Happy Thanksgiving, IFA & Richard Scrimger

Happy Thanksgiving! Monday is Thanksgiving (in Canada) and I will be spending it with family at my parent's cottage in the Kawarthas. I do have a pile of marking to do this weekend but I plan to goof off and enjoy my family as much as possible. My only other ambition is to convince my son, niece and nephew to collect autumn leaves for my class's art project. Such pleasant homework. I think I'll bring my camera.

International Festival of Authors

The International Festival of Authors is coming to Harbourfront, October 17-27,2007. This is a big annual event in Toronto that I have yet to attend, mostly because the fall is such a busy time of year.

Richard Scrimger

I once heard Richard Scrimger speak at CANSCAIP's Packaging Your Imagination conference, so I couldn't resist a second round at Word on the Street. He has a wicked sense of humour.

The blue questions do not imply I got an exclusive interview.

Why write childrens' fiction?

Richard Scrimger has published books for adults and children. He makes more money writing children's books but that isn't why he does it. When you ask people to name their five favorite books of all time, he said, the list always includes something that person read between the age of nine and eleven.

Once, in the back of a limousine with Edward Albee, Scrimger discovered they both wished they had written the same book: Winnie the Pooh. "All writing comes from the heart," Scrimger says. "One hundred per cent of me is fully engaged," in writing for children.

I've engaged myself in reading a few of his kid's books. The Nose From Jupiter is the hilarious tale of an unassuming boy whose life changes when a tiny alien with endless chutzpah moves into his nose. Of Mice and Nutcrackers is about a school play and a family which both teeter, comically, on the point of disaster.

How does he do it?

"I am a professional liar," says Scrimger, but the "best lies are the ones that start with a grain of truth." If you are very bad in this life, he joked, you will be reincarnated as an oyster. An oyster has a terrible life, constantly irritated by grit. "For years on end an oyster is so irritated it secretes a nacreous substance." The result is a pearl. A writer's process is similar. The grains of truth irritate for years as the polished fiction builds up around them to produce a pearl.

A writer must "also be a thief" who can "appropriate in an appropriate manner," other people's lives and experiences. It's also a dandy means of taking revenge. If you were bullied as a child, you have a model for the bad guys in your books. Much of the best writing comes out of rage or other strong emotions, like embarassment.

Scrimger asked us to remember a point in our childhood when we were embarrassed and then ask ourselves: What if? What if instead of running away or some other normal reaction, we had done the brave thing, the noble thing, the thing everyone would have done if they had had the courage. This exercise is an excellent starting point for fiction.

Good children's writers also have to be "bad parents" who put their young protagonists in jeopardy. "You've got to have a charming child and you've got to have an axe." Scrimger is referring to the first line in Charlottes Web: "Where's papa going with that axe?"

Your fictional children should also lack parents or have absent parents who never help them get out of trouble. I instantly thought of the Harry Potter books when he said this. How much adventure would Harry and his friends have had without parental neglect or incompetence?

You're a Scarberian too?

There's something funny about my hometown, Scarborough. Think Mike Meyers. Richard Scrimger's latest novel was inspired by a summer he spent sinking ramshakle rafts on a river in Scarborough. It was also inspired by Huckleberry Finn. Into the Ravine describes three thirteen-year-old boys riding a literal and allegorical raft out of childhood. The boys meet Evil, encounter first love, lose the ease of their childhood relationships and even glimpse the gates of Hell. I'll have to read this one. The themes go a long way past Jupiter.