Seeds of a Story: Part Two

On Thursday, the Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards will be presented in Toronto. We asked the nominees to tell us about the seeds of their stories, the places from which their inspiration grew. Here are some of their responses. Don't miss Part One from yesterday!  

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The Further Adventures of Jack Lime, by James Leck

Nominated for the John Spray Mystery Award

"After I finished The Adventures of Jack Lime, I knew that Jack wasn’t finished solving cases in the fictional town of Iona, but I didn’t know what mysteries would be heading his way in the second book in the series, The Further Adventures of Jack Lime. So, I started the ball rolling by brainstorming a bunch of crimes that I’d like to see Jack solve. What came out of that brainstorming session was a mystery involving an art heist. I was living in Kuwait at the time, teaching high school at an international school, and the students were creating all this incredible art in their art class. I thought how horrible it would be if someone were to sneak into the art room and steal someone’s painting, especially if that happened at the end of the year just before their work was about to be displayed for everyone else to see. While I was putting the finishing touches on that story I visited Nice, in France, and got to see a huge amount of amazing art. It was the perfect place to finish the first draft of that mystery. Once I had that story done, the other two mysteries in the book fell into place."

 

Me & Mr. Bell, by Philip Roy

Nominated for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People

"My first piano teacher was Sister Rodriquez Steele, an elderly nun who once played piano for Alexander Graham Bell when he was waiting for a train. She taught me a love for Beethoven, whom Bell also loved. Many years later, strolling through the Bell museum in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, I listened to Beethoven while viewing soul-lifting photographs of Bell with family and friends, including the extraordinary Helen Keller. I was carried away then on the wings of inspiration, and yet the story would not come together for another 25 years. I visited the museum many times, and stared across the water at the secluded Bell estate. And during those years, my appreciation for the frustrations faced by persons with learning challenges grew. The spark that brought it all together into a novel finally was my meeting of challenged students with great humanity and compassion for others. I wanted to show what was common between them and the great inventor, who faced his own challenges, yet was the most compassionate soul.

Incidentally, after the book was published, Bell’s great grandson, and wife—Hugh and Jeanne Muller—invited us to the Bell estate, where we discovered that the wonderful Bell hospitality and humanity still lives on. I even got to play A.G. Bell’s piano!"

 

The Spotted Dog Last Seenby Jessica Scott Kerrin

Nominated for the John Spray Mystery Award

"I live in downtown Halifax, and every day on my walk to work I pass by several historic cemeteries. It never occurred to me to go into them. But then one day, I did.

I walked through the black iron gate of the Old Burying Ground on Barrington Street. The plaque on the gatepost told me that this was a nationally designated heritage site and that the oldest grave marker dated back to 1749, the year that Halifax was founded.

I didn’t get very far before I hesitated. I felt like Alice in Wonderland who fell through the rabbit hole.

What were these different types of stones I was surrounded by, covered with lichen and eroding at different rates? Why were some stones grouped together? Why were the stones mostly facing the same way? What did all those strange carved symbols mean?

And then something stopped me dead in my tracks: a double grave maker meant for a couple, a husband and wife. He obviously died first. I read his inscription. And then I looked on the other side. It was completely blank. What happened to your wife? I asked out loud.

I stood to listen for an answer. All I heard was the rustle of leaves, a tapestry of sighs. And in that place, a historic site that tries so hard to freeze time and space, I decided to tell a story."

 

The Man With the Violin, by Kathy Stinson (Illustrated by Dušan Petričić)

Nominated for the and the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award and the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award

"Sometimes I get inspiration to write stories from stories I’ve read. 

Gene Weingarten’s Pulitzer Prize-winning story, 'Pearls Before Breakfast,' inspired me to write The Man with the Violin. 'Pearls Before Breakfast' described what happened one day in 2007 when the Washington Post conducted an experiment to see what would happen if they set up a virtuoso musician to play his violin in a subway station dressed as an ordinary street musician. What happened was that hardly anyone took any notice. But kids did. Kids wanted to stop, but adults always rushed them along to wherever they were going. And I knew I wanted to tell the story of what happened that day, as one of the kids passing through the station that day might have experienced it.

The real 'man with the violin' was Joshua Bell. There’s lots in his life story that kids would find interesting, so I decided to include some biographical information about him after the story part of the book, along with some information about the experiment he took part in.

Joshua Bell liked how the story had been written (and illustrated by Dušan Petričić) and he even wrote a postscript for it."

 

Curse of the Dream Witch, by Allan Stratton

Nominated for the Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy

"We live in a culture of fear, so terrified that we’ve been prepared to hand over our privacy and our freedom. Indeed, we’ve gone full fetal, building gated communities and bubble-wrapping our children. That truth is the kernel behind Curse of the Dream Witch: the idea of a child trapped indoors because her parents are afraid for her life. The other truth is that the very imagination that traps us in fear can be used to set us free.

The reality at the heart of fiction is why stories move us in ways we can’t explain. It’s why literature is the truest magic in the world. We read abstract squiggles of ink on paper, of pixels on a monitor, and form scenes in our head. We see and hear imaginary people, and what they say and do make us laugh and cry real emotions in real time.

That magic is what helps us grapple with life’s terrors from childhood to the grave."

 

Slated, by Teri Terry

Nominated for the Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy 

"I had a vivid dream of a girl running on a beach, terrified, afraid to look back to see what is chasing her. She trips and falls … and then I woke up. I grabbed my notebook from the side of the bed—kept there for this very purpose!—and wrote it down. Pretty much word for word what I wrote early that morning became the prologue to Slated as published.

That same morning I also had the concept behind the story—of underage criminals having their memories wiped as punishment for their crimes—as well as the title. 'Slated' comes from being a blank slate, and starting over again. Of course, the dream I had only contained the seeds that grew into a trilogy, of which Slated is the first. The theme of identity is key to the story: how do you know who you are or who you want to be when you don’t know where you came from? Also the nature-nurture debate, as whether a violent criminal is born or made impacts on whether wiping their memory can change them. Finally, if a group fighting for freedom against an unjust system use bombs to achieve their aims, are they terrorists, or are they freedom fighters?"

 

Book Cover The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B, by Teresa Toten

Nominated for the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award

"I have had the privilege of watching close up many extraordinarily talented and vivacious young people who I knew were labouring under an invisible burden of mental illness. Their courage and grace astonished me over the years, and for years I wondered what would it be like to spend a day in their shoes. Eventually, I stopped wondering, started researching and finally found my own courage to start writing. And that’s how my Unlikely Hero was born."

 

Book Cover Whatever Doesn't Kill You

Whatever Doesn’t Kill You by Elizabeth Wennick

Nominated for the John Spray Mystery Award

"Whatever Doesn't Kill You was inspired by early mornings delivering the Toronto Star a million years ago when I was a young teenager. I was supposed to be delivering the papers, but I was more interested in reading them. Headlines would grab my eye: 'Family Devastated By Tragedy'; 'Wife Shattered By Husband's Death,' and I would stop in the middle of my route and flip through the news section of somebody else’s paper to find out what happened. Let’s be honest, I was a pretty terrible paper carrier. The paper would follow the story for a week or so, and the articles would get farther back in the news section, from A1 to A6 to a note on the back page. What happened after all the attention faded and the survivors of these horrific events settled into their new 'normal'? Other elements of the story fell into place: a grimy corner of east Hamilton; a girl obsessed with an era she never lived through; a family holding tight to its secrets. But at the root of the story was always the question: What happened next?"

November 4, 2014
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