||Interview by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre 2010.
Where were you born, and what was your childhood like?
Montreal, Quebec. I grew up north of the city in a small town called Rosemere. I went back there this summer with a friend who grew up there as well. We had the best time ever remembering our school and friends, and how we used to visit Dog River -- and the SWAMP! The river meandered slowly and it had a couple of beavers that I loved to watch. Maybe that is where my character Beaverton came from. Willows hung over the river, so it was shady and green, even on the hottest summer days. I can still remember the sound of the water and the rustling leaves. We bicycled and walked everywhere back then, and the kids would stay out very late sometimes. Our grade six teacher, Mr. McKinnon, was the coolest guy ever.
Where did you go to school?
McCaig Elementary, in Rosemere. Van Horne Elementary in Montreal, followed by Westhill High School in Montreal. Followed by Dawson College CEGEP in Montreal, then Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, then York University, then University of Toronto.
Where do you live now?
Can you tell us a bit about your family?
I have two sons who live very interesting lives – I never get tired of hearing what they are up too. There is another member of our family – our mischievous beagle, Tilley, who loves to tiptoe (seriously!) into the kitchen when no one is looking and steal food. Once in a while she’ll get something really good, like a whole cake! We also have about 35 goldfish in our lily pond in the back.
My sons are film makers (you see, we all love stories in my family) and they go back and forth to Los Angeles. So sometimes my house is full of people and sometimes it is quiet -- that is when I get the most work done of course, but full or quiet, I’m happy.
What are your favourite books for kids and young adults?
Too many to list! As a kid i loved the classics like Treasure Island, Anne of Green Gables. The first book I recall was called Last Train to Tiger Lily – I’ve never been able to find it as an adult. I loved comics and wanted more.
Do you have a favourite author?
Seriously, how can you choose???
Which of your own books is your favourite?
You are not supposed to ask an author this question. Our books are like our children. Well, okay I have favourites, but I’ll NEVA tellllllll!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Can you describe the space in which you work?
I work all over the place. I have an office in my basement filled to the brim with children’s books and supplies. But I tend to write on my laptop in bed, in an armchair in my living room, at the kitchen table etc. When the time comes to do the art, I set up under a bright window, spread everything out and settle in to one place for a while.
Do you have a career outside of writing or illustrating books?
I am also a counsellor in Unionville. That means I work with children and adults to help them feel better about themselves.
Can you tell us one random fact about yourself?
I have no aunts, uncles, or cousins. Both of my parents were only children.
How did you get involved in children’s books?
I was fascinated by them when my kids were small and so I gave writing and illustration a try. The first thing I sent out was accepted and so I began. Now I can’t stop!
What are your favourite things about writing for children?
It can be quite exciting when I begin to get my teeth into a story and it starts to come together. My least favourite thing is when I forget to write a story idea down, and later I can’t remember what was so special about it. Yes even authors can get lazy about writing ideas down, but then we pay the price!
What do you do for fun?
I am such a story person, that my fun usually is related to story in the form of film. I also like to get together with my friends or travel. Many of my friends are writers though so, uh oh, it’s all about stories!
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers or artists?
Don’t give up!!!! And for artists, if the first drawing doesn’t turn out – don’t be too hard on yourself, take another piece of paper and try again. Just like with writing, it can take many attempts to get to the picture you want.
Can you describe your work process (how you get from idea to finished product)?
Actually, that would take up WAY too much space. Let’s just say, I start with the spark of an idea and craft it into a story by using my imagination and playing the “What if?” or “Why?” game. I always ask the questions “What does my character want more than anything? What gets in his way? And how does he get it in the end?” And of course, I like to play pretend, so I pretend I am my character. As for the art, it starts with scribbles, and through a series of refining drawings ends up as very detailed paintings or drawings. This is what I show people in my school visits.
Where do you get your ideas?
By paying attention to my surroundings and imagination – and by being curious!
Who and what influence you?
Everything influences me, from other people and art to world events.
As this year’s Book Week theme is Changing the World One Child at a Time, we would like to know about any activism or community involvement you have been a part of. Are there any ways in which you think you may have changed to world?
In my community, I work with children and families to help them feel better about themselves and each other. Some kids have the most difficult challenges and they think they are stuck with their situation, or that they are bad people, or that they are not smart. With just a little help, and by learning to believe in themselves, they pick themselves up and get on with becoming the great human beings they already are. I believe I have helped change the world in my own small way, one kid at a time. Also, I like that children who read my stories see characters who are caring and kind, if even one kids decides to be kind like Elliot or Pierre, then whooo hoooo as Elliot would say, that was worth it.