Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Susan Hughes

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Susan Hughes is an award-winning author whose books include The Island Horse, Case Closed?, No Girls Allowed, Earth to Audrey and Virginia. She lives in Toronto. Visit her website,

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On Writing, with Susan Hughes

Open Book:

Tell us about your latest book, The Island Horse.

Susan Hughes:

It is a historical novel set in the early 1800s. I think children ages eight and up would enjoy it. Nine-year-old Ellie, who lives on the coast of Nova Scotia with her father, is just beginning to feel happy again after the recent death of her mother. But when her father finds a new job and they must move to remote Sable Island, a tiny, windblown crescent of grass and sand in the Atlantic, Ellie is miserable. She is angry and upset with her father for making them leave their home and come to this isolated unsubstantial place. Ellie walks the island shoreline, and even meets an island girl named Sarah, but it not until she encounters a wild stallion grazing on the dunes that her life begins to change. Ellie slowly forges a secret bond with the horse, naming him Orchid. When she learns that Orchid and his band of mares and foals are threatened, she knows she must try to save them — and she’ll have to ask for help to do so.

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

A WINDOW INTO YA: Q + A with 3 2015 “WHITE PINE” NOMINEES (Part 2)

Today, in Part Two of my blog, I continue my interviews with the three nominees of the 2015 White Pine awards: YA authors Tom Ryan, Ria Voros and Eve Silver. Be sure to check out Part One of the 2014 White Pine interview!


Ria, when you’re writing, how much do you keep the eventual reader of your story in mind?

A WINDOW INTO YA: Q + A with 3 2015 “WHITE PINE” NOMINEES (Part 1)

Welcome to November’s kid lit blog! A few weeks ago, the Ontario Library Association announced its list of book nominations for the wonderful Forest of Tree awards. What happens next? Kids and adults — about 1/4 million of them! — across the province begin to voraciously read the books in the categories that interest them. In April they cast their vote for their favourites. In May, the winners are announced at an exciting two-day festival in Toronto and at other locations around Ontario.

Kid Lit Can, with Susan Hughes

Striving for a "wow" factor: Writing science books for kids

Welcome to my October blog about kids books in Canada! Hope you had a great summer. This month I’ve been thinking about nonfiction books for kids, especially science books. After I wrote Case Closed: Nine Mysteries Unlocked by Modern Science (KidsCan, 2010), I was searching for ways to connect with other authors interested in science writing for kids. I stumbled upon a terrific online group, Canadian Science Writing for Kids. Bingo!

Kid Lit Can, with Susan Hughes

First book in print: Four children’s book authors share memories and advice

Spring has blossomed into summer, and I’m taking the opportunity to ask four of our successful Canadian authors of children’s books how they first came to be published and what advice they’d offer writers wanting to have their first manuscript transform into that most wonderful of creations, a book. I’m pleased that Karen Krossing, Frieda Wishinsky, Karen Autio and Allan Stratton have agreed to take the time to speak with me!

Kid Lit Can, with Susan Hughes

May is Graphic Novel Month! Part One

A few years ago, I had the idea to write a series of stories about different girls/women around the world and throughout the ages who had disguised themselves as men in order to achieve a particular goal, for example, evading marriage, escaping slavery and so on. When I submitted my outline to Kids Can Press, editor Stacey Roderick suggested that I consider shaping the manuscript as a graphic novel. I was intrigued. Although familiar with the genre, I had only read a few graphic novels, including the classics Maus, Riel and Persepolis.

Kid Lit Can, with Susan Hughes

Writing picture books: Tips from the top!

"Oh, you write picture books? I have a great idea for a children's story. I'm planning to write it one day — and maybe get it published — when I have a little more time." What picture book author hasn't heard these sentiments expressed time and time again? On the one hand, they are a nice reflection of the longing shared by so many people to tell a story, to participate in the creative process, to turn a spark generated by a moment or an image or a feeling into something memorable and lasting.

Kid Lit Can, with Susan Hughes

Writing a Fiction Series: Ins, Outs, Ups and Downs: Part Two

Read Part One of "Writing a Fiction Series: Ins, Outs, Ups and Downs."

Welcome back! In this month's column, I'm continuing my chat about writing children's book series with authors Caroline Adderson (Jasper John Dooley series), Philippa Dowding (The Lost Gargoyle series), and Moira Young (Dust Lands series). And now, on with the questions!

Kid Lit Can, with Susan Hughes

Writing a Fiction Series: Ins, Outs, Ups and Downs: Part One

I have recently been contracted to write books 4, 5 and 6 in my chapter book series The Puppy Collection for Scholastic. I'm excited to write more about main characters that I already "know" and to create new adventures for Kat, Maya and Grace to enjoy with the puppies they'll meet in each of these three new books. But there are challenges when writing a series, challenges that don't arise when writing stand-alone books.

Kid Lit Can, with Susan Hughes

Q&A with Teresa Toten, Winner (ya-hoo!) of the 2013 GG's Children's Lit Award

In her latest Kids Lit Can column, Susan Hughes speaks to Teresa Toten, Winner of the Governor General's Award for Children's Literature (text) for her YA novel, The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B (Doubleday Canada). SUSAN: Teresa, thanks so much for agreeing to answer some of my questions today. I'm so thrilled to be speaking with you! First, let me take a minute to list your many writing credits.

Kid Lit Can, with Susan Hughes

After the UN Rapporteur's Visit: A look at two special books

Happy autumn, kid lit lovers! As you know, this October, James Anaya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, recently completed a nine-day mission in Canada to assess the current conditions facing First Nations. His conclusion? "Canada faces a crisis when it comes to the situation of indigenous peoples of the country." Amongst other things, he suggested an increased level of funding for aboriginal students and urged the federal government to launch a national public inquiry into the "epidemic" of unresolved cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

Kid Lit Can, with Susan Hughes: Looking back, Looking forward

Welcome to autumn and the return of my Kid Lit Can column! Because to me, September is a time to look back on the summer and to look forward to new beginnings, I've asked seven Canadian kid lit creators to share their favourite summer memories and their fall looking-forwards with us. But first, to kick it off, here are mine:

Kid Lit Can, with Susan Hughes: Some Sizzling Summer Reading "Kids' Can Lit" Picks

It's finally June, which means summer is almost here! In anticipation of the warmer weather, perfect for relaxing and reading, I've asked three book lovers — from the West, Phyllis Simon; from the East, Lisa Doucet; from in between, Melissa Montovani — to suggest their top summer picks of Canadian kids' books. Some are new, some aren't so new — all are ideal for cracking open when the hot weather hits.

Kid Lit Can, with Susan Hughes: Do I Have To Trick You Into Reading This?

Why the title? Confession: I love poetry, but I worry about it. I worry that people don't want to know about it, or read it.

Kid Lit Can, with Susan Hughes: Book trailers: What're they all about, Alfie?

Last June, shortly after I learned that my nonfiction book Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World (Owl Kids, 2011) was nominated for the Diamond Willow children's book award in Saskatchewan, a local librarian asked all of us nominees to send her our book trailers or simple audio or visual recordings about our books. She wanted to compile them into a short film which she would use to introduce all the nominated books to the students in her school division.

Kid Lit Can, with Susan Hughes: Classic Canadian Children's Books, Old and New (Part Two)

Welcome back to the kick-off of my monthly blog on Open Book: Toronto, which will be celebrating Canadian children's books, their creators and the kid lit biz in general! In Part One of this blog, I asked three children's book lovers to share with us two book picks: their favourite "classic" Canadian children's book and a more recent kids' book which is special to them. Today, in Part Two, three more brave souls take on the challenge and share their book picks with us. Wanna know a secret?

Kid Lit Can, with Susan Hughes: Classic Canadian Children's Books, Old and New (Part One)

Welcome to my first blog as a monthly contributor to Open Book: Toronto! You may remember that I was Writer in Residence for OBT for the month of May last year. Now I'm pleased to be sharing with you on a regular basis views and news about the exciting and ever-changing world of Canadian children's books.

Giving Back: A Chat with Kathy Stinson

On this, my last day as writer-in-residence of Open Book Toronto, I’d like to say thanks for checking in throughout the month to read my chats with many of the people who sparkle within the world of children’s publishing. It’s been a wonderful experience for me to be able to host them in this forum.

For my final post, I’d like to introduce you to KATHY STINSON, the well-respected Toronto-born writer who has published books in many genres, for example: RED IS BEST and BIG OR LITTLE?, the two first Canadian picture books for preschoolers; four CANADIAN GIRL novels about Marie-Claire; novels KING OF THE CASTLE and RUBY; and the non-fiction HIGHWAY OF HEROES.

Reading on a Dump Site

by Susan Hughes

According to UNICEF more than 100 million children around the world do not go to school. Although they may enjoy listening to stories, and telling them too, it is likely that most of these kids will never learn to read, will never hold a book in their hands. One hundred million children ... Many aren’t allowed to go to school because of their gender, their background, or their citizenship. Many can’t afford to go to school. Others simply live too far away from their nearest school to attend.

The number 100 million is overwhelming, and yet, I know for a fact that change can – IS -- happening.

Views from the Bookstore - Part 3

I’m enjoying the opportunity to speak to kidlit book sellers CATHY FRANCIS, WENDY MASON, and HEATHER KUIPERS about their views on children’s book publishing. Today is the final posting in our three-part discussion.

ME: Finally, we know technology has brought great changes to the book industry. I’m curious about what you each think the future holds for children's book writers in Canada. Cathy, can you speak first about this?

CATHY FRANCIS: The future definitely holds challenges but whatever format the story is told in it still needs the writer. I believe there is room for all formats. Children still need the tactile, sensory experience that a traditional book gives. Other formats will give different experiences.

Picture Books Authors Tell All! - Part 2

Today I’m pleased to share the second of my two-part chat with picture book writers JEREMY TANKARD, LAUREL CROZA, and JO ELLEN BOGART.

ME: First, here’s a question just for you, Jeremy. You are a children's book writer AND illustrator. Have you ever written a picture book that you haven't also illustrated?

Views from the Bookstore - Part 2

I'm back again with WENDY MASON, the children’s literature specialist at Indigo Yorkdale; HEATHER KUIPERS, owner of the independent Toronto children’s book store Ella Minnow; and CATHY FRANCIS, former co-owner of the beloved Flying Dragon book store. Hope you enjoy today's discussion. (Canadian publishers, please take special note!)

Views from the Bookstore - Part 1

Welcome back after the long weekend!

On Thursday, I'll be running the second part of my chat with picture book writers, but today, I'm kicking off the week with a new series of three postings in which I chat with another set of experts in the world of children's publishing -- three women who choose the books that line the shelves in their respective book stores. I was keen to hear them reflect on topics important to children's book writers from their unique perspective.

WENDY MASON has been the children’s literature specialist at Indigo Yorkdale since the store opened in 1999. A lover of children’s books, she also has a collection of original works by Canadian illustrators, including incredible pieces by Barbara Reid, Kady McDonald Denton, Ted Harrison, and Werner Zimmerman.

Picture Book Authors Tell All! - Part 1

You’d never guess it when you read their books, which usually contain very few words on a very few pages, but picture book authors can be ... well, verbose on the page. Maybe it’s the delight of NOT having to compact a thought or scene into a confined space!

Anyway, today I planned to feature the responses of three well-known picture book authors to three simple questions about their craft -- but it seems that I can’t fit their answers into one blog posting! As a result, today’s post will be part one of two.

Not that I’m complaining, and neither will you. Not when you hear who the creators are:

Willow Dawson, Graphic Novelist with the Most-est, Chats with Susan Hughes

All this month, Open Book celebrates the amazing graphic novels and comics published in Ontario. I’d like to add to the hoop-la by introducing you to one very special kid lit graphic novelist, WILLOW DAWSON. The Toronto-based creator of books such as HYENA IN PETTICOATS (Puffin Books Canada) and LILA AND ECCO’S DIY COMICS CLUB (Kids Can), and the illustrator of NO GIRLS ALLOWED with Susan Hughes (Kids Can), Willow has been writing for 20 years and drawing for as long as she can remember. Willow is recently home from touring Prince Edward Island for TD Canadian Children's Book Week.

Sheila Barry, Co-Publisher at Groundwood Books, Chats with Susan Hughes

I have a real treat for you this morning. I’m chatting with SHEILA BARRY, one of the most respected and well-liked players in the world of children’s books. Sheila has worked in publishing for almost 20 years. For the past eight she was editor-in-chief at Kids Can Press. She is president of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre and, in January of this year, became co-publisher of Groundwood Books.

ME: Sheila, thanks for speaking with me! You have been co-publisher of Groundwood Books for several months now. What exactly does a publisher of children's books do? What is your average day like?

Rock Stars for a Day

Look out, Ontario! The Festival of Trees, sponsored by the Ontario Library Association, takes place this week on May 15 and 16.

Kids across the province from K to 12 have spent months reading books nominated for “Forest of Reading” awards such as the as the Blue Spruce, Silver Birch, the Red Maple, White Pine, and the Prix Tamarac and then voting for their favourites. This Tuesday and Wednesday, dozens of the writers and illustrators lucky enough to have their books nominated for an award will gather at Harbourfront along with thousands, yes, THOUSANDS, of enthusiastic young readers.

What, Me? Write Historical Fiction? -- Part 2

Today I’m continuing my conversation with PAT BOURKE, who has just published her first book for children, a historical novel, and MARGARET BUFFIE, a celebrated writer of ten children’s books, including four historical fiction novels.

ME: Pat, how would you describe the main challenges of writing historical fiction for children?

PAT BOURKE: My biggest challenge is giving an accurate picture of the details of life in that time period, because kids are very keen observers and details are so important in bringing a story alive. This means I’m always coming up with questions that need answering.

What, Me? Write Historical Fiction? -- Part 1

Care to dip into the past? Dare to write about it?

Ah, historical fiction! Writing in this genre can be demanding, that's for certain, but it offers unique opportunities for writers willing to venture into the past -- and sometimes, well, you don't choose it, it just chooses you!

I wrote the juvenile novel ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN (Doubleday, 1992) after I’d just returned from my second trip to India. Longing to share some of my love for the vast continent, I was compelled to write a time travel novel. Through contact with a Rajasthani puppet passed down to him from his Indian father, a young Canadian boy is transported back to India of the 1600s and the court of the great Shah Jahan. Researching the time period and the setting allowed me to return to a place I loved.

Looking for the Lightbulb - Part 2

In today's part 2 of Looking for the Lightbulb, I'm introducing you to three more talented authors of non-fiction children's books: Monica Kulling, Adrienne Mason, and Natalie Hyde.

Note: When I asked them to share their methods of finding ideas for non-fiction books, not one of them said they expected the lightbulb to appear above their head and light up!

MONICA KULLING is a full-time writer of biographies and fiction for young readers. In 2011, her book In THE BAG! MARGARET KNIGHT WRAPS IT UP, the third in Tundra Books “Great Idea” series, was chosen by the Smithsonian as one of the Ten Great Science Books of that year. GOING UP! ELISHA OTIS'S TRIP TO THE TOP will be out in October 2012. She lives in Toronto with her partner, two dogs, and four cats.

MONICA writes:

Tips from Karen Li, Children's Book Editor Extraordinaire

Ever asked an author with a children’s book manuscript undergoing the editing process how he likes his or her editor?

• “I adore my editor!” = editor has just championed author’s manuscript through the acquisition stage

• “(grumble, grumble) My editor is ruthless!” = author has received mark-up of first draft manuscript

• “I just sent my editor a box of chocolates” = author has received positive initial feedback on second draft before receiving mark-up

• “(mutter, mutter) I used to think my editor liked my manuscript” = author has received mark-up of second draft manuscript

• “My editor is absolutely amazing!” = author has just learned substantial edit of third draft manuscript is complete and is headed to copy edit

Scott Robins Chats about Comics with Susan Hughes

I'll never forget reading Chester Brown's graphic novel LOUIS RIEL: A COMIC-STRIP BIOGRAPHY shortly after it was published in 2003. The words and images combined to bring alive the dramatic real-life story of Louis Riel. Since then, I've been convinced that graphic novels provide a unique form of storytelling.

The Toronto Comics Art Festival is being held this Saturday, May 5, and Sunday, May 6, at the Toronto Reference Library. To highlight this event, I thought I'd speak with a guy who is totally in the know when it comes to comics and graphic novels.

Looking for the Lightbulb - Part 1

I write children's articles and books in many genres but one of my favourites is non-fiction. Over the years I've written about topics on everything from the Megalodon shark, the environment, the Titanic, Canadian inventors, kid volunteers, newcomers to Canada, how to draw comics and cartoons, and rats in urban centres to why mozzarella cheese is stretchy, early settlers in North America, holidays and celebrations, common Canadian birds, Myers-Briggs testing, medicinal plants, First Nations' treaties, heavy vs light materials, the search for various vanished people, ... Well, you get the picture...

Here We Go

It's May 1, Tues morning, and I'm settling down to write my first blog ever.

I've been a little nervous about the prospect of writing to a "live" audience several times a week over a period of a month, I admit. I write books for children -- from non-fiction to novels to picture books to graphic novels -- and it can be months but is usually years before they are published and only after many, many editorial revisions. When I write magazine articles, although compacted, the process is the same. It is reassuring to have another pair of eyes on a manuscript, another thoughtful mind reviewing, suggesting alterations, making corrections before the words hit the newsstand in their final form several months later.

Now this, this blogging ...

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.