My bookclub doesn’t always choose a fiction book to read and discuss. One of those instances was over the summer when the selection was COLLECTED TARTS AND OTHER INDELICACIES by Tabatha Southey. I got to meet Tabatha one muggy evening in July when she joined the bookclub to discuss her book and career over wine and other treats.
Tabatha is smart, funny and opinionated, so I thought I would ask her for an interview, which she accepted without reservation. For those who are unfamiliar with Tabatha, she is a widely successful Canadian columnist with ten National Magazine Award nominations. She is truly a gifted writer who has appeared in Elle Canada, Maclean’s, The Globe and Mail, National Post, The Walrus and Explore Magazine. She has also written three books. Her latest, COLLECTED TARTS AND OTHER INDELICACIES, is a compilation of some of her finest columns. The book covers a range of topics from the struggles of having an unusually handsome prime minister to the dystopic future under Donald Trump.
1. Tell me a little about your background and how you became interested in writing.
I was never very good at school. I’m learning disabled, one aspect of my particular disability being that I have almost completely unreadable handwriting. This made school depressing, much as I loved learning things. I won the Science Fair, but failed Science. I quite often got grades in the heavy negatives, because points were deducted for spelling. I just wanted to be left alone to read, and left school young. I did go to university, armed with a computer and the accommodations offered learning disabled students, a 21 as a mature student, but I never really charted a career course. I was pushed into writing a few years later, after my children were born, when some very lovely people started telling me to put what I was saying down on paper.
2. Tell my readers a little about your book, COLLECTED TARTS AND OTHER DELICACIES.
COLLECTED TARTS AND OTHER DELICACIES is a collection of my humour writing for magazines and newspapers. It tells a bit of a story, my story, as a whole, I think.
3. We both write a fair amount of humour. Do you believe you can develop humour writing skills or is it something you are hard-wired to do?
I think you can hone what you have evolved but you can’t learn to be funny. Humour is unquestionably a bit of a survival mechanism, but I would add that, when I think of the people I have encountered who don’t have a sense of humour, the one thing they seem to have in common is a lack of genuine empathy. I think to be funny you have to be able to feel how things, and you, look to other people to be funny.
4. Who are your favourite funny people and what about them do you like?
On rainy days my older brother and I would listen to records. My parents had the British comedy duo, Flanders and Swann. To this day Flanders and Swann lines pop into my head. Later I loved Monty Python, who remain the best. I find too many people funny to list them, am blessed to know a lot of very funny people, funny-for-a-living or funny-to-keep-living, but always what they have in common is that they’re smart. Good comedy needs to be smart, and not “smart pretending to be dumb,” as in “What’s the deal with this thing I have not actually thought about that might be confusing, alarming and alien to my audience but that if presented with proper detail and context would be a lot harder to turn into a cheap joke.”
Confirmation bias humour isn’t actually funny.
5. Who are your inspirations in the literary world and beyond?
I tend not to read a lot of humour, although David Sedaris is a genius and everyone should read him. I read widely, a fair bit of non-fiction, an awful lot of news. Dogs make me laugh. Sometimes cats, but mostly dogs.
6. In one of your columns included in your book you knocked jazz fans. What is it you have against jazz fans? Don’t you think Canadians should be more tolerant and inclusive when it comes to jazz?
No. And part of what I have against jazz, other than it being jazzy, is that it has become the default music of “good taste.” Jazz has become the default music that people go to when classical seems to high-brow and anything else too common. It has become brunch music, and not even jazz deserves that.
7. If you were to rewrite Swiss Family Robinson to make it more boring, what changes would you make?
Nothing, I know when I’m beat.. It’s dullness perfected. There’s more excitement in one line of my tax returns than in 323 pages of the Swiss Family Robinson’s alleged peril. I’ve done some boring things in my time but none of them hold a candle to an adventure story with pages of candle-making and no cannibalism. Swiss Family Robinson groundbreaking in the field of boring.
8. If you had the opportunity to share a drink or two with Ivanka Trump, what would you say to her?
I would decline. We need to stop pretending this, any if this, is normal. That is a woman who, for the rest of her life, should drink alone.
9. There has so much talk about fake news from misinformation to dissenting opinions. What are we to make of all this and how does the public deal with it?
There is a lot of fake news but we have never been better equipped to fact check. Don’t share, even if it feels true, especially if it feels true, until you have checked it out. Also, pay for real news, damn it. Creating real news is very expensive and paying for it a moral obligation, like voting.
10. Is there anything different you would like to try in the future?
I would like to write a history book.
11. Where can we find you online?
I am on Twitter at @TabathaSouthey a fair amount of the time.