1.  Where do you get your ideas?
2.  Are any of your stories true?
3.  Where do you live?
4.  What do you do when you're not writing?
5.  Do you have any hobbies?
6.  What was your favourite book when you were a kid?
7.  Do you have any pets?
8.  Do you have a big family?
9.  Which of your own books is your favourite?
10. What kind of space do you work in?
11. What did you want to be when you grew up?
12. What is the most interesting job you've ever had?
13. How old are you?
14. How do you actually write your books?
15. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers or artists?
16. What do you like best about being an author?

1. Where do you get your ideas?

Anywhere and everywhere. Like family stories, history and personal experiences. Sometimes two unrelated events click together in my head and I go, "Aha!" It's very exciting when that happens.

Take family stories. The lives of both my grandfathers were threatened by disasters that happened before my parents were born. My Swedish grandfather, a Roadmaster for the Canadian Pacific Railway, narrowly escaped the 1910 avalanche at the summit of B.C.'s Rogers Pass — an avalanche that buried 58 of his 62-man crew, including his younger brother. My Nova Scotia grandfather, an 18-year-old sailor at the time, was in Halifax in 1917 when a munitions ship exploded, resulting in the worst disaster in Canadian history. Those true stories gave rise to Goldstone, Turns on a Dime, The Ghost of Avalanche Mountain and No Safe Harbour. Also Ghosts of the Titanic — because of something I discovered while doing the research for No Safe Harbour.

2. Are any of your stories true?

Yes and no. Yes, because when a book is based on a historical event, the facts have to be true. And no, because my characters are drawn from my imagination. They were not real people (although I like to think they might have been).

Stories based on my own experiences are a blend of fact and fiction. Take my picture book, A Morning to Polish and Keep. Sheena Lott's paintings show the real setting, the area around Sooke, BC, where my family's summer cottage was situated. In this illustration, the people on the boat are me, my brother, Mum and Dad (but I changed the names). The island is a real place (but I changed its name too). The story itself is a blend of things that happened on various fishing outings. All true, but they didn't all happen to me. The "fish story" in the story, for instance, happened to my dad and brother. Another truth in the story? Fishing can be boring!

3. Where do you live?

I used to live in the country but now I live in the city — in the heart of Victoria. It's a perfect location. Two blocks to the south is the waterfront, where I walk each morning to wake up the brain cells. Two blocks to the north is the downtown world of bookstores, bakeries, people-watching and retail therapy. East is Beacon Hill Park and West is more waterfront. In summer I sometimes take a notebook and pen to the beach, find an inviting piece of driftwood to lean up against, and "log on."


4. What do you do when you're not writing?

Travel! A couple of times a year, for one to three months, by plane, train, or container ship. And where I get to where I'm going, I travel by foot. Favourite travel adventures? Too numerous to mention. Like trekking in Nepal, snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands, watching a camel race in Oman. Oh, and going through the Suez Canal by container ship! And camping in the grasslands of Mongolia. And travelling across Australia by train.

5. Do you have any hobbies?

Reading! Fiction (especially historical fiction), mysteries, books about travel, thrillers — not the gory horror kind, but the suspenseful, heart-stopping kind. I also like reading cookbooks and books that make me laugh out loud. I play the piano, work out at the gym, go to yoga classes, do jigsaw puzzles and crosswords, watch movies and play Scrabble. One of my favourite things to do is spend time with my family and friends.

6. What was your favourite book when you were a kid?

Anne of Green Gables and other books by L.M. Montgomery, horse books by Marguerite Henry, and the Nancy Drew series. I liked reading the Classics Illustrated comic books that my brother collected.

7. Do you have any pets?

Do stuffed animals count?

8. Do you have a big family?

Would you believe, two sets of twin girls in their teens and five boys under 10? Didn't think so. I actually have one husband, one brother, one niece and her husband, and a great-niece who's almost a year old. I've got lots of cousins and second-cousins on Vancouver Island.

9. Which of your own books is your favourite?

The book that's about to go to the printers. The hard work is done, it's too late to make changes, and soon the new book will be out in the world for readers to enjoy. (I hope.)

10. What kind of space do you work in?

I write in a room at home (my "office"). It's on the 11th floor of an apartment building with a view over downtown Victoria, the Inner Harbour and Parliament Buildings. My desk is at a wall-to-wall window. It's a great spot for procrastinating and daydreaming, especially when eagles and great blue herons fly past at eye level. From my window I can see the sunrise, the colours of a sunset and the complete arc of a rainbow (but not the pot of gold).

When I'm totally into a project and a deadline is looming, my desk is a mess of papers, rough drafts, research notes, reference books, unopened mail, loose coins, iPod, camera, data sticks, pedometer, To-Do lists, phones, pens, crossword puzzles, water glass, coffee mug, chocolates (to reward myself at the end of the day) and my computer. The tops of my file drawers are equally cluttered. It's terrible! But when the book is done and the clutter is cleared, the room is so neat I can't find anything.


11. What did you want to be when you grew up?

At various times I wanted to be a trapeze artist, a spy, a bareback rider, a teacher, a writer, a geologist, an actress, a concert pianist and an archaeologist.

12. What is the most interesting job you've ever had?

My most interesting "job," if you can call it that, was living and writing in Dawson City, Yukon at the Berton House Writer's Retreat. I loved the experience of a real winter. One week the temperature was -48 degree Celsius! And the Northern Lights were spectacular.

13. How old are you?

Older by the minute.

14. How do you actually write your books?

One word at a time.

     Well yeah, but

Okay. Once I've got the idea, I scribble notes about the setting, characters and situations. I play around with dialogue and imagine how my characters would react in a certain situation. I do this in a notebook at first, then I go to the computer. I get more ideas, make changes, delete parts that don't work, add new ideas, do some research for background and details, make more changes. This is a long, long, long, long process. I see different scenes as if I'm watching a movie, picturing the way the characters move, speak and interact with each other. I talk out their dialogue and act out their movements and gestures. Then I try to write the scene the exact same way it's playing in my head.

15. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers or artists?

Read, read, read, read, read, read, read. Write. Collect ideas. Read.

16. What do you like best about being an author?

Working on my own, in my own way and in my own time. If I get up at 5:00 a.m. and write till noon, I can take the rest of the day off. Or I can work for 12 hours a day for 7 days straight. Or go for two months without writing a word. Or take my work with me when I travel. My other favourite part is meeting young readers in schools, libraries or wherever — sometimes in unexpected places — and hearing that they have read some of my books. Even better is when they tell me they loved a particular title! Then I know that all the hard work was worth it.


This school book club in Yellowknife, NT baked me a cake!

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