How did you get started in children’s books?
I wrote a novel called The Treehouse for my nephew when he was nine, with him as the main character. It was about staying at his grandparents’ house in the country, and there were elves and ghosts and hell hounds (really scary ghost dogs). That book was never published, but my nephew loved it and it gave me the taste for writing for children. I worked for a while as an editor and a writer for grownups and then I met a children’s publisher at a party, and he asked me for some ideas. I came back to him with the idea for Kids Who Rule: The Remarkable Lives of Five Child Monarchs. I wrote children’s non-fiction for a while, but I always wanted to get back to fiction, and finally I did, with The Swallow: A Ghost Story, in 2014.
What (or who) inspires your writing or art?
Life. Death. Ghosts. Nature. My own childhood. My daughter’s childhood. My family. People I meet, places I go. I’ve always been fascinated by ghosts and ghost stories, I think partly because they represent a kind of magical thinking that goes beyond the everyday world around us. I live in a beautiful, wild and lonely place at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, with lots of sea and sky around me, and I find those big empty spaces give me room to set my imagination free and create stories.
What was your favourite book as a child? Why?
The Story Girl by L. M. Montgomery. I could really relate to the idea of a dramatic storytelling girl who had the power to enchanted grownups and children with her voice. I was intrigued by all her stories, which ranged all over the map, from Greek myths to family legends. I loved the lyrical descriptions of the Prince Edward Island landscape. I think Montgomery has some of the most passionate descriptions of nature of any author I’ve ever read. I also really liked the everyday interactions between the children in their extended family in a small community amid a rich culture of storytelling. I think I lived inside that book for part of my childhood.
How can teachers use your books in the classroom?
The Ferryland Visitor: A Mysterious Tale and The Swallow: A Ghost Story are both good jumping off points for discussions about belief in ghosts and life after death, without any religious bias. Children are very curious about these subjects and have a lot of opinions about whether or not ghosts are real and what happens to you when you die. Talking and thinking about ghosts is also a good way to stimulate their imaginations. I would suggest reading the books in class and then having discussions. If I’m coming to your school, DON’T read The Ferryland Visitor first, because I tell it as part of my presentation and it’s best not to know the ending! The Swallow is a good one to read aloud over a few weeks, maybe with different students reading the alternating voices of Polly and Rose. So many students and teachers have told me that reading it aloud in class is exciting and fun. It’s a bit of a cliffhanger, so readers are always eager to find out what happens next.
What are you looking forward to most during TD Canadian Children’s Book Week?
Meeting new kids who love books. Meeting teachers who love books. Telling my Newfoundland ghost stories to students on the opposite ocean. Staying in a hotel and exploring a new city. Getting away from Newfoundland winter. Yes! It’s still freezing in Newfoundland in May.
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