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2020 Newfoundland and Labrador Book Awards

By 49thShelf
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The Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador is ecstatic to announce to longlist for the 2020 Newfoundland and Labrador Book Awards (NLBAs)! This year, we are honouring two categories – the Fiction Award, sponsored by Killick Capital, and The Bruneau Family Award for Children’s/Young Adult Literature. For a complete list of books, visit
The Boat People

The Boat People

also available: Paperback

By the winner of The Journey Prize, and inspired by a real incident, The Boat People is a gripping and morally complex novel about a group of refugees who survive a perilous ocean voyage to reach Canada – only to face the threat of deportation and accusations of terrorism in their new land.
When the rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and five hundred fellow refugees reaches the shores of British Columbia, the young father is overcome with relief: he and his six-year-old son can finally put …

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July 2009
Mahindan was flat on his back when the screaming began, one arm right-angled over his eyes. He heard the whistle and thud of falling artillery, the cries of the dying. Mortar shells and rockets, the whole world on fire.
     Then another sound. It cut through the clamour so that for a drawn-out second there was nothing else, only him and his son and the bomb that arched through the sky with a shrill banshee scream, spinning nose aimed straight for them. Mahindan fought to open his eyes. His limbs were pinned down and heavy. He struggled to move, to call out in terror, to clamber and run. The ground rumbled. The shell exploded, shards of hot metal spitting in its wake. The tent was rent in half. Mahindan jolted awake.
     Heart like a sledgehammer, he sat up frantic, blinking into the darkness. He heard someone panting and long seconds later realized it was him. The echoing whine of flying shrapnel faded and he returned to the present, to the coir mat under him, back to the hold of the ship.
     There were snores and snuffles, the small nocturnal noises of five hundred slumbering bodies. Beneath him, the engine’s monotonous whir. He reached out, instinctive, felt his son Sellian curled up beside him, then lay down again. The back of his neck was damp.
     His pulse still raced. He smelled the sourness of his skin, the raw animal stink of the bodies all around. The man on the next mat slept with his mouth open. His snore was a revving motorcycle, so close Mahindan could almost feel the warm exhales.
     He put his hand against Sellian’s back, felt it move up and down. Gradually, his own breathing slowed to the same rhythm. He ran a hand through his son’s hair, fine and silky, the soft strands of a child, then stroked his arm, felt the roughness of his skin, the long, thin scratches, the scabbed-over insect bites. Sellian was slight. Six years old and barely three feet tall. How little space the child occupied, coiled into himself, his thumb in his mouth. How precarious his existence, how miraculous his survival.
     Mahindan’s vision adjusted and shapes emerged out of the gloom. The thin rails on either side of the ladder. Lamps strung up along an electrical cord. Outside the porthole window, it was still pitch-black.
     Careful not to wake Sellian, he stood and gingerly made his way across the width of the ship toward the ladder, stepping between bodies huddled on thin mats and ducking under sleepers swaying overhead, cocooned in rope hammocks. It was hot and close, the atmosphere suffocating.
     Hema’s thick plait trailed out on the dirty floor. Mahindan stooped to pick it up and laid it gently on her back as he passed by. Her two daughters shared the mat beside her; they lay on their sides facing each other, knees and foreheads touching. A few feet on, he passed the man with the amputated leg and averted his gaze.
     During the day the ship was rowdy with voices, but now he heard only the slap of the electrical cord against the wall, everyone breathing in and out, recycling the same stale, diesel-scented air.
     A boy cried out in his sleep, caught in a nightmare, and when Mahindan turned toward the sound, he saw Kumuran’s wife comfort her son. With both hands grasping the banisters, Mahindan hoisted himself up the ladder. Emerging onto the deck, inhaling the fresh scent of salt and sea, he felt immediately lighter. From overhead, the mast creaked and he gazed up to see the stars, the half-appam moon glowing alive in the sky. At the thought of appam – doughy, hot off the fire – his stomach gave a plaintive, hollow grumble.
     It was dark, but he knew his way around the ship. A dozen plastic buckets were lined up along the stern. He squatted in front of one and formed his hands into a bowl. The water was tepid, murky with twigs and bits of seaweed. He splashed water on his face and the back of his neck, feeling the grit scratch his skin.
     The boat – a sixty-metre freighter, past its prime and jerry-rigged for five hundred passengers – was cruising through calm waters, groaning under the weight of too much human cargo. Mahindan held on to the railing, rubbing a thumb against the blistered rust.
     A few others were out, shadowy figures keeping silent vigil on both levels of the deck. They had been at sea for weeks or months, sunrises blurring into sunsets. Days spent on deck, tarps draped overhead to block out the sun, and the floor burning beneath them. Stormy nights when the ship would lurch and reel, Sellian cradled in Mahindan’s lap, their stomachs tumbling with the pitch and yaw of the angry ocean.
     But the captain had said they were close and for days they had been expecting land, a man posted at all times in the crow’s nest.
     Mahindan turned his back to the railing and slid down to sit on the deck. Exhaustion whenever he thought of the future; terror when he remembered the past. He yawned and pressed a cheek to raised knees, then tucked his arms in for warmth. At least here on the boat they were safe from attack. Ruksala, Prem, Chithra’s mother and father. The roll call of the dead lulled him to sleep.
He awoke to commotion and gull shrieks. A boy ran down the length of the ship calling for his father. Appa! Appa! There were more people on the deck now, all of them speaking in loud, excited voices.
     The man they called Ranga stood at the railing beside him, staring out. Mahindan was dismayed to see him.
     Land is close, Ranga said.
     Mahindan scanned the straight line of the ocean, trying not to blink. Nearby, a young man stood on the rail and levered his body half out of the boat. An older woman called out: Take care!
     After all this time, finally we have arrived, Ranga said. He grinned at Mahindan and added: Because of you only, I am here.
     Nothing to do with me, Mahindan said. We all took our own chance.
     Mahindan kept his gaze fixed on the horizon. At first he saw the head of a pin, far in the distance, but as he kept watching, the vision emerged. Purple-brown land and blue mountains like ghosts rising in the background. The newspaperman came to join them as the slope of a forest appeared. Mahindan had spoken to him a few times but could not recall his name. Someone said he had been working for a paper in Colombo before he fled.
     We will be intercepted, the newspaperman said. Americans or Canadians, who will catch us first?
     Catch us? Ranga repeated, his voice rising to a squeak.
     But now there were people streaming onto the deck, squeezing in for a view at the railing, and the newspaperman was jostled away. Mahindan edged aside too, relieved to put distance between himself and Ranga.
     There were voices and bodies everywhere. Women plaited their hair over one shoulder. Men pulled their arms through their T-shirts. Most were barefoot. People pressed up around him. The boat creaked and Mahindan felt it list, as everyone crowded in. They stood shoulder to shoulder, people on both levels of the deck, hushing one another, children holding their breath. The trees, the mountains, the strip of beach they could now make out up ahead, it all seemed impossibly big, unreal after days and nights of nothing but sea and sky and the rumbling of the ship. Nightmares of rusted steel finally giving way, belching them all into the ocean.
     Sellian appeared, squeezing himself between legs, one fist against his eyes. Appa, you left me!
     How to leave? Mahindan said. Did you think I jumped in the ocean? He picked his son up in the crook of one arm and pointed. Look! We’re here.
     The clouds burned orange. Mahindan squinted. People shouted and pointed. Look!
     There was a tugboat in the water and a larger ship, its long nose turned up, speeding toward them, sleek and fast, with a tall white flagpole. The wind unfurled the flag, red and white, majestic in the flaming sky. They saw the leaf and a great resounding cheer shook the boat.
     The captain cut the engine and they floated placid. Overhead, there was a chopping sound. Mahindan saw a helicopter, its blades slicing the sky, a red leaf painted on its belly. There were three boats now, all of them circling the ship, a welcome party. On the deck, people waved with both hands. The red-and-white flag snapped definitive.
     Mahindan gripped his son. Sellian shivered in his arms, from fear, from exhilaration, he couldn’t tell. Soon Mahindan was shaking too, armpits dampening. His teeth clattered.
     Their new life. It was just beginning.

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The Luminous Sea

The Luminous Sea

also available: Paperback

A team of researchers from a nearby university have set up a research stat …

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also available: Paperback







In twelve dialed-in and exceptionally honed short stories, Terry Doyle presents an enduring assortment of characters channelled through the chain reactions of misfortune and redemption. A construction worker’s future is bound to a …

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We All Will Be Received

We All Will Be Received

also available: Paperback






In 1977, a young woman swipes a duffel bag of drug money and flees her bad-news boyfriend, hitching a ride with a long-haul trucker who points out satellites and enthuses about the future of space cargo. Building a life disconnected from her past, she assumes a new identity as Dawn Taylor, but thirty years later, runni …

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We All Will Be Received

Leslie Vryenhoek


Disappearing would be as simple as sliding off the edge, as stretching one leg forward and following it over. Dropping from sight. She’d been working up to it for a long time, for hours maybe, shifting her limbs and resettling her hips like a restless sleeper, stealing a little closer to the edge with each shift. Beneath her, the bedsprings had cried out with every small advance, but now she was on the verge, a foot already toeing the air. Just one more move, fast and certain, and she’d be gone.

She closed her eyes and let all the air seep from her lungs. Reached one arm forward. Counted it down.

Counted it down again.

And this time, she did it. She went over. Kicked her leg out, twisted and plunged to the floor. She heard a soft one-two thud as her toes and palms touched down, then heard nothing but the rushing, loud and louder, that filled her ears. Panic, she thought, or adrenaline—were those the same things?—she didn’t know, but it calmed her to wonder it.

She stayed low and still, forehead to the floor. Pulled air through her nose to feed her hammering heart. The motel carpet smelled like wet boots and gas station toilets.

When the noise in her head subsided, she could hear he was still snoring and she began counting again, pacing the rhythm of his guttery breath—the sour whine as he inhaled, the pause, then the roaring exhale. She’d been marking that cycle for a long time, for all the eons it took her to take the plunge, to escape the trough in the mattress that wanted to keep her in his orbit.

Finally she lifted her head and opened her eyes. It was darker down on the floor, but a blade of light bisected the room near the foot of the bed. Slake had left an inch-wide gap in the curtain the last time he’d peeped out. He was loaded by then and careless, or else he wanted the harsh white motel sign for a nightlight.

That light dead-ended at the bunched mound of her t-shirt lying just inside the bathroom door. Her favourite t-shirt, powder blue with cap sleeves and a gentle V of a neckline, and she felt a small tug of regret for having to leave it behind. Near the foot of the bed, just beyond that slash of light, she could make out her khaki jacket, arms spread wide where she’d let it fall. She wanted to leave that too, to get away from it as fast as she could, but her wallet was in the pocket and her ID—a driver’s license, an old library card—would tie her to this. To all of it.

Crawling so close to the floor it was more like slithering, she crossed through the sharp blade of light, gathered the jacket to her chest with one arm and then listened for a moment before making her way around to Slake’s duffel bag. He’d left it lying open alongside the bed—along his side of the bed—easily within his reach.

She rocked back on her heels to look at him, hoping to read the depth of his sleep in the slack line of his mouth, but his face was turned away and cloaked in darkness. His chest was bare and for a scant second, she saw what she’d liked about him—the breadth of his shoulders, the taut line down to his wrist. His right arm was thrown wide, his hand dangling off the bed not a foot from her head. He wouldn’t even have to sit up to grab a handful of her hair, to drag her back onto that squalling bed.

But maybe he wouldn’t bother pulling her up. She could make out his knife on the nightstand. Maybe he wouldn’t even check to see who it was before he struck. Next to the knife, the glint of his car keys and the shape of his watch. She wanted to reach for that, for the watch, wanted to calculate how soon the sun would rise. Wanted to be far enough away before dawn—assuming dawn was even out ahead of her, that she could creep her way out of this dark place.

Tylenol. That’s what she planned to say if he opened his eyes. Where the fuck’s the Tylenol, baby?

He’d grunt an answer or maybe just point impatiently, but then she’d have to take some. She’d have to swallow it down and get back into bed and by then he’d be awake, waiting for her, maybe pissed at being woken up and wanting something to rock him back to sleep.

She slipped her hands into the duffel bag, its leather worn soft and silent, and rooted out what might weigh her down—a tube of Prell shampoo, a beer opener, his jeans. Two bottles of Labatt’s Blue wrapped in one of his filthy shirts. She felt those before they had a chance to clank together and knew he must have forgotten he had them; otherwise they’d be as long gone as the two-six of rye he’d put back earlier.

She lifted out his unzipped shaving kit. Inside, a razor and blades, his bone-dry toothbrush, an empty pill bottle. Slake had sold almost the whole store in Sault Ste. Marie—cashed in before they’d torn out of there.

She ran her hand around the bag’s interior, hoping to find a few stray Quaaludes. Thinking it might be nice to have a few handy, but then she remembered the tranquilizers were on the table behind her, next to the empty rye bottle, because Slake had washed back a couple of them earlier.

Take it easy Elvis, she’d said, hoping to inspire him to swallow a few more.

Slake rarely dipped into the drugs, special occasions only. Like wiping your ass with cash, he said. Besides, I need to stay sharp. Half the time he was drunk when he said that, well past the point when the booze slurred his speech and made him overconfident. Usually they were alone by then, tucked away in a dingy room in some bleak strip of a motel along the highway, and the worst that would happen if he got too loud was a dull thud pounded on a neighbouring wall.

But they hadn’t been alone tonight. Slake had wanted to celebrate, to knock back a few now that he’d made the big delivery and collected his cash. Now that the job was coming to an end. And she’d felt like celebrating too, knowing she’d be back home in a day or two with just enough time to say sorry—Sorry for taking off like that, and can I get that money you said Dad left for my tuition?

Home, and free to get on with her life.

There was nothing left in the duffel bag but a flattened brown paper bag, her clothes, a hairbrush, and all of Slake’s money. She could feel rolls and rolls of it, wrapped in elastic bands. Loose bills, too—folded flat or else wadded up like they’d been jammed in fast. She pinched a few of the folded ones, slipped them into the back pocket of her jeans. Then she laid her jacket over the money, tucking it so it concealed what was underneath and folding one of the arms to hide as much of the blood as possible.

She shouldn’t have clung to the damn jacket. She should have dropped it at her feet or thrown it out the window, anything else, but she’d been too dazed as they’d raced into the night, Slake speeding more than usual, taking curves so fast her shoulder collided again and again with the car door. Still, she didn’t brace—she just hugged that jacket against the wide, wet circle of blood that soaked her t-shirt.

By the time they’d stopped at this motel, the shirt was glued to her, stuck fast just below her ribs.

As soon as they were in the room with the door bolted, Slake had cracked the rye and grabbed the pills. She’d gone to the bathroom so she could strip without him watching her, but once she’d peeled off the blood-stiffened powder blue shirt, Slake was beside her at the sink. When she flinched away, he didn’t seem to notice. He just tore into a bar of soap and cleaned his knife, the blade glowing in the dull bathroom light, then washed his hands more thoroughly than she’d ever seen him wash before. Take a shower, he said. And then he didn’t say anything else, not for more than an hour, not even when she didn’t shower, just put on a different shirt but kept on the same dirty jeans and shoes.

It was unusual, Slake keeping quiet for so long, so she knew he must be shook up, too. When he finally did start talking it had nothing to do with that night, that place, or anything else that had passed between them since they’d met. It was a story from his childhood, a fishing trip, his father or someone like his father, someone who made him hopeful and then made him angry. Convoluted, impossible to follow—not that she was trying. She was just pretending to pay attention, small snatches of his narrative needling in around the crowd of images in her head.

The sound of waves. He said that a few times before he got caught up describing the barb on the end of a fishhook. He kept repeating that detail, circling back to it. The barb, he slurred. The hook. He was fucked up by then, not even talking to her. Not even in the room with her. Which made it easier for her to slip back into the bathroom with the cup of rye he’d handed her and pour it down the sink. He was too far gone to notice that she wasn’t keeping up, that she was staying sharp—so sharp she’d pretended to pass out with her shoes still on.

Under the bed, she lined up Slake’s things—his jeans next to the shampoo, his beer beside the shaving kit. All of it waiting right there for him. Everything but his money. She didn’t leave any of it, not even enough for breakfast or a pack of cigarettes. She thought about that briefly, about whether he’d be even more furious if he was hungry, but she decided the two bottles of Blue would fill him up until he figured out what to do. Or until he caught up to her.

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The Ghost Road

The Ghost Road

also available: Hardcover

Ghosts, a family curse, buried secrets -- and two girls who have to figure it all out. A book from an acclaimed author, for fans of Coraline, Doll Bones and The Night Gardener.

For the first time, Ruth is heading to Newfoundland to stay with family she's never met instead of spending the summer traveling with her dad. When she arrives, she finds Newfoundland is very different from her life in Toronto--people there are much more friendly, but also superstitious, believing in ghosts and The Sight a …

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The ship was going down. There was a tremendous crack and sails fell to the deck, a mass of canvas and ropes. A broken boom swung wildly in the wind and the deck tilted to an impossible angle. People were shouting and screaming, and I felt myself sliding toward the water, grabbing at anything I could to stop myself. Then I heard my name, and I felt a strong hand grasp mine, and I looked up into my mother’s face.
“It’s okay, Ruthie,” she said, smiling in the midst of the rain and the wind and the chaotic, sinking ship. “I’ve got you.”
I jerked awake and sat up, gasping for breath. I felt the familiar pain in my chest that always came with this dream. My cheeks were wet with tears.
For some reason my room was pitch-black. Usually a sliver of light from the hall shows under my bedroom door, but Dad must have forgotten to turn on the hall light. I fumbled for my bedside lamp, but it wasn’t where it was supposed to be.
Then I remembered. I wasn’t in my bedroom in Toronto, surrounded by houses full of sleeping people, parked cars and streetlights. I couldn’t call out to my father after a bad dream, because he and Gwen were in Greece. I was in Buckle, Newfoundland, at the end of the road, in the middle of nowhere. I was sleeping in the room my mother had slept in as a child, and my Aunt Doll was somewhere on the other side of the house. The side with electricity.
I lay back down in the bed, trying to get my breathing under control. I was still shaking from the dream, and I was afraid that if I closed my eyes, I’d be back on that sloping ship’s deck, sliding toward the black water. If only I could turn on a light, I could chase the dream away. Why was there no electricity in this part of the house? It was 1978! Everyone in Toronto had electricity all through their houses, not just on one side. What kind of a place was Newfoundland anyway?
What had Aunt Doll said to me about the light in this room? Last night was a jumble of impressions: stumbling half-asleep from the car in the dark after the long drive from St. John’s, climbing up the stairs, and walking along a hall, round a cornerand down a couple of steps into this room. Aunt Doll had an oil lamp she put on the tall dresser. She said she’d show me how to use it tomorrow.
So no light. I took deep breaths, the way Dad taught me. In and out. “Everything can be controlled, Ruthie,” he would say. “Just breathe.”
I’ve had recurring nightmares ever since I was a little kid. The shipwreck dream was one of the worst. Dad would always be there, as soon as I cried out, talking quietly to me. Telling me to breathe. To wake up. To look around and see my room, that it was only a dream.
Except now he was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean with Awful Gwen. And there was no light to turn on, and the dream was coming back: I could hear the creaking of the decks, the screams of the people drowning—no. I took another deep breath. I was safe in bed, and if I yelled loud enough, Aunt Doll would come. Or I could get up and find my way to her room and wake her up. I was fine. I breathed in and out.
But I could still hear the creaking of the ship. Wait—not the ship. Footsteps. Aunt Doll? Coming to check on me? But I remembered her firm footsteps from earlier in the night. These were quite different. Lighter. Quieter. Getting closer.
A faint glow appeared under the door, and then the door slowly opened.
I caught my breath. A girl in a long white nightgown tiptoed into the room, carrying a candle that skittled in the draft and threw strange shadows across her face. She placed the candle carefully on the bedside table. Then she turned and climbed into the bed opposite mine. She leaned toward the light and her long blonde hair swung forward. She looked into my eyes for a second, smiled, then blew out the candle.
I closed my eyes. A delicious feeling of calm spread over me. I wasn’t alone anymore. I could hear her breathing softly. In and out. In and out. I let my breath match hers. The shipwreck nightmare evaporated.
This must be my cousin Ruby. Aunt Doll said she was coming for the summer, but I didn’t realize it would be tonight. Time enough to meet her properly in the morning. The darkness closed around us and we slept.

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Painting the Town Pink

Painting the Town Pink


A flamingo has blown off course, and landed in a seaside town. It looks like a very nice town and might be a good place for her to settle down, but she isn?t quite sure she'll fit in. She tries to find a flock of her own; unfortunately, all her looking comes to nothing. But the people in the town are keen to keep their flamingo friend. What better way to make her feel at home than to paint the town pink.

Inspired by the story of two flamingos that were sighted in Newfoundland years ago, Lori Doo …

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Flying Ace

Flying Ace

Errol's Gander Adventure
also available: eBook

Errol the adventurous little mouse takes to the sky when he meets a young girl, Natasha, playing with a toy airplane. Later, when Errol is left alone, he decides to fly Natasha’s toy plane and begins a magical journey that takes him back in time to one night in 1940. He meets up with Dan, a radio operator on a full-sized Hudson bomber, and gets to accompany the crew on their late night, top …

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Catching the Light

Catching the Light

also available: eBook

This was the line between here and there. No landwash, no vague intertidal zone, no undecided. She stood at the edge, a mass of instincts and yearnings and despair, while the dawn painted itself in around her, shade by delicate shade.

The kids call her Lighthouse: no lights on up there. In a small town, everyone knows when you can't read. But Cathy is just distracted by the light, lines, and artistry of everyday life. She is a talented artist growing up in tiny Mariners Cove and yearns for accep …

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