From the Archives — Interview with Beverley Brenna
September 1, 2012
Welcome to my Saturday series of posts taken from my old blog, thus the title “From the Archives.” All the posts in this series will be under the category “Looking Back and Moving Forward.” This was first posted on elizabethannewrites on September 6, 2011.
Beverley Brenna was born and raised in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, a city on the Canadian prairie, and still lives nearby. Her love of nature is threaded through all her books. She has worked as an elementary school teacher, a special education teacher, a special ed consultant, and is now a Professor of Education teaching English Language Arts. She writes and has been published in many different genres: picture books, with Daddy Long Legs at Birch Lane, a Smithsonian book, being the prime example; middle grade novels including The Keeper of the Trees and The Moon Children; young adult novels such as Wild Orchid, and Waiting for No One; she has a collection of short stories, Something to Hang On To; and also writes poetry for children and adults. Her newest novel, Falling for Henry, will be released this fall.
I interviewed Bev by email, and was delighted by her responses to my questions.
1. Bev, how did you get started in writing?
I began writing in scribbles before I associated meaning with words, however my dear Dad would “read” the epistles aloud which was my first experience of feeling like an author.
2. What do you like most about writing? What do you like least?
I like the fact that I am completely responsible for something and no one can come in with muddy footprints and churn the process back to the beginning; when something’s finished, it’s done! What I like least is the stage when I realize major edits are required, and I lament that I am such a terrible writer.
3. Many writers and aspiring writers struggle with time management. I know you juggle work and family responsibilities, as most people do. How do you carve out time for writing and for the reading and research necessary to the writing process?
Good question; I tend to write furiously for a block of time–a month, six weeks–using every ounce of available time and energy. That way I can produce a full draft, and begin to work at pieces of it in stages. The drawback with this process is that my first drafts are uniformly awful.
4. Your newest novel, Falling for Henry, is due to be released this fall. Can you tell us a little about it? Whet our appetites a bit?
This time-slip fantasy offers the historical fiction context of Tudor times for a close look at relationships and dealing with personal loss. Relieved to escape the challenges of the present day, Kate establishes herself in Katherine of Aragon’s place with some relief, until she begins to worry about what her future will be like as the wife of charismatic young Henry, soon to become Henry VIII.
5. Where do you get the ideas for your books, and in particular, where did the idea for Falling for Henry come from?
I was living in England during the early 90s and while walking in the garden one day had an image of a girl swinging on the park swing, jumping off into the air, and then just…disappearing. I began the novel as a short story with a swing as the time travel vehicle, but eventually switched to a tunnel for the richness of adding a story about wolves driven to extinction. Most of my ideas begin just this way: with an image, a character, and then later comes the fierce struggle with plotting.
6. Many of your recent books have been about kids who deal with some sort of challenge — fetal alcohol syndrome in The Moon Children, Asperger’s Syndrome in Wild Orchid and Waiting for No One. As far as I know, this isn’t the case with the protagonist in Falling for Henry. Can you tell us a bit about how you go about building character, and how you know which character is going to be dealing with some extra issue?
Some of my books do indeed have a character’s disability featured prominently in the characterization; Falling for Henry introduces a disability with more subtlety, as Kate, its protagonist, struggles with a panic disorder that presents as claustrophobia. What she must learn in order to be happy is that this disorder is part of her, and she can learn to deal with it within the rich tapestry of her lived life. This is not to say that everyone with a panic disorder will or should accommodate it as Kate does; she is unique, as are all my characters, I hope–individuals who merely present one side of the prism.
7. You’ve written picture books, middle grade novels, YA novels, as well as poetry and short stories for kids and for adults. Do you have a favorite genre?
I really like picture books, but with the market as tight as it is right now, none of my recent collection have come to light. I think picture books have the immensely satisfying role of speaking to an intergenerational audience, including seniors with memory challenges and adults with intellectual disabilities, although most people still see picture books as texts suitable only for young children.
8. I know some of my readers are already Beverley Brenna fans, and are eagerly anticipating the release of Falling for Henry. I’m sure that they are also eager to know what’s next. Any hints you can drop about what we have to look forward to?
On the way is the third in the Wild Orchid series, tentatively called The White Bicycle. In this stand-alone continuation of Taylor Jane’s story, she travels to France to babysit for the Phoenix family and further snags appear in her quest for independence.
9. Many of my readers are aspiring, not-yet-published writers. What advice would you give them?
I have a page on my website called “Writers’ Advisory” that contains specific suggestions. In general, keep writing, get feedback from smart readers, and don’t be disheartened by criticisms of your work: criticism can be a vitamin for great growth, and reading work other than your own can help you refine your own sense of right and wrong.
10. Finally, could you recommend one picture book, one middle grade novel, and one YA novel (other than your own)?
Current Favorite Picture Book: Ish, by Peter Reynolds. I love how this one reads entirely from a child’s point of view and yet speaks to the artist in us all.
Middle Grade Novel: The Tiger Rising by Kate di Camillo. A poignant story of friendship, loss, and moving on.
Young Adult: Plain Kate by Patricia Bow. A glittering storytelling style that caught me with the first word and kept me until the very end.
Thanks so much, Bev!