In celebration of Canadian Children’s Book Week, Twice Upon a Time/Il était deux fois brings you this exclusive interview with Ottawa author, Jamieson Findlay.
Jamieson Findlay is the author of two books for children, most recently The Summer of Permanent Wants. It is about a grandmother and granddaughter who convert a small canal boat into a floating secondhand bookstore. They sail up and down the Rideau Canal Waterway, selling books and having adventures.
Twice Upon a Time/Il était deux fois: We are working towards creating a non-profit organization that will give new or gently used children’s books to Ottawa kids. I know that you’re a big lover of the library but I’d like to hear about the books that you owned as a kid and why book ownership was an important influence for you. How did the books you were able to own help form you as a writer?
Jamieson: The books you own as a kid become fixtures in your imagination, and as an adult writer you go back to them all the time (consciously or unconsciously). For me these books included Kipling’s Jungle Book, the Narnia series, Treasure Island, The Hobbit, and lots of less exalted books like The Hardy Boys. I loved getting books as presents. When you own a book, and go back to it again and again, it becomes part of the “memory palace”that you will explore all your life. I think that only when books are a stable presence in somebody’s life can they really work their magic.
Twice Upon a Time/Il était deux fois: In your last book, the main characters run a floating bookstore. How did you come up with this idea?
Jamieson: I believe I came up with the idea for The Summer of Permanent Wants while doing research for another book—I came across an old newspaper account about a lawyer who gave up practicing law in order to sail around the world. For some reason the idea hit me: what if somebody were to pack a sailboat with books and sell the books? I don’t think there was anything more substantial in that article to ignite that idea; it was just a random thought that drifted in while I was reading. But it took a long time to germinate into a book.
I set the story on the Rideau Canal Waterway because as a kid I spent many summers there. You find civilization there, but also wilderness—and every shade in between. In other words, you have every possible backdrop for an adventure.
Twice Upon a Time/Il était deux fois: Were you surrounded by lots of books as a kid?
Jamieson: I was indeed surrounded by books as a kid. My grandparents had a library in their house—one room devoted exclusively to books—but that wasn’t enough to contain all the volumes; they overflowed into all the other rooms. Books were valued and cherished and talked about in my family. We told stories about them, as other people told stories about their pets or eccentric relatives.
Twice Upon a Time/Il était deux fois: What’s the best part of meeting the kids who have read your books as an author?
Jamieson: The kids I have talked to about my books have given me lots of amazing input. A few years back, I got a bunch of written reviews from kids who had read my first book, The Blue Roan Child, in their class. One pupil wrote that he liked the novel because it contained “action, happyness, fiction, and mirakels” (miracles). Other reviews weren’t quite as favourable. Kids tend to be absolutely frank, which is good for a writer.
Twice Upon a Time/Il était deux fois: If you were to give advice to a kid who wants to be a writer, what would you tell them?
Jamieson: The novelist Doris Lessing once said that the most important part of writing is living. So my main advice to a budding writer would be – “live all you can.” To that I would add— “notice all you can.” Noting and storing away all the tangibles of the world is absolutely vital for a writer.
Jamieson Findlay is a freelance writer, teacher and science journalist. He studied at Queen’s University and in Paris. He lives in Ottawa. His non-fiction has appeared in Saturday Night and On Spec magazines. He is at work on another novel. You can buy Jamie’s books at Kaleidoscope Kids Books.
—- Interview by Rell DeShaw