Journalist launches debut novel

Journalist Cathi Bond divides her time between the streets of Toronto and the fields of rural Ontario.  With her lively focus on contemporary culture and the Internet, Bond was a columnist on Definitely Not The Opera (DNTO) with Nora Young, and is a regular contributor to Spark, both on CBC Radio. She also does movie podcasts for Rabble and, with Nora Young, has created The Sniffer, a podcast on “New Directions in Trends and Tech.” Bond’s latest project is her first novel, Night Town, published by Iguana Press. The unstoppable Bond is now writing its sequel.  She recently answered questions from Lynne Van Luven.

Cathi, most listeners and viewers know you as a journalist, from TV and especially from CBC Radio. What precipitated your move from cultural reporting into novel writing?

I haven’t completely moved from cultural writing or broadcasting. As you’d know, the number of print jobs in Canada has diminished significantly in the last decade. And landing a steady gig as a cultural columnist at any of the big papers is nearly a miracle. In fact, many columnists who had that security have lost it and now have to get in the pit and compete for every column they write. I’m extremely fortunate to be able to work part time at Spark and have the privilege to write about shifts in technology that truly excite me.

In part, this new employment reality steered me towards taking a shot at fiction, but Night Town was a story that had been percolating inside of me for years. So I saved some cash, decided to live relatively poor and took the time to write it. I guess you could say that Night Town was always close to number one on my bucket list, and now it’s completed and I’m very happy with the result.

Night Town has been optioned by Back Alley Films. Do you think being a media personality helped the process at all?

Absolutely. It’s really unfair, but I think it’s true. Having any kind of name recognition, any kind of brand makes you instantly more attractive. It makes the project easier to sell to the funding bodies that hand out the money.

That said, having a feature film credit makes you worth more. That credit proves that you can do the work. I was very lucky that Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik, the story editor behind Back Alley’s award winning series Durham County, edited my novel. Yet another brand, or seal of approval, attached to the project.

Maddy Barnes is a captivating and credible character. I know this is a work of fiction, but I cannot help feeling there is a little spark of personal experience at the heart of this novel. True?

Good instincts. I think most writers, whether they admit it or not, do create from personal experience. Especially on a first novel. When I was very young, an absolutely horrible thing happened to me and my family. It was “the moment” that defined my life. So I took that moment and fictionalized it. I don’t think I’m letting the cat out of the bag if I tell your readers that the novel takes place, in large part, at the corner of Yonge and Dundas on the mean streets of Toronto during the early 1970s.

I wanted to write about that period in Toronto’s history. Toronto is one of the biggest cities in the world and, other than in  Ondattje’s “The Skin of the Lion” and by Atwood (a wee bit in her early work), it has never been mythologized in any significant way. I tried to change that by making Toronto a character. In fact, Night Town is the first in a trilogy of novels that follows Toronto and a single family from the dawn of the Great Depression, through to the arrival of the new millennium.

People call you a “podcast pioneer” and now you have a blog, so I wonder if it’s not a bit “retrograde” for you to become a novelist who’s now working on a sequel to her first book. What about all those “books-are-dead” prognostications?

I thought about this a lot, but I refuse to believe that reading is dead. The telling of stories is built into our DNA. It’s how we carry our history; it’s how we instruct; it’s how we delight. But is the book as we know it dead? I think we’re right in the middle of a big technological/business transition as to how our stories will be told. Personally, I think that eReaders are still clunky and not where they need to be, but they’re getting closer.  [Given] the speed at which technology is moving, I think the next device is right around the corner. That’s why I took the chance and went with a digital house. I wanted Night Town to be ready.

Can you talk a little bit about The Sniffer, the audio podcast you and Nora Young started? 

Nora and I started  The Sniffer in the summer of 2005, the summer when the word “podcast” had just appeared on computer screens . . . We do it primarily for fun, and as a way to sniff out sometimes wacky and really interesting new trends in technology. We’re both wool-gathering geeks and most folks don’t get all revved up talking about the stuff we do. But early subscribers heard about trends like Facebook, Second Life and YouTube first. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s something we do for ourselves and for you.