2017 Seeds of a Story: Part One

On November 21, 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. Part Two appears on Thursday.

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Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier

Nominated for the John Spray Mystery Award

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard is the tale of a 12-year-old book-mender who discovers a magical book that launches her on an adventure beyond anything she has ever imagined. The story is a sort of love letter to dusty bookshops and libraries, which are my favorites places in the world. (I suspect I'm not alone in this feeling!)

The seeds of Sophie’s adventure were planted long before I was even born. My mother grew up on a wheat farm in the flats—a region where books were few and far between. Still, she was a voracious reader, and she read everything she could get her hands on. When I was growing up, my mother would occasionally mention how, as a teenager, she ran out of novels to read—there were literally no more stories to read in her library. Any time she mentioned this, I would think: What if she had found one last book hidden in that library...and what if that book was more than just a story?

With Malice, by Eileen Cook

Nominated for the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award 

There were several things that inspired With Malice. As a starting point, I’m fascinated with long-term friendships and how they survive and evolve, or don’t. I knew that would be the core of the story. I’d also worked as a counsellor assisting with people with injuries and illnesses, including those with brain injury. I liked the idea of exploring identity and relationships when you can’t trust your own memory.

I decided to set the book in Italy as I felt it would give the main character, Jill, an extra push to explore her friendship if the characters were out of their usual element. As I prepared to travel there, I started to read about the Amanda Knox trial and that motivated me to add media attention to the mix, with everyone else deciding your guilt or innocence based on very little information. 

The final bit of inspiration came from the first season of the Serial podcast by NPR, where listeners’ minds seem to change with every episode. It gave me the idea to have the reader share Jill’s own uncertainty about the truth by offering conflicting perspectives.

Julia Vanishes, by Catherine Egan 

Nominated for the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award

Julia Vanishes is the result of a collision between a failed book, an identity crisis, and a half-lucid daydream. In other words, it grew from more than one seed.

The failed book was a mishmash of pirates, witches, robots, jewel thieves, and plot holes. Three hundred pages in, the story was sinking under its own weight and I jumped ship. I came back later for salvage—several characters and much of the world-building were ripped right out of that disaster.

The identity crisis was new motherhood. I wanted to write a thriller—murder and spies—to take me away from the haze of nighttime feedings, drool and diapers, and I wanted to write about a girl who was the antithesis of what I’d become. While I felt anxious, cautious, boring, she would be immoral, daring, hedonistic.

The daydream was a flash a girl in a nightgown creeping through a dark house, picking a lock, and—candle in hand—entering a room full of books. What was she looking for? That became my first chapter.

All these seeds together gave rise to Julia Vanishes, and it was tremendous fun to write. Later, a friend pointed out that most of the characters have lost either a parent or a child, and the story turns on the kidnapping of a small boy, so I have to acknowledge that my worst nightmares and deepest fears are the fertile soil in which I plant my story seeds.

Girl Mans Up, by ME Girard

Nominated for the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award

Girl Mans Up had a completely different plot in its early days. I'd built it around this question that seemed compelling to me at the time (2009), but through multiple drafts and getting to understand what I was really trying to say with the story, that plot ended up feeling like a "cheaper" way of exploring the things I wanted to explore with this cast of characters.

I ended up making my plot-driven story into something that was much more character driven. Though the story came from my imagination after lots of trial and error, Girl Mans Up's protagonist, Pen, was always inspired by my girlfriend Melissa, who is a Portuguese, Ninja Turtle loving, video game playing girl—a girl who hadn't really seen herself represented in literature. That might be why she's read Girl Mans Up more than a dozen times!

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Book Cover Azadah

Azadah, by Jacques Goldstyn

Nominated for the Prix Harry Black de l’album jeunesse 

On April 4th 2014, I heard of the passing of German photographer Anja Niedringhaus in Afghanistan. An immensely talented artist, her photographs depicted an arid country, steeped in tradition and afflicted by an endless war.

Her exceptional photographs mostly captured the gaze of Afghan children, who despite their circumstances still knew how to laugh and play.

My story is the tale of a friendship between Azadah, a young Afghan girl, and Anja, a warm-hearted photographer. Eventually, Anja must leave and Azadah implores her to be taken along. A heartbreaking farewell ensues, but not before Anja offers Azadah a very special gift.

In Dari, one of Afghanistan’s official languages, Azadah means “hope”.

I Am Not a Number, by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland

Nominated for the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award

Jenny Kay Dupuis writes: I Am Not a Number was inspired by my granny’s experience being taken from Nipissing First Nation reserve at a young age to live at residential school. It was written as a tribute to my granny and over 150,000 Indigenous children who were removed and isolated from the influence of their families, communities, traditions, and cultures.

The children’s picture book was written in response to the question, “What are the consequences of silence?” When I was growing up, I rarely heard people talk about the history of Indigenous peoples at school. As an educator by profession, I thought deeply about what would happen if we continue to not to speak up and educate the next generation about the truth. So, I wanted to share a real-life story through the lens of my family’s community history that would help others to understand the effects of assimilationist policies on identity.

The intent of the book was to help break the silence. I also wanted to inspire all people to use Indigenous children’s literature as a means to begin to have frank, honest discussions about the injustices that Indigenous communities experience(d) and what is needed for social change.

Kathy Kacer writes: Irene Couchie Dupuis was the grandmother of Jenny K. Dupuis, my co-author for I am Not a Number. Jenny had an important story to tell. And I was asked to lend my writing skills to help develop this book about a young Indigenous girl who was taken away from her family and forced to live in a residential school. Previously, I had written twenty or more books that focused on the Second World War and the Holocaust, a history that is very personal and familiar to me. Both of my parents were survivors of the Holocaust. The history of residential schools in Canada was one that required me to do a lot of research. But I approached the storytelling the way I do with each and every one of my books, trying to understand the incredibly difficult events of someone’s life, trying to understand a painful world of discrimination and exclusion, and trying to craft a story that young people would connect to in a meaningful way.

We Found a Hat, by Jon Klassen

Nominated for the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award

The story for We Found A Hat was a bit of a winding road. It is the third book in a loose trilogy about characters and their hats. In the first book a bear has his hat stolen and when he finds the thief he doles out some overly-harsh consequences (he eats him). The second book is about a small fish who has stolen a hat from a very big fish and also meets an unfortunate end (he is eaten). For the third book I thought the natural thing to do would be to do a story where nobody actually ends up with the hat in question and all the animals somehow do away with each other trying to get it. I tried a few versions of stories that went like that but I didn’t like them. It wasn’t any good when everyone died. It felt didactic and cold. I restarted with the same situation but with the new premise that the characters, now two turtles, actually liked each other. This was tricky to do—it turns out writing about strangers eating each other is a lot easier than making a believable pair of friends. But the process led to an ending that both surprised and satisfied me and I think it’s my favourite of the series for that.

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Book Cover Howard Wallace PI

Howard Wallace P.I., by Casey Lyall

Nominated for the John Spray Mystery Award

Howard Wallace, P.I. was born from the first line: “She didn’t knock, just barged through the door like she owned the place.” A love of mysteries flows through my veins so when I sat down to write my first novel, I knew it would be a detective story. Once that opening popped into my brain, I could hear Howard’s voice, loud and clear, and the rest of the story started to flow. An image began to form of this young detective with a hard-boiled edge. One who wore a bathrobe for a trench coat, had an ancient bike that kept breaking down, and spat out one-liners around a wad of gum. The story itself changed quite a bit as I worked on it, but Howard and that opening line have remained the same.

November 13, 2017
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