Grist for the mill
Yk writer plumbing local humour

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Feb 18/00) - Marge named the dog Hubcap in honour of how they first met. Delilah did not, in fact, have any hubcaps, but Marge thought it sounded more poetical than Wheelrim --from The Ugly Truck and Dog Contest by Cathy Jewison

Marge, a character in Cathy Jewison's short story, wants desperately to win the Caribou Carnival's Ugly Truck and Dog contest, and in this short scene, Marge has found the perfect dog to go with the perfect truck.

But things don't turn out so perfectly once Marge's prissy cousin from the south comes to visit.

This short story, which will be featured in Storyteller magazine's winter issue, is not the first publication credit Jewison has added to her list since she started writing in 1986, shortly after moving to Yk.

"A smattering here and there," says the communications officer with the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

Yellowknifers, if they've been around long enough, might remember the play Santa Inc. It was written by Jewison and directed by Heather Ross. Jewison also wrote a Halloween play which was staged by once-upon-a-time theatre group Drama R Us.

Jewison's now-chosen genre, the humorous short story, suits her. And just as I'm thinking this is a woman with a wry, understated but very quick sort of humour, she tells me Jane Austen is her writer of preference.

"Long before they started making movies," she says.

Why does she like Austen?

"She has an understated humour, she makes wry observations about humanity."

Perfect word choice.

Jewison explains that she was once the only Northern member of the Jane Austen Society; throwing in that she got through the meetings quickly. Now, she has a fellow Northern member, Charlotte Babicki. Meetings are a little more leisurely and dynamic. They have lunch once a year on December 16, Austen's birthday, where they discuss the author.

Jewison's thematic interest lies in "domestic tension, small-town squabbles."

"Not to say Yellowknife is full of it," she adds laughing. "But I'm interested in basic human tensions."

By the sounds of it, Jewison must write day and night. Her job requires her to write at work. She's writing to complete her master's degree in literature, which she's completing by correspondence. And, of course, she also finds time to write short stories.

About the master's degree she says, "It interferes with the writing but I think it's important background." The four-year program will culminate next fall when she begins work on her thesis.

Asked if she has any rituals that get her started writing, especially when she's tired of it, like cleaning the house...

"I don't need a clean house for anything," she quips.

Which might be why her husband calls her writing room the "tornado room."

"It's where I do all my work and creative writing ... I find by the end of the day I can be very sick of putting words on paper. If it's not essential that I do writing, I'll read instead. I have to write, whether it's an essay or a story deadline."

The usual schedule for Jewison is to write from 7-9 p.m., and on weekends. But writing humour isn't always the easiest thing in the world.

"Sometimes it comes naturally, sometimes it doesn't. I wish it did come more naturally than it does. In my early writing, one of the problems I felt interfered was trying to be too clever. I've learned not to pack a laugh in every line."

Jewison is currently working on a series of stories set in and around Yellowknife -- the above-quoted story being part of that series.

"I've just finished a story about ptarmigans and ravens and I'm working on another one based around Prospector's Trail, down in Fred Henne Park."

And how did this writer start writing?

"To be perfectly honest, there was a girl in my Grade 8 class who said she wanted to be a writer. I thought that was a good idea."