“That Was Then, This Is Now” explores the beginnings of some of Canada’s favourite writers and journalists
All Tabatha Southey wanted to do in high school was get out. So, when she was 15, the Globe and Mail and Elle Canada columnist did just that. Six years later, after having worked as a waitress, a nanny, and a salesperson in a fine jewelry store and a Kensington Market vintage shop, Southey enrolled as a mature student in courses on film, 19th-century literature, and the history of Darwinian theory. Soon, she moved to New York with her boyfriend of the time, and once she returned to Toronto almost a year later, she had two children. Five days after giving birth to her second child, Southey moved to Los Angeles, where she stayed for about a year before moving back to Toronto.
One morning, another mother from her children’s school asked Southey if she was a writer. “She said it in the way you would say to someone, ‘Do youever shut up?'” recalls Southey, who was always sharing funny stories. When she said no, the woman convinced her to try writing something and send it to a publisher. Months later, the children’s story she had written was published.
On the day the National Post launched in 1998, Southey ran into national affairs columnist Andrew Coyne at a party. Coyne, whom Southey had known since she was 16, told her she should come write for the Post. “I remember thinking, ‘Things don’t really happen this way; they don’t just let people write for newspapers,’” Southey says. “I was thinking, ‘These people have no idea that most of my life has been spent waitressing and working in retail.'”
After a year of receiving encouraging emails, Southey wrote a satirical piece called “Drunk With Men”—a parody of a Toronto Star column, “Dinner Date,” in which a writer would eat with a celebrity, pretend to be interested in his career, and end up with a recipe. Southey had recently divorced her actor husband, and thought getting drunk with various men, pretending to be interested in their careers, and reporting her findings was the only thing she was “qualified” to do. She pitched the story to the Post and Toronto Life, and the Post offered Southey her own column if she would let the Post run the piece. She never took the column, but she began writing for the paper on a bi-weekly basis.
At another party, Southey met Martin Levin, books editor at the Globe. When she told him she had been writing reviews for the Post, he asked her to come write for him. One of her Globe reviews caught the attention of an editor at Elle Canada, who asked her to write a column. After Southey began writing for Elle, the Globe also offered her a permanent spot, which she accepted. She still holds both columns today.
Image by Tony Hauser.