Folk heroes of a certain kind

Lisa Moore imagines life as a pot smuggler in the 1970s

It’s not hard to see why Lisa Moore’s new novel Caught has made it to this year’s Giller Prize shortlist. Her blend of fast and fun thriller-inspired plotting and subtle characterization make it a book that’s like the best of both literary worlds — a snappy read with serious emotional heft.

Caught follows the trials and tribulations of young drug smuggler Slaney recently released from jail after attempting to smuggle two tons of pot into Newfoundland via Colombia. Moore says the novel was based on real drug-smuggling tales from Newfoundland in the 1970s. She remembers hearing stories and rumours offhand at parties and from insiders who claimed they had the inside scoop.

“These stories had the feel of folklore” she writes during an online chat prior to her Wordfest appearances. “The guys involved seemed to be celebrated for their bravado their willingness to simply go for it. They were folk heroes of a certain kind.”

The characters are made up but the suspense is real. “When I began to write the novel I went to the Centre for Newfoundland Studies and looked at files of press clippings from the ’70s about these drug trips and soon I was turning the pages so fast I could only read the headlines” she says. “Even the headlines filed in chronological order read like a well-torqued plot.”

Moore says the most challenging part of writing the book was learning the logistical difficulties in running a drug-smuggling operation. “I had to learn everything I could about sailing hurricanes and being stoned (just kidding!) and then I had to imagine what it would be like to be a 25-year-old guy at a wild time willing to do outrageously wild things” she says.

Caught is a harrowing read but the gentler exciting and exploratory nature of the ’70s permeates the novel as well. “I have never thought pot should be illegal” says Moore. “I still feel that way. I lament the heavy sentences some of these smugglers received. The sentences were entirely unfair.

“I admire the sense of adventure these guys had” she adds. “These projects back in the ’70s seemed entirely audacious to me. The boys were moving bales of pot — bulky unwieldy stinking boatloads of it. How enterprising how daring how wild!”

It was a hippie-inspired adventure that didn’t last for long says Moore. “I think drug culture changed after the ’70s” she says. “It became more violent and dangerous and the game switched from pot to cocaine. There were higher financial stakes more lives at risk. The innocence went out of it.”

Wordfest presents Lisa Moore on October 17 at MRU and October 18 at Festival Hall. Go to wordfest.com for details.