How did you get started in YA books?
The first novel that I wrote was for teenagers. I was very ill with something called the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which means that I was exhausted all the time, and basically spent all day every day lying in bed. I was too tired to shave my legs and so my legs got quite hairy, and this sort of interested me as I was quite bored, lying there all day. And so I wondered what would happen if a girl in high school stopped shaving her legs … and then entered some kind of beauty contest … Strangely enough, that was the actual inspiration for my first YA novel, which was called Mission Impossible.
What inspired your writing or art?
Real life, for the most part. Though I tend to start a novel based on a phrase that comes into my head, or just a feeling about something. I don’t plan my books ahead, and I don’t usually write to make a point, the points just come out of the plot. However, an exception to this is The Pain Eater, which was inspired by the Rehtaeh Parsons tragedy, specifically the trial verdict of the two young men accused of rape, then tried for child pornography. When I heard their sentences, I wondered what young people across Canada were thinking, and how it would affect their willingness to come forward about their experiences with sexual assault, both female and male. And I decided I had to write a book in response to this.
What was your favourite book as a teen? Why?
My favourite YA book was actually a trilogy, called The Wizard of Earthsea trilogy, by Ursula K. LeGuin. I loved it because this trilogy acknowledged that everyone has a dark side, and this dark side has to be named and loved as yourself. The greatest fear in life is really of yourself, of your own negative possibility, and if you can learn to love that part of yourself and claim it instead of shoving it away, then that part of you will heal and come into truth and self-respect and gentleness.
How can teachers use your books in the classroom?
Some discussion topics that I’d suggest for The Pain Eater would be as follows:
- What is the role of the scapegoat in the community?
- What happens when the scapegoat rejects her appointed role?
- The sexual assault victim as scapegoat: discuss.
What are you looking forward to most during TD Canadian Children’s Book Week?
I am so looking forward to meeting the many students I’ll be presenting to, as well as their teachers and librarians. It’s exciting to meet the people who are actually reading one’s books, and to get their feedback. And I love being around people — writing is lonely work, you have to stick the entire plot out alone, so it’s terrific to get some time where it’s nonstop peoplehood.