Good morning, dear Readers!
Today, I’d like to introduce to you, Jan Andrews, a well-known Canadian author who has penned many children’s books (Ella: An Elephant–Un Elephant, Very Last First Time, Out of Everywhere, The Auction, Twelve Days of Summer, Stories at the Door, Rude Stories, When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew: Tales of Ti-Jean), as well as a Dear Canada story called Winter of Peril: Newfoundland Diary of Sophie Loveridge, and she has, most recently, published The Silent Summer of Kyle McGinley. (If you haven’t read my review of it, yet, you can find it here). In addition to the written word, Jan is also a storyteller, sharing stories in the most original way much like our earliest ancestors did around a campfire. She is a fascinating, adventurous woman with a sense of humour, as you will see. Please give her a warm welcome!
Hi, Jan! Thank-you for joining us today!
That’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
To begin, would you please tell my readers a little about yourself?
I was born in 1942 and came to Canada from the UK in 1963. I went first to Saskatoon and that was a major culture shock. Nonetheless, I knew I didn’t want to go back to Britain. I wanted to make Canada my home. I’ve done that – completely and utterly.
Right now I live down the end of a road on a lake about 50 minutes drive from Ottawa. I’m stunned by the beauty of the place — all day and every day. I never take it for granted. The same goes for my partner, Jennifer Cayley. Coming home is always sweet, sweet, sweet.
I’m eternally too busy as the pair of us are prone to altogether too many “good ideas.” The latest is a small company called 2 Women Productions, dedicated to getting storytelling for adults more out there in the world. You can check it out at http://www.2wp.ca.
A majority of my readers consist of writers who are looking for that big break. How difficult was it for you to get your first book published?
The first one just sort of happened. It was in 1972 and you have to remember there were very few Canadian children’s books being published back then. I had a story I sent to Tundra Books. Tundra was a very new publishing house and May Cutler was very much in charge. They had plans for a series of what they called “mini-books for mini-hands.” Material for three books had been collected and the search was on for a fourth. Ella, An Elephant–Un Elephant was it. It seems to me the paperback version sold for 69 cents and the hardcover for $1.95.
I don’t know that I’ve ever actually had what you’d call “a big break” although Very Last First Time, which came out in 1985, really did make an impact and is now considered an on-going classic. Mostly though I simply keep chugging along. My books have been shortlisted for most of the big awards, including the GGs (Governor General Awards) but that’s never guaranteed acceptance for the next submission. I have a number of manuscripts sitting in my files for which I’d love to find a home.
One of the problems is that I’m a tremendously slow writer so there are often substantial gaps between one book and the next. I’ve also produced books for all ages so it’s hard to keep readers on the edge of their seats looking for the next book out.
Success comes in such strange ways too. I was flabbergasted that When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew: Tales of Ti-Jean was even nominated for the Silver Birch Express Award in 2012. It never entered my head that a folktale collection could actually win!
Added to all this is the fact that I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the world of arts administration. Jennifer and I founded an arts education organization called MASC for having artists go into schools. This work led to the founding of a Young Authors and Illustrators Conference. Both MASC and the conference are still running although we’re no longer involved. I was the first president of Storytellers of Canada-Conteurs du Canada and ran its StorySave project for the recording of elder storytellers through the production of six CD sets. I produced a series of epic tellings every winter for thirteen years and this led to a number of complete tellings of such works as The Iliad and The Odyssey. I directed Ottawa Storytellers concert series at the Fourth Stage of the National Arts Centre – this for six years, also. It’s been fascinating and exciting but has, of course, taken up a considerable amount of my time.
I can imagine! 🙂
(Thanks for the giggle, Jan!)
How does the process of storytelling differ from writing?
Storytelling is much more fluid. With the traditional folktales I learn what’s happening in the story and tell out of its images. There are constant surprises, growing out of the interaction between teller and listeners. I don’t change the main events, of course, but the story does come out of my mouth somewhat differently each time. As a writer, I’m very precise. That’s why I’m so slow. The story seems to rise up out of the words. There are no really “rough drafts.” Tons will get altered/re-shaped/discarded but it still has to “feel right” with each go through.
That seems like a good way to work out any kinks in a story. 🙂
You’ve had several children’s books published. What was it like working with illustrators? Did the publisher assign them to you or did you get to choose your own?
Mostly the publisher has chosen the illustrator, mostly I’ve had different illustrators for each new book. The thing you have to know is that it’s the illustrator’s job to take the words you’ve written and create the images out of their own response and vision; it is not the illustrator’s job to ask you what you want. You’re a team, each one of you doing what’s yours to do. Respect is crucial. Mostly picture books work through making the text as tight as possible. I sometimes make cuts when the illustrations are done because if something’s in the pictures it doesn’t need to be in the words. I’ve had wonderful illustrators. Their work has often revealed new levels of meaning and emotion to me. Each and every time the collaboration has led to the eventual production of a book that is far greater than the sum of its respective parts.
Now, on to your most recent work, The Silent Summer of Kyle McGinley – what inspired you to write about a foster child who doesn’t speak?
Who knows exactly where what comes from? It’s often very much a mystery to me. I did have three teenage foster kids in my life when my own kids were teenagers. I learned a lot from them and did, I think, gain some insight into their ways and needs. One of the things I realized was that each of these young women had developed some technique which was utterly crucial to her own survival but would also prove a significant block if it couldn’t be let go of when the time came.
I really can’t remember when I decided that Kyle would be silent. I do remember being absolutely amazed when he started painting. I hadn’t expected that at all. I’m hugely admiring of him — of his resiliency and strength. I believe very strongly that we, all of us, have within us whatever it is we need to manage. I believe too we always have choices as to how we will respond and act. Those themes inform all of my work both as writer and storyteller. Whatever I’m producing, they’re always at the heart. I’m sure readers will be able to see the effect that has on Silent Summer.
I started writing the book in 2007 so you can see what I mean by slow. Inevitably, there were times when I thought I should quit but I was always so attached to this kid. There’s a scene in the book where his current foster parent speaks of all she likes about him. I love those things as well. And there’s so much more she doesn’t know about – how through thick and thin he’s stuck to a sense of how he should be in the world, he’s made a commitment. Always and always, Kyle called me back.
There is, of course, also the crow that sounds like a chicken. How delicious is that?
That part was wonderful and I truly believe it’s possible! I have a cat who sometimes ‘twitters’ like a bird! I think it’s a ploy to lure the birds closer. 🙂
What was the most challenging part of writing Kyle’s story?
Finding the voice. I knew everything had to come through Kyle’s perception. This had its own innate challenges – especially as Kyle doesn’t speak till almost the end of the book AND he has a couple of voices in his head as a kind of backdrop to events. One voice belongs to his father – the ultimate put-down creep; the other to a strange sort of personage who appears to him as “an imaginary figment” but who functions as supporter and guide.
I developed a kind of stream of consciousness approach but there was always something missing. Heavens be praised for Anita Daher, my outstanding Great Plains editor. She suggested I try first person present. The results were immediate. Everything was freer, more immediate and alive.
I love Anita! She certainly has a way of helping us dig deeper to make our stories the best they can be. 🙂
Was the publishing/editing process different this time, writing for Young Adults rather than children?
Editing is editing. It’s there to bring out the best in any given work. No matter the genre, the good editor is the one who asks the right questions; notes the weaknesses; celebrates the strengths; respects the author’s vision and abilities; is clear about what he/she thinks. I’ve worked with outstanding exponents of the art/profession and I’m hugely grateful for that. (I should mention that I’ve had great publishers too!)
Are there any media sites you’d like to share?
http://www.janandrews.ca — my website
http://www.jansstorytellingclub.wordpress.ca — recordings I make of traditional folktales.
http://www.2wp.ca/jans-blog — assorted thoughts on literature and life
Having made the list, I should note that my website needs updating and contributions to both my written and audio blogs have been lagging of late. That’s because I’ve been wrestling with cancer and the resulting chemo. I was, in fact, in the middle to the huge re-write of Silent Summer occasioned by the change in voice when I got the diagnosis. Great Plains was wondrously supportive through this, relaxing all deadlines and letting me soldier on as best I could. I lost lots of energy but am recovering that nicely and am definitely planning to do what’s necessary to catch up on what needs doing in the media line.
I was sorry to learn about your illness, but I’m so glad you’re feeling better. 🙂
Do you have any parting words or advice for my readers?
- Being a writer isn’t easy. There’s a level of risk involved in everything you do. You have to live with that.
- Know that the book you’re creating is way more important than you are. Do whatever it takes to make that book as good as it can be.
- Have a certain amount of faith in yourself, the universe, the world around you but not so much it makes you self-satisfied.
Great words of wisdom, Jan – and speaking of risk, look at you rock climbing! I am very impressed! 🙂
Thanks you so much for joining us, today, Jan. It’s been such a pleasure. 🙂
Thanks to readers everywhere. As you can see above, I’m on Goodreads and would love to know what you think about Silent Summer or any of my other books.
I hope my followers will check out your books and give you glowing reviews! 🙂