Guest Post By Chelsea Kowalski
This month, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cathrin Bradbury, currently a Senior News Director at CBC News and the newest addition to The Author’s Book Club. Cathrin’s debut novel, The Bright Side, is the story of just one year of Cathrin’s life in which she faced immense grief over the death of both her parents, the end of her 25-year marriage, and the disappointment of a new romance gone sour. But amongst the dark times came points of light and even a miracle (maybe), including her brother’s return to sobriety, old friendships that were reignited, and a new family dynamic between Cathrin and her adult children. Cathrin sat down with me (virtually) to answer all of the burning questions any of her readers might have.
*This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
CHELSEA: You’re published with Penguin Random House Canada, a giant in the industry. However, your book launch came on the cusp of the global recognition of the pandemic, which caused lockdowns and all in-person events in Ontario to go virtual. What was it like to experience a virtual book release, along with all the online events that came afterwards?
CATHRIN: It’s sobering to have a virtual launch, with all the energy and excitement of talking about your new book to your family and friends, and then when the call is over you are sitting alone in your kitchen. No hugs or wild after-parties. At the same time, because it’s virtual, people can join from all over the world. My colleagues from London were at my Zoom launch, and my sister in Vancouver; friends from New Orleans and Argentina. Zoom democratizes our social events. Everyone can be part of it, and we’re all the same tiny square on the screen.
CHELSEA: With such an amazing platform already, The Bright Side, your debut into authorhood, has gained a ton of attention. Where did the idea for the premise come from?
CATHRIN: I was approached by a publisher because I had been writing articles in the Toronto Star, often about my family, and they wanted to know if I had a book in me. I said, “I want to write about one difficult year in my life.” And she said, “Yeah, no, that’s not going to work.” We talked about writing about female friendship or giving up shopping. So my first pitch was actually about the year I gave up shopping, and I wove in all the other events, like my parents’ death and being fired. But shopping was just too slender a thread to attach everything onto. A couple months after that pitch, I wrote the pitch I originally wanted, which was about the year that changed me. I worked hard on that new pitch. And that was the one that took.
CHELSEA: How has your past (and current) experience as a leader and editor in Canadian news media influenced your writing process?
CATHRIN: I have been an editor for maybe 30 years. I didn’t want to be a writer. I very much enjoyed being in the background. I worked with a lot of terrific, established writers and I mentored writers and journalists starting out. So when I began to write, I definitely had the editor’s voice in my head, almost too much. I had to train myself to not self-edit when I was in the writing process. I had to keep that at bay. But once I got things down on the page, I was very comfortable with the editing process. I love being edited. I just say, “bring it on, bring it on. I’ll take every note.”
CHELSEA: The Bright Side contains a lot of life lessons, especially for working women. What’s the one thing you hope your readers will take away from your memoir?
CATHRIN: That we are all capable of tremendous change at any point in our lives. That we can become a kind of observer of our life, as opposed to a manager. I think it’s particularly hard for women because so much of the household jobs and the raising of kids falls to them. So you’re kind of forced into a role to keep everything going. I describe myself as the tugboat of my family.
In this terrible year that happened, both my parents died, my divorce was finalized, the wiring in my house was just hazardously hanging out, and a promising new man turned out not to be so promising. There was so much piled on top of each other that I simply couldn’t behave in the same way I had before. I couldn’t keep the forward momentum; I had to just let life happen to me. And then things got super interesting. If you find that life comes at you all at once, try not to panic; try to sit back and watch what’s going on.
CHELSEA: There’s a big underlying theme in your book about finding resilience and strength during chaotic (and catastrophic) times. How have you found strength during the pandemic and a way to look at the bright side?
CATHRIN: It’s pretty strange. I hit send on a book called The Bright Side. And literally a week later, we became locked down worldwide. I could not believe it. It felt personal.
It’s frightening to go through a terrible year, and it’s frightening to go through COVID, in the beginning, especially. But COVID – and The Bright Side – taught me that the darkness is always there. It’s an illusion to think that we’re protected from anything. We’re one inch away from disaster. There is a thin veil between all is won and all is lost, and COVID kind of taught us it’s better to let the darkness in and hold it and see what it has to tell you.
CHELSEA: Book clubs – whether in-person or virtual – provide an incredible form of support for an author. Is there a book club experience you had that you will never forget?
CATHRIN: One book club I attended had eight people and one said, “Well, we all know Cathrin’s story, but Cathrin doesn’t know our stories.” So each of them took a turn and just pulled out a little bit about themselves. They talked about different things. Some talked about their jobs. Some talked about having a sibling with addiction issues (which my brother faces in the book). Some talked about a mother who was dying. Some talked about children. It was a really special conversation because I got a lot of insight into each of these people. We meet people briefly, but when you just open that door a little bit, there’s so much that we carry around. There’s so much good and difficult that we carry around in terms of who we are. So that was a good moment.
CHELSEA: There are budding writers who will see your memoir and hope to achieve the same success. What would you say to them about getting their start?
CATHRIN: I’ve spoken to a number of book clubs and a number of writing groups. Some of them are specifically memoir writing groups, and boy, people have good stories to tell. I’m never bored when they tell me what it is they’re working on. Everyone’s got an incredible story. I was super lucky that I got to tell mine, that I got a publisher and I’m always very happy to share any practical tips I have. I had people who were extremely generous with me and gave me advice and emotional support when writing my first book. I think it’s important to give that back.
CHELSEA: Sometimes the pathway to getting published can seem quite easy to those of us on the reader side. Can you talk about any challenges you faced in your journey to get here and how you got through them?
CATHRIN: Well, I have been rejected a lot. I didn’t start writing until quite late. I think I was very afraid of rejection. I focused on editing where you don’t really get rejected in the same way. And then I began to write. I wrote an essay for Modern Love in The New York Times. You have more of a chance, I now know, of being struck by lightning than you do of getting published by the Modern Love section. But I really worked on that piece, and I thought it really hit the bar. I got a pro forma rejection letter. I put it in my bottom drawer and didn’t try anything again for a couple of years. I was too easily wounded. I wrote a screenplay with a friend, too. It got widely read and rejected over and over and over again. And you would have to go and pitch it in person. It was brutally tough. You do just have to pick yourself up and keep going. I think you’re allowed to lick your wounds for a while but keep going.
CHELSEA: What are you currently reading or hoping to read very soon?
CATHRIN: When I’m writing, I read voraciously. Currently, I’m reading Thomas King’s Sufferance, which is incredibly timely. I’m a big fan of his voice and persona.
CHELSEA: Can you give a sneak peek of what you’re working on now?
CATHRIN: Well, I’m working on another book. You open up that place in yourself, and it needs to come out and wants to come out, and you can’t really shut it up. So I’m just going to keep going. It’s another non-fiction, but not a memoir. It’s more subject driven. But I’ve toyed with the idea of fiction. I have about three things in my back pocket that I take out every now and then. But for now I want to develop this nonfiction voice.
If you would like to read more about Cathrin, her work, or invite her to attend a book club meeting, you can do that here!
Chelsea Kowalski is a recent graduate from Ryerson University’s Publishing program and an alumna from the University of Toronto. She is passionate about all things literary (especially female-driven books) and loves interviewing new authors about their unique stories. Chelsea is happiest when given the chance to write, edit, and help support someone’s dream of reaching readers. Follow her on Twitter.