I was born in Vancouver, B.C., and brought up on the slopes of Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver. When I graduated from high school at 16, I drove over Lion’s Gate Bridge to the University of B.C. There I spent most of my time working on the student newspaper, The Ubyssey, eventually becoming its editor.
Back then, major newspapers routinely hired Ubyssey staffers as summer students. I worked on The Toronto Star one summer and on The Vancouver Sun for the next two. After finishing university, I spent a year as The Sun’s education reporter, then used my savings to backpack around Europe and Asia for another year.
Flying back to Toronto, I was lucky enough to get a job on CBC Radio’s As It Happens, where we chased international stories by telephone. I recently came across my address book from the show, scrawled with the home numbers of everyone from writer Isaac Asimov to future Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. While there I published my first short stories in literary magazines, getting help from the CBC’s Robert Weaver.
During this time, I married my husband, Paul Knox, and our son Gabe was born. In 1983, Paul was awarded a Nieman journalism fellowship to Harvard University. Under the terms of Paul’s fellowship, I was allowed to audit courses at Harvard, and one of them has always stayed with me: Stephen Jay Gould’s class on the history of evolutionary theory.
During that year, I wrote the stories that were collected in Coming Attractions 4, an annual anthology of work by three emerging writers. That year it also contained the first published stories of Rohinton Mistry and Dayv James-French.
Soon afterwards, we moved to Mexico City, where Paul was based as the Latin American correspondent for The Globe and Mail. We spent three years in Mexico, after which The Globe sent us to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. During our six years in Latin America, I travelled from northern Mexico to Tierra del Fuego, learning to speak Spanish and Portuguese. I also wrote a book of short stories, Hard Travel, and my first novel, Poor Player.
After returning to Toronto, I wrote my second novel, Drink the Sky, while working as a freelance education journalist. For a while, I had an education column in The Globe and Mail, and later wrote for parenting magazines. I also became a board member of the human rights group PEN Canada, chairing the Writers in Prison Committee and the first Writers in Exile Committee.
In 1998, I began to teach creative writing at Ryerson University. My travel book, Foreign Correspondences, was published in 2000 and my third novel, The Corner Garden, in 2003. After finishing The Corner Garden, I won a writing residency in Australia. That’s where I began work on my fourth novel, The Resident Thief, which has taken me a long time to finish.
At about the same time, I had an idea for a screenplay. This was very mysterious, since I had never seen a script. However, I tried writing one called Midwinter, and it got me accepted at the Canadian Film Centre as a screenwriting resident in 2003.
Since then, I’ve continued to write fiction while working extensively in film. I’ve done everything from working as a script doctor for Hollywood, to spending a week working with an Italian director in his favourite Roman restaurant—no sign outside—to following a group of fashion designers for a ready-to-wear chain around Paris, where they illegally photographed the haute couture collections, sometimes using me as cover.
Meanwhile, I finished The Resident Thief and my first children’s book, Johnny Bey and the Mizzenglass World, which I’m currently running on this website and Wattpad. Meanwhile, I continued to write short stories. One was recently long-listed for the Bridport Prize in England. I also sit on the Authors Advisory Committee of the Writers’ Trust.
My husband Paul left The Globe and Mail in 2005 to become a journalism professor at Ryerson University. We spent much of his 2011 leave year in England and Portugal, where I did extensive research for my fifth novel. Since arriving back in Toronto, I’ve started writing this new novel, which is based on the life of a murderer imprisoned in Bedlam during the 19th century. I’ve also continued my role as teacher and mentor at the Canadian Film Centre, as well as writing, producing and story editing scripts, while preparing to write and direct a short film of my own next year.