Jeff Bursey’s book Verbatim: A Novel draws from experience
Have you read Hansard lately? Now there’s a question which could get a puzzled answer. “What’s a Hansard?” might be the most common response, but, for those who do know, a firm “You’ve got to be kidding” is also likely. Hansard is the official, publicly available, printed record of what is said in most legislatures of Canada, Britain and the Commonwealth. The Speaker in these legislative houses employs a staff of copyists and editors to record, edit where necessary (guided by the principle of avoiding repetitions, redundancies and obvious errors) and prepare for printing and binding.
Hansard originated in England in 1829, and the legislature of Prince Edward Island initiated its own in 1996.
Unlike minutes of a meeting, which record the business conducted, Hansard is the record of what is actually said by members of the government and opposition when sitting in the house. And that could amount to a lot of words. The bound version of the PEI Hansard for one year could make up two or three volumes, comprising 5000 pages of double-column print, and 1,700,000 words.
Jeff Bursey is the Manager/Editor of the PEI Hansard, and he has recently published his first novel. It is called Verbatim: A Novel and takes the form of the Hansard record of ficticious Canadian legislature, as well as correspondence to and from a Hansard editorial staff responsible for what you are reading.
Jeff began working for Hansard of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1990, and in 1992 began his novel. He says that he was “intrigued by how we govern ourselves,” and wanted to find a way to write about this complex subject. He did not want to write a novel using psychological motivations of the characters, or political plots and intrigues. How to proceed? The answer came from the very work that Jeff was doing every day—to use the style of Hansard itself, by showing the form, orders and procedures of the legislature, with speeches by thehonourable members and the Speaker. But since every word was Jeff’s own invention he was free to not only capture the spirit of debate, but also use humour to entertain readers.
The reading of Verbatim: A Novel does take some initial effort, mainly because of the Hansard form, but, as you go along, you realize that you are discovering much more than the wit (or lack thereof) of various speakers, you are actually learning something about how we govern ourselves. Jeff’s experimental approach to the novel works. I am tempted to see if a real Hansard tells a story that could keep my attention, without a novelist’s artful inventions. Maybe in the New Year (or not).
Jeff finished his manuscript in 1995, and then began the long process of trying to find a publisher. He endured many rejections until 2006 when his perseverance was rewarded by an offer of publication. Jeff had already proofed the galleys for this publication when his contract was suddenly and unexpectedly cancelled. He admits that this rude and abrupt change of plans did set him back for a while.
In 2009 Jeff answered an ad from publishers Enfield & Wizenty, who were looking for manuscripts. He was accepted and in October 2010, Verbatim: A Novel was finally been published.
Since 2000 Jeff has been living in Charlottetown and, along with meeting his frequent Hansard deadlines, he has continued to write. His play The Benches was produced at the 2007 Fringe Festival at the Confederation Centre. He is a member of the PEI Writers Guild, and currently has two works of fiction in progress.
You can purchase a copy of Verbatim: A Novel at The Bookmark and Indigo in Charlottetown and Coles in Summerside, Great Plains Publishing in Manitoba. Do you have any political junkies on your Christmas shopping list?