Linden MacIntyre was the host of Canada’s premiere investigative television show, The Fifth Estate, for nearly twenty-five years. Born in St. Lawrence, Newfoundland, and raised in Port Hastings, Cape Breton, he began his career in 1964 with the Halifax Chronicle-Herald as a parliamentary bureau reporter. MacIntyre later worked at The Journal and hosted CBC Radio’s Sunday Morning before joining The Fifth Estate. His work on that show garnered an International Emmy, and he has won ten Gemini Awards. His bestselling first novel, The Long Stretch, was nominated for a CBA Libris Award, while his boyhood memoir, Causeway: A Passage from Innocence, was a Globe and Mail Best Book of 2006 and won both the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction and the Evelyn Richardson Non-Fiction Award. His second novel, The Bishop’s Man, was a #1 national bestseller and the winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction and the CBA Libris Fiction Book of the Year Award. His other novels include Why Men Lie, Punishment and The Only Café. MacIntyre lives in Toronto with his wife, CBC radio host and author Carol Off. They spend their summers in a Cape Breton village by the sea.
Shauna Kosoris: What inspired your new book, The Wake: the Deadly Legacy of a Newfoundland Tsunami?
Linden MacIntyre: I was born near St. Lawrence, NL, where my father, on several occasions, worked as a hard-rock miner. I grew up with stories of the people there and in nearby communities, how they had survived the aftermath of an earthquake and tsunami; endured unimaginable working conditions in a fluorspar mine that replaced the traditional fishery; how hundreds of the miners died from industrial diseases; how people there endured decades of tragedy with determination and resilience; and I realized that the historical experience of this place offers insights that are useful for a contemporary understanding of how vulnerable people live, work and die where democracies are weak and workplaces are unregulated.
What was the most interesting fact you encountered while researching the book?
After two decades of denial and delay, a problem that caused an epidemic of illness and death among miners was resolved in a few weeks — but too late to save scores of miners who were already doomed to die prematurely from work-related illness, including cancer.
Oh dear; I’m glad it was resolved, but very sorry for those miners. From what you’ve described, The Wake sounds like investigative journalism. Was researching the book any different from researching a news story?
It is pretty well the same process, an exercise in self-education, the search for knowledge that offers explanations for how people live and think, how the world works. Researching a book both requires and permits more time to be spent on a deeper exploration than is usually possible under the deadline pressures of a news-gathering and reporting in real time.
Along with your career as a news reporter, you’ve also written fiction. Is that process any different from writing nonfiction?
In non-fiction, “reality” usually simplifies the challenges of structuring a story. Fiction writing offers greater “creative” freedom but, with the freedom comes (in my opinion) a more complex responsibility to “tell the truth”. Non-fiction requires a more exhaustive commitment to research, fact, and logic — a requirement that keeps the author busy until the moment of publication and anxious for a long spell afterward.
How did you go from reporting at a newspaper to hosting radio and television shows?
I had a “philosophical” disagreement with a newspaper proprietor and his managers. Was fired. Was soon afterward offered work in television and radio. And lived happily ever after.
So what are you working on now?
A work of fiction.
Good luck with it! I’d like to finish up with a few quick questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?
No specific author or book, but to a great extent the inspiration emerged from my own experience in journalism, a profession that shoves the practitioner out the door, into the heavy traffic of reality, often perplexing, troubling, deeply disturbing reality, much of which goes unreported. Experience can become a burden best lightened by examination and “reporting” in a larger, more reflective medium — a book, for instance.
Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?
The great Irish author, John McGahern.
What are you currently reading?
I’m reading quite a bit about dementia, part of research for a work of fiction (I hope).