Maybe it’s just Point humour?


It’s always interesting to learn what readers think of your work. Especially when you realize they don’t necessarily share your sense of what’s funny, sad, scary or important in your book.

Then you’re left to wonder. Could you have written it better and perhaps made your point more clear? Thought of a better example to use? Maybe a better choice of words?

Or is it simply a fact that we often laugh and cry at different things?

I recently told an audience about the infamous Victoria Day bonfires that I wrote about in my book, when the Point would almost burn to the ground every year. When I explained how, “then the riot squad would show up and ruin the party,” I thought I was being… well, funny. I thought it was a great line, perfectly illustrating the occasional wide gulf between the poor and the rich when it comes to… partying. I had been joking of course, but unfortunately no one got the joke.

I felt like a bit of an idiot though and had to force myself not to try and explain, as I was sorely tempted to do, what the joke had meant. It would have felt too much like I was begging the room to laugh at my obvious fail at humour.

I still remember my kids’ reactions when I first told them about the rats coming out of the toilets in some of the places I lived in while growing up in Point St. Charles. About how when I was a kid, I’d stomp my feet and sing to scare off any rats from crawling up the pipes. I told them about the ‘thump’ noise I’d hear coming from the bathroom sometimes, which meant a rat was hitting its head against the toilet seat and trying to escape. It didn’t seem that bizarre or interesting to me, but my kids’ reactions made me look at it in a different way.

It ended up becoming the opening of my book.

I’m a writer, not a talker


A couple of weeks ago I was filled with a mixture of excitement and dread.

Excitement that I’d be speaking at the Books & Breakfast Event at the Sheraton in Montreal. And dread that I’d be speaking at the Books & Breakfast Event at the Sheraton in Montreal.

The Books & Breakfast series, organized by Paragraphe Bookstore in Montreal and co-sponsored by the Montreal Gazette, raises funds to support literacy. Those who attend are served a hot breakfast in a hotel ballroom and then have a chance to listen to several authors discuss their most recent book and buy a signed copy afterwards.

As one of the guest authors, I admit, the thought of having to stand on a stage in front of a podium and microphone in a large hotel room filled with 150 plus people was more than just a bit intimidating.

At least it was for me.

But I’m learning that not every writer hates the thought of public speaking. Some not only enjoy it, but many are also excellent performers when it comes to sharing or discussing their work in front of a large crowd.

Of course, my turn at the podium had to follow two very accomplished and established writers, including the winner of the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, David Gilmour.

I had worried I’d be so consumed with nervousness just before having to make my own presentation that I wouldn’t be able to really appreciate the writers who spoke before me, but I was wrong. David Gilmour is not only an incredible writer, he also happens to be really funny and had me laughing out loud, like the rest of the room.

Up next was David A. Wilson, another hugely accomplished writer whose most recent book is a second volume on Thomas D’Arcy McGee. He ended his 15 minutes at the podium with a hauntingly beautiful piece he played on the flute.

It hadn’t escaped my notice, as I approached the podium with my type written notes clutched in my sweaty hands, that neither of them had needed any notes or cue cards, either. Fortunately it was a friendly and receptive crowd that listened as I spoke about how my book came about.

Even if I didn’t have anything funny to say or musical talents to share.


Montreal Gazette Live Chat


I hope some of you will join me tomorrow online with the Montreal Gazette at noon for a live chat about my book, With a Closed Fist!

Check it out!


From the Montréal Gazette:

Making a Point about poverty

By David Johnston

There had been rumours that people were going to crash Kathy Dobson’s book launch Nov. 4 at St. Columba House in Point St. Charles to express indignation over the way they had heard she portrays growing up in the Point a generation ago in her new memoir, With a Closed Fist: Growing Up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood. But it turned out to be a pleasant event, she says.

“I heard those rumours too, that some people were deeply offended that I had misrepresented life in the Point,” says Dobson, now 51 and living in Waterloo, Ont. “I think this speaks to an issue – the way we tend to romanticize poverty. That’s why I wanted to do this book – to show the ugly side of poverty.”

Dobson will be participating in a live online chat with me at noon today at On Sunday, she is scheduled to appear at the Books & Breakfast event at the downtown Le Centre Sheraton.

A review of With a Closed Fist, by The Gazette’s Peggy Curran, was published in the Oct. 22 Books section; Curran called it “Angela’s Ashes on Centre St., without the laughs.”

After the review appeared, The Gazette received several letters to the editor defending life in the Point. Pat Digman Reff, who left the neighbourhood in 1960, wrote from Campbellsville, Ky., that Dobson shouldn’t “make it out that the Point was a tough neighbourhood. It was a good place to grow up, and even after 50 years many of us still keep in touch and have good and happy lives.” Another letter-writer said: “I am proud to have grown up in the Point. I have never been ashamed of it.” And still another wrote of “the hard-working, loving people I grew up with” in the neighbourhood.

For her part, Dobson says she shares the letter-writers’ view that the Point was a good place to grow up, in spite of the district’s disadvantaged conditions.

“If I had to grow up all over again poor – and I’ve said this over and over – I would want to do that in the Point. It was a very connected community,” she says.

Gentrification has given the Point, or at least parts of it, a fresh new look in recent years. Many older buildings have been turned into condos and lofts, including old factory buildings along the Lachine Canal.

“The buildings have changed, but in terms of the people, I’m not an expert on the Point today, but I walked around before my book launch and the people looked a lot like the people I knew growing up,” Dobson says.

Her memoir is written in the present tense, in Dobson’s own voice as she is growing up. It begins in 1968, when she is 8 years old and living with her five sisters and her mother, Eileen. It is through Eileen’s relationship with well-meaning, left-leaning social workers and medical students from McGill University, whom Eileen meets at St Columba House, that she becomes politicized puts Kathy and her two older sisters into public schools in Westmount.

“I went to Westmount Park School, and then Westmount High,” says Dobson. She left Montreal at age 22, returned at age 24, then left again at age 30. Today, she works as a freelance journalist and blogger and is a married mother of five.

With a Closed Fist isn’t the only English-language book that has come out this year that puts a focus on poverty in Montreal several decades ago. In Montreal’s Irish Mafia: The True Story of the Infamous West End Gang, author D’Arcy O’Connor describes how young families of Irish origin in Griffintown used to look to Point St. Charles as a step up in the world.

“I used to hear that, too,” says Dobson. “Just like Verdun was seen as a step up from the Point. In fact, I ended up marrying a guy from Verdun.”

“So you married up, then?” I say to her over the phone.

“Well, that’s what my husband keeps telling me.”

“With a Closed Fist” book launch photos!


Last Friday was the official book launch for With a Closed Fist at Saint Columba House in Point St. Charles. If you missed out, check out some photos of the event, courtesy of Andrew Waldie Porteus. More photos coming soon! To see a larger version of this slideshow, click here.




Have your own photos of the event or of the Point that you’d like to share on Send them in!


The Spelling Bee at my book launch


I know I probably shouldn’t admit this, being a writer and all, but I’m a terrible speller. I also sometimes screw up on “then” and “than,” and “their, there, and they’re.” But I’m working on it.

When trying to share an idea or point of view, especially via the written word, I understand how crucial it is to pick just the right word. If I’m talking to someone right in front of me, I can simply read their face or body language for an instant check on how my words are coming across. But for readers, it’s different of course. So I get how important correct spelling and all of that truly is.

At my book signing in Montreal last week, thanks to a combination of excitement, nervousness, and being a terrible speller, sometimes I had to ask a person how to spell their name. And sometimes more than once. Even simple names.

For example, somewhere out there is a Felicity who must be convinced I’m an idiot. I had to ask her how to spell her name. Three times.

“It’s F-E-L-I-C-I-T-Y,” she patiently said each time.

But for some reason, my brain just wasn’t getting or hearing that “F.” I kept wanting to spell her name with a “Ph” for some stupid reason, until I finally did a mental smack on myself and got it right. I think. I hope.

When it came time to write the word “Librarian” in someone else’s book (long story about why) I finally gave up and turned to my daughter, who CAN spell, and asked her if it has two “i’s” or three.

Oh, and where exactly each of those I’s go…


Sharing Secrets


Last Friday I was in Montreal attending the launch of my book, “With a Closed Fist: Growing up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood.” Today I’m back in Waterloo, sitting at my kitchen table, and chewing my nails.

Within the next few days I expect to get a sense of how the people of the Point feel about the book. Do they hate it? Did it make them laugh? How many saw their own story in some of the details of mine?

For many of us who grew up in Point St. Charles, the Point remains a special place and feelings can run deep if we think someone is misrepresenting ‘our’ neighbourhood. Or telling secrets.

I admit, my book is filled with secrets, including a few ugly ones. So I understand that some people might prefer I had remained silent and just kept my mouth shut. The truth is like that sometimes. It makes people uncomfortable. But if there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that secrets are bad. Especially those secrets we sometimes ask children to keep.

I hope everyone who reads my book from Point St. Charles loves it. But I don’t expect that of course, and nor do I require it. Just the fact that the book is now out there means I’ve already achieved a really important goal. I’ve given that kid in the book a voice.

You might not like what she has to say. But I’m glad she’s finally being able to say it. Today she is no longer invisible.


“With a Closed Fist” a staff favourite with Literary Press Group of Canada


With a Closed Fist has been called a staff favourite by the Literary Press Group (LPG) of Canada! Here’s what they had to say:

“A very good memoir is Kathy Dobson’s With A Closed Fist: Growing Up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood (from Montreal’s Vehicule Press)This title is a staff favourite here at the LPG. Dobson, a CBC reporter, tells very candidly, from the perspective of her young teenage self, a wrenching, sad and also at times hilarious story of living in Montreal’s Pointe St-Charles (“The Point”) with her mother, five sisters and part-time father, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Amidst poverty, squalor, violence, and sexual abuse, the only things that matter are the bond between sisters and the fight for a better life: it’s a fight that Kathy’s mother saw as the only chance to give her daughters a better future, but also to give hope to a whole neighbourhood.”


To read the whole article by LPG on Fall 2011 must-reads from Canadian authors, click here.


“With a Closed Fist” is at the printers!


My publisher will be getting my book back from the printers on October 27th! Whew. I was getting a little worried that it wouldn’t be printed in time before the book’s launch in Montreal on November 4th!

For anyone who already pre-ordered the book from Amazon or Chapters online, I’m sorry for the delay. I know it was claiming the book would be available on the 1st of October, but now it’s more like the end of October. So thank you to everyone for all of your patience, I really appreciate it.

I can’t wait to finally hold that baby in my hands. It really does feel a little like giving birth.

Okay, having giving birth to actual real babies at least a couple of times, that’s not quite true, heh. But still….


Book Launch Announcement in Globe & Mail


Here is the ad that will be running in the October issue of the Montreal Review of Books. It will be inserted in Quebec edition of the Globe & Mail, and the Ottawa edition too. With a Closed Fist hits bookstores November 1st. Don’t miss the official book launch!



Friday November 4, 2011

Saint Columba House

2365 Grand Trunk, Montreal