How did you get started in children’s books?
I never imagined I would write for kids until I had children of my own. But twenty years ago, when I’d just finished a draft of the darkest novel I will ever write (Man of Bone, about a Canadian diplomat who gets kidnapped and tortured), I realized I needed to write something less… harrowing. With more hope. Something for my own kids, who were just starting to read on their own. So I wrote the first of my Owen Skye stories as Christmas presents for my daughters, Gwen and Anna. These are loosely based on my own childhood, and though they do get dark sometimes, mostly they are fun, wild, full of life and love and the silly possibilities any day can bring.
What (or who) inspires your writing or art?
I read a lot, but I especially try to pay attention to the life and the people around me. Something in their stories might remind me of bits of my past that maybe I don’t want to write about directly. So I take some string here and an old stick and a bicycle seat, and whatever other spare parts might be lying around, and start to stitch together a story. What’s likely to get it all in gear, however, is the strange chemistry when an interesting character is suddenly in the middle of a weird situation – a boy who loves basketball can’t stop thinking about the girl who walked in front of his hoop; a freaking pterodactyl arrives in high school and steals the heart of the student body chair. What’s going happen then?
What was your favourite book as a child? Why?
I loved The Wind in the Willows, not from the endless description of the riverbank and the spring etc. in the beginning, but for when Mr. Toad cannot keep himself from stealing motorcars. What?! Now there’s a craziness close to my heart. No matter what happens, what trouble he gets in or what pain he creates for himself and others, you know Mr. Toad will be true to his desire to steal that beauty, let that throttle out, and ride with the wind. How much more human can a story be?
How can teachers use your books in the classroom?
My Owen Skye books (The Secret Life of Owen Skye, After Sylvia, Dear Sylvia) were written to be read aloud. I fear we’re losing the art and the joy of reading stories aloud these days, to ourselves and to others, but these are stories I read to my own kids and to audiences now of all ages across the country. There’s a lot to talk about as well. Owen is too young to feel as much as he does for Sylvia, and yet this is the card he has been dealt, and he doesn’t melt from the heat or the challenge of it. Love, love, love. It’s a universal puzzle we deal with all our lives.
Love is also a central theme of my young adult novels, Tilt and Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend, but in some ways the two couldn’t be more different. Stanley, in Tilt, doesn’t want to have to deal with all the changes impending adulthood is thrusting on his life. But those changes are coming anyway, whether he acknowledges them or not. Shiels, in Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend, knows exactly where her life is headed until, well, she doesn’t have a clue. How could a sexy pterodactyl suddenly take over all her thoughts? How could she betray herself by paying any attention to him? How could she not?
What are you looking forward to most during TD Canadian Children’s Book Week?
Until 2016 I had never visited Saskatchewan, and then I got a chance to spend the month of September in Eastend at a writing residency in Wallace Stegner’s childhood home. I fell in love with the land and the locals, and loved soaking in a sense of Prairie spirit and history. I’m looking forward to seeing another part of the province, and to bringing my stories to kids in communities I never would have had the chance to visit otherwise. We’re a big country, immensely spread out, but our stories bind us, and if in telling some of mine I can get young people excited in the idea of writing down their own stories, I’ll be thrilled!