Monday, 18 May 2015

Red Maple Forest of Reading 2015 was amazing!

108 great Canadian books selected in 9 categories.

Well, the 8-month Forest of Reading party is over for another year. 

And what a party!

I have to say that once again, I'm totally honoured to have been an Ontario Library Association Red Maple 2015 nominee. My book, The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden, didn't win the Red Maple award but it hardly matters. It was a fantastic experience to be nominated, to travel around Ontario talking to kids in grade 7 and 8,  meeting librarians and the other wonderful authors.

Here are my top 6 take-away memories in a fascinating and wonderful year, thank you to the OLA!

Harbourfront, May 12, 2015
1. October/2014: finding out I was nominated for a Red Maple award alongside some iconic Canadian authors including Eric Walters, Richard Scrimger, Sigmund Brouwer, Sarah Ellis, Ken Oppel, Deb Ellis ... and all the others. Wow. Memorably sitting on stage with Richard twice, and realizing how funny he is, trying not to laugh. (Me: Richard, if we were in the same grade two class, the teacher would never let us sit together.) And telling Ken Oppel the story about how he and his wife used to live in my neighbourhood in Toronto, and for the longest time whenever I met someone new, they'd ask if I was married to Ken Oppel. (His wife's name is Philippa). That went on for years until they moved away. Until May 12, the day I got to tell him that story, I'd never met him.

Thorn between roses: Pignat, Dowding, Van Sickle on stage
2. March/2015: getting letters from grade 7 fans, and answering this question a lot: Why did Martin just think that Gwendolyn liked him? (A: he has no idea how to go about telling a girl he likes her, because it's his first crush. He has to learn to be better at that.)

3. April 2015: Travelling to Thunder Bay to meet all the kids, teachers and authors up there. Hanging with the great TVO hosts Melissa and Daniel in the green room, and asking them if they are ever worried about blurting out something inappropriate on air? (A: not really, the only problem is mild swearing, Holy Moly is always a safe one).

4. May 12,  2015: Sitting on stage with 19 other fiction and non-fiction Red Maple authors, and getting up to read my T-shirt from my publisher, Dundurn: Canadian Authors Telling Canadian Stories. About 60% of kids put their hands up to my question: do you have a Canadian author in your top 5 all-time faves?

5. Signing line-up conversation, May 12, Forest of Trees: a boy comes up and tells me that my book was his favourite. Me: Really? That's nice. How come? Him: Because it got me through a really terrible winter.
My wonderful presenter, OLA 2015


Signing table, OLA 2015
6. Best question ever at my OLA presentation, from a young author. Q: Do you prefer your first draft or your finished book? Me: Wow, what a great question, I'll have to think about that. Um. I guess the first draft is probably closest to the book you imagined. The finished product is hopefully the book you never imagined you could write so well.

Thank you to all my readers, the volunteers, the librarians and teachers who work so hard to bring the Forest of Reading to schools and libraries, the other Canadian authors, and the OLA. A truly great year.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Birdman, The Karman Line and The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden

Michael Keaton in Birdman


It seems that stories and movies about floating are hot these days. Really hot. 

Back in February, I was delighted to see Birdman win the Oscar for Best Picture, since it's a wonderfully magical, playful and frankly pretty un-Hollywood take on creativity and the power of imagination. Don't want to spoil the movie if you haven't seen it (and you probably should see it, it's great), but floating takes a major front seat.
Actress Olivia Colman floats in The Karman Line
Then, I just stumbled across this lovely, sweet and very strange BAFTA-winning short, posted on the New Yorker Screening Room site yesterday, about a woman afflicted with a terminal case of floating. It's called The Karman Line, and is directed by Oscar Sharp. Watch it now, it's 24 minutes, then read the fascinating New Yorker interview with the director.
Of course, floating is a beautiful metaphor for change, life, death, and pretty perfectly captures human mutability and transition. Our fascination with flight and all things floating goes back to the story of Icarus, and likely well before that.
This week, on Tuesday May 12, I'll sit on stage at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto for the Ontario Library Association Festival of Trees, in front of an audience of 1000+ grade 7 and 8s, who have read my book and voted on it as one of 10 books shortlisted for the Forest of Reading Red Maple award. It's Canada's largest literary festival for children and teens, and it's sold out in Toronto this year.
I couldn't be more honoured to be part of it, and to bring my story about an adolescent girl who discovers she can float to the young readers of Ontario.

The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden is a gentle magic realism story about teenage change ... just as The Karman Line or Birdman are for adults, so my story explores all the potential in a young girl about to morph into an adult. The book has been well-received, although magic realism isn't for everyone, it really does require an extended case of what Samuel Taylor Coleridge called our "willing suspension of disbelief" and takes a deft touch to bring it off well. Whether Gwendolyn's story wins the Red Maple award on Tuesday or not, I couldn't be more pleased that she and I have been included with some fantastic Canadian writers, and her story is a young adult version among some great movies, too. It's been a wonderful winter visiting schools and talking to kids, a brilliant flight for sure. Wish us luck!