Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Writing for Kids - an Interview with Arthur Slade

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Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade

I first found out about Arthur Slade after my friend Lynn Fraser, editor for FreeFall magazine, took a class with him. She was raving - in a good way - about what a talented author and great teacher he was. When I asked what he had written Lynn directed me to the book, Dust, winner of the 2001 Governor General's Award for Children's Literature.

Later I picked up Jolted and read it with my daughter. That was an amazing book. It was so funny and I loved the pig (trust me, the pig is great). My daughter wanted more - so we picked up The Hunchback Assignments featuring Modo, a shape shifting spy. The series was so awesome.

Lately I've been totally stalking Arthur Slade's latest project, Modo: Ember's End, a hardcover graphic novel due out in the spring and funded by his Indiegogo campaign. I love comics, so I'm slathering over this one, being a huge Modo fan already.

Anyway, I love Arthur Slade's writing. I love his ideas. So, I took this opportunity to have a virtual sit-down with him to find out his views on writing for kids and young adults. And here is the result. I present to you:

An Interview with Arthur Slade.

KF: When did you start writing?

AS: I was a creative kid. So I did write when I was younger. But I didn’t take it seriously until I was sixteen, when I started my first novel. Alas, I wasn’t meant to be one of those authors who was published at an early age…it wasn’t until I was thirty that my first book was published. And I wrote six unpublished novels before that.

KF: Who or what influenced you to write?

AS: Well, that’s a question that could take forever to answer. But I think I’ll narrow it down to Ray Bradbury was one of my early influences. I loved his work when I was younger, and have always admired how endless his imagination was. But I also have to blame my parents (he says jokingly) for being so supportive and several of my teachers (including a high school teacher who gave me 100% on a short story--that really helped me decided I was good at this writing thing).

KF: What types of writing have you done?

AS: A little of everything, because I had a bit of a freelance career. I did write articles on grains, cattle, farmers, and history museums in small towns. But also a number of short stories along with working as an advertising copywriter for several years. I also did a non-fiction biography of John Diefenbaker back in 2001. But these days I’m strictly a fiction writer.

KF: How did you get started writing for youth?

AS: I sent a manuscript to a reading service and the writer who read it said, “this is a great book for young adults.” Funny thing was that I thought I’d written a book for adults. But that one comment made me re-examine what I was writing and I realized that my style and my interest lay in writing for the younger audience.

KF: What age group do you generally write for?

AS: Ages 9-13 or so. But, of course, like to think my books are for any age.

KF: What makes writing for youth so entertaining?

AS: It may sound odd, but I feel that I can be more creative when there’s a younger audience. They want BIG things to happen and BIG emotions and a good storyline. That youthful energy is something that I’m trying to tap into when I’m writing.

KF: Can it be challenging too?

AS: Absolutely. Though younger readers are often very mature, they haven’t read every single book on the planet so I sometimes have to pull back on the number of references I make to obscure points in literature. Then again, younger readers tend to read books several times so you have to be sure you make the book complicated and deep enough that it’s interesting to those types of readers.

KF: Why do you think the genre of YA is important, can't teens read adult novels? Why do they need their own genre?

AS: It's natural for readers of any age to want to read both above and below their “age” groups. I think it’s important to hear stories about people your own age. But it’s also important to read about all the other ages/age groups in the world of writing. So I don’t always see it as a division between ages. I see it more as a smorgasbord.

KF: What has been a big highlight in your career so far?

AS: Winning the Governor General’s award. That really changed so many aspects of my career immediately. And it was nice to be treated like a star for one day and wear a tux.

KF: What is your latest project?

AS: A book called Flickers. It’s set in Hollywood in the 1920’s and is all about a horror film director who makes this film that opens a door to another dimension. And something horrible walks through. So…another happy story.

KF: Where can people find out more about your work?

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Kim Firmston

Kim Firmston is a writer and creative writing instructor in Calgary. Her teen novels Schizo and Hook Up were Canadian Children's Book Centre Best Bet Selections. Her short story "Life Before War" was shortlisted for the 2008 CBC Literary Awards. Her most recent novel for teens is Touch, about a teenage hacker with a troubled family life.

Go to Kim Firmston’s Author Page