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Brendan Myers PhD: Author Interview
© Cheryl Lynne Bradley 2008

Brendan Cathbad Myers, PhD


Biographical Information: Brendan Myers, PhD (from his website)

I grew up in the small town of Elora, which is in the Canadian province of Ontario. But I've also lived in two other Canadian provinces (Newfoundland and Nova Scotia), and in Ireland; I've also travelled to six other countries. I've worked variously as an office manager, a university lecturer, a web site designer, a writer, a theatre technician, and as a simple country gardner. I studied philosophy and drama as an undergrad at the University of Guelph, in the city of Guelph, Ontario , as well as at Memorial University of Newfoundland, both in Canada. I just finished my Ph.D in environmental ethics in the department of philosophy of the National University of Ireland, Galway, which is in Galway City, in the Republic of Ireland. I'm a citizen of both countries (I was born in Canada, my father in Ireland) although I have returned to Canada now that my phd is done.

Environmental thought and spirituality is obviously one of my main areas of philosophical interest, as you may gather from my books. But I am also interested in social/political thought, civil disobedience, world mythology, and ethics.

My interest in politics and social justice has been a big part of my life ever since I served as the president of Local 3913 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, for two years. In my spare time, I like to burst bubble-wrap.

I've published several books that I'm very proud of: you can find out about them here. This year, 2008, I received OBOD's prestigious Mt. Haemus Award for recent research in Druidry.


Cheryl: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

Brendan: William Shakespeare.


Cheryl: What book are you reading now?

Brendan: GWF Hegel, "Lectures on Aesthetics"; Martin Buber, "I and Thou".


Cheryl: What are your current projects?

Brendan: I've got several projects on the go. In mid April of 2008, I'll be doing a presentation called "Ecology and Revelation", as part of the Earth Day activities for a Waterloo Ontario based group called PEBBIA, or "Putting Earth Based Beliefs in Action". ( I'm also working on a presentation for OBOD, which I will offer in September, as this year's Mount Haemis Lecture on research in Druidry.


Cheryl: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

Brendan: I find myself enormously benefitted by a whole community of people, who are associated with me and with each other in all kinds of different ways. Some of them are the readers of my books, some are the people who have attended the workshops and presentations I've done at various pagan events, some of whom have helped me promote those books, some are people with books of their own, or other things that they do in the community. The organisers of the Toronto Pagan Conference; the people who produce Deo's Shadow podcast, the staff of Kaleidoscope Gathering, are all people who have supported me in many ways, and I'm grateful to them all. Philosophy is normally associated with independant or solitary activity. Yet I'm still a part of a wide circle of people with good hearts and enquiring minds, with whom I participate in a kind of grand extended conversation about the things of the spirit. That conversation is important. It's amazing what can be discovered when people simply meet one another as friends and talk about the things which matter.


Cheryl: What does your family think of your writing?

Brendan: They tend to have mixed feelings. They're proud of the fact that I've achieved some small success as a writer. But they don't think much of my subject area! I think my parents would be happier if I wrote something a little more "nihil obstat", that is, compatible with the teachings of the Catholic Church. But that's not going to happen.


Cheryl: What is your work schedule like when you're writing?

Brendan: I get started in the early afternoon, after I've gone out to walk in the forest for an hour or two, and of course taken two or three cups of tea. Then I will write almost without stop until two or three in the morning


Cheryl: What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

Brendan: suppose I should leave that to the readers to say!


Cheryl: When did you write your first book and how old were you?

Brendan: Actually I started writing stage plays before writing books. My first play was a one-act performance called "Oedipus and the Sphynx", and it was performed in the Grand Theatre, Fergus Ontario. I was fifteen years old. When I was nineteen I won a literary award presented by the U of G English department, for writers just finishing high school. Part of the prize was to have one of my plays published. I suppose my writing career began from there. My first full-length non-fiction book was called "Dangerous Religion"; It took me three years to write, and I finished it at the age of twenty-six.


Cheryl: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

Brendan: Yes; it began in writing and working in theatre. In my high school, I was a member of the drama club, and also a lighting technician for a local community theatre. I enjoyed acting, but wasn't particularly good at it. I much preferred directing and playwrighting. In fact for a while, after Oedipus Rex was produced, I used to sign my name with the letters "PL" after it, for "playwright"! But when I got to university, and entered the drama program at the University of Guelph, that some of the other students there were much better playwrights than me. But I also felt that there was a certain superficiality about it. What was passing for deep and progressive thinking in some of the stuff we were studying seemed to me lacking in real clarity. It seemed to me at the time that some of the dramatists we studied were very good at crafting poetic and emotionally gratifying expressions of ideas, but not very good at explaining what those ideas really meant, or why they should be believed in. I moved on to studying philosophy. But I didn't move on to philosophy full-time until I started my Masters degree.


Cheryl: What do you like to do when you're not writing?

Brendan: I like to spend time with friends of mine, drumming or singing around the fire, walking in the woods, canoeing, sharing a meal and a drink, or just enjoying a good conversation. I've got fairly simple pleasures, really. I also tend to do a lot of reading and planning for future books.


Cheryl: How did you come up with the title?

Brendan: With "The Other Side of Virtue", I made a list of potential titles which were purely descriptive, saying no more than what the book was 'about'. Then gradually I re-wrote them until I came to a few that seemed poetic as well as descriptive. At one time I was going to call it "The Philosophy of Fire", but a friend of mine talked me out of it. After all, a phrase like that could mean anything. While writing it, I usually referred to it as "The Third Book", and sometimes I still do.


Cheryl: Who designed the covers?

Brendan: In each case, the publisher designed the cover. But they sometimes ask me for a verbal description of what I think it should look like. I'm quite happy with the result.

The Other Side of Virtue, available for pre-order nowThe Pagan Testament, release November 2008
The Mysteries of DruidryDangerous Relgion. As of January 2007, this title is out of print. There may be a few shops or booksellers with a few copies still in their inventory. Try Little Mysteries Goddess Shop, Halifax NS, or try Melange Magique in Montreal or Amazon.


Cheryl: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Brendan: In writing non-fiction, there is still a kind of narrative in the text. There is still a story being told. And just like some writers of fiction will say of their plots and characters, I sometimes don't know where the conclusions will be. I only know the starting places. When the conclusion is hard to see, or when the initial question is particularly challenging, I sometimes feel troubled. Then I might spend more time pacing around the house, or procrastinating on the internet, then actually writing. As a philosophical writer I am always in control of my initial questions and premises. But I don't always know what the conclusions will be. And I sometimes experience a kind of frustration when there's a problem that I haven't solved. But sometimes the conclusions seem to appear to me as if they have come from some other place, deep within me perhaps, or else far out there. Good intellectual writing is adventurous, you see. A philosopher is a kind of explorer. She has to look deep within her own mind, and be honest and rigorous about what she finds there, even if what she finds is unexpected, or controversial, or even frightening. Writing, itself, is the hardest part of writing!


Cheryl: What do you see as the influences on your writing?

Brendan: I'm influenced by a great many things, from books I've read to people whose lives have intersected with my own. It would be hard to name just one or two that stand out above others. Most recently, I find myself enormously influenced by the thoughts of the Aboriginal Elders who I met last summer, while working on a government research project. A year ago, I was only vaguely aware of Aboriginal ideas in culture, ethics, spirituality, and history. Now, a year later, having visited many traditional Elders at their homes, and attended their healing circles, and walked the land of their reserves, I'm just amazed by how the Elders preserve their sense of dignity and presence, despite the poverty, racism, substance abuse, and occasional bursts of violence that surround them. I still think of myself as an Irish Celt and a philosopher, but I'm understanding the significance of those labels differently now. I certainly recommend to anyone reading this interview to look up their local Native Friendship Centre, or Aboriginal health clinic, and find out if there are "tea and bannock with the Elders" events that are open to the public.


Cheryl: What books have most influenced your life most?

Brendan: There are the great philosophers whose works I've read and enjoyed, such as Aristotle, Nietzsche, Ricoeur, Taylor, MacIntyre, and a few others. I'm also very much influenced by the mythological storytelling of my Irish ancestors. I read a lot of Yeats and Lady Gregory and other Irish writers all through my life. I was first turned to spirituality by the work of Joseph Campbell, and Ross Nichols, and Mircea Eliade. Most recently I started reading The Rubayat of Omar Khayam.


Cheryl: How has your environment/upbringing coloured your writing?

Brendan: I grew up in a large family, in a small town. We had a room in our house which was dedicated as a library, and it had a few hundred books in it, mostly my dad's college textbooks. But there was a wide range of stuff there: mythology, art history, the great works of literature, philosophy, religion, poetry. My dad was born in Ireland, and he taught my siblings and I all about Irish storytelling and history, all through our childhood. My town, the village of Elora, has lots of wide open spaces and century-old houses, and not much car traffic, and a conservation area just to the west side. It was a perfect place to be a kid. So, I think the combination of educational stimulation from the family life, along with easy access to the forest and the world of nature, continues to influence my writing. To this day, I still feel most spiritual when walking in the woods, especially along the old trails in the Elora Gorge that I knew when I was young. I feel more at peace there than I ever did in church or in any formal religious setting.


Cheryl: Do you see writing as a career?

Brendan: Well, I have decided that whatever else I do in this life, I'll be writing books too. But I realise that it is likely to be be enormously difficult for me to make a living as a writer. Most new books published in the English language sell only about 500 copies in the first year, and then they go out of print in the second. Less than ten percent sell more than 10,000 copies. And if memory serves, in the year 2007 only five books sold more than a million copies. My first book sold about 100 copies, and is now out of print. My second, "The Mysteries of Druidry", sold about 2,700 copies: significantly above average, but still not enough to make a living. I got a small advance from the publisher, but have never seen a penny more. And that would be the usual experience for most non-fiction writers, no matter what their genre. It's very difficult, in fact it's almost impossible, to make a living writing books. Most writers recieve a royalty of about 50 cents per issue sold. In the United States, more money is spent on dog toys than on books. Most other pagan writers I have met, including some who are considered pagan celebrities like Isaac Bonewits, or Janet Farrar, live quite precariously a lot of the time, in terms of their finances.

So a writer must never quit her day job! T.S. Elliot once said that a successful writer needs to have "a tweed jacket, a briar pipe, and a spouse with a steady income!" Well a few years back I had to pawn my jacket and pipe to pay the grocery bill. And I've never been married. So the prospects for writing as a career are pretty small indeed. But one can always have hope. If enough interest is generated by word-of-mouth, and enough people like what I write about, then perhaps I could make a living. But even if I never make much money, well there are some things one must do for love. And that is the main reason I write. I love knowledge; I love intellectual and artistic discovery; I love the conversation with readers and other writers; I love the life of this world and everything that happens here. A writer not motivated by love should not be writing.


Cheryl: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

Brendan: I found a few typos that I would fix!


Cheryl: What genre are you most comfortable writing?

Brendan: I feel most comfortable writing philosophical themes: social and political commentary, literary interpretation, environmentalism, and the spiritual and ethical significance of those matters. In my mind, these genres are one category, one field of enquiry. But don't ask me to explain how that is so. Even I don't know.


Cheryl: Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?

Brendan: There are a few messages that I feel are important, which I want writers to understand: but you will have to read the books to find them!


Cheryl: Do you have any advice for other writers?

Brendan: Just keep writing. Trust in your ability to write. And write to the very best of your ability. Especially in the pagan community, many writers and other producers of artistic and intellectual material are satisfied to aim for the "good enough". I wish to encourage writers to aim for the "very best!" Make sure that your work is the very best work you are capable of. Make sure of this, not to show off to others or to win more attention and prestige than others, but to get pagans used to the idea that pagans are capable of excellence. For excellence, and only excellence, will lift us up in the world, and give us reason to be proud of who we are and what we stand for.


Cheryl: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Brendan: All I wish to say to my readers, is said in my books: but I also wish to say Thank You! for reading my work, and for all the support and generosity I have been shown in recent years. I shall return the favour by writing the very best stuff that I can.


Cheryl: Tell us your latest news

Brendan: "The Other Side of Virtue" is available for pre-order now. The release day is 25th July, 2008. I am planning book release events in Montreal, and Toronto, and a few other places. And then I've a fourth book, "A Pagan Testament", coming out in November. After that, well, the world is a big and wonderful and ever-changing place - so who knows!

Book Release event (in Montreal): "The Other Side of Virtue"

Where our virtues really came from, what they really mean, and where they might be taking us.

Date: Saturday, July 19, 2008
Time: 1:00pm - 6:00pm
Location: Melange Magique / The Magical Blend
Street: 1928 St. Catherine St. West
City/Town: Montreal, QC
Contact Info Phone: 5149381458

Other book release events are planned for Toronto, Ontario; Kelowna, British Columbia; and other places. Sign on to his Facebook "fan" page to receive updates: Facebook

"The Other Side of Virtue" and "The Pagan Testament" are published by O Books/John Hunt Publishing Co.



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