My Motivation For Writing For Children
Those of my young readers who know me as "Booky" (Boo-key) will already
know that most of my stories are based
on real life and real people and that they are often set in the past.
For instance, "Booky" is based on my own childhood during The Great
Depression. And "Lamplighter" is my father's story, set in the late
1800s. In the "Margaret" trilogy you find out what life was like for a
friend of mine during the 1920s. And the adventures in "The Railroader"
and "The Firefighter" take place in 40s & 50s.
The question I am most often asked by young people is: "How do you
remember what happened so long ago? That stuff is history!" (Imagine my
amazement when I discovered that my life is now considered history!)
Well, there are many ways to recapture the past besides remembering. One
way that really worked for me was to ask someone, even older than me, to
share their memories. That's how I came to write "Amy's Promise" (and
the sequel to Amy's Promise which is in the works). I was always
fascinated with my cousin Amy's story, and I was grateful to her when
she gave me permission to write it.
Amy is twelve years old when her story begins, but she was only six when
she made an important promise to her dying mother. And that is the
theme of the story: how Amy copes with that promise.
Somebody said: "Long term memory is the gift of old age."
I think I've got it!
Why write a sequel?
Why write a sequel? My sister asked me that recently.
Well, while visiting Vancouver schools and libraries,
I was bombarded with questions from young readers about what happened to
Amy and her family after "Amy's Promise".
Did life get better or worse for the Phair family?
Did Dad ever see the error of his ways and reform?
Did Amy ever realize her dream of becoming a music teacher?
And the biggest and most often asked question: Whatever happened to
Sequels are almost always inspired by such questions. You see, children
literally fall in love with their favourite characters and they never
seem to get enough of them.
I know this from personal experience because when I
was a girl I felt that way about 'Anne'. My friends and I just couldn't
get enough of the girl from Green Gables.
Well, lucky for us L.M. Montgomery, Mrs. Macdonald,
lived in The Village of Swansea at the time. And we Swansea girls wrote
her countless letters begging for more about Anne.We would creep up to
her house on Riverside Drive and drop them through the letter-slot in
her front door, because two-cent stamps were hard to come by in those
And during the years she lived there, L.M. Montgomery wrote "Anne Of
Windy Poplars" which filled in a gap in Anne's life. My friends and I
were absolutely positive we were the
inspiration for that book.
Another book I desperately wanted a sequel for was "A Tree Grows In
Brooklyn". I read that book over and over and over. Then recently, I
read it again, when Arlene Perly Rae asked me to contribute to her book
'Everybody's Favourites'. "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" stood the test of
time, but it still left me longing to know what happened to Francie and
her family. I don't think I'll ever quite forgive Betty Smith for not
writing that sequel. Recently a young girl told me how much she loved
"Amy's Promise". She loved Amy's whole family, she said,even her
unpredictable father and her cranky old gramma and her saucy brothers.
But whatever became of Janey? I was so happy to be able to tell her that
she'd soon find out, in "Janey's Choice".
As well as personal contact with children, I'm often inspired by their
fan letters. I'd love to share a few excerpts with you today, saving the
best for the last.
All that re-reading told me plainly that Gordon Cavanaugh wanted more.
He'll be long past my books by now, but I like to think that my stories
might have made him a reader for life.
SPEECH AT SWANSEA PUBLIC SCHOOL REUNION
I'm very happy to be here tonight at my old Alma Mater: Swansea Public
It is 60 some odd years ago since I graduated from this very school, but
not from this auditorium. We had no auditorium in those days. You simply
went to your classroom and waited
with bated breath for your teacher to say your name.
Mr. Carl Johnson was our grade eight teacher. Except it was not called
grade eight back then, it was Senior Fourth. First he read the failures
and I breathed a sigh of relief, then the passes,
and my name was conspicuously absent..had he forgotten me? Then came
those who had passed without trying, which meant that you didn't have to
write your finals because you had achieved
honours in your years work. And miracle of miracles, my name was there!
But more important by far were the words Mr. Johnson spoke as he handed
me my report-card.
"Bernice," he said, with a wonderful twinkle in his eye, "You have a way
with words..keep writing!" And that's why I am here tonight, because
that dear teacher believed in me and taught
me to believe in myself.
So it is my honour and joy to present the writing awards tonight..honour,
because my name is on them, and joy because your names are on them. I
can only repeat what Mr. Johnson
said to me: "You have a way with words. Keep writing!"
Address to The Writers' Union,
When Andrea asked me to speak tonight..first I was scared, then I
thought this would be a perfect opportunity to show my appreciation to
the Writers' Union for their support over the years. And the best way to
do that would be to share some of my experiences with you tonight.
Some of you might know that I live in a Seniors Apartment Building in
Scarborough. And every Senior has a story. And they all want me to help
them write it. Well, recently a lady asked me to read her beautifully
handwritten manuscript and I begged off with the only excuse I could
come up with: I said I was busy writing a sequel.
"A sequel!" she said, "Why would you want to write a sequel when I'm
offering you a brand new character by the name of Maggie Jean!"
Well, the answer is easy. Children, quite simply, fall in love with
their favourite characters and they want more.
For instance, readers of "Amy's Promise" write to me asking fervent
questions: What happened to the Phair family after "Amy's Promise"? Did
Dad ever stop drinking? Did Amy ever realize her dream of becoming a
pianist? And most important of all: what happened to the baby: Janey?
Those are the questions that inspire sequels. And I know just how my
young readers feel because when I was a girl I felt exactly that way
about 'Anne'. My friends and I couldn't get enough of the girl from
Green Gables. Well, lucky for us L.M. Montgomery, Mrs. Macdonald, lived
in the Village of Swansea at the time. And we Swansea girls wrote her
letters begging for more. We would creep up to her house on Riverside
Drive and drop our letters through the slot in her front door. Because
two-cent stamps were hard to come by in those days. And L.M. Montgomery
answered all her letters in longhand, and I still have mine dated July,
1937, in its original envelope with the two-cent stamp in the corner.
Just a couple of weeks ago, in a Toronto school, a ten-year-old girl
told me how much she loved 'A Place For Margaret'. Did Margaret go back
home to the city? Or did she stay on the farm? Did Margaret and Matthew
get married when they grew up? And did Margaret ever realize her
ambition to be a Veterinarian? Well, I was so happy to tell her that
there were two more Margaret books that would answer all her questions.
As well as personal contact with the children, I'm often inspired by
their fan letters. Let me share a few excerpts with you tonight.
Whenever I have a captive audience there are two stories I just have to
tell. A few years ago I was at a Young Author's Conference in
Montreal... I had a wonderful group of about fifty kids... and while I
was talking I noticed a boy grinning at me from the first row with his
hand poised..and when it was question time his hand shot up. "I don't
have a question, Miss," he said. (I liked that word, Miss) "I just want
to tell you something."
"Okay," I said.
"I just wanted to tell you that you're the funniest, funkiest, old lady
I've ever met."
Well, I didn't mind being funny or funky but I wasn't too crazy about
that old lady stuff.
More recently, in June of this year (1999), I was the prize in
Scholatic's win-an-author contest and N. Sydney, N.S. won me. The
teacher had already warned me by letter that they had read all the Booky
books and they knew I was Booky. And they had figured out how old I was.
WELL, when I climbed out of the principal's car all the kids in the
school were waiting en masse in the schoolyard. Then one boy broke ranks
and ran up to me and said, "We thought you'd be so old and rickety you
would hardly be able to walk." Then one of the girls felt sorry for me
so she quickly
added, "But you look almost normal!" My big challenge is to keep on