What is your favourite illustration in your new picture book, The Better Tree Fort?
My favourite page by Qin Leng is the scene where a boy named Russell is standing on his tippy-toes on the top rung, painting the trap door of his new tree fort a gorgeous robin-egg blue while his dad steadies the ladder. His dad reminds me of my own, always pushing me to do things for myself and if I ever fell, to “walk it off.”
Why did you set your new adventure novel, The Things Owen Wrote, in Iceland?
One of my first jobs was to work at a heritage site called Stephansson House in Alberta. It was the protected homestead of an important Icelandic poet who emigrated to Canada. He farmed by day and wrote poetry by night. He was a insomniac who tragically lost his son during a lightning storm. Years later, I became a writer, too, and only now appreciate the depth of his struggles. I wanted to write a novel that celebrated him and his work, a thank-you for his early influence on my career.
Why did you set your mystery novels in a historic cemetery? Don’t you know there are ghosts?
I live in downtown Halifax and am surrounded by historic cemeteries, with some of the gravestones dating back to the 1700’s. It was only a matter of time before I poked around them. There are plenty of untold stories in cemeteries: the eroded words too hard to read, the mysterious carved symbols, the heavy gravestones that have toppled face-first to the ground. I included all these details in The Spotted Dog Last Seen and The Missing Dog is Spotted. But no, I don’t believe in ghosts, even though I’ve had a few encounters.
Is it true that when you were growing up, your heroes were astronauts?
Yes. I remember watching our little black-and-white television set and saw Neil Armstrong land on the moon and step off that ladder. One of my prized possessions is the cover of my first Martin Bridge book, Ready for Takeoff, which was signed by John Glenn, the first astronaut to orbit the earth.
When you were a child, what were your favourite things to do?
Build tree forts, attend art classes, and make my own cinnamon toast.
When you were little, what were you most afraid of?
I dreaded having to retrieve anything from the basement. The mere thought would send me into a panic. My mom even promised to stand at the top of the stairs and wait for me, but that didn’t help. If something bad happened, I thought that she would slam the door shut, trapping me with whatever nightmare was below.
What did you think you were good at when you were little?
I was good at art and storytelling. And math. And being somewhat bossy. Ick.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Not a writer, that’s for sure. I didn’t even consider it. When I was little, we didn’t have writers visiting schools to talk about their work. Now I try to visit as many schools as I can. It’s important. I can always spot young writers in the room.
Do you include autobiographical elements in your stories?
All the time. The Junior Badgers are based on my Girl Guide experiences. I once met an artist who made sculpture entirely out of scotch tape; a character named Clark is based on him. Martin Bridge loves art class at school; I completed a degree at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. I once had neighbours whose parrot escaped from their home in the dead of winter; I based Polly on that parrot. I worked with a dancer at Halifax Dance who had a props shed, just like Stuart’s mom. The planet Astro was named in honour of our dog (who is no longer with us). She inspired my mystery book called The Missing Dog is Spotted. I often use real place names, like Carter’s Beach, Marshy Hope or Tupper Grove Park. And then there are my son’s experiences to turn to, like the science fairs he’s participated in, his fascination with making slime recipes, his love of flashlights, and the Halloween costumes I made for him when he was little.
When do story ideas come to you?
Usually right in the middle of when someone is talking to me. As soon as they leave, I write myself a note, then record it in my ideas journal when I get home.
What is your favourite literary board game?
Balderdash, where everyone makes up definitions. My least favourite is Scrabble. I’m terrible at spelling.
What is your favourite pastime now?
Sailing along the coasts of Nova Scotia aboard our boat named Cape Fear.
What talents do you wish you had?
I wish I could speak French. I wish I could play the drums. Alas.
Where do you write?
My desk is located by a window overlooking a small pond with goldfish, and beyond our fence, a seniors’ residence, where I can sometimes spot an early riser watching the pond from their window. I live in a 150 year-old house with sloping floors and trapezoid doors, which has survived two hurricanes and the Halifax Explosion. There are no leaks at the moment.
What helps writers succeed?
Successful writers can count on three things: one, they have family and friends who support and encourage them; two, they cope beautifully with rejection letters by working even harder; and three, they stick to their writing schedule, no matter what. We all have the same goal: to write a better novel than the one just published.