Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Laura Robinson

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Ten Questions with Laura Robinson

Laura Robinson's new book, Cyclist BikeList: The Book for Every Rider (Tundra Books) is set to launch May 22. She talks to Open Book: Toronto about cycling and the new worlds the sport opens to children and adults alike.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your book, Cyclist BikeList: The Book for Every Rider.

Laura Robinson:

I have loved cycling since I was six and my father ran beside me until I could balance properly on two wheels. But I fell head over heels in love when I was fourteen and simply had to have my first 10-speed bike. Boys from my grade eight class came to my house one spring evening on their new bikes and when I saw them all sitting outside in a row, I knew what I had to do. I saved my babysitting money up and bought a 10-speed. Luckily for me, my brother bought one too. Cycling opened the doors of the world for me, and I hope that it will do that for young people everywhere.

What a truly great sport it is — you can ride with friends, family, by yourself, and make new friends simply by pedalling wherever you go. It’s such a wonderful way to get from A to B. I hope Cyclist BikeList opens doors and minds of young people. It gives an overview of the history of the bicycle, how and why bikes work and how the body works with the bicycle. There is a little bit about some of the great cyclists through the 20th century, and how to prepare for a really good ride. Eating properly is very important, as if dressing properly, using a bike that fits you properly and works well, and never forgetting your water bottle and helmet. I hope Cyclist BikeList sums all of this up in a comprehensive way so young cyclists catch the excitement of the most exciting way to move your body.


OBT:

Laura, did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

LR:

I hope people 8-11 read it, though I think adults will enjoy the book too.


OBT:

How did you research your book? What's the most fascinating fact you learned about the history of bicycles?

LR:

As I said above, I have been riding seriously since I was fourteen, which was a long time ago, so I have had a lot of experience on a bike, and hopefully can offer some tips that will actually work for readers. For instance use the plastic sleeve that coffee cups come in as arm warmers and leg warmers when you get caught in a downpour quite far away from home, but not far from a coffee shop. The European cyclists I rode with when I was a teenager taught me how important it is to stay warm in cold weather and as cool as possible in hot weather. They used folded up newspapers in their jerseys on cold days to keep the wind out, and old plastic bread bags underneath their shoes in the rain. You just absorb these things over the years, but I also researched on the net, asked lots of people in the bike business how things work, and what the trends are, and read books. I especially liked the biography on Major Taylor, the first African-American to be a world cycling champion.

As well, I have covered cycling at four Olympics games as a journalist, and raced nationally and internationally. When I retired from racing I started cycle touring in North America and Europe. I hope I have translated the excitement of competition and the beautiful feeling of freedom one has while touring, as well as the science behind the bicycle into the book.


OBT:

What would you consider the "golden age" of the bicycle?

LR:

The first Golden Age occurred at the end of the 19th century and into the first part of the 20th century, but now I feel we are in another Golden Age as people realize that living life via the combustion engine of the automobile is no longer an option—we are killing ourselves and the planet. We have to find alternative ways to “be” and luckily riding a bicycle is way more fun and way better for you than driving a car.


OBT:

What was your first publication?

LR:

My first publication was a page of poetry I wrote for the local alternative newspaper when I was thirteen in 1971. I think the newspaper was called The Fifth Columnist. I was so surprised and happy when I saw the back page devoted to my poetry. In terms of books, my first book came out in 1997. It was an anthology of my op eds and articles mainly from The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star. It was called, "She Shoots, She Scores: Canadian Perspectives on Women and Sport" and was published by Thompson Educational Publishing. Happy to say the book is still used in sport sociology classes.


OBT:

Describe your ideal work environment.

LR:

There would be sun streaming in through at least one window, but not on my computer screen. My office, for the first time in my life, would be organized with files in their place, and everything off the floor. On my desk I have my computer, my notes, my nice hot pot of tea and toasted bagel. Somehow no crumbs fall onto my keyboard. I do not have my email on, so I don’t know who is urgently trying to reach me.


OBT:

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

LR:

Think about why a publisher should publish your work. My publisher, the very wonderful Tundra Books, came to me about writing a book for children on cycling. They knew I had raced internationally, that I had lots of non-competitive cycling experience, and had written about cycling in the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail, as well as Pedal Magazine, Canada’s foremost cycling mag. They also knew I was a coach of kids who are the same age as the kids the book is for.

I was able to first start writing about sports and the issues one finds within sport in 1990. Yes, I was a former national team athlete, but from 1985-88 I had advocated on behalf of Justine Blainey, a 12-year-old girl who made a boy’s hockey team and was not allowed to play. The case went to the Supreme Court of Canada and the Ontario Human Rights Commission—Justine won at both. It was a very public challenge of the old boys of hockey and those of us who worked on behalf of Justine and women’s rights became well known. After this I was part of a group of women who fought for equal prize money in cycling. We were winning chocolates and bubble bath when the men were winning money and new racing bikes. Five years of fighting on behalf of women in sports definitely made me some very powerful enemies, but I was also an expert on the subject matter.

What do you have to offer a publisher in terms of expertise? You don’t have to be an athlete, but I think you do have to have an expert’s grasp on the subject matter, no matter what that may be—raising children to live in a green world, discussing Canada’s role in geopolitics, growing and canning your own food—it is an endless list. You must be really committed. Writing a book is way harder than bike racing.

After this, you have to prove you can research and write a book. Putting together a good outline and chapter list is essential, and if possible try to find an agent who will represent you.

When I wrote my book Black Tights: Women, Sport and Sexuality, I wrote the thesis for each chapter as an op ed for the Globe and Mail. I found that organizing my thoughts about the issues tackled in the book into an argument of 900 words was an excellent way to discipline my meandering mind.


OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

LR:

Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

The Diviners by Margaret Laurence

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden


OBT:

What are you reading right now?

LR:

The Retreat by David Bergen

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières


OBT:

What is your next project?

LR:

I want to write The Bicycle Journals, about designing urban space and the landscape of the countryside for moving bodies. Of course, much of this book would be about cycling and have a strong personal narrative. It would be about why the bicycle matters for humanity, but it would also be about other ways in which we can move from A to B—why can’t we design in a way that allows us to paddle to work, or cross-country ski, or skate? Even walking in many places is dangerous because we have devoted the entire landscape to the automobile.

Why have we embraced the automobile, and why are we so hesitant to embrace the body? Our body is where we live—it is our true home, but in North America we have designed as if our bodies do not exist. I find it so weird to arrive somewhere by bicycle and there is nothing put in place that acknowledges that people can move from A to B without a combustion engine. There are no safe places to lock your bike up, no showers, no place to hang up sweaty clothes so they will be dry by the time you ride home, and you may as well be a Martian when you tell people you rode your bike there. So why has North American culture made it so difficult to move one’s body through time and space using the strength, endurance and flexibility found within the body?

This book would look at the underlying values that form the North American ethos towards the body. I think we still have a deeply embedded distrust of the body, stemming from a couple of thousand of years of Christianity. That distrust has been subconsciously worked into our secular institutions. Simply, we have designed against our own bodies. I think writing about this is exciting, challenging and important given the last ditch effort we will have to make should we even be able to sustain the Earth.


Laura Robinson has been a freelance journalist for nearly twenty years, and she is the author of five books on issues in sports. She was a former member of Canada’s national cycling team and a former Canadian rowing champion. Robinson coaches the Anishinaabe Racers, a mountain bike and Nordic ski team at Cape Croker First Nation Elementary School in Ontario, Canada. Her first children’s book, Great Girls: Profiles of Awesome Canadian Athletes, became a best seller. Cyclist BikeList: The Book for Every Rider is her second children’s book.

RAMÓN K. PÉREZ has been working as a cartoonist for little over a decade. His catalogue of work is as diverse as the styles he employs. He has illustrated comic books, manga, children’s books, role-playing games, collectible card games, and magazines. Ramón K. Pérez is the creator of a somewhat autobiographical weekly online comic strip Butternutsquash and the new adventure comic strip Kukuburi.

For more information about Cyclist Bikelist please visit the Tundra Books website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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