Saturday, August 21, 2010

Canada Calling: Barbara Attard

Barbara Attard is an award-winning author of young adult fiction. Her mystery Haunted won the 2010 young adult category of the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis award, and it is also nominated for the Geoffrey Bilson Historical Fiction Award to be announced in November 2010.

To start, congratulations on your win and nomination. Tell me about Haunted.

Thank you so much. Haunted is the murder mystery (with a touch of paranormal). It’s set in a fictional village on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, in 1919.

The main character is a fourteen year old girl, named Dee, who lives with her Grandmother. Both women share "The Sight" an ability to see spirits in the afterlife. One morning bones are brought down from the mountain, identified as those of a girl who went missing four years ago, a girl who was once a friend of Dee's. Other girls, Dee subsequently learns, have also disappeared over the years. Dee is drawn into the search for a killer, set against the back drop of the mountain, and the lingering grief of World War I and the Influenza epidemic.

What's going on in the world of young adult books these days?

I think YA is still growing strong. I love writing YA because there is such freedom to explore many subjects. I have written a murder mystery, historical fiction, fantasy, mainstream contemporary, and chick lit.

Do you write for a particular age group of young adults? For girls more than boys, vice versa, or that's not a factor? What are some of the guidelines for writing young adult books? I know there is the old saw about really terrible things shouldn't happen in YA books, but I've seen some reviews of books where I thought horrible things, like serial killers, were part of the story.

I go into writing a book without any idea who it is for, be it girl, boy, YA or middle-grade. Generally, if the topic is a bit mature, or language a bit mature, I'll know it is YA.

I usually go into a book saying, I have a story to tell. And I let it unfold as it will. And my book "Haunted" had a serial killer in it, but I never worry about the topic being unsuitable to YA. These kids have access to so much unsavoury information via media, that nothing is going to shock them. Having said that, I have my own standards of what I will or won't write, but generally I try to write the truth.

I think historicals would be a wonderful way for younger people to learn more about Canadian history. How much research do you do for a historical?

Historical research takes a long, long time to do, and then when you start the book, you have to be sure to present the historical aspect as seamlessly as possible. You don't want a part looking like "okay, here's some historical stuff for you, and now back to the story.” It truly takes a lot of work. I research maybe 6 months before I start a book, usually while putting the finishing touches on a previous book.

Do you ever go into schools to do readings or classes about writing? What gets a child turned on to reading? What turns them off?

Yes, I go to school, libraries, conferences, festivals, book camps, and do readings and workshops.

Good entertaining stories with characters they can recognize turn them on. By that, I mean characters who are like themselves, good and bad. Nothing turns a child off like a preachy story.

You’re a quilter and have an on-line quilting store as well as being a writer. How does your quilting work with your writing? Are you focusing on both or moving from one to the other?
Quilting is a very similar type of creativity, ie. you have to have an idea, you take bits and pieces of fabric to to make a whole (bits and pieces of words to make a story), but it tends to give me a resting time between books, even though my brain continues to work on stories while I'm quilting.

Any other passions or interests besides writing and quilting?

I love to read and, as my hips and knees complain, I've had to give up tennis and badminton, only to discover I love golf! Who knew I'd like chasing a little white ball through fields.

For more about Barbara and her books, visit her web site.  And if you’re into quilts, you can see some of her other ceativity at this site.


David Cranmer said...

Thanks for the interview. And HAUNTED sounds like a terrific read.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Lovely post, and of great interest to me as I'm writing my first historical YA as we speak. Can't resist asking (like the kids, wanting you to be "like me"): did any of those long months of research involve naps on the couch when the historical reading got heavy?

Anonymous said...

From Barbara:

I am a great believer in naps. Sometimes my best ideas come to me when I close my eyes and let my brain drift. Some people say my brain drifts too much :-) but I think it drifts just right.

Marlyn said...

I reviewed HOME CHILD when it was first released, and loved it. Still have my copy.

I'm going to look for HAUNTED.