Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Hugh Brewster

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Hugh Brewster

Writer and publisher Hugh Brewster is a leading expert on the Titanic, having written numerous books on the subject and edited the works of Dr. Robert Ballard, the man who discovered the famous wreckage in 1985. In Deadly Voyage (Scholastic Canada), Hugh brings his expertise to life in the story of Jamie, a Canadian boy who escapes the terrible wreck.

Hugh speaks with Open Book about his own boyhood transatlantic experience, his upcoming projects and how he manages to balance the instincts of a publisher with the desires of a writer.

Open Book:

Tell us about your book, Deadly Voyage.

Hugh Brewster:

Deadly Voyage is the second novel I’ve written for Scholastic’s new I Am Canada series. It’s the story of Jamie Laidlaw, a Canadian boy who survives the sinking of the Titanic. Though Jamie and his family are fictional, most of the other characters are real people and the story hews as closely as possible to what actually happened on board the Titanic. “Did this really happen?’ is a question readers, particularly boys, often ask, and I like to be able to tell them that the novel gives an authentic depiction of this historic event.


You're established as an expert in Titantic-related lore and information. What first drew you to the ship and its history?


I was gripped by the movie of A Night to Remember as a boy and then read Walter Lord’s book on which the film was based. Later, as editorial director of Madison Press Books in Toronto, I met Dr. Robert Ballard who said he was going to discover the Titanic. He did so in September of 1985 and I spent two years editing and compiling his book, The Discovery of the Titanic. It became an international bestseller and 16 other Titanic titles followed from Madison Press, a few of them authored by me. (And I got to know Walter Lord who penned introductions for several of the books.)


How did you come to the character of Jamie?


I wanted him to be a Canadian boy and thought he should be traveling in first-class to be able to describe the splendors of the ship. I also drew on my own experiences as a boy making an ocean crossing. One of the biggest events of my childhood was when my family emigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1956 on the CP liner, the Empress of Britain.


How does your extensive experience as a publisher inform your writing process?


It gives me, I think, a fairly good commercial nose, a sense of what appeals to readers. On the other hand, I always have to temper this with writerly integrity as I don’t like to pander to popular taste with easy effects like gratuitous violence or hackneyed plot devices.


Who are some people who have deeply influenced (fellow writers or not) your writing life?


My first boss at Scholastic Canada, Larry Muller, has always been a good friend and early reader. So has the writer and historian Marian Fowler. And I owe a debt to Sandy Bogart Johnston and Diane Kerner at Scholastic for encouraging me to write fiction.


Is there a book you’ve read recently that you wished you had written?


I recently finished Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts, which filled me with admiration. His previous book The Devil in the White City also demonstrated how historical writing can be as gripping as fiction.


What are you working on now?


I’m at the editing stage with a large historical account of the people on the Titanic (for adult readers) entitled: RMS TITANIC: Gilded Lives on a Fatal Voyage that will be published in the spring of ’12 by HarperCollins for the 100th anniversary of the sinking, I have an idea for a play drawn from the research I did for my first I Am Canada novel, Prisoner of Dieppe, and I would also like to write a historical romance novel with, I hope, great girl appeal.

Hugh Brewster is a Canadian editor, writer and publishing executive who has worked on many books for children. He was instrumental in the founding of Madison Press Books in 1979. During his twenty-year tenure, the company became one of the world’s leading book producers.

As a writer, his children’s books have won a number of major awards, including the Norma Fleck Award for At Vimy Ridge. He also wrote Dieppe: Canada’s Darkest Day of WWII, and On Juno Beach: Canada’s D-Day Heroes. Hugh has made television appearances on CTV’s Canada AM, City TV’s Breakfast Television and CHCH’s Morning Live. He is also a guest lecturer for publishing programs at Centennial College and Ryerson University.

For more information about Deadly Voyage please visit the Scholastic website.

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

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