Interview with Margaret Southall

RiverviewPark Review Arts Report May 2018

<< Arts Report | Articles | Interview with Alberte Villeneuve >>

Hello Margaret.
Q: We met through a common friend, when you were completing your novel: "A Jacketing Concern". What compelled you to be a writer?
A: My family of origin were always great readers. I read many books, and began creating stories when I was very young, especially for my younger sister. They quickly became 'serials', which were more like "Watership Down meets Coronation Street!" At the age of ten, my first published work was in our school classroom's annual. Our innovative teacher encouraged us to continue to hand craft the total book, including the binding. I wrote a mystery story, involving a cave, for that annual. Each week, I passed the press building where our weekly newspaper was published. I was amazed by the rotary press which published more than just the paper for the Eastbourne city and region. I decided in my early teens, to become a reporter, because I enjoyed writing so much.

Q: You became a journalist when it was a 'man's profession'. What challenges did you face in Britain because of that prejudice?
A: I got a freelance job under James Dunne, who served all the national newspapers and agencies: e.g. The Press Association, BBC TV and Radio. I didn't get that much chance to write, but I absorbed much information and deep knowledge of the craft. Subsequently, I was employed by the Eastbourne Gazette and Herald. They were happy to have me for two-and- a half years as a Senior Reporter. For another two- and-a half years, I was a sub-editor, (copy editing as well as proof reader, page designer,) and more. I can only remember being treated very well at my place of work. But when I was out in the field news-gathering, it was there that I encountered prejudice. I was often 'talked down to' by men with whom I had to interact to get the news. Those men expected me to report 'social' aka 'women's news', not 'hard news'. That was the early 60's. Also women I encountered were 'surprised' that I was a general reporter and not concerned with the 'social page'. I enjoyed attending the press dinners and associated service clubs.

Q: Why did you move to Canada, away from all you had known?
A: My sister and brother were living in Montreal in 1967. I missed them, so I also went to Montreal to be closer to them. I found it very difficult to find work, so I moved to Toronto, stayed with relatives there. When one of my family showed me an ad for a 'reporter-editor in Northern Ontario', I grabbed the opportunity. The interviewer was to become my husband. He was impressed with my expertise and experience, so he hired me for the Enterprise in Iroquois Falls. I spent eight to ten years in that position.

Q: What challenges did you encounter when you were a journalist in Northern Ontario?
LINK? (I, Diane S. inserted the hyperlink as M.S. 's reply to the question above. Her published short story described perfectly what she learned. Because our paper is also online, I ask you to read this reply there. It saves print and paper.)

Q: How many years did you spend there and what made you and your husband move to Ottawa?
A: I spent four to five years in Iroquois Falls, and also worked with The Stratford Beacon Herald, but left shortly after and lived with a girlfriend for a few years. I married my husband in 1980. Then we both moved to Ottawa where I took advanced journalism courses at Carleton University. I also took a scriptwriting course at Algonquin, graduating with honours. I have a half-hour script for an animated film called: "The Prince Who Liked Being a Frog".

Q: What got the juices flowing for your first novel: "A Jacketing Concern"?
A: I was browsing in the main branch of the Ottawa Public Library when I came across the survey by Victorian journalist Henry Mayhew entitled "London Labour and the London Poor". Mayhew interviewed the type of people that Dickens fictionalised in his novels. Their accounts are in their own words, some them quite harrowing. It was the story of a young boy like Addy who was kidnapped from his home and sent to sweep chimneys which got me fired up. "What if?" I asked. My imagination took it from there. "A Jacketing Concern", came from a book of underworld slang through the ages that I bought, because my interest in words. I was going to call the novel The Climbing Boy, but as I was perusing the book I came across the phrase a jacketing concern, which neatly sums up the book's plot.

Q: One of the things which impressed me very much when I read your novel was your manner in which you raised the whole issue of child abuse in the late 18th-early 19th Centuries I also was inspired by the way in which you paralleled the course of neglect in both the poor children and those who were in the upper classes. Many of us have read a few Dickens novels, but he had not shown that upper class children were just as neglected, but in different ways, from those poor ones. What inspired you to bring that to our attention?
A: Re: 'Climbing Boys'. I learned about these things and the use of children in mills and coalminers at school in England. I knew the stuff about climbing boys was bad, but my research showed that it was worse than bad. Unfortunately children are still being used in industry today in other parts of the world. During Victorian times society became more concerned with the plight of children having to work in such awful conditions, and take action. Someone has just recently written a book, (can't name the author), Her thesis is that the Industrial Revolution in Britain was to a great extend achieved on the backs of children.

Q: You're not the only one who's been scammed by publishers who are, at best, 'agents'. What advice can you give to others who are trying to find a real publisher: e.g. Random House or Dundern?
A: We can all be very na´ve, but I think it is a good strategy to network in person and online with local writers and join OIW (Ottawa Independent Writers). The business side of Publishing has nothing to do with the creative side. Should you be fortunate to get a contract from a publisher, get it checked over by a lawyer who is knowledgeable about the publishing industry. There are organizations and associations of publishers in Canada which can help you find a registered publisher.

Q: You're now as much of a 'senior' as I am, but I believe you could have been an excellent reporter. Where are you planning to put those abilities now? Will it be in more novels or columns or what?
Thank you for allowing me to interview you today. When do you think your next work might be published?
A: I plan to write more novels and short stories. I'm especially encouraged about the latter, because I won a prize from the Toronto Star for a story I wrote in the late 90's. My book can be purchased at: Books on Beechwood, Amazon, Chapters, and elsewhere.

© Diane S. Schmolka, May 2018
<< Arts Report | Articles | Interview with Alberte Villeneuve >>

Page last modified on December 23, 2019, at 12:37 AM