hard to discover a place that was already populated.”
Marg Delanhunty will also be coming out soon to ambush someone at a hospital fundraiser â€” and perhaps somewhere else.
“I was thinking that it would be fun to ambush Ivanka (Trump),” says Walsh. “I’m beginning to really dislike her intensely.”
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press