Jan Coates first came to our Seaside Writing Workshop/Retreat in 2008 to work on several picture book manuscripts she needed help with. Second Story Press had published Rainbows in the Dark in 2005, but since then, Jan had collected only rejection letters in response to her submissions.
During sessions focused on her work, she got feedback from me, Peter Carver, and the other workshops participants. During the hours of quiet writing time on Nova Scotia’s south shore, Jan worked on her picture books – and she responded to a writing exercise we’d assigned at the beginning of the week.
On Friday evening, the six writers who’d been living and working, walking beaches and playing together since the previous Sunday gathered to read aloud to the group their writing assignments. What Jan wrote began to explore an idea that had been percolating for a new project, a novel this time.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Jan applied to attend the workshop/retreat again the following year, and was accepted. This time she brought an early draft of her new novel, a story based on the experiences of Jacob Deng, one of the “Lost Boys of the Sudan”, whom she had been given the opportunity to interview in 2007. Jan had barely begun to scratch the surface of her novel’s enormous potential, but she was open to the feedback she got and used every moment of the quiet mornings to further develop what she’d begun.
Cut through many many more hours invested in research and writing and rewriting, and the manuscript is accepted for publication by Red Deer Press in the fall of 2010.
According to the starred review of A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk in Kirkus (a most prestigous children’s literature journal), “Coates writes vividly and poetically, establishing a clear historical context for her inspirational tale.” This is just one of many fine reviews and honours the book has already attracted.
Of course, behind this entire story is a remarkable man. The boy-Jacob in A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk is now a grown man living in Nova Scotia with his wife and two sons. A share of proceeds from the sale of A Hare… are donated to Wadeng Wings of Hope, a registered charitable society that Jacob has set up. ‘Wadeng’ means ‘look always to tomorrow; it will be better’. It’s one of the last words 7-year-old Jacob heard his mother say to him before war came to their village. She believed strongly in education as the key to escaping the cycle of violence that tears apart communities and whole nations.
Working in co-operation with UNICEF and other NGOs, ‘Wadeng Wings of Hope’ is dedicated to raising funds for children’s education in Southern Sudan, and giving hope to the people of his home and the surrounding area. Read Jan’s book and visit the moving Wadeng Wings of Hope website to find out more about the story behind it and what has followed the story it tells.