Art imitates life in debut novel by Victoria morning radio host

A good tip for first-time writers is to write about what you know. For his latest book, author Gregor Craigie seems to have taken that advice to heart, tapping into his own life as a journalist and morning radio host to come up with Radio Jet Lag, his third book but his first published novel.

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Craigie is a media veteran with a resume that includes tours of duty at CKWX News1130, the BBC, CBS Radio, and currently the CBC. Much like him, the main character, Stephen Milburn, has moved his young family from Ottawa to Victoria to take on his dream job, but soon discovers the comic pitfalls and the lack of sleep that go right along with it.

Craigie jokingly defines radio jet lag as a feeling of ongoing fatigue similar to travelling across time zones – without any of the joys of flying somewhere on a holiday!

“A lot of the effects that come out of it sometimes resemble nausea, other times it’s just fighting desperately not to fall asleep in any given situation, in a meeting or even on-air on live radio,” he explained.

“It’s the kind of feeling that’s not too uncommon for people who work in early morning radio because they’re sleep deprived.”

Much like the main character, Craigie remembers many sleepless nights as a new parent.

“Having a young colicky baby at home and the combination of no sleep and then having to go into work at 4:30 made for some pretty sleepy days. So, early morning radio has a lot of challenges for family life, that’s for sure.”

“I wouldn’t have made it through those years without a cup of coffee that you see featured on the cover page of the book,” he said.

The main character also encounters some resistance from his boss for requesting time off after the birth of his twin sons, raising an interesting conversation about parental leave in the workplace.

“He’s very old school and he bristles at the notion that Stephen, the protagonist, would want to take a few months off for parental leave, which he dismissively calls maternity leave. I say dismissively, because, of course, he doesn’t make the effort to realize it’s called parental leave. And in the case of a father, [that attitude] does persist,” he explained.

“I’m not going to say that it’s more difficult for men, but I know that can be a real struggle for on-air people when they’re having young children and trying to decide how much time to take away from their family versus when to go back.”

The pair also butt heads over journalism. One of the stories Milburn covers in his role as morning host for the fictional radio station CIFU is a homeless encampment in Victoria, which Craigie based on his own experiences, giving the book something of a “torn from the headlines” urgency.

“This book focuses on the 2015 and 2016 real-life homeless encampment on the lawn of the B.C. courthouse in downtown Victoria, right across the road from the Anglican cathedral. And I covered that a lot of times by going and talking to homeless people [there],” he explained.

“I’ve done that over the years, going back to the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver in the 90s, when I worked as a reporter at News1130. A lot of times, inevitably, homelessness would be in the news, but you’d realize you’re hearing from politicians and others without actually hearing directly from the people who are affected most directly, people who were sleeping on cardboard or in a tent in a park or what have you.”

Craigie says, unlike the Milburn character, he has never felt pressure from above not to pursue a story but admits he has felt some from the audience at times.

“Often, the pushback is really emotional. It’s like, ‘Enough of that. Stop. Stop giving us this garbage. Stop pushing back like that.’ As I say, I’ve never had it from an employer or a senior journalist, but I have heard it from some people in the community and audience members over the years.”

Craigie hopes the reader comes away with a new appreciation for the voices they hear on morning radio as well as the people working behind the scenes who help bring that programming to life.

“I hope there’s a few laughs because I think there is something inherently funny about live radio, this difference between a really polished product that you’re hearing and then kind of a comic of visual difference [behind the scenes], at least before the days of live streaming on video from our radio station,” he said.

“I hope there is also maybe a thought for whatever station or service you listen to, the people who get up in the middle of the night to bring you the latest information that maybe you enjoy with your cup of coffee, thinking about maybe some of the personal costs or struggles it may bring to them. So, I hope overall that readers enjoy it and have a laugh.”

All in all, Craigie provides a mainly light-hearted look behind the curtain, but insists, unlike the main character, he has never fallen asleep on-air…though he may have come close a couple of times.

Radio Jet Lag is published by Cormorant Books.

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