Central Alberta author finds success with his first book

Morgan Murray’s debut novel Dirty Birds is nominated for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour

  • Apr. 26, 2021 12:30 p.m.
Dirty Birds by Morgan Murray follows the misadventures of Milton Ontario—not to be confused with Milton, Ont.—and his pursuit of fame, fortune, love, and the meaning of life as he moves from his parents’ basement the fictional village of Bellybutton, Sask. to vibrant and bohemian Montreal. (Photo Submitted)

Dirty Birds by Morgan Murray follows the misadventures of Milton Ontario—not to be confused with Milton, Ont.—and his pursuit of fame, fortune, love, and the meaning of life as he moves from his parents’ basement the fictional village of Bellybutton, Sask. to vibrant and bohemian Montreal. (Photo Submitted)

By Sarah Baker

For Sylvan Lake News

Morgan Murray thought it was anticlimactic when his book Dirty Birds finally came out in August 2020 after a number of delays.

There was no fancy launch party, just a box of books that showed up on his doorstep.

It wasn’t until he started doing author events and meetings over Zoom that it started to sink in.

Then in January, Murray’s book was long listed for Canada Reads and interest in the book beyond friends and family started to pick up.

Strangers started reading it, and the book started to sell.

“It’s been kind of surreal since then,” said Murray.

The Caroline-native author’s book has been nominated and is a finalist for many awards including the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, the Relit Awards, and three Atlantic Book Awards.

“I can’t believe it. All of them were announced within a couple days of one another and my head is still spinning,” said Murray.

The book has taken on a life of its own, he said.

“I’m just sitting here minding my own business, living my usual life, and there’s a book out there doing all of these wild and crazy things that just happens to have my name on the cover.”

The name Dirty Birds comes from the name of a short film about dump seagulls in Calcutta that the love interest of Milton Ontario (the books protagonist) falls in love with early on in the book, but there is still more meaning to the name.

“The name really emphasizes how a lot of these twenty something teenagers living this Bohemian, carefree lifestyle in Montreal are like dump seagulls.”

Before writing the book, Murray struggled with finding the courage to do so due to some of the ideas behind the book.

“It took about a decade to figure out that someone with the kind of privilege and power I have, whether it might not always feel that way, has a responsibility to call out , criticize, poke fun at, and poke holes in the white male privilege I enjoy and benefit from for no good reason.”

Growing up in Caroline inspired some of the events in the book, as well as some of the bigger themes, said Murray.

“The horsing around with friends, the importance of hockey, and the large looming presence of oil and gas —much of the book is based on my own life.”

Central Alberta is also a place where white male privilege continues to dominate much of the culture, said Murray.

“The heroic figures in Central Alta. growing up were, and in many ways still are, the cowboy, the roughneck, and the hockey tough guy which are all by definition straight, cis-gendered, macho white guys. Growing up in that gives you a distorted idea of masculinity and how to become a good person.”

Many of the locations and characters used in the book are based on people and locations from Murray’s life.

“I spent a pretty carefree year in Montreal after graduating from university, like Milton, and then went to grad school in Newfoundland, and along the way met a bunch of characters that I combined or embellished and put in the book.”

Now Murray lives near Cape Breton, N.S., where he “works, plays, writes, and builds all sorts of crooked furniture on a farm.”

Many individuals have been giving feedback about how the book made them laugh, think, and less gloomy in the face of what is going on in the world right now, said Murray.

“The award nominations are nice and will hopefully find their way to the book, but to hear from readers that the book is meaningful to them is such a tremendous honour and a huge thrill.”