Catherine Fogarty remembers feeling not quite ready for prime time the day she arrived to begin her first summer residency in the University of King’s College’s MFA in Creative Nonfiction program in 2016.
“I was surrounded by real writers and journalists, creative minds with amazing stories to tell. What was I doing? I didn’t have a book; I had a scrap of paper.” Worse, she discovered she would have to “pitch” her “nugget” of a book idea to the program’s faculty, mentors and classmates later that same week.
She considered “making a run for it.” In fact, she jokes now, she and her Chihuahua, Lily Belle, “got as far as Peggy’s Cove, but returned to face the pitch. And then we stayed.”
She’s glad she did.
Biblioasis, an Ontario-based literary publisher, has acquired the rights to Murder on the Inside, her 80,000-word manuscript about the infamous 1971 Kingston, ON, penitentiary riot.
Fogarty, whose day job is as the president and executive producer of Toronto-based Big Coat Media, a TV production company whose credits include Love It or List It, remembers reading a small story about the decades-old riot in the Globe and Mail. “Something instantly and inexplicably drew me to the story. I cut it out of the paper and put it in a file of other clippings I call the ‘maybe-something slush pile.’”
A few years later, she enrolled in a nonfiction creative writing course at the University of Toronto with “the renowned King’s MFA mentor, Ken McGoogan. A kind and generous teacher, he suggested I look into the low-residency MFA program at King’s.”
She remembers her King’s mentors “encouraging me to dig deeper and pursue the story. I had never been to an archives and I certainly didn’t know what a ‘fond’ was. But there were no silly questions or wrong approaches. Every mentor gave me a unique perspective on the material and positive feedback. And [then-mentor] Tim Falconer taught me that ‘that’ is a word that should be used sparingly.”
Fogarty’s first book will be published in early 2021 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the riots. She says she has become “passionate about telling this story and the many injustices it reveals. Sadly,” she adds, “much of the inhumane treatment described in the book remains in place today in Canada’s prisons. I hope the book shines a light on how little progress we have made towards penal reform in 50 years.”
While writing and balancing her other job in the TV world, Fogarty says it was “inevitable we would develop a script based on the book.” Working with “a talented screenwriter” who wrote “a dramatic and compelling” six-part TV treatment, she’s now in the early stages of yet “another pitch process.”
In preparation for her book’s publication, Fogarty says she’s also beginning to build her writer’s platform. “See,” she says, “I was listening in class.”