How did I become an author?
When I was five years old, I wrote a story about a jewel thief. I don’t remember much more than that, but that’s my earliest memory of writing. Later, around grade 4, I asked the Principal if I could be excused from gym class and recess so I could stay in and write. And he let me! I’ll be the first to say that that probably wouldn’t – or shouldn’t – happen today, if only from a fitness standpoint! But it certainly helped me to think of myself as a writer. I used to walk around the classroom, “dictating” to my friend, Ann, who would take notes. The book was “Michael Swervefinch Rides” – in anticipation of its sequel, “Michael Swervefinch Rides Again.” (Neither, alas, were ever completed.) I later found out that my “secretary,” who is still one of my closest friends, was actually writing down whatever the heck she wanted! Sometimes it was my words, but often she would just make stuff up! I should point out that Ann is now an editor.
All my life, writing has been a constant. It was a way of celebrating successes, it was a means of escape when I didn’t like something that was happening in my life, it was often my companion. And it gave me self-esteem. It was my way of saying to myself, “I can do this – here’s something I can do.” It was also my way of connecting with all of the other writers whose books I loved and would get lost in.
In high school, I won several awards for creative writing. The prizes were novels with bookplates in the front of them. I still have them on my bookshelf today, and I often open them and send up a silent thank-you to all of the people who have ever encouraged me as a writer, or helped me to hone my craft.
After high school I got a degree in journalism, and I worked for a number of small daily newspapers. I went into marketing for awhile, because I felt that I needed to experience the world in order to properly report on it–I eventually co-owned a small ad agency. But then I came back to writing full-time. When I was about 30 years old, I sold my house and sports car and moved from Toronto to Lakefield, Ontario, about a block from Margaret Laurence’s old house. That was deliberate. I wanted to be where ‘the writing’ was. It was an important move for me because it allowed me to focus solely on writing and reading. I started a novel, I wrote for a TV production company, I did marketing writing, TV ads, magazine articles, websites, newspaper articles – just about anything that could be written, I wrote!
I met my husband there, and together we moved back to Toronto. After my son was born, I started getting more interested in the science of literacy – why and how kids learn to read. I started a blog called Getting Kids Reading, and I learned that many kids learn to read more quickly when they can touch and feel the letters. That brings me to my first picture book, Gabby. It’s about a girl who drops her book and the letters fall out. Whatever she spells with the letters, comes to life. That story is steeped in the principles of early reading theory: kinesthetic learning and text-to-real-life. That book was followed up by two more, including Gabby: Wonder Girl, which I’m very excited about because that book also explores girl-power. Each book builds on the literacy lessons of the one before, in a way that’s fun and exciting for the reader so they don’t even realize they’re learning.
Meanwhile, my son became obsessed with baseball. I found myself always at baseball diamonds, and I watched the interactions between many different kinds of players. So it was natural that I would write a baseball novel. Tagged Out, published in 2016 by Lorimer, is set in Christie Pits and it’s about a young baseball team. It was followed up with a sequel, Sliding Home, in 2018.
To me, writing is the icing of life – the cream. It’s a special place only you can take yourself, where you can build any world you want, meet any kind of person you want to meet and do anything. It’s hard. I don’t know any writer who says it’s always easy. But the rewards always outweigh the difficulties. Since I was five, writing about a jewel thief, I’ve thought of myself as “a writer,” waiting for the day I could say I was “an author.” And now that I am, I want to encourage kids to be, as well, because I genuinely believe that anyone who loves writing can do it, too.
How can you become a published author, too?
So glad you asked! For the past couple of years, I’ve moderated a panel called “Breaking In” at CANSCAIP’s Packaging Your Imagination conference. The panel is all about how recently published kidlit authors managed to make the tough leap from words to books.
We gathered of our best breaking-in suggestions and resources and you can access them here.