preloader image

Author Interview: TG Hardy

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Lily Andrews is talking with TG Hardy, author of Where the Sabiá Bird Sings.

FQ: I love the title of the book. How did it come about?

HARDY: My brother suggested it and it was the only title that anyone in my circle thought appropriate after the last five years of major changes. The Sabiá bird is a Brazilian thrush, though I prefer to describe it as a tropical mockingbird. A Sabiá bird appears, trilling, on page 17 of the book, in a scene where Pé is spying on the knife sharpener’s daughter from high in a mango tree. Where the Sabiá Bird Sings is the last line of the chorus of Brazil’s national poem “Song of Exile,” which is the subject of a campfire discussion between Chico and Pé on page 32.

FQ: You lived in the Brazilian settings and during the periods described in the novel, and I believe these places and times are near and dear to you. Would you tell our readers a bit about why those times/places hold such fond memories for you?

HARDY: My family lived in Rio in the 1950’s in a beachfront apartment in Ipanema, and my brother and I rode street cars to and from the American school, avoiding paying by clinging to the outside of the trolleys alongside street urchins, and saving our fare money to place bets after school with the crowds on the infield of the Jockey Club. Those years were idyllic, but then things got rough. We moved to a city in the interior and our parents thought we would benefit from attending a large, and apparently strict, parochial school a block from our house. We were not welcomed at the school, not by the students and even less by the priests and lay teachers, who looked the other way when we were beaten by classmates during the half-dozen coffee breaks each day in the central courtyard. We were fair-haired, foreign, taller than the other students, and Protestant, and to those boys that last bit translated to protestors. Whenever we could, we made sure our parents saw our cuts and bruises, but our father wouldn’t relent. Then, within months, all but a few tired of hating us. An abiding empathy was our gift from the experience. That, and a lesson in perseverance.

Later, during the early 1980s, I returned to Rio de Janeiro with my family for a three-year management assignment, during which I got to know the rest of the country including the Cocoa Coast setting I used for Jean-Pierre’s youth. Sharing Brazil with my family was a wonderful experience.

FQ: Given that the landscape and time periods covered in the story are so familiar to you, is the plot purely fictional, or was it inspired by real events? Ex., while the town of Penedo was fictional, it was based on a real town. Were there any characters in your novel that were based on people you knew/know?

HARDY: Penedo is an existing municipality, and also a river port, in a state further north than Bahia state, and one where the colonial architecture has been far better preserved than in the city of Maraú on the Cocoa Coast (which is the setting for all of chapter two). I used Penedo as a model for imaging the scenes in Maraú, and renamed it Penedo, because many readers these days research exotic settings on the web and if they were to check out Maraú they would see photos of newly-dilapidated, cinderblock buildings in the place of the lovely Portuguese colonial-era buildings that were there in the 1960’s.

The characters are entirely fictional except for my wife Pam, who appears briefly as a PanAm flight attendant (which she was) on page 109, and Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon who are mentioned in the final chapter as weekend browsers (which they were) at the independent bookstore in Kent, Connecticut.

FQ: Why did you choose to go for a character-driven narrative rather than a plot-driven tale? I think it was a smart decision but would love to know your thoughts on the matter.

HARDY: While I gravitate toward novels that are both plot and character driven, I savor those that are more character-driven, because they are not as plentiful (they don’t sell well), and because I find them more thought-provoking (and I’m a bit of a navel-gazer). Examples of the latter include: Crossing to Safety (by Wallace Stegner); The Pacific, and Other Stories (by Mark Helprin); The Tender Bar (by JR Moehringer); The Orchard (by Peter Heller). And it was Any Human Heart (by William Boyd) that gave me the idea of having the protagonist write an episodic family saga in memoir-style.

FQ: I believe, from your telling, that you adore your protagonist, Jean-Pierre. What fascinates you most about him?

HARDY: That he became, in his mid-thirties, as much tested and wise as I was, when, at twice his age, I began putting the finishing touches on this manuscript. For if anything remains in the final version that is autobiographical, it would be my take-aways from what I experienced or carefully observed during my lifetime, and the related emotions that are seared in my memory. I tried to create a character with a distinctive, gentle, and humorous voice that would quickly engage the reader. Same with Papa, whose old-school civility, honor, humility, selflessness, and tolerance eventually rubbed off on Jean-Pierre -- qualities that I want to believe are still universally prevalent, but drowned out by the din surrounding glitz, entitlement, tribalism, and sanctimony.

FQ: Your manuscript has received in-depth professional critiques, as revealed at the end of the read. Which are some of the most impactful remarks that you would say have had the greatest impact on your writing career?

HARDY: Critiques – writing workshops, early readers, and one-on-one coaching – were vitally important for me in learning the craft of writing. And there is a huge element of craft to it. I started out thinking that my imagination and way-with-words would carry me, but they didn’t. This is not jet-skiing; think about writing as a skill sport, like gymnastics, where you’re not going to the Olympics simply because you were born with an uncanny sense of balance and a low center of gravity. So you need coaching, and you must be coachable.

And having your opus pilloried in a workshop is going to be devastating at first, but if you can hang in there, you’ll see the value in much of the feedback. You’ll develop a thicker skin, but your work can always be improved, so the criticism won’t cease altogether and will sting, but perhaps for a matter of hours, not days. Even best-selling authors need tough-love, and if you’re disappointed reading their third book, it might be because they’ve gotten smug, or their alpha readers are cowed and blowing smoke up their backside.

As to remarks that stand out: Perhaps when one workshop leader told me that he was going to be tough on me, perhaps at times brutally tough, because my writing was polished and well-structured, but that I was shallow, cinematic, and that he felt like a fly on the wall watching stony, soulless, characters, having to guess how they felt. You need to work on interiority, he said. And we did, for several years.

FQ: What are some of the lessons that you intend your audience to learn from Where the Sabiá Bird Sings? Do you think that today’s youth have a tendency to want to indulge like Jean-Pierre?

HARDY: I’m not sure the youth today, though more coddled, are all that indulgent compared to my generation. I think that the period after World War II marks the beginning of that shift. Jean-Pierre’s grandparents were never in danger of being caught in the inertia of the shallow, stress-free, high-life that J-P crafted for himself as a talent agent in a city as intoxicating as Rio de Janeiro in the mid-seventies.

As to life lessons, this narrative is replete with them, but overall it was the overcoming of that high-life inertia, and how the introduction of uncertainty, stress, and hardship into J-P’s life brought him to a point where, in his mid-thirties, he found the purpose that was missing, a place in a larger community, and the prospect of fulfilling his long-standing yearning to have a big, boisterous, and loving family.

FQ: Was it hard to return to that long-ago, set-aside novel and bring it to life? How much time did you spend re-working the novel before Where the Sabiá Bird Sings was born? Would you share with our readers a few things you changed/updated? Was the time-period changed? Characters’ motivations altered?

HARDY: Not hard at all. I needed, as I’ve said, to learn and polish my craft, and I thought about how I might repot the novel for the three or four years I experimented with short prose. During that period, I worked especially on interiority and read all the character-driven novels that I could find.

The original manuscript was contemporary, set exclusively in high-life Rio, and it was auto-biographical and therefore boring. And the protagonist’s problem was that his marriage was failing because he was obsessed with his work and surfing – a totally mundane situation if you substitute golf and suburban Connecticut. So, as you know, I set the novel back a half century, still mainly in Rio but now including the slums and other less cosmopolitan areas of Brazil and included North America and Europe. The protagonist is entirely fictional and more sympathetic; his problem needs to be pointed out to him and is complicated and not readily fixed, certainly not on his own.

The original manuscript was plot-driven, and the novel you read is, of course, character-driven.

FQ: In your biography, you mention writing short prose and that you have had works published in numerous publications. What made you decide to give the genre a try after setting that first novel aside, and how do you find writing short prose vs. a novel? Do you prefer one over the other?

HARDY: I switched to writing short prose because I needed to learn the craft, and the short form is ideally suited to workshop review and allows maximum opportunity to experiment quickly with alternative points-of-view, tenses, and narrative voices.

I like the challenge of creating spare and memorable short stories, especially love stories, and I’m eager to get back to that, with an eye to adding, say seven, to the three published ones I’m happy with. With ten keepers, I could self-publish a collection. You can read my three favorites in the SELECTED WORK section of my author website

Read the Review

Feathered Quill

Disclosure in Accordance with FTC Guidelines 16 CFR Part 255

Copyrights © 2023 Feathered Quill Reviews All Rights Reserved. | Designed & Developed by