When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I think I’ve known ever since I learned to read. I loved stories so much that I wanted to tell my own. Knowing is different, however, from doing. Although I’ve always written, I never had the confidence to show my work to anyone until about 1992, nor did I think anyone would want to publish it.
Did you always want to write for children?
My great love is science fiction and fantasy so that’s what I always thought I would end up writing. I became a YA writer almost by accident. I was taking a writing course at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and one assignment was to write a short story in the first person in as different a voice from our own as we could. I chose to write as a sixteen year old boy. Everyone who read it, really liked the story and seemed intrigued by some of the other characters, asking all sorts of questions about them. This led me to write a few more stories featuring these characters. Before I knew it, I had the beginnings of a book. This became my first book Golden Girl and Other Stories. Since then, I have found I really like writing for this age group and that’s what I have concentrated on. I still would like to write science fiction and that may come in the future (no pun intended 🙂 ).
How do you start writing a story?
I always start with the main character. I think about the character a lot, sometimes for weeks, trying to imagine everything about him or her. I write a character study, draw up a family tree, and then, usually, a story line suggests itself as I think about what would be important to the character.
How do you get ideas for your characters?
I’m an ex high school teacher, so I have come across a lot of teenagers in my time, and that helps me get started. I’ve never based a character entirely on someone I’ve known. What I do is take a characteristic or a situation and then let my mind run with it. For example, I once taught a boy who was already 6 foot 2 by the time he was thirteen, and still growing. I remembered how much his size affected the way people dealt with him and that led me to create my character Rudy who appears in Glory Days and Other Stories who is of a similar size, but totally different in character. Music often inspires me in a roundabout way. At least three of my stories have had their origin in songs I heard. Sometimes dreams provide me with ideas. The Carved Box had its start in a dream which, strangely enough, I had before I came to Canada. I dreamed of a cabin in the woods, and standing in the door was a tall woman wearing a long dress. The really weird thing was that she had a dog’s head! Now, you’ll have to read the book to find out what that all means. A Foreign Field comes out of my own family’s history. I was interviewing my father, who is eighty eight, about his experiences in World War Two. I was planning a non fiction piece about this. The last thing he said was, “We were just boys, Gill, just boys.” That got me thinking about how young many of the men and women who participated in the war were, and I found out that my father’s brother, Stanley Durrant, had lied about his age to train as a pilot at sixteen, and had completed one set of missions before he was shot down just after his nineteenth birthday. All those thoughts swirled around in my head until I came up with my characters of Ellen and Stephen.
How do you write?
I write every morning for three hours while my son is at school. Depending on what I’m doing, I either work directly on the computer or sometimes I write long hand in a spiral bound notebook. If I do the latter, I write double spaced, so I can edit, and on one side of the page only. This leaves me with a blank space to write down ideas that occur to me, questions that come up, or sometimes I even sketch out a room layout, or a map. I’ve found this really useful in writing historical fiction because, even though you think you’ve done enough research, little things always come up.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
- First of all, keep writing, every day, if possible. It doesn’t matter what, just writing in itself is a good discipline.
- Don’t write for a particular audience; write because you want to tell a particular story.
- Be persistent. Keep sending your work out and don’t be disheartened by rejections; they at least show that you’re trying.
- If people criticize your work or give you advice, listen to what they have to say, think about it, but make up your own mind as to whether you think it is useful or valid. As my editor says to me, “In the end, it’s your decision. You’re the author.”
- If you have any other questions that you would like to ask, contact me.
- Kids Can Press – One of my publishers
- Scholastic Canada – One of my publishers
- Canadian Children’s Book Centre – One of the best sites for finding out what’s happening in the Canadian children’s book world
- Children’s Book Council – A nonprofit trade association of publishers and packagers of trade books and related materials for children and young adults
- Children’s Literature Web Guide – Internet resources related to books for Children and Young Adults
- Achuka – A wonderful English site with lots of news about children’s books
- CANSCAIP – Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustators and Performers
- The Writers’ Union of Canada – check here for some interesting writing competitions throughout the )year
- Stone Soup – a site which highlights writing by children and teenagers