Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Adira Rotstein

Share |
Adira Rotstein

Adira Rotstein first brought Little Jane Silver to life in a book named after the young heroine; now Jane, the scrappy daughter of Long John Silver the Second and Bonnie Mary Bright, is back in action in Little Jane and the Nameless Isle (Dundurn).

Adira speaks with us today about the adventures of her young protagonist, Darwin riding tortoises and a new class of heroes.

Open Book:

Tell us about your book, Little Jane and the Nameless Isle.

Adira Rotstein:

Little Jane and the Nameless Isle is the second book in the Little Jane Silver adventure series. The first was simply titled Little Jane Silver. I actually wrote both books as one long story and then decided to split them because it would be a little unmanageable for kids to read if it was one giant book. It was certainly less overwhelming for me to write it in halves, so it worked out well.

The story follows Little Jane, the daughter of two pirate captains as she embarks on a quest to find her parents who were kidnapped by a vengeful pirate hunter who believes he is entitled to a piece of their fortune which is hidden on the Nameless Isle.


This book sees Jane on land. Where did the inspiration for the Nameless Isle come from? And how will being away from the sea affect Jane?


One source of inspiration for the Nameless Isle comes from the Treasure Island in Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson naturally. Every novel and film about pirates that’s come out since owes a debt to him and Captain Charles Johnson who wrote the first history of pirates in 1724.

The second source would be accounts of Darwin’s voyage to the Galapagos Islands I read for my History of Biology class in university. Darwin was very interested in unique bird species, which connects to Villienne’s fascination with the peculiar orange birds in the book. What really amused me about Darwin’s accounts of his discoveries was that he also appeared to enjoy cooking and tasting almost every new species he came in contact with and would record how much or how little he liked each one he tasted and if they made him feel sick. He also liked riding on the Galapagos tortoises. I think Darwin was way more fun than the history books tell us!

As for being away from the sea, well I think Little Jane is more comfortable in the environment of a ship or in the tavern at Smuggler’s Bay. Going to the Nameless Isle is moving way outside her comfort zone. Then again, who would be comfortable going to a cursed island that only two people in history have ever survived? Still, Little Jane is an adaptable sort of person. She is able to deal with the challenges the island throws at her through her own smarts and resourcefulness and with some help from her friends. Even though she feels like throwing in the towel plenty of times, she knows she has to keep on going in order to save her parents.


Readers were introduced to Jane in Little Jane Silver. Has Jane changed since the first book? What can we expect from Jane in the future?


I think at the beginning of The Nameless Isle Little Jane has not really changed from the previous book, but by the time you’re through with this book, she will have changed a great deal. She goes through a journey that starts with her wanting to be a respected pirate captain, to a place where she becomes that and quickly realizes through what happens to her parents that she doesn’t want that sort of life.

I have started another book about Jane going to London to solve a mysterious disappearance with some familiar faces from this book appearing, but I’m only at the very beginning stages, so it may turn into something completely different when I’m through.


What would a perfect writing day look like for you?


A perfect writing day would involve me going to work teaching for half the day and then going for a walk in a mild drizzle to find some place to eat. As I walked I’d think up this amazing idea for a new story. At last I would find the perfect little café, right at the point where I feel like writing the story down. I’d sit there eating and writing in my notebook, nursing a cup of tea or coffee to keep my hands warm and my mind sharp, looking up occasionally to observe the people walking in the rain. At last, when I’d be finished my writing the rain would stop as if on cue. The sun would come out and I’d walk back to my car or the bus, in that special, watery post-rain kind of light, with the smell of wet earth and moist bark in the air.


Little Jane and the Nameless Isle is an adventure story. Is this the kind of book that appealed to you as a young reader? Are there other books in this vein you would recommend to adventure-loving readers?


I actually designed this book from the beginning to be the perfect book for my 10-12 year old self. I was a very precocious reader and video games were fairly primitive when I was child. Watching videos and reading were my main escapes from reality, and books were far more portable than TV, so they were perfect for alleviating the boredom of road trips and afternoons outside. Although my parents and teachers thought it was great that I could read Great Expectations at age ten, in some ways it could be problematic because the books that were around at the time for kids my age were too simple for me and the contemporary adult books had content that was inappropriate or uninteresting for someone who hadn’t gone through puberty yet. I ended up reading plenty of 19th century classics. Those books were challenging enough to read in terms of vocabulary, but they were deficient in ways that bothered me. Even as a child I recognized that some of those authors were captive to certain outdated ideas about women and people from ethnicities and social classes other than their own that have since been disproved.

I loved adventure novels about young people travelling to exciting places, but their main characters were always boys. The girls never got to go anywhere exotic or do anything dangerous or earth-shattering. I also thought that the emotional impact of certain events on the human psyche wasn’t always that well understood by the authors. I remember reading the unabridged Treasure Island, (I had read shorter versions before) a few months after my grandfather passed away and being very disturbed by Jim Hawkins lack of reaction to his father’s death, in comparison to the intensity of my own reaction to my grandfather’s passing. I thought I was strange for feeling so strongly.

When it comes to showing the full palette of human emotion and experience there were some thoughts and feelings, that weren’t really acceptable to attribute to a “heroic” character back then. I think there was also a concern that it was harmful to society as a whole to put certain things out there. I partially agree with the Victorians in thinking about the effects of art and media on society as a whole. Personally, I believe that anybody that puts something out for public consumption should be encouraged to think about whether what they are putting out will have a positive affect on the audience, in terms of entertaining them and broadening their sense of empathy and understanding towards others, or is it solely negative? I think a lot of the media we’re bombarded with in news and advertising is designed to make us feel afraid all the time, instead of empowered. I’m always amazed at how much attention is given to healthy eating for one’s body and how little is given to the consumption of healthy material for one’s mind. Things that make us feel unnecessarily afraid, gloomy and powerless are things that we should minimize in our mental diets in my opinion.


What are you working on now?


Too many things to count! The one that is closest to fruition now though, that I have been focusing on lately is a graphic novel that I’m drawing and writing. It’s about a young woman in a city in the near future who joins an underground civil rights group fighting for people exposed to mutagenic material.

Adira Rotstein has studied literature, writing and film at the University of Toronto and the University of Southern California. Her creative output includes novels, screenplays, films, paintings, comic books and illustrations. Little Jane Silver and the Nameless Isle is the sequel to Little Jane Silver. Adira lives in Toronto.

For more information about Little Jane and the Nameless Isle please visit the Dundurn website.

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

Check out all the On Writing interviews in our archives.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


Open Book App Ad