The Serpent's Spell, Amber
Ambrosia, Fish & Sphinx and Kingdom of Trolls are all
set in never-never-now in the secret city of MiddleGate,
tucked away and hidden in Winnipeg's Exchange District in Manitoba, Canada.
where is Winnipeg,
you ask? It's practically at the centre of North America!
the magical portal to the world of MiddleGate is through Winnipeg's historic
House. A lot of the action happens at the snake dens of Narcisse,
do ideas for The MiddleGate Books come from?
Books are inspired by the red-sided
garter snakes of Narcisse and Inwood, Manitoba. These garter snakes
brumate together by the tens of thousands in limestone caves over the
winter months, and then emerge by the thousands in spring-time. Their
mass brumation (brumation is similar to the hibernation of mammals) is
unique in the world, and an estimated 50,000 people come annually from
all over North America and beyond to visit the dens. Watch exciting footage
in a Radio-Canada film
about the red-sided gartersnakes (en français)—look
for the link to vidéo. More information about these snakes
(films, learning activities, etc.) are posted under the Teachers
around the world revere snakes, although within Judeo-Christian mythology
the serpent is most often regarded as a tempter. Aztec mythology speaks
about the plumed serpent Quetzalcoatl. Hindu mythology features Sesha,
the thousand-headed serpent. Typhon in Greek mythology is a monster-serpent,
whose head touches the stars. Snakes play important ecological roles through
controlling rodent populations and snake venom has been useful for treating
human diseases. Unfortunately, many snake habitats are now being threatened
by human activity, including the snake dens at Narcisse.
figures of speech feature snakes. Here are some of the snake
idioms you'll find as you read the MiddleGate Books.
How do you draw your illustrations?
I love working
with an ordinary pencil (there is nothing quite as nice as a freshly sharpened
pencil), a rubber eraser (there is nothing quite as nice as a brand new
eraser), watercolour paper, an old-fashioned quill pen (usually a crow
quill pen nib), a bottle of India ink and PanPastels.
(You have to be careful because it's a real mess if that bottle of ink
spills. ADVICE: Do not wear your best clothes when working with ink, or
any art materials, for that matter!) I carry a small sketchbook with me
everywhere. You never know when you'll have an idea for a drawing.
If you'd like
to see where I often write and draw, here's my studio.
I have been an artist for many years. Click to view sculptures,
long does it take to write a book?
time of writing the first sentence of The Serpent's Spell and
finishing the first draft—a
year and a half. The book was published five years later. [Note:That first
sentence changed many, many times!] I wrote the book on the weekends and
late at night when my children were asleep. The second book, Amber
Ambrosia, took five months to write and illustrate. (I wrote it during
a sabbatical from the university.) I like to keep a writing logbook, so
I can look back to see what decisions I made and why. The logbook is like
a friend who listens to all the ups and downs of writing and
illustrating a book. I have an hourglass filled with white sand that sits
on my writing desk, and the sand falls through as I write.
you always dream of being an author?
devoured a book or two a day when I was a child, and writing
has always been part of my work as an artist and university professor.
When I began to have my own children, we often read books out loud together.
One night we were reading and I said, I want to write a book for you,
and illustrate it too!
are your favourite books?
of my favourite books when I was a child...I adored The Wizard of
Oz by L. Frank Baum; I also loved reading Alice's Adventures
in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and The
Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron (and
still do!). When I was older, I read many of Agatha Christie's and Charles
Dickens' books. Some of my favourite children's books now are T.H. White's
Once and Future King, Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart
series, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books and Jenny Nimmo's Charlie
Bone stories, as well as the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis,
Philip Pullman, Angie Sage, among many, many others. Some of my favourite
old-time illustrations (pen-and-ink drawings) are those by Frank Ver Beck
in The Magical Monarch of Mo by L. Frank Baum, and the contemporary
pen-and-ink whimsies in China Miéville's Un Lun Dun. My
favourite illustrator is Australia's Shaun Tan.
the article Imaginary
Friends by Ursula K. Le Guin: Many of us
have at least one book or tale that we read as a child and come back to
now and then for the rest of our lives....
your advice for people who want to be authors?
write. Read, read, read---learn the “tricks of the trade”
from other writers. Learn as many new juicy words as you can, so that
you have lots of “tools” in your toolbox. Hang out with people
who like to write or draw.
out” can mean a lot of things!
with like-minded friends
local or explore online writing workshops and webinars, or mentoring
readings of your favourite authors (many authors are now offering
a member of your local writers’ association, like the Manitoba
Writers’ Guild, as you’ll receive weekly or monthly
e-newsletters announcing all the great writing events happening near
out some of my links to resources
for writers and illustrators.
you written any other books?
Although The Serpent's Spell, Amber Ambrosia,
Fish & Sphinx and Kingdom of Trolls are fantasy novels,
I’ve also written several books and many articles about homelessness
in Canada. (Read
more about my research.)
to the magical and
secret city of MIDDLEGATE
House, 88 Adelaide Street
Winnipeg, Manitoba -
as it was when I first saw it in 2001
Kelly House, after it was renovated, 2001
[photo by Gordon Goldsborough]
YOU KNOW THAT?
garter snakes’ North American territory ranges from the Northwest
Territories south to Oklahoma, east to Ontario and west to British
Columbia...through the 3 Prairie provinces (Alberta, Manitoba and
Saskatchewan), parts of northern Ontario and western British Columbia,
as well as 11 midwestern states (Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota,
Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, Wyoming),
even parts of New Mexico.
more about Manitoba's
red-sided garter snakes (scientific name: Thamnophis sirtalis
parietalis). Special fencing
has protected the snakes when they cross the highway. Read an informal
account of a visit to the Narcisse
snake dens in the off-season, by Jonathan Crowe—he also
maintains a great website devoted to Garter
Snake News, with links to articles and resources.
Serpent's Spell features another kind of snake—an African
snake (scientific name: Dasypeltis scabra).
Reptile Gardens near Brandon, Manitoba. Further east, Reptilia
is a large reptile zoo in the Toronto area. It offers educational
programs as well as resources for pet owners about the proper care
of their reptiles and amphibians.