Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Irene N. Watts

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On Writing, with Irene N. Watts

Irene N. Watts talks to Open Book about her latest book, No Moon (Tundra Books), a young adult novel about the sinking of the Titanic. Today is the 98th anniversary of the sinking of the "unsinkable" ocean liner.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book, No Moon.

Irene N. Watts:

No Moon begins with a tragedy. In 1902, a working class family in England goes on an outing to the seaside. While his sister, five year old Louisa, makes sand castles, two year old Johnny drowns. Louisa cannot forget the tragedy, and blames herself though she is assured that it was an accident. Her fear of the ocean, even of water becomes an obsession.

At fourteen she is taken on as a nanny’s helper to a titled family. Nanny is a bully and does her best to take the joy out of the life of her two young charges, and is particularly harsh towards Louisa. Nevertheless Louisa is happy being out at work and loves the children.

When an accidental fall confines Nanny Mackintosh to the house, Louisa is told she will replace her on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. Her instinct is to refuse, but that would mean dismissal.

Louisa’s worst fears come true, and the reader witnesses the great tragedy of the disaster and the loss of so many lives, through her eyes. But like other survivors Louisa finds the courage to overcome her own fears in saving her two charges.


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


I would think No Moon would find readership of ages 11 to 15, but I am consistently surprised at the wide age range of readers for my books.


The sinking of the Titanic continues to capture the public imagination, almost 100 years after the tragedy. Why do you think that is?


The eyes of the world are always drawn to disasters it seems, and this particular one is all the more poignant because, even in 1912 it could have been prevented. There was room on board for sufficient lifeboats. If the watertight compartments had reached even one more deck, so many more lives could have been saved. Many other factors have come to light.

There are accounts by survivors, photographs of before and after and every year brings new information to light.

How could the biggest and most beautiful ship in the world, believed to be unsinkable, disappear in a matter of two and a half hours?

The stories of heroism, of rich and poor alike, make this a disaster of epic proportions.

It is one of the disasters, like the recent Haiti earthquake, that will never be forgotten.


Tell us about the research you did for writing No Moon.


Long before I began my research in 1997, I saw a musical in New York, Titanic. Story and lyrics by Peter Stone, music and lyrics by Maury Yeston. I often listened to the music, and the subject simmered at in the back of my mind. Then, three years ago I went to an exhibition about the Titanic in Victoria, BC.

Next day I began my research. I read for at least three months, looked at photographs of people and artifacts. I steeped myself in the social aspects, of the time. 1911/12 was a golden age for some, for others, unemployment, poverty and hardship. The tragedy is extremely well documented, by witnesses, newspapers of the time and books of history.

I like to go to the places I write about in my books, so I went to England, familiarizing myself with the areas where Louisa’s family and her employers lived. I had sailed to New York from Montreal on a cruise ship and was not unfamiliar with the harbor and the Statue of Liberty which the survivors reached after unbearable losses.

Slowly the book took shape, I decided to tell the story of two families, one rich and one poor.

I had done so much research that it was sometimes difficult to put my own knowledge aside, and remember that Louisa, the fourteen-year-old nanny and her companions could only know what they were told - which was that the ship was unsinkable.


What are you reading right now?


I have just finished reading a wonderful memoir by Jeannette Walls: The Glass Castle and am rereading: Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson.


What is your next project?


In the works is another graphic novel – a sequel to Good-Bye Marianne, illustrated by Kathryn E. Shoemaker, with whom I collaborated on Clay Man: The Golem of Prague which was published by Tundra in November 2009.

A mystery novel for 8 to11 year olds is simmering!

Born in Germany, Irene N. Watts is a playwright and writer who has worked throughout Canada and Europe. She has published many award-winning books for children, including Good-bye Marianne, Finding Sophie, Remember Me, Flower, When the Bough Breaks and Clay Man: The Golem of Prague. Her books have been translated into several languages, including Italian, French, and Dutch. Irene N. Watts lives in Vancouver. For more information about Irene N. Watts, please visit:

For more information about No Moon, please visit the Tundra Books website at

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

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