When Raincoast Books asked me to participate in the blog tour celebrating the launch of author Alice Kuipers‘ latest book, Polly Diamond and the Magic Book ($14.99, Chronicle Books), there wasn’t much to think about. How can you go wrong reading a book about a girl who not only loves to read, but to write, too? And a magic book? I needed to know more.
I read Polly Diamond to my nine year old one night before bed and we weren’t able to go to bed until we finished the book. We thought it was a pretty funny, particularly how literal that magic book was. I do think different about a club sandwich now.
Congratulations on your success – all your books sound really interesting – and on the release of your latest, Polly Diamond and the Magic Book. I read it to my nine year old one night before bed and we both enjoyed it. We laughed at how literal the magic book is and how you have to be very careful on how you word your requests.
Q. How did you come up with the idea for this book and your books in general?
A. I think ideas come from two places – imagination and observation. If I’m stuck for inspiration, I either spend time looking out at the world, asking questions, listening to people, learning about something new, or I look inside my own head and try to figure out what my subconscious brain is dreaming about. For Polly Diamond, I was walking through Saskatoon Public Library and I just kept wondering what the world would be like if everything in the books there could come true. It started as a silly dream, and then Polly got involved! Although she is a creation from my own head, she felt like she knew exactly where the story needed to go!
Q. Why did you gear Polly Diamond toward those six to nine?
A. I love books that are for young people just starting to read for themselves. There is something magical about the experience of reading a whole book for the first time – and maybe for some readers, that first book will be Polly Diamond. And maybe, maybe it will inspire them to write their own books. At this age, kids are so full of stories, I’d love for my book to encourage them to write.
Q. What is it about the book you think this group will like?
A. I hope readers enjoy the humour and the beautiful illustrations. I hope they are challenged, but not too much, by the language – and that they find joy in how much Polly loves words. Most of all, I hope they like the idea that a book could write back to them, and that a book is magic.
Q. If you had a magic book, what would you request?
A. This is a great question! When I was younger, I wanted to have books that I’d written out in the world, but I have that now. And I wanted children, and I have four children now! So, I guess if I could ask for anything (and as Polly’s book explains, world peace is off the table), I’d ask for a way to teleport between the U.K. where my parents and sister live, and Canada, where my children live.
Q. I like that Polly seems to really enjoy not just reading and writing, but improving both. Why was that important to show?
A. For me, it was important that Polly’s adoration of words was a big part of this book because I wanted kids to see that words are one of the tools we have to understand the world. Being able to use language well is a great skill, and it’s useful whether you write books or blogs or if you never write anything at all. It’s useful because it gives you a way of understanding how other people think and feel, which is the first step to world peace! Although Polly’s book can’t give Polly world peace, I think we can achieve anything if we simply understand each other better.
Q. You are currently offering a Young Writers Blueprint, a free guide to help six to 10 year olds gather ideas, create settings and characters and write and edit various length pieces. Why is it important for you to share writing tips with kids?
A. I wanted kids to be able to access my ideas about writing from anywhere. I could talk about writing all day, and go into schools, and share writing tips and prompts, but with four kids and three books upcoming, I have to actually be in Saskatoon where I live most of the time. This way, I can share sparks of imagination and fun with kids who feel like writing so they can take their writing further.
Q. What will they get from your course?
A. I hope children who take the writing course are inspired to have fun with their stories. I hope they get to know their characters better. Most of all, I hope they learn to trust their imaginations and their ideas – whether the kids who take the course keep writing for the rest of their lives or not, I hope they find in the course the confidence to believe that what they have to say is important. I hope they learn to trust their voice.
Q. You and your husband, who is also a writer, have four young children. Are they creative? How do you inspire them to write stories and use their imaginations? How do you inspire reluctant readers/writers to do the same?
A. My kids are creative and we spend a lot of time at home reading books. We also let them get on with being bored sometimes, and leave them to the squabbling madness that takes over our house. Eventually they weary of fighting and they start making stuff together. When I go into classrooms, I find that most of the kids I meet are creative and sparky. But there are always reluctant readers and writers, so I talk to them about firing up their own creative souls.
Maybe they are amazing at drawing or coding or building Lego. I encourage them to believe in their own creative spirit. The writing course that I’ve made online has lots of ideas and prompt to inspire kids who love writing, sure, but hopefully teachers can also use it to inspire reluctant writers – I’ve made the prompts and videos super fun! And when it comes to reading, I think that letting kids read whatever appeals is a good start – comics or books with no words are some of the best books I’ve ever read and they have huge appeal to reluctant readers, so I always encourage young people to follow their bliss.
Q. How do you gather ideas?
A. I make notes. And I start writing lots of stories that never go anywhere. It’s always a bit of a guessing game for me as to whether a book I’m writing is going to be finished or not! My desktop is full of unfinished files and silly ideas that didn’t work. But then sometimes, a book works out. And the ones that don’t work at first might work one day. My last published young adult novel (YA) was begun 20 years before I knew how to actually write it. The idea bounced around in my head for years. Sometimes I wrote a few thousand words, then I gave up, then I went back to it.
Q. Are you are planner or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer? What is your writing process?
A. My writing process is chaotic. But, as the mother of four, a lot of my days are chaotic whether I’m writing or not. I’m definitely fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants- type-writer, which means that I spend lots of time, years sometimes, editing. I have ideas, note down words, set myself goals to write a thousand words a day, write, delete, write again, finish a draft, edit again, drink coffee, deal with the kids, forget what I was doing, drink more coffee, write some more, work on a different book… I have a lot of balls in the air, and I often drop one, but I’ve learned to relax about the mistakes I make. Sometimes I surprise myself and finish a book. Then the real work begins and I have to edit it.
Q. You have written a variety of books in a number of styles (including Life on the Refrigerator Door, which was written entirely on Post-It Notes), what is your favourite genre to write?
A. I love writing all the books I write. I enjoy writing YA absolutely, there is a lot of room to get to live in the worlds of the characters. I love working on illustrated books because I adore seeing how the illustrator transforms the text. I feel astonished that I get to spend my days writing books. I don’t focus as much on the final reader or their age, more on the character and the story they simply have to tell. I like playing with form, like in Life on the Refrigerator Door, and I’m doing that a bit more at the moment in some of my upcoming books.
Q. What do you like about writing for young adults? Children? Will you write for adults, why or why not?
I love writing for children and young adults because the characters always feel like they are exploring things for the first time, which is fascinating for a writer. There are so many possible paths for the characters to take that I love exploring the options with these made-up people. I love how open and honest young readers are. If a teenager hates one of my books, they just let me know, no big deal. If they like my books, they are very warm and enthusiastic.
Younger readers are even more open about their responses to the books, which I find refreshing and helpful as I work on the next book. As for writing for adults, well, I write lots for adults. I just haven’t published much of it, really. The publishing side of my writing life, thankfully, takes up a lot of time and writing for children and young adults is a hugely satisfying career.
Q. Are you working on anything write now?
A. Three books – two YA novels and one book of non-fiction for young adults. I also have a second Polly Diamond book coming out in a year; it’ is already written and illustrated. And I have another book of non-fiction coming out with Kids Can Press in a year, based on the life of Toronto teenager Carley Allison. Like I said, a lot of balls in the air!
Q. What is your dream project?
A. Usually it’s the book I’m working on. So, right now, the book I’m loving is my YA novel The Secret Heart of Grey Linden, and my other YA novel The Girl From Somewhere Else. I’m lucky that I can write whatever I want to – any book I dream up, I can write. Now, whether these books find publishers is a whole other story!
So if you had a magic book, what would you request?
2019 update: Read my review of Book 2, Polly Diamond and the Super Stunning Spectacular School Fair here.