When did I decide that I wanted to be a writer? I can’t remember
precisely, but I was ten or perhaps twelve years old.
The idea might have come to me because of my brothers. My two older brothers,
my childhood companions, were always better than me in math, geography,
history, and most other subjects. They knew about stuff like astronomy
and chemistry, and they were better at building model airplanes and making
stink bombs and developing photographs in our bathroom. The one thing I
seemed better at was writing stories and poems. I was always being praised
in school for them – one teacher even Xeroxed a poem of mine and taught
it to both his classes!
Also, I was a real daydreamer. When I was little I would hide between two
big armchairs in our living room and pretend I was in a submarine, or an
airplane, or a space ship. In bed at night I made up long stories in which
I was always the hero. Hours would go by before I realized that I hadn’t
been sleeping. Writing was a way of daydreaming on paper, of imagining
One of my most vivid memories of being young is going fishing with my
brothers. While they fished I would sit under a tree with a pen and paper
and write. They were happy if they came home with some fish for my mother
to make into gefilte fish, a Jewish delicacy, while I was happy if I came
home with a story.
I was born in 1957 and had a happy childhood in the Toronto suburbs. My
cousin Ellen and I put on marionette shows for birthday parties. I would
write them, and the two of us would control the puppets while my brothers
turned on and off the music and changed the sets. I also liked doing magic
tricks, although I wasn’t very good at them. I’m still interested
in puppets and magic – and both have shown up in my stories. I also
liked to write plays for school. I was fascinated by animals (we had lots
of small pets – mice, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, lizards) and desperately
wanted a monkey as a pet. Fortunately, my parents didn’t let me;
monkeys need to be in the wild.
Unlike my brothers, I was not that big a reader when I was young. Sure,
I read, and before that I can remember both my parents reading to me. (I
remember my mother taking me to the library to choose picture books and
my father reading to me
Stone Soup in French and translating it, which I thought was a kind
of magic.) But when I turned sixteen I decided that if I really wanted
to be a writer I better start reading the classics. So I went into the
school library and picked up a dull looking hardcover book. It was
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I started to read and from the
first line I was hooked. After that I read a dozen more Dickens novels,
Great Expectations is still one of my favourite books.
I went to the University of Toronto for an undergraduate degree in English,
and won eight student writing awards – pretty big encouragement. I was
also very lucky to have parents who encouraged me and were willing to help
support me whenever I was struggling to make a living. I started publishing
stories and poems in the “little magazines” – small magazines
dedicated to publishing literary work. After graduating, I worked as an
editor at a few magazines, and later became a freelance writer, publishing
articles and reviews in all kinds of publications.
It wasn’t easy becoming a published author. In fact, at one point
I got so frustrated that I decided to publish a story of my own as a little
book. It was called ”Nora by the Sea“ and it attracted a surprising
amount of attention. (I’ll always be proud that I published it myself.)
Shortly after that came my first books with established publishers.
But it was several more years before I wrote my first children’s
Gogol’s Coat. I’d long wanted to write for kids but just
hadn’t been ready. Actually, my first kids’ story exists in
only one copy. It’s called
The Venetian Cat and I wrote it for my nephew when he was small. It’s
about a Canadian cat who gets lost in Venice and befriends another cat
who shows him how to survive. (Later, I also wrote little books, and drew
the pictures, for my own two daughters. And on holidays I would tell them
long stories about an adventurous girl named Galilah McGuffin, a new chapter
each night. They’ve often asked me to write them down and publish
them as books, but I can’t remember what I said!)
And so now I write for children as much as I write for adults. In fact,
I’m usually working on both a kids’ book and an adult book,
and I think each one influences the other. I love the form of the picture
book–so short yet able to say so much. And I just love finding a great
illustrator to do the pictures and then see what new elements he or she
can bring to the story. And writing novels, like the
Kaspar Snit series, is tremendous fun. But hard work too.
My four children are my first editors. They read my manuscripts and often
give me excellent advice. And of course the editors at my publishing houses
are extremely important. They help me to see what is strongest in my stories,
and what needs more work. And they catch my spelling mistakes too.
I love visiting schools and libraries, reading to kids and talking to
them about my books and their own stories too. I feel very lucky to be
doing something that I love. And to be able to share my stories with others.