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A Q&A with Carolyn Bennett, author of Please Stand By

She’s worked as a standup comic and a television writer, so it’s only natural that Carolyn Bennett’s new creative project would draw on both of those experiences. Chronicling the personal and professional turmoil of an employee at a provincial public broadcaster, the comic novel Please Stand By is slated for publication in October 2019. In the meantime, we caught up with Carolyn via email to hear more about the book and her journey to publication.

Tell us about your book. How did it come about?

As a television writer in the 1990s and 2000s, I saw a lot of absurd goings-on in the business. As Canadians, it seems we're forever trying to define who we are. It can be an excruciating, albeit necessary, exercise. This project came about as a response to this endless soul-searching. Not only are the situations ridiculous, the main character is a piece of work in her own right. I was a touring stand-up comic for many years, so a warped point of view informs the writing.

Please Stand By is also about secrets unearthed. The themes of soul-searching and identity are personal as well as societal. People who live tenuous lives feature prominently.

Maybe people will think the novel is written by Carolyn Bennett, the Member of Parliament. I hope so. I could use the sales.

How did you find the experience of working with your writing mentor? What insight into your writing did you gain through the mentorship process?

I felt sorry for my mentor, to be honest. He had to deal with a lot of sass and defiance from me. You must understand that this was 15 years ago. I was... well ... 15 years younger than I am now. The experience was important in that my mentor was serious, gave me an objective point of view and was honest. He encouraged (if not insisted) that I go deeper, instead of glossing over the surface with jokes. We were not an obvious match, as his writing is mysterious and unsettling, but I think the mentorship challenged me to carefully consider my work.

In what year did you finish the Correspondence program?

I was accepted into the Correspondence program in 2004, just as social media was making its debut.

I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship from the ACTRA Fraternal Benefit Society, and a bursary from Humber College. That bit of encouragement was great.

Honestly, I left the novel for dead. I had enthusiastic rejection from agents and a few publishers, but I never thought it would see the light of day. Over the years I chipped away at it, but I never held out any hope. Self-publishing was not an option for me. I figured it would sit in a drawer, like many first novels do. I sent it to Now or Never Publishing three years ago because they accepted unsolicited manuscripts. I didn't hear from them and figured the novel was languishing in the slush pile. Then in April of last year, I received an email from the publisher, apologizing for the delay and saying that if it was still available, they would like to publish it. I felt shock and awe. I still do. NON Publishing's tagline is, “We may publish prose, but we can still kick your ass.” Being published feels like getting your ass kicked, in a good way. You just never know.

To learn more about Carolyn Bennett and her writing, visit her website or connect with her via Facebook. To learn more about her work as a comedian, check out this Toronto Star profile.

Carolyn Bennett

Photo Credit: Scott McMann