Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Anne Dublin

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Anne Dublin

Anne Dublin new novel is The Baby Experiment (Dundurn Press) — the story of a Jewish girl living in Hamburg during the Eighteenth century.

Anne talks to Open Book about her experience writing The Baby Experience as well as her favourite novels, her sources of inspiration and the way that her writing has evolved.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new novel, The Baby Experiment.

Anne Dublin:

Johanna is a 14-year-old Jewish girl who lives in Hamburg, Germany in the early 18th century. She feels stifled by the daily drudgery of her life and dreams of seeing what is outside the confines of the Jewish quarter. Johanna lies about her identity and gets a job as a caregiver at an orphanage. She eventually learns that a secret experiment is taking place that results in the deaths of babies.
Realizing that the baby she cares about most is in danger, Johanna decides to kidnap her and escape to Amsterdam. She faces many dangers on her journey, including plague, bandits, storms and not least of all, anti-Semitism. Johanna has a lot of courage and determination, but will it be enough to save the baby and reach her destination? Will she finally find a place where she can be free?


The Baby Experiment and The Orphan Rescue share a commonality – orphanages. What propels you to write about them?


I always loved reading books about orphans when I was a kid: Anne of Green Gables and Heidi were two of my favourites and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe falls into that category, too. I didn’t set out to write about orphans or orphanages, only about young people caught in tough situations from which they try to escape. However, probably there’s a deeper reason I write about orphans. I’m the daughter of Holocaust survivors. I grew up in a small family, without many relatives to give me help and support. It wasn’t difficult for me to imagine how an orphan might feel.


In The Baby Experiment you write about a grim subject matter — a secret experiment that’s killing babies. Where did this idea come from?


Since I was a teacher of English and French, the acquisition of language has always intrigued me. Years ago, I read an article in the newspaper that mentioned a supposed experiment about language. I became curious about some issues: Would a child who has never been exposed to language have the ability to speak a new language? Could a scientist get this information through an experiment that wasn’t immoral? What happens to children who don’t thrive because they’re not nurtured? The horrifying example of medical experimentation, conducted on people in the concentration camps during the Holocaust, convinced me that some people are capable of doing great evil in the name of science.


You’ve written about some very powerful, insightful women. Bobbie Rosenfeld, June Callwood and Lucy Maud Montgomery. Is there any personal reason why you felt compelled to tell their stories?


Bobbie Rosenfeld and June Callwood were two extraordinary women who overcame enormous challenges in their lives and became known for their strength, compassion and sense of humor. I wanted to encourage young people not to give up, despite the difficulties that block one’s path in life. As for L.M. Montgomery, while doing research for this short biography, I discovered that “Maud” had many troubles during her life, but continued to write in spite of them. Or perhaps because of them. Writing, for me, is a way of dealing with life's difficulties; to remind myself not to give up when things get tough.


On your website you mention that it is harder for you to write about your life story. Why do you think that is?


That’s an easy question. I can be more objective about other people’s life stories than my own!


You’ve been writing for over ten years. How has your writing evolved?


When I began to write, I was unsure about my “voice”. I knew I wanted to tell stories — whether fiction or non-fiction — but it took me a while to feel confident that I could do the research and find a way to tell the particular story that was nagging at me. I’m still often unsure, but I’ve learned to be less anxious and wait for my brain to do the “internal work” that is part of the creative process.


What are you currently working on?


I'm writing a novel called 44 Hours or Strike! Four young people are caught up in the events of the dressmakers' strike in Toronto 1931. Their lives intersect in unexpected, and sometimes violent, ways. I tell the story from the point of view of each separate character — a technique that’s an experiment for me but quite exciting, too.
I’m also working on a young adult dystopian novel called Plus One set in 2041. Millions of people have died and the survivors are tightly controlled. Maya and her friend Jordan go on a journey and a quest from Toronto to northern Ontario. (I just noticed something. They’re orphans, too!)

Anne Dublin is an award-winning author of historical fiction and biographies for young people. Her books include Bobbie Rosenfeld: The Olympian Who Could Do Everything, winner of the IODE Violet Downey Book Award and the Canadian Jewish Book Award and The Orphan Rescue, finalist for the U.S. National Jewish Book Award. She lives in Toronto.

For more information about The Baby Experiment please visit the Dundurn Press website.

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

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