Since I’m writing this post for the Brit Babes, I’m going to tell you about something uniquely Canadian: CanCon.
Most Canadians are familiar with this term. CanCon refers to Canadian Content regulations broadcasters have to adhere to. They were introduced in the sixties (I think?) to stem the flow of American media infiltrating our airwaves. To this day, television and radio stations are legally required to devote a certain percentage (between 30% and 40% I think?) of broadcast hours to Canadian programming.
As I write this post, I’m watching one of my all-time favourite sitcoms: Corner Gas. Just so happens to be Canadian. Same goes for Murdoch Mysteries, Republic of Doyle, Blackstone. And the radio’s playing some of my favourite Canadian artists and bands: Tanya Tagaq, Mother Mother, Arcade Fire. Canada’s full of talented people.
I’ve often wondered: what if there were CanCon rules regarding books? There aren’t any, as far as I’m aware (and, yes, that would be a tad Big Brother-ish), but the truth is we don’t need anyone advising us to read Canadian fiction.
Canadians are voracious novel-readers, and we can’t get enough of our own writers. That’s not to say Canadians don’t read international fiction—we certainly do—but Canadian fiction also has an international flair. That’s because so many of our incredible authors have personal or ancestral roots beyond our shores. Farzana Doctor, Michael Ondaatje, Rohinton Mistry, Esi Edugyan. Canadian fiction can be set anywhere, because Canadian authors can be from anywhere.
Me? I’m from Toronto and I’m not much of a traveller, so most of my fiction is set here.
When I first started writing, I concealed my settings. Generic streets, generic cities. I thought that would appeal better to an American audience. Toronto has had a booming film industry for as long as I can remember, partly because our streets can stand in for Chicago, New York… as long as you cut the CN Tower out of your shot, you could be anywhere.
So I did that for a while, in my fiction: cut out the CN Tower. My characters could be anywhere.
The first novel I set in Toronto was my MMF menage romance, Anonymous. I can’t remember why I set it here, but it’s full of landmarks: Hannah lives in Bloor West, works in Yorkville, and stalks a man on Church Street. It’s a very “Toronto” book.
My latest, a lesbian novel called The Other Side of Ruth, is also set in Toronto. Ruth lives in a part of the city called The Beach, which has a small-town feel to it. Her much younger girlfriend is an artist who hangs out on Queen Street. Together, they attend Nuit Blanche. They dance Halloween night away on Church Street, Toronto’s Gay Village.
One particular characteristic of Canadian fiction is that the setting becomes a sort of character. The ways in which Ruth and Agnes interact with their surroundings are crucial to the development of the plot.
If you want to give Canadian fiction a go, Toronto certainly plays a role in this book. You’ll see it in every scene.
The Other Side of Ruth is available as an ebook published by eXcessica, and also in print.
Get the ebook at…