101 Ways to Dance
When I decided to try my hand at writing short stories, I took my advice to other writers and started to mine my own experiences for ideas. After a while, I noticed that a lot of the stories were about being sexually attracted to someone, and I thought, hey, could I write a whole collection of stories about that?
A Pocket Can Have a Treasure in It
E.B.White’s first draft of Charlotte’s Web began ‘A barn can have a horse in it.’ I once gave a writing class this sentence as a warm-up exercise to see where it would take them. Much of what I first did with that exercise has changed, but my opening line remains ‘A barn can have a horse in it.’ (Thanks, E.B.)
The Bare Naked Book
I had several stories that didn’t work very well, and when I noticed that all of them had something to do with body parts, I decided to try putting them all together in one book, and added more. Since little kids love to be bare naked and are curious about bodies not like their own, I decided to include everything.
A writer-friend once discovered I have a brother, and prodded me to write something about my relationship with him. I wrote what I thought was a short story – until another writer-friend read it and said, ‘This isn’t a short story, but it’s good material for a novel.’ Both of these friends are acknowledged in the book.
Big or Little?
When my son was growing up, he had days when he seemed proud of how ‘grown up’ he was getting and other days when he seemed frustrated that he wasn’t. A lot of the things that make the boy in the book feel big and little are things that made my son feel that way.
The Dressed Up Book
The illustrator of The Bare Naked Book and I became friends while working on that book. We hoped we could do another book together sometime. Her husband suggested we do another “body” book, only this time instead the parts could be getting dressed or getting dressed up. We dedicated The Dressed Up Book to him, “with thanks” for the idea.
Fish House Secrets
The first time I visited an old farm and isolated beach on the rocky south shore of Nova Scotia, I knew I had to write a story set there. Soon after I began to write about the place, Chad and then Jill appeared on the scene (in my imagination), and so I went on to tell their stories.
The Great Bike Race
Before I finished writing writing Seven Clues, I knew Matt’s best friend would soon come back from holidays and find out he’d made a new friend – and that a girl (who would turn out to be deaf) would be moving into their neighbourhood. That was enough to get me started on The Great Bike Race.
Highway of Heroes
Cathy Sandusky at Fitz & Whits called me and suggested there should be a book about the remarkable way that Canadians have come to honour their fallen soldiers along the Highway of Heroes, and how would I like to write it? I agreed.
I Feel Different: A Book About Being Adopted
A mother approached me once, asking if would I consider writing a book about being adopted. (She liked what I’d written about divorce in an earlier book.) After talking to her and a number of people I know who are adopted and reading some books about adoption, I decided to do it.
King of the Castle
I had been thinking about writing a story about an adult learning to read when a teacher happened to tell me that the school caretaker at her school (where I was visiting) had just recently finished learning to read. I dedicated King of the Castle to the ‘real’ caretaker, Elijah Allen, because in more ways than one, he inspired me.
Love Every Leaf, The Life of Landscape Architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander
When I first met Cornelia, I found her and the work she described fascinating. Wanting to know more, I asked if anyone had ever written her biography. ‘No,’ she said. ‘And no one who has written about me has ever quite got me.’ Then she turned to me and said, ‘Maybe you’ll be the one.’ It was a challenge I couldn’t resist.
The Man with the Violin
As soon as I finished reading Gene Weingarten’s Pulitzer Prize winning story, “Pearls Before Breakfast” about an experiment conducted by the Washington Post in 2007, in which a virtuoso musician played in a subway station dressed as an ordinary street musician, I knew I had to tell the story as a child might have experienced it.
Marie-Claire 1: Dark Spring
Reading Plague: A Story of Smallpox in Montreal by Michael Bliss, I started to wonder what it must be like, growing up when a life-threatening disease is sweeping through your city. When Penguin Canada decided to do a historical fiction series (“Our Canadian Girl”), that’s when Marie-Claire got ‘born’ and my research and writing began.
Marie-Claire 2: A Season of Sorrow
Smallpox affected so many children in Montreal in 1885 that I knew that – to be true to circumstances and to give readers the clearest picture of what it would be like to have the disease – Marie-Claire herself would have to get smallpox. In Book 2, at the height of the epidemic, she does.
Marie-Claire 3: Visitors
Doing research about Montreal in the 19th century, I was struck by how different living conditions were for working class families living near the river and for wealthier families living up the mountain. But how could I get a French-speaking working class girl into one of those mansions? Once I figured it out . . . Book 3.
Marie-Claire 4: Angels in Winter
I knew from the outset of the series that I wanted readers to enjoy Christmas with Marie-Claire – a very different occasion from Christmas as it’s celebrated in the 21st century. Marie-Claire’s wish to again visit the wealthy English girl she met in Book 3 was a natural fit with her Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.
Mom and Dad Don’t Live Together Anymore
After my husband and I split up, I wrote down a few things my kids said around that time, and things it seemed they were thinking. One night when I read it to my daughter, she seemed to feel a little less sad, for the moment anyway, so I showed the manuscript to my publisher.
One More Clue
I knew when I finished the second Pebble Creek book that I wasn’t finished with the kids who lived there. I wanted to find out how things developed with Matt’s new friends and old. And I had a feeling there would be one more mystery for Matt to solve.
One Year Commencing
Someone told me once about a girl about to go live with her dad for a year, as a result of a court order. At the end of the year she would get to (or have to) decide whether to stay with him or go back to living with her mom. I thought, ‘I can’t imagine…’ But then I did.
Red is Best
Twenty-five years ago, I tried to convince my three-year-old daughter to wear white or blue stockings to nicely match the dress she was wearing. For reasons I couldn’t fathom, she insisted on wearing her red ones.
Invited by a publisher to write a book for middle readers, I said yes without having a clue (haha) what my book would be about. Thinking about a place I rode my bike when I was a kid, a scary house in our neighbourhood, and a book I’d once enjoyed about a treasure hunt helped me get it started.
A friend’s father once told me about the time his son dropped his teddy bear on the tracks of a subway station – on the way to a Teddy Bears’ Picnic. I knew I had to write about such a calamity. My son had a stuffed rabbit when he was little, so that’s what I gave the boy in my story.
Those Green Things
One day a friend of my daughter’s said to me, “What are those green things in your sandwich?” They were such ordinary green things and yet she made them sound so yucky. Before eating my sandwich, I scribbled down her question, because I knew I wanted to put it in a story some day.
What Happened to Ivy
I’ve been intrigued and perplexed by the issues and questions that euthanasia raises ever since I first encountered the concept when I was a teenager, so for years I’ve followed the Robert Latimer case with great interest – and with sympathy, for the whole Latimer family. This book is not their story, but writing it has allowed me to explore some of the questions that have long been with me — and still are.
Who Is Sleeping in Aunty’s Bed?
A friend told me about an night of musical beds at her house, and I thought it would make the basis of a funny story. Wanting to vary the reasons that the story’s characters had trouble sleeping, I recalled wakeful nights of my own, and used them in the story, too.