Collected Tarts and Other Indelicacies is an anthology of witty, thought provoking, and endearing columns by Tabatha Southey, a modest and humble human being with a spirited imagination that lends itself to powerfully funny writing. Each column, from the very first one published in 1999 to the last one in May 2017, will make the reader laugh, reflect, and maybe ponder the meaning of the word underwear.
Southey’s smart wit is what makes her writing so appealing. An avid reader herself, she does not underestimate her readers. No topic is too complicated, and if it is, she throws in a story about a monkey to lighten the load. She tackles each piece all with grace and humour — and perhaps an animal or two.
Southey has written columns for Elle Canada, The Walrus, Maclean’s Magazine, and of course, the Globe and Mail, where she held a long-standing position as a weekly columnist until earlier this month. On Aug. 31, both Southey and another female writer were let go after the newspaper underwent an overhaul.
“It was an honour to have a tiny little voice in a national conversation,” she said of the Globe’s decision. “I will miss my readers and I hope they follow me elsewhere.”
What makes Southey so successful as a columnist isn’t her animal-centric plotlines or her slightly sexual sense of humour (although they do help). It’s her loyal fan base — readers she admires as much as they admire her. “I love hearing from all parts of Canada,” she said. “I hear from guys in the military and people in small towns, and if its one thing that kept me at the column, it was hearing from readers.”
Her new book — to be launched on Sept. 30 — is a nod to those readers. It showcases a number of fan-favourites as well as Southey’s most thought-provoking and fun pieces. The book, Southey said, actually went long. “I thought, let’s put a variety in there. It would be a shame if someone got the book and something they really liked wasn’t in there.”
Every once in a while, Southey will include a few tidbits of information prior to the column, either to provide context or to recite a funny anecdote about how the piece came to be. She is candid about her experience as a writer, but still manages not to make herself the focus of the narrative. Through her columns, she tackles finances, business, politics, and even tells a harrowing story about what it’s like to shop for a bra. There is, as she says, something for everyone to enjoy.
You can purchase a copy of Collected Tarts and Other Indelicacies here.
After reading her book, Women’s Post spoke with Southey in detail about the future of satire writing, a columnist’s grind, and advice for young female writers:
Q: What was it like to review your work from 1998 to now?
A: It’s good because it forces you to go back and see what you did, and the pieces certainly got longer. I honestly enjoyed doing it. Does that sound vain? That I enjoyed reading my own work?
You’ve mentioned the grind of writing a column every single week. Has there been a time you were stuck?
Every week! Every week I’m like “That’s it. I’m done. I can’t!” Almost every week! I filed with the Globe on Thursday morning, sometimes the afternoon if it’s a story that was still developing. You never stop reading the news and thinking and you are always kind of hoping you will get an idea or a lead. If you don’t have an idea or a clue when you go to bed Tuesday night you don’t really sleep. My mother says “I know not to phone you from Tuesday to Thursday afternoon.” Every week I’m in a panic. There is no dinner cooked on Wednesdays.
Are readers still drawn to satire within news publications? Will we see more or less of it in the future?
I think it’s a golden age. A lot of people are doing great political comedy. I think political humour is cathartic and it motivates. I don’t think it’s going anywhere. In fact, I love seeing the Beaverton, which is doing great work here in Canada. I think they are knocking it out of the park and I’m very glad to see that. It’s so great they have that venue and a clear voice. The Internet makes it all possible.
What advice would you give to young women who want to become column writers?
I would say read a lot. And I think there is a trap that women columnists are easily led in to, which is to constantly write about being a woman…. especially if you are a woman and you have a tragedy to tell. There will always be a market for that. I think that’s a dead end.
My advice is to learn about one thing and learn everything there is about that one thing. It doesn’t really matter what that one thing is. It can be politics, it can be vintage cars, [or] it can be wine. Go and learn it and be the person that people call when there is a controversy. Be that person that people want their opinion. It doesn’t mean you can’t write about other things. That is my advice. Do not Sex in the City it up.
Do you think there is still a gap in terms of gender in the newsroom? Are there enough female writers?
No. There aren’t enough women in almost every profession. I do feel that women are brought in sometimes to bring in a woman’s perspective and not to tread in to other categories. I’m a woman writer and the number of times I’ve heard people say “she needs to go back to writing in the style section” – now there is nothing at all wrong with writing for the style section. Great, do it! But that’s not where I come from and that is the assumption that will be made. So I think there is still ground to be broken.
I think in general what gives you the right to have an opinion is a question that is asked more of women than it is asked of men. I feel that a woman’s opinion, especially if it’s quite surgically spoken, by which I mean well argued, is sometimes met with hostility.
What kind of books do you enjoy reading?
I will read the nerdiest books ever. I read a book about a giant hedge. I like those [books that] take one topic and use it as a thread to go through history to learn something.
What’s next for you?
I am looking into other things. I have to say that people have been great about getting in touch with me and I’m going to make a decision fairly shortly.
I am exploring alternative revenue streams – how’s that?