MABOU: The debut novel from a local author is now available.
Dirty Birds by Morgan Murray is a satirical novel that tells the story of Milton Ontario—not to be confused with Milton, Ontario—and his pursuit of fame, fortune, love, and the meaning of life as he moves from his parents’ basement in small town Saskatchewan to vibrant and bohemian Montreal in the hopes of becoming a famous poet.
In 2008, as the world’s economy crumbles and Barack Obama ascends to the White House, the remarkably unremarkable Milton Ontario leaves his parents’ basement in Middle-of-Nowhere, Saskatchewan, and sets forth to find fame, fortune, and love in the Euro-lite electric sexuality of Montreal; to bask in the endless twenty-something Millennial adolescence of the Plateau; to escape the infinite flatness of Saskatchewan and find his messiah: Leonard Cohen.
“I think major world events like that have a profound impact on people who are just starting out their independent lives, or their adulthood,” Murray said. “For me personally, my second day of University of Calgary was September 11, 2001. By the time I started graduate school, it was 2008… And then now with something like the pandemic, there’s lot of people back in that same boat; trying to figure out what is your life going to be like in this time of uncertainty.”
Hilariously ironic and irreverent, in Dirty Birds, Murray generates a quest novel for the 21st century—a coming-of-age, rom-com, crime-farce thriller—where a hero’s greatest foe is his own crippling mediocrity as he seeks purpose in art, money, power, crime, and sleeping in all day.
“It’s little bit autobiographical so it’s poking fun at my own meandering and dithering as I tried to figure out what I was doing with my life coming out of university,” Murray noted. “Also it’s part of a trend in a lot of places where my parent’s generation, when you graduated high school that’s when you were an adult and moved away from home, you got married. My parents had kids, and a house, and careers that they’re still working in or recently retired from pretty much right out of high school. For me, and a lot of people my age, that doesn’t start until you’re through university, and maybe graduate school, maybe travel for a little bit, and all these things keep pushing adulthood down the road and you live in this weird phase of prolonged adolescence where you don’t have a lot of responsibility. You’re just trying to figure out who you are.”
Murray grew up on his family’s farm in central Alberta and spent nearly a decade in Newfoundland before moving with his wife, well-known cartoonist Kate Beaton, to Cape Breton Island three years ago.
“I absolutely love it,” Murray said of his new hometown. “The first time I came to visit Mabou with Katey, I was totally blown away and kind of fell in love with the place and started at work trying to find a job and a place to live so we could move back here. My first impression of the place is, ‘this is a place that feels like home and a place where we’d want to raise a family,’ and the community is so welcoming, friendly and warm, and the landscape is so beautiful, and the quality of life is so high. We couldn’t be happier to be here.”
Fortunate to get around the island as an employee in economic development with the Cape Breton Partnership, Murray said the area greatly informs his writing.
“You learn that creativity just sort of permeates the whole island,” he noted. “And everybody, especially in Mabou, can sing, dance and play the fiddle, or the bagpipes, or something. There’s music everywhere, there’s storytelling everywhere. Art and creativity is just everywhere, so it really just inspires you to participate in that and work on it.”
Murray says the novel has been in the works for a long time. A short story Murray wrote called KC Accidental won a contest in 2013 with House of Anansi Press, then the next year the story was published in a collection of Newfoundland short stories. In 2015, the publisher of that anthology asked Murray if he had more ideas.
“I said I had this idea for a novel and then they kind of goaded me into getting it started, and worked with them on it,” he recalled. “The fall of 2018 is when I finally got the manuscript finished and sent to them and they agreed to publish it and we were off to the races.”
Murray said he is currently working on a book about the creative people of Alberta.
Dirty Birds is available in select stores across the country, as well as available everywhere on-line. Those interested in learning more about the book or finding out where to buy it, can visit Murray’s Web site at: morganmurray.ca.