The Long and Epic Biography
Back in elementary school, I dreamt I’d be an author but I never thought it’d actually happen. Doesn’t everyone dream that? Doesn’t everyone have a neat idea for a book? My inspiration back then was Judy Blume. I loved her stuff. The voice. The problems. Her characters seemed so real. But I also loved Heidi and Little Women and Anne of Green Gables the stories that took me away to another time and place. When my aunt bought me a typewriter (yes, I’m that old!) in grade 4, I cracked my knuckles and started to write my first novel. Title... hmmmm. No idea. Okay. Cast of Characters. I couldn’t use my friends’ real names, could I? Every name I thought of belonged to someone I knew. I was stumped. Apparently, writing a book was harder than I thought. So instead, I typed long letters to my Granny in Ireland. Little did I know, that still counted as writing.
By high school, I kept writing my Granny every month, I wrote in my diary every night, and I wrote poetry, terrible poetry, after every heart wrenching breakup. I even took Writer’s Craft and loved it, but I’d pretty much given up on the writer dream. I’d matured enough to know I needed a “real job”... teaching, maybe. It doesn’t get more real than that.
I grew up, became a teacher, married the boy who inspired that terrible poetry and we had two amazing kids. But I never outgrew that dream of writing. Once I got the nerve to send my stuff out, I sold a few humorous articles, a short story or two, I even sold some poetry (it had improved over the years.) I took classes, attended workshops and read a ton of books on the business and the craft, but mostly I read great writers and analysed how they did it. What made their book work? What did I love most about their characters and style? Every book I read was a short course on writing. Even the duds. They showed me what not to do.
At Jerry Spinelli’s workshop I found the courage and inspiration to try writing a novel. This time I had a computer. I also didn’t have to start with a title or a character list. “Start with an emotionally charged memory,” he said. And I did. Egghead came from that seed. A workshop with Karleen Bradford got me thinking about historical fiction and those engaging characters from other times and places. Being an Irish immigrant, I researched the Great Famine and the emotionally charged facts quickly became engaging fiction. Greener Grass, the first of a critically acclaimed series of four books, went on to win the 2009 Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature.
So what have I learned? Pursue your passion. Follow your dream. Never “mature” ... and, most importantly, always write your Granny.