Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions, with Sherri Smith

Share |
Ten Questions, with Sherri Smith

Sherri Smith's latest book, Children of Witches (Simon & Schuster), tells of a 17th-century mother's struggle to care for her autistic son. Sherri talks to Open Book about her experiences working with special needs children, and how these experiences coloured her new novel.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book, Children of Witches.

Sherri Smith:

The Children of Witches is about a tavern-keeper’s wife whose youngest son would very likely be given the modern diagnosis of ASD (autistic spectrum disorder). He is non-verbal. He endlessly collects and arranges piles of stones and leaves, lives in his own private world but is beautiful in appearance and can sing like an angel. Manfred’s mother, Anna, takes great pains to prevent people from finding out about her son’s strange condition. Unfortunately, it is 17th century Germany when the witch-panics were still at their height of viciousness and Manfred is seized by those who would use him to pursue their own agenda.

I was very much interested in exploring how such a child would fit into this particular time in history. How would he be perceived?

The Children of Witches is also a story about repressed sexuality, sibling rivalry, alcoholism and self-denial. So there’s a lot going in this one!


OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

SS:

I think I write what I find interesting and just hope someone else will too.


OBT:

Tell us about your writing process, from story idea to publication.

SS:

I always begin with a bunch of different story ideas, and then eventually go with the one that seems to keep me up at night. I then start researching, which is always a disorganized mess until I get to the writing part.

Once I start the actual writing I am really strict on what I need to accomplish each day. I feel it is important to create self-imposed deadlines in order to maintain self-discipline and be productive. Also, I write linearly because I like the story to unfold in a way that I don’t necessarily know what will happen next. I never know the ending until I get there, which is incentive to keep going.


OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

SS:

My ideal writing environment…hmm…well, I currently write in the basement, and my window is unfortunately under our deck and so I don’t get a lot of sun therefore I would have to say I would love a first floor office that is always flooded in sunlight. Or even better, an office on the first floor of a mansion. Yes, an ocean-front mansion would suffice as my ideal writing environment.


OBT:

What was your first publication?

SS:

The Virgin’s Tale.

It is about a Vestal Virgin in 63BCE who is rather dissatisfied with her position and is looking to shake things up a bit in her life.


OBT:

You're a teacher as well as a writer. How do your two careers influence each other?

SS:

Actually I was a para-educator, which is different than a teacher in that I only taught students with special needs, primarily those afflicted with autism or Asperger syndrome. My experiences teaching children affected by ASD very much influenced The Children of Witches and I am not sure I would have written it the same way otherwise. The character of Manfred was inspired by one particular child I worked with who is so uniquely brilliant.


OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

SS:

I think that one’s culture is always an influence in everything one does, especially creative projects. I can’t really say, a particular Canadian cultural experience influenced my writing (thank goodness considering I am writing about the witch-trials!) but during the course of writing this book and still now, I wake up each day grateful for having been born in this time and place.


OBT:

What’s the best response you’ve ever received from a reader?

SS:

I am mostly just happy if someone reads whatever I write. Though, I have had some funny experiences at signings for the Virgin’s Tale, where people wanted me to sign their books as ‘Virgin’ so-and-so or include some other claim in the inscription that their virginity was indeed intact.


OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

SS:

I am far too new at this to dole out advice-- I barely feel like I know what I am doing! I did read somewhere though that reading is like professional development for writers, so read as much as you can.


OBT:

What is your next project?

SS:

I won’t say too much about it right now, as it is still in the early stages but there is a French cook and she isn’t very nice.


Sherri Smith lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she teaches at a school for children with special needs. The Children of Witches is her second novel.

For more information about The Children of Witches please visit the Simon & Schuster website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications

Dundurn

Open Book App Ad