As part of the Red Cedar Book Award activities we were very lucky and had an opportunity to participate in an author interview with Iain Lawrence! The Red Cedar Readers came together and created 10 questions to ask Mr. Lawrence. We emailed him and he graciously replied. Here is his interview:
How long have you been an author?
That depends on where you start counting. I started writing just after high school, for newspapers and magazines, but didn't have a great deal of success. In my twenties I went to college and studied journalism, then worked for newspapers in Houston, Burns Lake and Prince Rupert [B.C.], and my first two books were about my travels in the part of the coast that is now known as the Great Bear Rain Forest. I spent almost ten years writing novels before I sold my first one - The Wreckers - in 1998.
2. What inspires you to write books and what do you do about the dreaded 'writer's block' if you get it?
I think I write books because I was a shy and lonely child. My family moved so often that I went to eight different schools before I finished Grade Seven. I didn't have a real friend until I was a teenager, so I learned to live in my imagination. In The Giant-Slayer, it is said that Laurie Valentine, "lived in stories that she narrated constantly in her head." It is the same for me. I've been creating fictional worlds since I was very young. Now it's a job, though one I enjoy a great deal. I stick to a loose schedule, starting work every morning after breakfast. Some days are certainly more productive than others, but I just keep working. When the writing is going well, I'm barely aware of doing it, though I say every word aloud. If it is going badly, I go back through the story until I find a place where it shifts, and begin again from there.
3. Of the books you have written, which is your favorite and why?
I think it would be The Winter Pony, because the writing was so intense. It's a true story about a pony who took part in an expedition to the South Pole a hundred years ago. There were days when I just sat at the computer and cried. When I finished, my agent was afraid the book was too sad to be published. Now I am pleased that the pony's story has been told, but it took a lot out of me to tell it.
4. What was your favorite book as a child and what is your favorite book as an adult?
My favorite book from my childhood is Treasure Island. My father read it to my brother and me as a bedtime story in Calgary, when I was about nine years old. I thought it was a true story, and I often lay awake in the darkness afterwards, afraid that pirates would sail up the river that flowed past our house.
It is difficult to choose a favorite from the books I've read as an adult. Among the writers I've enjoyed the most are Herman Wouk, Nevil Shute and C.S. Forester. But I think it would ve very hard to find a better book than the Princess Bride, by William Goldman. If I HAD to pick a favorite, that would be it.
5. Have you written any adult books? (Our students have been reading John Grisham's books for children and know he writes for adults as well.)
My first two books were for adults. But I don't count them, in a way, as 'real' books. When I started writing novels I began with adult stories. But nobody ever wanted to publish them. Now I'm perfectly content to be a writer for younger readers.
6. Was there a family connection to polio that led you to write about polio?
I have never known anyone who pad polio. My father worked all though the 1950's in the X-ray departments of different hospitals, but he has no memories of treating - or even meeting - polio patients.
7. How does the little boy who fights the giant relate to polio?
I don't mean to sound evasive, but I would rather leave this for the reader to decide. The question could be answered in several ways, and not one of them would be wrong.
8. What do you wnat your readers to take away from The Giant-Slayer?
I think some of the best things about writing - at least for me- come about by accident. When I started The Giant-Slayer, it was not in my mind that fighting a giant might be a metaphor for battling an illness. Laurie's story of Jimmy the giant slayer is actually a left-over from an earlier novel. It changed, of course, once it became joined with polio patients and the connections became obvious, but the basic combination is just a lucky turn of events. I certainly don't want the novel to be a lesson about polio. In my mind, all through the writing, was the phrase: "The power of story." I don't remember where I came across it, or even exactly what it's supposed to mean. But I hope that's the part that stays with readers. If they continue to think about The Giant-Slayer after they close the book, I hope they wonder if stories have the ability to change people's lives.
9. How do you feel about being nominated again for the Red Cedar Award?
Of course I'm proud - and pleased - to be nominated for the Red Cedar award. It's wonderful to see students enthusiastic about books and reading, and I wish there had been something similar when I was in school. I remember hating the books that I was forced to read and then dissect - as though they were frogs in biology class. But now I've seen that I learned a lot more than I imagined at the time. I treasure some of those same books, and I thank them - and my teachers - for inspiring me to be a writer.
10. Do you know any of the other Red Cedar nominated authors?
Not personally. I'm nearly as shy now as I was as a child - though I've been trying to change that - and tend to avoid big events. But I think they're all terrific writers, and I'm proud to be among them.
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Here is a picture of a child with polio in an iron lung:
And a second image to give you an idea of just how horrific the polio epidemic was:
Here are some other books that Iain Lawrence has written that are in our library:
polio images: http://eemb40.blogspot.ca/2010/07/iron-lung.html