Toronto Tales with Rose Tavelli – Screen Writer
Rose Tavelli is a screenwriter who was born in Perth but has lived in Canada for the last 26 years with her Canadian partner and three young adult children. I’ve known Rose for a long time but we’ve never really had a conversation with her about our writing.
My writing is more introspective, challenged and enriched by Toronto’s diversity and Canada’s cold climate.
What are you working on at the moment? I’m working on two feature screenplays. One is a rewrite for a film producer and the other is my own project. I’m not at liberty to discuss the former but happily getting lost in my own creation – a wilderness drama revolving around two women.
One of the reasons I’ve started interviewing writers is because I’m curious about the writing practices of people around the world. Is there a supportive writing/arts community where you live? How important is it for you to belong to a community of artists/writers? if at all. I should preface my experience by saying I’m not a marginalised Torontonian. If I were a refugee or homeless for example, this question would have a different answer. In my experience, Toronto has a very robust writing/arts community. I’m part of two drop-in writing groups and a Women in Animation group that does a lot of mentoring and workshops addressing all aspects of the animation industry- valuable for professional development and job opportunities. Having said that, my time for actual writing is often limited and I cherish my solitude so I don’t need regular affirmation or networking when I could just be writing. It’s important for me to know there are people I can connect with but the concept of belonging isn’t crucial. I tried a structured all-genre writing group but it wasn’t a good fit for me for various reasons. I’ve loved any writing course I’ve done for the peer support and I’ve had writing buddies in the past and probably will again. These have happened organically and run a natural course. Also, I live in a family of multi-discipline artists who often explore/initiate different community happenings e.g poetry, activist, punk, LGBTQ. Government support for the arts is always lacking in my opinion (anemic under our current conservative provincial government) so anything grassroots is powerful, no matter how small. Especially for fostering diversity and supporting marginalised people.
Do you have a regular writing routine? What does it look like? Not really because my life isn’t that routine. Toronto’s very expensive so I’m often side hustling. Our apartment is too small to have a dedicated room for writing; we have three kids, two pets, no car, and my partner often works long hours. But that’s me playing the martyr. Jane Austen wrote novels in the family sitting room and virtually every writer on the planet has had a day job at some point. Scripts for kids TV are all about deadlines so having this [current] gig means a strict routine; full days, bum on seat, till it’s done.
With my own work, a good day will be me writing for two to three hours. That happens about once a week but as long as I give myself even half an hour a day, it’s better than nothing. Fresh air and exercise usually precede any writing; usually a hearty walk in a big park with the dog. Music is incredibly important to me when I write. I have eclectic tastes so it might be Bach’s Cantata #16 on loop or Fleet Foxes or even the SkyRim soundtrack; whatever helps flow.
Honouring my own stories at all let alone making them an essential part of my routine is an ongoing lesson, rooted in dysfunctional family of origin stuff. I have two quotes over my desk to help me. One from Clarissa Pinkola Estès about women needing to get over feeling compelled to put domesticity before writing. The other quote is from A.S Byatt- “I think of my writing simply in terms of pleasure. It’s the most important thing in my life. Much as I love my husband and children, I love them only because I am the person who has the project of making a thing. And because that person does that all the time, that person is able to love all those people”.
When I first read this, it was a revelation because I’m a bleak and bitter broad if I haven’t written for a few days.
There’s this paradox in the digital age where it’s easier to get your work out there,e.g. affordable self-publishing, digital books, Youtube and other platforms for screen arts, yet it’s just as hard (if not harder?) to get published if you want the legitimacy of mainstream pathways. Have you considered just self-publishing? For my children books? Yes. I just haven’t followed through as I need an illustrator for those projects. For scripts, there are ways to share on platforms that are all about connecting emerging writers with producers. And contests too. Both great options for feedback and opportunities, though it is super competitive. Still a good exercise as an emerging writer if you don’t have an agent and live in L.A.
Over here the arts (music, dance, drama, visual arts etc…) are viewed as an elite cultural practice) because schools that run art programs are [generally speaking] in leafier suburbs or private schools. Yet everyone engages in some form of the arts in their everyday life —listening to music, going online, gaming, and navigating a website, that’s not just text on a screen, Even if it’s just text-only site, decisions have been made in font selection etc.. The arts [in schools] are viewed in instrumentalist terms here. What I mean by this is that some people will let their children learn an instrument or language if it has some market value, and schools will only run a ‘specialist’ programs if there is a market for that discipline. Is it the same where you live in Toronto? Public schools vary in terms of quality and focus all over Canada so I’m only speaking for the Toronto district school board, and high schools specifically. There are about five [high schools] with an arts focus. My kids have been through two of these [two at one and one in another]. Ostensibly an arts-focused school is not considered elitist, but simply a specialist option for families who are interested. We could just as easily find a school specialising in STEM or the trades. They have optional attendance so it’s not meant to be about living in the leafy suburbs. There’s been lots of research in North America to show that kids immersed in the arts do better overall academically which in turn, addresses the ‘market value’ expectation. However, it is a problematic reality in at least a couple of these schools that the admissions process may involve time and preparation that is prohibitive, with no outreach to applicants coming from low socio-economic suburbs. You could also argue these schools are contributing to a Eurocentric view of the arts. The school my daughter went to was in a leafy, mostly white suburb with very competitive admission requirements regardless of the discipline. The school my sons went to is in the gritty downtown core, with holistic admission requirements and a diversity of cultures and races represented. Both schools had strong community engagement mandates and a zero tolerance for bullying. My kids all thrived academically and artistically, and more importantly learned to be more kind and think critically and creatively. I’d like to believe that also translates into being ‘productive’ citizens of society but surely the true value of such an education is immeasurable.
Are there more opportunities for Canadians because of its proximity to the US? In terms of screenwriting, definitely. The US has a giant population, therefore, the bigger market. There’s more competition but also more money and demand for content.
Who are some of your favourite Canadian writers? I read widely so there are so many. Miriam Toews, Richard Wagamese, Thea Lim, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Cherie Dimaline, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje, Norman Doidge, Thomas King, Joseph Boyden, Heather O’Neill and of course Margaret Atwood.
Would you describe yourself as bi-cultural given that you’ve lived half your life in Australia and half in Canada? How has that affected your writing (if at all)? For sure. My writing is more introspective, challenged and enriched by Toronto’s diversity and Canada’s cold climate.
Favourite Journey? Out of the city, to any peaceful large, preferable forest-hugging body of water.
Favourite writers (other than the Canadian ones you previously listed)? Again there are too many! For starters, Miriam Toews for weaving light through darkness, Terry Pratchett for his fantastical lucid satire and any screenplay by the Coen brothers for dark witticisms.
Most prized possession? Any art, music or writing gifted to me by my kids.
What’s next? More fearless commitment to my script.
Canadian Authors Association: https://canadianauthors.org/national/