Tag Archives: children’s books

Interview with Duncan Weller

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Duncan Weller in his art

Duncan Weller is a writer of children’s books, adult fiction and poetry.  He is also a visual artist who shows his work regularly.  He lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and travels often to get ideas and images for his books.  He won two of Canada’s top awards (Governor General’s, Schwartz) for his picture book, The Boy from the Sun.  You can find him online at duncanweller.com. And check out his artwork at the Vinyl Listening Station at Waverley Library!

Shauna Kosoris: So what came first for you: art or writing?

Duncan Weller: Children are quite happy to draw until they learn to write. The interest in writing supersedes drawing because words more easily express ideas and feelings than pictures. I kept drawing as I learned to write to satisfy an itch that I can’t explain. According to my mother, my first spoken word as a one year old child occurred when looking at a sundown over the Ottawa River. I said, “Pretty,” and not another word for three months. In my twenties I thought of myself as a visual artist. I was getting paid for my art long before my writing, but today I don’t distinguish between the two as powerful twins.

In university, you were originally in Fine Arts. Why did you decide to switch to English?

I wanted to learn about the history and methods of creating children’s books and other forms of literature. And at the time the Fine Arts Departments across North America emphasized modern art, which has value for some, but wasn’t my thing. The philosophical underpinnings of modernism was too subjective for my taste and Fine Arts departments completely ignored the potential of popular culture.There’s nothing wrong with the traditional functions of art when those traditional functions are used progressively to dramatically enrich a democratic society. And humanism is at the core of English literature which applies not only to visual art, but to cultures the world over. That emphasis, of art with a mission beyond aesthetics, ideology and the self struck me as more meaningful and useful.

Do you normally write or illustrate your books first? A Starship by Duncan Weller

Stories are movies in my mind, complete with settings, plot and characters long before they are organized into a format using words and images. In order for others to enjoy my books, movies on paper, I have to make the computer keyboard come atonally alive with the laborious part of organizing words and sentences into a meaningful story enhancing and being enhanced by the illustrations. It’s a complicated balancing act, so I make notes, a good outline and/or a story board. So again, the writing and illustrations come together. Hundreds of stories were memorized by griots or bards who passed down stories orally for thousands of years. I’m not that clever, but I have entire plots and ideas for novels worked out in my head where not a sentence has been formed, not a drawing made.

What is your favourite artistic medium to work with and why?

Watercolour is amazingly versatile and perfectly suited for illustrating children’s books. With the right paper and techniques, watercolour effects can mimic the texture of skin, bark, cloth, steel, clouds, water, etc. in wonderful ways. Oils are my second favourite. A story I completed called Lara Wood, yet to be printed/published was done in oils and alkyds. I used a crackle medium to imitate tree bark. It looks awesome. Painting faces with oils is the best way to go if you want to take your time and blend skin tones nicely, along with creating setting effects, like skies and atmospheres. For the books I’ve used all sorts of different mediums and plan to use more in the future.

In your books, you’ve written both prose and poetry. Do you have a preference for one or the other?

Prose. It’s so much easier. And safer. Poetry is hard to write and dangerous. An incredible number of poets commit suicide. This is because poets often look deeply inwards, searching for bigger truths in the well, reaching beyond the rejuvenating properties of the drinking water and heading straight for the rocky bottom. Also, the subjective nature of poetry and lack of financial support makes the life of a poet pretty hard. At its best poetry can be the most perfect form of human expression so I look forward to writing poetry for future children’s books. I look deeply, but I don’t plumb the depths of my own being for the rocky bottom. I’m not all that interested in ultimate truths. I believe there is some kind of order to the universe, and I have a few ideas about how it works, but I wouldn’t dare to take myself too seriously. I leave these depths to scientists and philosophers and try to look at the outside world as an observer with a heart. And because I’m sensitive I like to keep the poetic impulses to a minimum. I’ll live longer this way.

That’s fair. I know you’ve made videos of some of your children’s books; are you still working with film at all?

Occasionally I work on painting backdrops that may one day be green screened into a short film I want to make. And I’d love to make animated shorts and short films, leading up to making a feature film one day, but films get made by teams and require lots of management and money. So I’m sure I’ll do a few more small projects, maybe one next year.

The Ugg and the DripAs both a writer and illustrator, you must get pulled in so many different directions artistically.  How do you decide on the project you will focus your attention on?

As a writer, painter, designer, publisher, promoter, and salesperson I have to balance too many jobs with paying for rent and food like anyone else. So I take on commissions occasionally to earn some quick money. My book projects are eventually more profitable, and more so if I can find an agent and a good publisher this year. It’s expensive to print a book on my own, and will put me in debt for a while, but will eventually earn me good money. Despite the complications, choosing a project or starting a new project comes from feeling inspired or just getting bored with painting in one medium. Sometimes it’s a sudden rush of emotions that are connected with a story I love that I just can’t wait to work on. It’s also about timing and situations, some just too hard to explain.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’ve got three visual art commissions that will pay the rent. In my spare time I’m working on three different novels with lots of interesting characters and situations: We Play You (for adults) is about an artist who has his work stolen by a gallery owner. He discovers that the gallery owner is connected to an investment company that steals art from artists the world over. Punch-Out and The Search for the Ugg are two middle readers for kids. The Ugg story will have over 80 small illustrations. I hope to have Tiger Dream, a new picture book, completed this year.

So what book or author inspired you to write?

As a teenager I read nearly a novel a day, everything from Farley Mowat to dozens of science fiction authors, along with all the required books in high school, enjoying the Russian authors, Shakespeare and George Orwell. In University I was a big fan of the English Romantic Poets, Roald Dahl and the political writings of many American journalists, especially Tom Wolfe who blew up the writing world decades ago with his dramatic writing style. These days I read Ian Rankin and lots of political articles. I am looking to get back into reading a greater variety of novels by joining a book group.

What books influenced your children’s books?A picture from Girl from the Moon

For children’s books I had a few favourites like Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, books featuring Mr. Ben Red Knight, Graham Oakley’s church mice, a couple books by Dr. Suess, Jack Ezra Keats (Goggles! was my favourite), and a few oddball books from Europe including the strange imagery in Eastern European books of folktales. Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” was my absolute favourite because the allegory applied to all sorts of strange adult behaviours. Most often I was disappointed as a child with children’s picture books. I felt the authors and illustrators had very little imagination, playing it safe, especially when compared to the amazing imagery in movies and television which also had a big influence on me. The Tom and Jane series that my mother got me as a young child made me feel ill. These books and many others were so bad I thought adults were robots who had no idea that children had feelings. I didn’t want to grow up to be an adult. For a while I thought adults were another kind of animal. At the age of nine a school librarian recommended we read the picture books with gold stickers on their covers. After I read over twenty books with gold stickers I told my classmates that books with gold stickers were the worst. It was about this time that I gave up on picture books and began reading comic books. I recall how disappointed I was when I made this as a conscious decision. At seventeen I thought I could make a ton of money writing good books for children because so many of them were terrible. In my early twenties I discovered Roald Dahl which later had a big influence.

Is there a book you think everyone should read?

For anyone interested in the visual arts I would recommend Learning to See by Alan Gowans. It’s out of print, but old copies can be ordered from Amazon and found in secondhand book shops in British Columbia. Gowans was an art historian who taught at the University of Victoria. He offered an alternate history of art that is amazingly coherent, practical and useful for artists if they ever feel confused about what art is for – about the amazing things that art can do for people.

And what are you currently reading?

I’m reading a book by Keli Goff called Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence. It’s one of many books I’m reading about race relations in order to improve the allegory for a story called Tiger Dream. I want to show children that it’s okay for us to eat, dress, talk and express ourselves differently because underneath the human dress (culture) we are all biologically the same. Our variety of cultures make the world an amazing place. I have to do a lot of reading for this story to better develop the allegory and ensure I’m representing other cultures accurately and positively. My research for Tiger Dream began with a trip to Ghana, which was made possible by a Chalmers’ Art Fellowship Award through the Ontario Arts Council.

Duncan Weller's books

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The Books of Mo Willems

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pigeonbusElephant and Piggie. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. Knuffle Bunny. These perennial story-time favourites were all created by one author, the endlessly original Mo Willems. In addition to his series titles, Willems also writes popular standalone books. Most child readers (and those who read to children) will be familiar with Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs and Tyrone the Terrible. This year, he has brought one series to a close and opened a new chapter.

 

After twenty-five stories, two gold medals from the Theodor S Geisel committee and five Geisel Honors, Willems has ended the adventures of Elephant and Piggie with The Thank You Book. These boisterous friends have had many adventures; including There is a Bird on Your Head! and We are in a Book! Told through humorous dialogue and simple, sparse illustrations, these books are a great pick for early readers and new installments will be missed.

knuffle

 

However, rather than saying a final farewell to these popular characters, Willems is using themmo-willems as a vehicle to bring attention to other exciting and worthwhile children’s authors in a new series called Elephant and Piggie Like Reading! In these books, Elephant and Piggie act as a framing device, introducing the story to readers and commenting on it in the final pages while another author writes and illustrates the central story itself.

 

I fully recommend checking out both of these new books. The Cookie Fiasco by Dan Santat uses a goofy cast of characters to introduce sharing and fractions to readers in a scenario all kids will recognize: four friends, but only three cookies. We Are Growing! by Laurie Keller explores individuality and self confidence amongst a group of silly grasses. Both books contain the humour and endearing characters found in Mo Willems’ own work and should satisfy any disappointed Elephant and Piggie super-fans.

 

 

Interview with Jean E. Pendziwol

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Author Picture of Jean E. PendziwolJean E. Pendziwol is the award-winning author of eight published children’s books.  Her debut adult novel, The Light Keeper’s Daughters, will be published in 2017 by HarperCollins; her latest children’s book, Me and You and the Red Canoe, will also be published in 2017 by Groundwood Books. You can find her online at http://www.jeanependziwol.com/.

Shauna Kosoris: Your writing career began with the publication of the picture book No Dragons for Tea: Fire Safety for Kids (and Dragons), which was published in 1999.  What inspired you to write this book?

Jean E. Pendziwol: My writing career actually began a few years before that. Prior to having kids, and continuing on a casual basis after they were born, I worked as a freelance writer, mostly for trade publications. I researched, wrote, photographed and did editorial coordination. Having young children re-exposed me to children’s books, and in particular, picture books. I love the format – the partnering of images and text, the challenge of working within a limited number of words, and, especially at that time, the ability to hold a story completely in my head before I even put pen to paper.  No Dragons for Tea was inspired by my daughter.  At that time, she was extremely afraid of fires, and more so, by fire alarms. I was concerned that she didn’t have the necessary tools to respond in an emergency situation and searched out resources. What I found were a number of books about fire safety that were all either didactic or frightening. With the help of our local fire prevention officer, Brian Berringer, I came up with the idea for the book. I was thrilled when Kids Can Press wanted to publish it! I was fortunate in that it was timely, relevant, accessible and engaging and it carried an important message.

I love that it spawned a whole series of engaging safety stories for children, too!  Right now you’ve published eight picture books, with another one tentatively scheduled for release next year.  What is the appeal of writing for children?

I love the challenge of writing picture books. There is a misconception that because the stories are short and for children that writing them is a simple task. It’s actually one of the hardest genres to get published in, which I fortunately didn’t know at the time I headed down that path. Several of my picture books are poems, and while written for children, have a universal appeal. Once Upon a Northern Night in particular has touched many people.  I love that my stories speak to people in an intimate way. And because I value and respect children, I want to create something for them that is valuable and respectful.

What’s the hardest thing for you when writing a picture book?

There are so many audiences to keep in mind. The audience for the story is a child, but it also needs to speak to the adult who will be making the decision to buy or borrow the book. Picture books are most often read out loud, and read many times over, and as a writer, these are things I need to consider.

Your debut adult novel, The Light Keeper’s Daughters, is due out next summer.  What made you switch your focus from writing children’s books?

I haven’t. I love and will always love writing for children; this is just another branch of the same writing tree. When I first started working on The Light Keeper’s Daughters, I intended for it to be for middle grade or young adult readers.  But as the characters began to take shape on the page and the themes and plot evolved, it settled into a story more suited to an adult audience. I was also at a point in my life where I was able to devote time to a more involved, lengthy writing process necessary for a novel-length story.

Has it been hard switching from writing for children to writing for adults?

For me, writing is always a learning process. Skills applicable to children’s writing are also important for adult writing; keeping the audience in mind; respecting the reader; ensuring that the voice remains consistent; and keeping the pace appropriate. I think my tendency to be a concise writer has served me well in my work for children and that has carried over to my writing for adults as well.

What can you tell me about your new novel?

The Light Keeper’s Daughters features two fascinating women, Elizabeth, who is elderly, blind and living in a senior’s home, and Morgan, a teenager completing community service hours for spray-painting graffiti. They are drawn together after the discovery of journals penned by Elizabeth’s father when he served at Porphyry Island as lighthouse keeper nearly sixty years ago. As they decipher the musty words, they realize they are connected through Elizabeth’s enigmatic twin sister, Emily, their lives shaped by the harsh Lake Superior environment and the secrets kept by a family for a lifetime.

I look forward to reading it next year!  So what are you working on now?

I’ve got a few projects on the go, some for children and some for adults… This, that and another thing. 🙂

Fair enough.  What book or author inspired you to write?

I grew up sailing on Lake Superior, so had plenty of time for reading. Interestingly, I never envisioned myself being a novelist, although I always loved to write. Some of my favorite books included the Mary Stewart series about Merlin and King Arthur (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills), Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M Auel), Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, Ken Follet. As a young child, I read Enid Blyton, and had A.A. Milne read to me.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

I think that’s a difficult question – readers are so diverse, which is wonderful. Not everyone likes the same kind of book. Some of my favorites (other than the ones noted above) include To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield), Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (Dai Sijie, Ina Rilke), All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr), Skellig (David Almond) and the Little House books by Laura Ingalls. Oh, and Because of Winn Dixie (Kate DiCamillo) – pure genius in my opinion.

And what are you currently reading?

I just finished The Illegal (Lawrence Hill), I’m reading Fifteen Dogs (Andre Alexis), and have Amy Jones’ We’re All in This Together on the list.  I’m also re-reading some of my favorite middle grade books, looking at them from the perspective of a writer, including The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis), Coraline (Neil Gaiman), Little House in the Big Woods (Laura Ingalls), and Holes (Louis Sachar). And, of course, Because of Winn Dixie.

Cover Picture of Once Upon a Northern Night

Interview with Scott Butcher

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IMG_0361 Scott Butcher is the author of An Eagle’s Heart and The Fairly Stillwart Chronicles.  Born in Australia to Canadian parents, Butcher spent much of his younger years travelling between the two countries.  Upon completing school, he lived in Australia for 33 years before moving with his wife and three children to Canada in 2009.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired your first book, An Eagle’s Heart?

Scott Butcher: I was inspired by our time here in Thunder Bay. We had come from Australia where there is lots of colourful birdlife, but when we first came here we lived in a new part of the city. It had no trees and the only birds we saw were crows and seagulls, very boring. Then we moved out to the edge of town where there were lots of trees, and quite a few more bird species for us to discover.

The problem with the new subdivision had been that without enough cover the crows and seagulls killed the other birds. When we lived in an area with trees, there was protective cover for the smaller birds, but we also had bald eagles going past our window fairly regularly, and other raptors. An Eagle’s Heart was born from watching the birds around the area. It tells the story of the survival of little birds near town areas dominated by crows and seagulls, but the birds are given human-like characteristics. So, for instance, the crows are spiteful and murderous, bent on revenge for the death of one of their own. A robin portrays loyalty; a merlin falcon desperately tries to get by in the harshness of the northern climate; a chickadee is cast into a terrible role from which he emerges with an eagle’s heart. It’s an adventure story for adults and kids alike.

SK: The birds in An Eagle’s Heart speak very respectfully, rather like how the North American natives and settlers spoke to one another.  Why did you decide to make the birds speak in this way?  

SB: We visit old Fort William from time to time. I was impressed with the accents of the actors there. The diction was very precise, and they spoke very formally. I decided that that was the way the raptors in my book should speak to each other. Raptors have formidable weapons in their claws and beaks, they command respect. Therefore, they needed to address each other in a respectful manner.

SK: How did you to go from writing about birds to writing about pixies for your Fairly Stillwart Chronicles?

SB: Ah, well, I have daughters. Stillwart is the type of story I used to make up for them. I made her up for a weekly fast fiction competition. She was just a snarky little thing that ran the ticket booth for a Fairy Cinema. But I liked Stillwart so I made another short story about her and all of a sudden I had two chapters for a book. Then I had a small book – a novella really. And then there were six novella, a series.

SK: Where did your idea that pixies and fairies are two sides of the same coin come from?

SB: My idea? Isn’t that just the way it is? I’m sure pixies and fairies have always been linked together. The later books in the series explore this relationship in more detail. The story of how they came to form two sides of a leaf (because pixies and fairies have no use for coins) one side dark but strong, the other side light but happy, is explained a little more in the later books of the series. In my new series, The Magic Sisters, there is also a scene where the first pixies and fairies are created. So all is eventually revealed.

SK: Is Stillwart’s affinity for animals a pixie thing?  Or is that specific of Stillwart?

SB: I think that’s a Stillwart thing, she lives alone as the only pixie amongst an enclave of fairies. But even amongst pixies she would be unusual. I think it comes about because she was a loner, she didn’t relate that well to the fairies she lived amongst, but she could relate to the animals, they became her friends.

SK: What can you tell me about The Dreams of Aine’s Bloods, which you have listed as a work in progress on your site?

SB: Well, I’m sorry to say that I’ve changed the title to The Bloodline of the Faerie Queen.  In Irish mythology Aine is actually the name of a Faerie Queen, but not many people know that, so I had to provide a more descriptive title.

This one I’ve been researching for a long time. It’s based on ancient Irish mythology, particularly from a book called Lebor Gabála Érenn or The Book of the Taking of Ireland, which was a book put together by medieval Irish monks (no, really) who were collecting a history of Ireland from folklore. It will probably be a while before I complete it, but some of the earlier chapters are on Wattpad for people to view for free, see http://www.wattpad.com/story/23592018-the-bloodline-of-the-faerie-queen

The Bloodline is set at the end of the Bronze Age, but in the tradition of a true epic fantasy it has several plot lines in different periods of time, including “an Gorta Mór” the time of the Irish potato famines, the 1920s, and present day. The present day scenes are more urban fantasy. It’s a complex tale of murder, mystery and revenge, but fantasy readers like complex story lines. Not a kids tale at all.

SK: What’s next after the Fairly Stillwart Chronicles and The Bloodline of the Faerie Queen are finished?

SB: The Fairly Stillwart Chronicles are now complete. Hooray! There are six books in the series. The other three will come out early in the New Year and will be sold as a group of three by Morning Rain Publishing. I’ve temporarily placed the fourth book, Tory Blithe and the St John’s Pixie (yes, it’s set in Newfoundland) for free viewing on Wattpad, see http://www.wattpad.com/story/23340914-the-fairly-stillwart-chronicles-tory-blithe-and

I’ve already begun a sequel series, but it’s a bit darker, written for a slightly older (young teen) audience. It’s the Magic Sisters series. The Magic Sisters are introduced in the Stillwart books, but their story is one of servitude to the Morrigan, the banshee queen and caller of death. For seven years they are enthralled to her. For seven years they must do her bidding. An early draft of the first few chapters of the first book is on Wattpad, see http://www.wattpad.com/story/26793907-book-1-of-the-magic-sisters-the-morr%C3%ADgan

SK: To finish up, let’s talk about the books you like.  What book or author inspired you to write?

SB: Oh, that’s hard to remember. I started writing when I was a teenager, over thirty years ago. I used to write for the school newspaper in middle school. I remember reading Jules Verne and C.S. Lewis books when I was younger, but many others. I think my thoughts were just captured in a tide of imagination. I’ve lived a fairly stressful life, and to balance that I escape to worlds of imagination. It’s like they say, work isn’t enough to feed the soul. Everybody needs more in their lives, for me, books are part of that more.

SK: Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

SB: No, people have different experiences, they need different things as their lives progress. There is no one book that fits all things for all people. But I do think that people should read. I’ve certainly read many books that have given me pause for thought and have influenced my thinking. In particular I think it’s important to read to your children. There are few things more gratifying than that. I’ve read many books to my kids, including the Harry Potter series, which I much enjoyed. But more than that, reading to your kids brings you together as parent and child in a special way, it helps build bonds that will last throughout lifetimes.

SK: So what are you currently reading?

SB: Too much, I do a lot of editing for others, it spreads me pretty thin at times. I’ve just finished The Willow Branch by Lela Markham, which I read as a beta reader and very much enjoyed. It’s now available on Amazon. Likewise Liminal Lights by J. M.Bogart. Many of the books I read are by independent publishers, so are less well known, but many are still extremely good. Seeing Magic by Laura Emmons is another I’ve enjoyed recently, again available on Amazon.

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Interview with Karen Autio

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Karen-Autio-Author Karen Autio grew up in Nipigon, Ontario.  She began writing and illustrating stories as a child.  Her love of words continued as she grew up; along with being an author, she is also an editor and calligrapher.  Karen likes to collect objects with stories; it is this love that inspired Karen to write her historical trilogy which began with Second Watch.  You can come and meet Karen at the Waverley Library on October 9th; she will be sharing the final book of her trilogy, Sabotage, with us there.

Shauna Kosoris: Second Watch, the first book in your trilogy, was inspired by your grandmother giving you a silver spoon.  Her friend claimed that spoon had been on the Titanic.  How did that story lead to a trilogy of books?

Karen Autio: I wrote Second Watch thinking it was a standalone book. Shortly before it was released, my publisher asked me what other book ideas I had. That’s when I first realized I wasn’t ready to stop writing my characters’ stories. My grandmother, while quarantined in a tuberculosis sanatorium, wrote letters to her baby, my mother. This personal family story inspired the continuation of the Mäki family’s journey in my second book, Saara’s Passage. Then in my research for writing Saara’s Passage, I discovered that what I thought was a tall tale I’d heard growing up in Nipigon was actually true. There really were German spies at work in my hometown in 1915 plotting to destroy the Canadian Pacific Railway bridge. This was irresistible fodder for more research and then writing the third book in the trilogy, Sabotage.

SK: Have you found out the spoon’s actual history?  

KA: Yes—and it’s completely different from what I expected! Come to one of my presentations and I’ll explain.

SK: I’ll have to stop by when you’re at Waverley this October!  Second Watch deals with the Empress of Ireland tragedy.  What was the most interesting fact you discovered about the ship while researching for the book?

KA: The first passengers I learned about who were on the final voyage of the Empress of Ireland were Hilma Kivistö and her two children, from Port Arthur (now part of Thunder Bay). They were relatives of my grandmother’s friend from whom she’d received the silver spoon. Hilma was Finnish, and as I researched the Empress, I learned of several other Finnish passengers from Port Arthur and Fort William. Eventually I discovered a website listing 91 passengers involved in the shipwreck who were destined for Finland—all of whom were travelling in Third Class.

What amazed me was their survival rate. Of the 91, 21 were rescued—23%. This was a higher percentage than all of Third Class, and even all of Second Class (both were 19%). I attribute this to their Finnish sisu— strength, drive, and perseverance.

SK: Wow, that’s quite amazing.  So the second book in the trilogy, Saara’s Passage, deals with growing up during difficult times: Saara must deal with tuberculosis in her family, the growing threat of WW1, and her Post-Traumatic Stress from the Empress of Ireland.  Was it difficult to weave all three of these issues together into your narrative?

KA: Yes, there was definitely a lot to hold in my mind and consistently apply in the writing. As I researched, I immersed myself in the time period and imagined myself as Saara dealing with all of these challenges. The most difficult part of writing Saara’s Passage was the personal connection, thinking about my grandmother experiencing being quarantined in the Toronto sanatorium for months on end, and then in a separate building at home in Nipigon. To imagine the reality of her being able to see her infant (my mother) from a distance, but have no contact with her, was heart wrenching.

SK: What can you tell me about the third book, Sabotage, which came out last fall?

KA: Sabotage deals with spies, sabotage, enemy aliens, and internment in Canada during the First World War. My trilogy tells the adventures and mishaps of the Finnish-immigrant Sabotage coverMäki family living in Port Arthur in 1914-15. Readers discover both how much has changed since the early 1900s and what remains timeless, such as fickle friends, new-immigrant experiences, the struggle to do the right thing, and family dynamics.

Finding out that the plot to destroy the Nipigon River railway bridge was actually true inspired me to hunt for more information about wartime sabotage in Canada. What I learned astounded me. I turned my research into this adventure novel in which the courage and wits of siblings Saara and John Mäki are put to the test. Sabotage is suitable for any age of reader from grade 4 up and is of equal interest to boys and girls. Partly that’s due to the story being told by both Saara and her younger brother John, in alternating chapters.

Sabotage was:

  •         a 2014 Arthur Ellis Award finalist for Best Juvenile/YA Crime Book Finalist
  •         shortlisted for the 2015 Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award
  •         listed by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre as a “Best Book for Children”

SK: How much time did you spend researching the books of your trilogy?

KA: Years! Several years! I never have the freedom to research solidly, so it’s piecemeal and therefore difficult to tally the time.

SK: What are you working on now that your trilogy is finished?

KA: When I’m not busy copy editing fiction or non-fiction manuscripts for other writers as a freelance editor, I’m working on my next books. I’m excited that my first picture book, called Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon, has been accepted for publication by Sono Nis Press. It explores the history of where I live in the Okanagan Valley, B.C., in a unique way. I have the incredible opportunity to collaborate on this project with the illustrator, Loraine Kemp, of Kelowna. I’m also in the process of researching local history for a novel set in early Kelowna.

SK: Congratulations, that’s very exciting!  Thinking of history, you’ve said that you like collecting objects with stories.  What’s your favourite object that you’ve collected so far?

KA: One of my favourites is the Finnish-style wooden rocking chair that my great-grandfather built in 1939. He made it as a gift for his daughter, my grandmother who gave me the silver spoon. The rocking chair then belonged to my mother for several years before she passed it on to me. Its extra-long runners make for an exciting ride! As a child, I loved to rock it to its limits at Mummu’s house (which always made her nervous, despite trusting her father’s craftsmanship).

SK: How did growing up in Nipigon affect you?

KA: In Nipigon, I was surrounded by Finlanders! My grandparents shared their Finnish heritage with me by teaching me to bake coffee bread (pulla) and making sure we had plenty of pickerel and a hot sauna during summers at the lake. Growing up on the northern shore of Lake Superior instilled in me a love of water and now my favourite activities are walking or cycling along Mission Creek and getting out on Okanagan Lake in our canoe.

SK: I’d like to finish up by asking you some questions about what you read.  Is there a book or author that inspired you to write?

KA: I can’t pick only one! Going way back, I have fond memories of the Dr. Seuss Beginner’s Dictionary that played an important role in turning me into a lover of words. Julie Lawson’s historical novel Goldstone about Swedish immigrants in the early 1900s in British Columbia was an inspirational model for me as I was writing Second Watch.

SK: Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

KA: I’ve given this a lot of thought, but haven’t come up with a single book or author. Everyone is so diverse, with unique interests. The important thing is to read regularly and read Finnish Rocking Chairwidely. A book I would highly recommend for writers—one that I frequently reread—is Take Joy: A Book for Writers by Jane Yolen.

SK: Finally, what are you currently reading?

KA: In a recent online author interview, I was asked to think back to my childhood to recall a particular author who was a favourite. My answer was Rosemary Sutcliff. Her historical novels drew me into their time periods and brought history to life. As a result, I’m currently reading her book The Mark of the Horse Lord.