Frequently Asked Questions

About the Author

Why did you want to be a writer?

I’ve loved reading books for longer than I can remember. As an adult I started to wonder if I would like writing books too. I wondered if I could write something that people who didn’t know me would enjoy reading. (I was almost 30 when I decided to give it a try. That was a long time and many books ago!

Did you like to write when you were a kid?

Not especially. I wrote stories in school, but not after school or on weekends, like some kids do. And I certainly didn’t think about being a writer when I grew up. But I did love to read, and I think all the books I was reading over many years were turning me into a writer, long before I knew it.

What kind of books did you like to read when you were growing up?

Stories about families, about real people, or at least people that felt real to me reading about them. Some of the books I loved are:

  • the books about Beezus and Henry and Ramona by Beverly Cleary
  • the Little House on the Prairie series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • the books about the Moffatt family by Eleanor Estes
  • the Swallows & Amazons books by Arthur Ransome.

In grade four, I liked doing novel studies of Junket, The Family Under the Bridge, The Cave, and Mr. Popper’s Penguins.

One of my all time favourite children’s books was, and still is Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey.

The first book I took ever took out of the public library with my very first library card was Saturday Walk by Ethel Wright.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was growing up in the 1960s, most girls were looking at pretty limited options: nurse, teacher, or secretary. I liked school, so I wanted to be a teacher.

I taught elementary school in Etobicoke (as far west as you can go in Toronto before you hit Mississauga) for five years.

I also wanted to be a mom and was lucky enough to have two wonderful kids (who are now so grown up they are almost older than I am).

Do you write full-time now, or do you have another job, too?

I do my best to write full-time, but it’s not easy to make a living in Canada by writing alone. I’ve been lucky to be able to do things related to writing to make up what I need. I’ve worked as an editor, led writing workshops for adults and for children, conducted author visits at schools and libraries, spoken at conferences, taught writing classes, served as Writer-in-Residence for public libraries in East York, Toronto, Kitchener, Vaughan, and Wellington County, and was a Writer-In-Electronic-Residence for a while too. I still enjoy doing some of these things, but I’m also always happy to get back to my writing!

Have you met any other authors?

Meeting and hanging out with other authors is one of the great pleasures of being one. I’ve hiked up a mountain in B.C. with Ainslie Manson and walked a beach in Connecticut with Lena Coakley. I’ve done a crossword puzzle in Toronto with Julie Lawson and a jigsaw puzzle with Ting Xing Ye in Prince Edward Island. I’ve swum in Georgian Bay with Marie-Louise Gay and cross-country skied along the Humber River with Anne Laurel Carter.

I’ve enjoyed coffee with Robert Munsch and Bev Brenna in Toronto. I’ve had breakfast and sung silly songs with New Zealand writer Margaret Mahy at a conference in the States, traded books and had lunch with Budge Wilson on the south shore of Nova Scotia, and enjoyed dinner and conversation with Philip Pullman at his home in Oxford, England. I’ve partied with Sharon Jennings, Claire Mackay, Hadley Dyer, Kevin Major, and Barbara Reid. I’ve met lots of other Canadian authors at CANSCAIP meetings and at readings and conferences across the country.

A long time ago, when I was practically a new author, I travelled to England with Jean Little, Monica Hughes, and Camilla Gryski. The Canadian Children's Book Centre sent us there as part of an exchange of Canadian and British authors. (American writer, Katherine Paterson, came with us, too, as Jean Little’s “guide dog”.)  When the British authors came to Canada, they had dinner at my house. Imagine – Phillipa Pearce, Jan Mark, Jill Paton Walsh, and John Rowe Townsend all in my living room at the same time!

Years later, I met Peter Gzowski, a famous Canadian broadcaster and an author of books and articles for adults, at the Stratford Book Festival. He was a strong supporter of literacy programs for adults, so I gave him a copy of my book, King of the Castle, about a school caretaker learning to read. He phoned me a month or two later, then wrote a column about our meeting in what was to be his final ‘Gzowski’s People’ column for the Globe & Mail.

The most famous writer I ever met? J.K Rowling. I didn't actually meet her face-to-face, but we had lunch in the same room at an event organized by the Toronto Public Library.

How old are your children now?

I’ll let you figure it out. Matthew (inspiration for Big Or Little?) was born in 1975. Kelly (inspiration for Red Is Best and “Babysitting Helen” was born in 1978.

I also have two stepdaughters born in 1967 and 1968 and six grandchildren born in 1997, 1999, 2002, 2002, 2003 and 2012.

How old are you?

Old enough that in 2017 I officially became a “senior citizen”!

Do you have any pets?

Yes. I have a golden doodle named Georgia.

Did you create your own website?

No. I’m lucky to have a sister who creates websites as part of her business. I write what goes on it but she and her team do the rest of what’s needed to maintain it and keep it up-to-date.

Am I luckier to have Janet Barclay as a sister or as a web designer? Hard to say! But I’d recommend her highly for either position! 😉

Where do you like to work?

Somewhere quiet. No music. The rhythm interferes with my ability to hear the rhythm of my sentences. No voices except the voices of my characters.

About Appearances

How can we arrange a visit to our school or library?

Read the info at Author/Appearances/Schools & Libraries, then click on ‘Request More Info’.

Will you come and speak at our upcoming conference?

Is it for teachers, librarians, booksellers, writers, parents, students, or seniors? I’m happy to speaking to anyone interested in reading or writing. For more info read Author/Appearances/Conferences & Festivals.

Do you speak to teachers on their professional development days?

Yes, and it’s always a pleasure. (I was an elementary school teacher myself, before I was a writer.)

I can discuss motivating students to read and write, or conduct a mini-writing workshop, as a model for how teachers might like to work with students at any level.

Do you ever visit book clubs?

Occasionally, within a reasonable distance from my home near Guelph. So far I’ve only met with adult book clubs, but I think it would be fun to meet with mother-daughter, mother-son, father-daughter, father-son groups too.

Depending on who your book club members are, I’d be happy to recommend a title for you to read, or go with the book of your choice.

About the Books

How many books have you written?

A complete list (of more than 30 books) and the dates of publication, as well as almost 20 other titles, can be found under Books/Bibliography.

What’s your favourite book that you’ve written?

That feels a little as if you’re asking me to say which of my children or grandchildren is my favourite, and of course there are different things that I like about each of them. Books I haven’t yet begun to write are somehow always more perfect than all the others. Of course, there’s no such thing as a perfect book, but I love trying to write it anyway.

Where do you get your ideas?

Ideas are everywhere and anyone can catch them if they practice watching and listening to what’s going on around them.

Sometimes ideas come to me from my own experiences, sometimes from other people’s. Sometimes they come to me when I’m reading a book someone else has written, and sometimes when I’m in the middle of writing one of my own!

How do you pick the illustrator for your picture books?

I don’t. The publisher does. That’s fine with me. I’ve been matched up with many wonderful illustrators with visual ideas I’d have never thought of, and the talent to make them happen.

Where can I buy your books?

At a bookstore or online. I personally like to support independent bookstore owners whenever I can, but some staff in chain bookstores are knowledgeable and work hard to help readers and support writers too. Whether you prefer shopping for books online (in paper or e-book format), or browsing physical bookshelves, I wish you many hours of satisfying reading!

About Writing & Publishing

What do you like writing better? Picture books or novels?

I love the spareness of a picture book, paring down sentences to their bare essentials. It’s a bit like writing poetry. But I also love being involved with characters’ lives for long enough to get to know them really well, the way I do when I’m writing a novel. I enjoy both kinds of challenge so I can’t really say which I like better.

Do you get along well with your publishers?

Yes. We don’t always agree about everything but respecting each other and listening to each other goes a long way toward resolving any differences of opinion we may have.

Do you offer writing workshops?

I have conducted workshops close to home (currently near Guelph, Ontario), all across Canada, and even in Liberia (west Africa), helping writers there get the first stories for Liberian children by Liberian authors ready for publication.

If you’re interested in having me conduct a workshop or series of workshops for your group (of adults or kids), please contact me using the Contact form on this site.

Can you help me get published?

I have no ins with any of the publishers I’ve worked with as a writer or as an editor, so beyond encouraging you to continue honing your craft (by writing lots and perhaps attending classes or workshops), there’s nothing else I can do to help you get published.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Above all, read. Read lots. Read widely.

When you read something that makes you wish you could write like that, read it again and see if you can analyze how that writer affected you in that way.

Secondly, write. Write lots of stuff — scenes, snippets of dialogue, descriptions of settings, anecdotes, word lists — without thinking about whether they’ll ever be part of an actual story or book.

If you’re writing and it’s not going well, trying reading books or articles about writing. Reading about writing isn’t writing, but sometimes it can help you find your writing mojo again.

Read some of my blog posts about writing. If it’s picture books you’re aspiring to write, you might find my e-book, Writing Picture Books: What Works and What Doesn't helpful. 

How do I get published?

Write the best novel, short story, picture book, information book, or article you possibly can.

When you’re sure it’s ready to submit to publishers, do some research so you’re sending your work to those likeliest to be interested in the kind of story or book you’ve written. Most publishers have catalogues and submission guidelines online. Be prepared for the heartbreak of rejection.

There are also lots of options for self-publishing. When my book about writing picture books went out of print, I revised and updated it, and published it myself as an e-book. (You can find it in the non-fiction books section of this website.) When I wrote a book that was really just for my grandson and his parents, I went to blurb.com. Look around and you’ll find lots of other similar options.

Whether you’re self-publishing or going the traditional route, remember it takes patience and persistence – both to write the best story you’re capable of and to find an audience for it.

What organizations have been helpful to you as a writer?

Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators, and Performers (CANSCAIP): An organization of professionals, people aspiring to be professionals, and others who wish to support the creators of works for children and young adults.

The Writers’ Union of Canada: A national organization which works to advance conditions for all writers, to unite writers for the advancement of their common interest, and to foster writing in Canada.

Canadian Children’s Book Centre: A national not-for-profit organization and registered charity founded to promote, support and encourage the reading, writing and illustrating of Canadian books for children and teens.

IBBY-Canada: A non-profit organization which represents an international network of people who are committed to bringing books and children together.

Canada Council for the Arts: A national agency created to foster and promote the study and enjoyment of, and production of works in the arts.

Ontario Arts Council: The mandate of the OAC is to foster the creation and production of art for the benefit of all Ontarians.