My friends Michelle Mulder, and Alex Van Tol, both authors of amazing books for kids, have tagged me in The Next Big Thing Blog Tour. You can check out their blog posts and find out what they’re working on, and here’s some info about what I have been working on.

What is the working title of your book?
Hmmm… the working title is So Much For Democracy, but I don’t like that. Too many words. I’m searching for something punchier.

What genre does the book fall under?

Juvenile Fiction, though I hope it will appeal to older audiences too, since it’s a story about family and culture and life.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve wanted to write this book for many years, but it’s taken me this long to figure out how. When I was 11, my family moved to Ghana and lived there for a couple of years, so I spent my early teens in Accra. In many ways my life was just like it was for my friends back home. We went to school, quarreled with our siblings, did homework, and hung out. But there were also many things that were different. Some of the differences were simple things, like having pythons for class pets, but other things were bigger, more important, like learning how to deal with the poverty we saw around us and how to cope with the strong military presence in the country. There were illnesses we’d never heard of, and sometimes limited access to clean drinking water and electricity, and in 1979, there was a coup. These are the things I wanted to explore in my story.

How long did it take to write the first draft of the story.

The first draft took only a few weeks, but it was terrible. Terrible. The next draft took longer and was much better. Yes, I learned my lesson.

What else about your book might pique your reader’s interest?

Other than a teacher who carries a python in her pocket? Well, the story’s really about a Canadian girl’s struggle to find her way living in a new land as her mother takes away more and more of her freedoms and the world around her becomes more and more dangerous.

That’s it from me. Now I’m tagging writer Laurie Elmquist. Check out what’s she’s working on.

Liking my own writing

How great it is to enjoy your own writing. Reading a passage and saying to yourself, hey that captures the idea well, I can feel the movement of the water under the surf board, the sting of salt water in their eyes. I can’t say this happens too often to me, so I’m delighted that it’s happening now.
I’m preparing a newly completed manuscript to send to an editor. I say completed, but you writers out there know that completed is a relative term when it comes to writing, but I’ve promised myself this is the last time I’m reading this manuscript. Like many writers I know, I could tinker forever. It’s not perfect, but it’s never going to be, and hey, I’m enjoying it, so it must be okay. Mustn’t it?

10 useful things I learned

10 useful things I learned when doing research for my next book.
1. Nesting pythons don’t eat. So, if you run across a nesting python, don’t fret. How will you know if it’s nesting? The eggs are the giveaway.
2. Lots of Ghanians are named after the day of the week. Adio is born on a Monday, Abena is born on a Tuesday, Akua is born on a Wednesday, etc. And, by the way, Kofi is born on a Friday, so now we know something more about the ex Secretary General of the United Nations don’t we?
3. Jerry Rawlings was 32 the first time he took over the leadership of Ghana. And I thought I was doing well having a career by 45.
4. Ghana has 9 government sponsored languages. Yes, you read that right: 9. Canada, get over yourself.
5. John Travolta was hot (that means cool) in 1979. But he was cool (that means hot) too.
6. The Sony walkman was released in June 1979. OMG I feel old.
7. YMCA sued the Village People for libel because of their song of the same name. Sid Vicious, a former member of the Sex Pistols, died due to a heroin overdose during the trial for murdering his girlfriend. What is the useful thing I learned? Entertainment was just as crazy then as it is now.
8. The Eagles, Pink Floyd and the Police were big. Need I say more?
9. In 1978 Argentina won the World Cup. Yep, important and useful information.
10. Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of Great Britain in1979. Okay, I should have known that, but hey, I was only 12 at the time.

What Makes a YA Book?

I just finished reading a fantastic book called Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta. I loved this book, and it got me thinking about what makes a book at YA book. Is it that the character is young? That can’t be, because there are lots of examples of books with young protagonists. Is it that the themes are related to young people? But the themes in this book are dealing with loss, grief, love, finding oneself… all the things any great book is about. So what is it then that makes this a YA book? Or is that category not real? Maybe there are no barriers between what youth and adults read. After all, I’m not a young woman, and I read books lablled YA.

The Next Book


Time to move on to the next book. It’s strange to leave one world behind and sink into another, but then that’s the joy of being a writer. I’ll let you know how this one goes.

Zen and the art of reading book reviews (when they don’t like your book)

Storm Tide just got it’s first bad review. I won’t go into detail, since I’m not into self flagellation, but let’s just say this reader won’t be picking up my next book in a hurry.

So what’s a gal to do? How does one respond to such a thing? I mean I don’t have to respond to him actually, he’s somewhere in Florida, thank goodness, a whole continent away, but I mean in my heart, how am I to respond?

My first reaction was to give him the finger (figuratively, of course), but now I’m not sure where to go from there. Maybe he has something valuable to say. Maybe there’s something in his dislike for the book that can teach me something. Hmmm… maybe I’m not ready to move on to that reaction yet. Give me a day or two of sticking him the finger.

I guess it was inevitable that someone wouldn’t like my book. Maybe many people won’t, but that’s not going to stop me is it? Surely not. Maybe I’ll just ignore it, turn that page and move on to the next project (with a quick review of positive reviews to bolster me first). And while I’m at it I’ll practice the art of being zen about bad book reviews. Ommmmmmm…..

Two Weeks Two Launches


In the past two weeks I’ve launched Storm Tide twice, once with Jodi Ludgren, and once with 8 other Orca book writers. They were both fun, and what I learned about book launches is that they’re really an excuse to see all kinds of friends who you don’t normally get to see, but like at weddings, you don’t get a chance to spend much time with them. So thanks so much to all of you who came out to either of the launches, and I hope we get more time together soon.
What I loved most about both events was listening to other writers’ stories about how their books came about and their writing or illustrating process. I had no idea how labour intensive illustrating graphic novels is!
It was also really fun to talk about my own writing process, and to read from my book. My favourite moment: when my seven year old friend came up to me and said, “You made me want to read your book.” Yahoo.

The First Reader

This week, for the first time, I gave the manuscript of a novel I’ve been working on to a reader. Wow, what a moment. Like walking off a precipice you can’t turn back from. There’s no pretending now. No saying, I’m not really working on this thing, it doesn’t really matter. It’s a manuscript now. A book in the making, not some notes and scenes I’m messing around with.
A big step yes, but I chose my reader carefully. I wanted someone who was an astute reader, but not a writer. Someone who could read with enough distance from writing to be a reader, but enough knowledge to be able to articulate their thoughts about the book to me. I didn’t want someone who’d just say, “it was great” or someone who’d day “I hated it, I don’t know why.” I needed someone who’d say I liked this part but not that, and here’s why. Someone who’d care enough to tell me the truth, and to take the time to tell me gently.
So who’d do all that? My husband of course. He reads voraciously. More than I, even. And he loves YA, which is what I’ve been working on. He was the perfect choice and he told me all the things I already knew but had been hiding from, plus a whole lot of other things. He honed in on the places where I wasn’t sure, as a writer, where I hadn’t quite made up my mind. He found the places I’d skipped over details because I didn’t quite know what I was trying to do. He took a look at the big arc of the story and found the places I hadn’t filled in. He told me when my characters knew too much or not enough. Wow, he gave me enough feedback to start editing again, this time with purpose, with direction.
So thanks Michael. Your input was invaluable. My next reader’s going to be writer Laurie Elmquist, who’s fine eye will catch even more detail. I’m intimidated already at the thought, though I know it’s necessary. But I’m also encouraged, because I know how empowered I feel right now to continue with this project.

Ode to Victoria’s Indepentent Book Stores




Author Jodi Lundgren and I took ourselves on a book tour today. We visited independent bookstores in Victoria that sell children’s books, and introduced ourselves as local children’s writers. I was nervous! Were we about to make fools of ourselves? First stop was Cadboro Bay Book Company, and boy am I glad we started there. We gathered our nerve and said, “We’ve come to introduce ourselves. We’re local authors, and we want to tell you about our recently published books.” The ladies smiled welcome, and we were both put at ease. The ladies asked us lots of questions about our books so that they could speak about them more knowledgeably when kids asked, and then showed us where our books were on the shelves. It was a wonderful, empowering experience. From Cadboro Bay Books we went to Ivy’s, Bolen’s, Munro’s and Tall Tales Books. We saw our books on the shelves in each store, signed copies and had those lovely “Autographed Copy” stickers put on them, and met many of the wonderful, committed and knowledgeable book sellers that take care of writers in this city. I know there are a lot of adjectives in this post—but it’s because I feel blessed when I see how many people there are out there spending their lives learning about and selling good books. The independent book stores in Victoria are so welcoming and they’re full of the best books the world has to offer. I’m so grateful to be part of that!