Books·How I Wrote It

How Catherine Hernandez's resilient neighbourhood inspired her Canada Reads-longlisted novel Scarborough

The author and playwright discusses the creative process behind her debut novel Scarborough. Scarborough is on the Canada Reads 2022 longlist. The panellists and the books they choose to champion will be revealed on Jan. 26.

Scarborough is on the Canada Reads 2022 longlist.

Scarborough is a novel by Catherine Hernandez. (Noor Khan, Arsenal Pulp Press)

Catherine Hernandez is a Canadian writer, author and playwright. Her debut novel, Scarborough, is a multi-voiced story about a Toronto neighbourhood that refuses to fall apart in the face of poverty and crime. 

Scarborough was a shortlisted finalist for the 2017 Toronto Book Award, the 2018 Trillium Book Award, the 2018 Edmund White Award and was on the longlist for Canada Reads 2018Scarborough was also adapted to screen as a feature film and premiered at TIFF in 2021.

Scarborough is on the Canada Reads 2022 longlist. The panellists and the books they choose to champion will be revealed on Jan. 26, 2022. The debates will take place March 28-31, 2022.

Hernandez spoke with CBC Books about how she wrote Scarborough.

Finding the story in Scarborough

"In Scarborough, you are constantly surrounded by characters. Every day there is somebody who wants to tell you their story. It was difficult to narrow it down. I knew there were particular characters that spoke to me. I wanted there to be two moms who were struggling. There was a child I once interviewed who was being bullied for being feminine and I knew that was a story I wanted to focus on. We deal with children who are surviving neglect all the time, so that was also important for me to explore.

Every day there is somebody who wants to tell you their story. It was difficult to narrow it down.

"There were several different Scarborough tragedies that happened while I was writing, that helped me figure out how I was going to shape this book. I recognized that Scarborough — despite all the tragedies, like shootings or domestic violence — comes together in order to stand by each other. I wanted to show that. I wanted to show how a community refuses to be undone."

Canadian author Catherine Hernandez joined Tom Power to talk about bringing her debut novel, Scarborough, to the big screen. She explained why centering the story around a community of low-income families from different racial and ethnic backgrounds was so important to her.

From playwright to author

"I had written short stories about Scarborough before, but I didn't quite get the fiction thing. I could read it out loud and it would be very entertaining, but it was living in theatrical purgatory. The words weren't strung together in a way where someone could read it by themselves and it would stand on its own. It demanded that I perform it because I was relying on humour and timing.

"I finally realized that in theatre you have your lighting designer, your sound designer, your director, your actors. As a theatre practitioner, when you're writing a script, your ego has to sit back and allow the actor to interpret it and allow the director to push it in the right direction. You have to allow your team to do the work. That's not the case as an author.

I trust that the words will come when they come.​​​​​

"As an author, you have to do everything. That was something I had to get used to. It was very empowering but very strange at the same time."

‘Scarborough’ film to debut at the Toronto International Film Festival

10 months ago
Duration 9:01
‘Scarborough’ is based on a book by Catherine Hernandez. It's an unvarnished look into the lives of three children growing up around poverty, abuse and homelessness. Our Toronto’s host Marivel Taruc spoke with the writer, director, and the three young actors.

Trust your creative process

"I don't believe in writer's block. I believe it's your body saying, 'It's not now.' Go for a walk, eat something, maybe look at other people's art and then go back to writing. I've never had writer's block because of that. I trust that the words will come when they come."

Catherine Hernandez's comments have been edited and condensed.

Why I Write: Catherine Hernandez

4 years ago
Duration 3:23
In this CBC Books video series, Catherine Hernandez explains why today’s Canadian writers need to be aware of anti-oppression and decolonization in order to be successful.

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