Frequently Asked Questions
Do you have any kids?
Yep. I have two sons, Jeff and Rob, who are all grown up. I've based some of the characters on them in my books. When Jeff was four years old he had a pair of bright green socks with gold stars on the toes, and he liked the socks so much that he refused to take them off. Imagine how smelly they got! From this situation Jeff and the Lucky Socks, my picture book, sprang to mind. Rob, a good problem-solver, is like a character in Mrs. Maloney's Garden, my junior novel, who gets to know a grumpy, old lady after a baseball lands in her garden and suspects she's hiding a dead body under the rose bushes.
What were your favourite books in school?
Unlike many writers, I didn't read much growing up. I liked reading -- sort of -- but preferred socializing instead. However, after studying English literature at university, I got hooked on books. All kinds. Now, I read five or six books a month. One of my favourite children's books is The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. This fantasy/adventure about real kids who visit a strange land of witches, spells and talking animals was captivating when I first read it and still is.
What was your family like?
I grew up in a house with four sisters and one brother. I have a twin sister, Jill, who isn't at all like me. We used to fight all the time. Now, we are the best of friends. Unlike most families in our neighbourhood, my mom went to work -- she was a nurse -- and my dad stayed home and looked after the household. Disabled from serving in the Second World War, Dad couldn't work in the field he'd studied, which was journalism (I got my love of words from him), so he sewed our clothes and cooked our meals instead. He was scrubbing floors and doing laundry when most men of his era wouldn't think of doing such work. My siblings and I thought he was great.
What were you like as a kid?
A daydreamer. A storyteller. I loved adventures. I hated staying home, reading, watching TV or playing board games, preferring to play in the woods behind my house where there were trees to climb and forts to build. Once I built a clubhouse from fallen tree branches and old boards that I had dragged from the garage and then spent many happy times in the clubhouse with my friends.
I grew up in Keswick, Ontario, a small town on the banks of Lake Simcoe where I'd spend the summers swimming, boating or just drifting on a raft to imaginary places. In the winter, I'd skate, skidoo or go ice fishing.
As a teenager, I loved school. Not the work but the social life there. I had friends from school whose parents let the kids in the neighbourhood hang around their house every weekend. We'd play pool and cards or just sit around in the recreation room and complain about teachers, school and parents. I didn't play sports, although I liked them, especially hockey. In the winter, I liked going to the arena and watching hockey with my friends. (I usually had a thing for one of the players, so my eyes were glued to him as much as the game.)
Are your books based on your life?
Yes and no. There is always something in my books that I've experienced, at least in part. In Charlie's Song, for instance, Alessa was based on the bully who had made my life miserable when I was in Grade 7. She would poke fun at my clothes, my hair, and even my lunch, embarrassing me in front of my friends. My family didn't have much money, so I often wore clothes that were second-hand. One day I pranced into school feeling special in a new green skirt that had been bought at a used-clothing store, and the bully, laughing her head off, told everybody I was wearing one of her cast-offs. As soon as I got home, I stuffed the skirt in the garbage can.
Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere. The park. The streets. The grocery store. School. I'm a teacher as well as a writer, and I get ideas from kids. I'm always listening to conversations that are none of my business. Once, on a bus, I overheard a teenager telling his girlfriend that his brother had been spooked by strange noises in the house the night before. This sparked a novel about a haunted house where teens are cast as "extras" on a movie set. Jazz will give you the creeps!
Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your books?
Initially, I began writing for children in the junior grades, Grades Four through Six. My main character in Daredevils was based on a twelve-year-old who was in my Grade Six class, a girl who played goal on an all boys' hockey team. However, as I got deeper into the book and added a fourteen-year-old stepsister, and then some rather dark events, the book took on a life of its own, becoming more like one young adults would enjoy. After Daredevils, I wrote three young-adult novels and then a junior novel. Mrs.Maloney's Garden, which is about a boy, his dog and a secret buried in an old lady's garden, was written for children from nine to twelve years old; along with the story, this book provides a reference for would-be gardeners, and consequently, it would attract readers of any age.
What are the main themes in your books?
Bullying is one of the main themes in every book that I've written. I was bullied in Junior High and never let go of the feelings associated with that. Every child knows a bully or two and therefore can relate to the bullies in my books. In Charlie's Song, the bully is a girl, Alessa, who roams the halls at school as if she owns them, humiliating Charlie every chance she gets. Other themes include danger, adventure, sports and social problems, themes that interest readers today, especially reluctant readers.
Do you often write about students?
Yes and no. Daredevils was based on a specific student, but more often than not, I create composite characters with specific students in mind. Jasmine, from my book Jazz, was based on a girl I taught who had moved from school to school, never settling for long before her single dad moved her to the next place to find work. I gave Jasmine the physical characteristics of another of my real-life students and the personality of someone else and so on.
Are there any Teacher Guides available for use with your novels?
Ruthanne Finnigan, a teacher, curriculum writer, and friend, has written a teacher's manual for Daredevils.
Daredevils: The Teacher Resource was developed using the Ontario Ministry of Education and Training Grade 8 Language Expectations. Each chapter provides an assortment of activities to be used with all ability levels in the classroom. There are blackline masters, answer sheets, rubrics, assessment strategies and suggested resources. The manual can be used with the novel or without, specifically as an English resource. The bound edition comes with a DVD in Word Format. The manual costs $49.95 (CAN) and is available through www.volumesdirect.com.