After reading 70 mystery books in three months in order to judge them for the Arthur Ellis (novel) Crime Writing, I felt inspired to write one. Just one. Endlessly I walk my dog in Brant Hills so I instantly found a natural setting. An inciting moment was when I took a bag of dog poop from a tree (who puts them there, honestly?) and deposited in in the new blue domed recycling box. OMG! Once you put something in you can’t reach back in to get it out. The irredeemable, Mistake one.
How awful it feels to realize you’ve made an error you can’t correct. I thought about how anxious kids seem to be these days and thought of structuring stories around mistakes; celebrating the errors that help us observe something more clearly or make us more understanding of others’ errors. Mistakes that cause us to change and grow.
Remember no story happens unless something goes wrong.
The Best Mistake grew into a series of four book: The Best Mistake Mystery, The Artsy Mistake Mystery, The Snake Mistake Mystery and The Diamond Mistake Mystery.
Mysteries can require tight plotting; for me I certainly approach with an ending in mind. But my characters take over and I seem to chase after this quirky bunch as I write my stories.
Check the video out to see what I mean and to enjoy a giggle.
We created this video as a special thank you to all the authors and illustrators who took the time to be videoed with my son Craig McNicoll at Epilogue Productions. You can view them reading, drawing and discussing their work at the Canadian Children’s Book Centre Youtube channel. There are way more wonderful Canadian writers and illustrators to discover out there. Visit your library and ask. Or open the book and read the “about the author/illustrator,” to find out where the writer is from. An bookstore like A Different Drummer Books or McNally Robinson can help you. Books give you wonderful other lives to live, places to visit, ideas to explore. Enjoy! Happy I Read Canadian Day.
Making a shortlist and/or winning an award can make a difference in the life of your novel but it’s not anything you have control over. I always tell everyone that I work just as hard on books that somehow don’t hit a note with critics or readers as I do on ones that do.
So I was happily surprised when Body Swap shortlisted on the Hamilton Arts Award fiction list. There is no special category for children’s and young adult literature which means my book needed to compete with adult literature to make this list.As I sat in the audience with at least thirty friends and family members, I felt as though I had already won in the category of most loving support. But as I listened to the other nominees’ credentials: Anna Chatterton is a GG nominated playwright, she was up for her play Quiver, and Margaret Lindsay Holton,is a previous HA fiction winner, filmmaker and visual artist extraordinaire, and was nominated for her novel Trillium–I doubted my chances of winning. Each of the three of us read and I enjoyed being able to entertain my supportive audience. This was a lovely celebration of my work on its own.
But then Body Swap won! What a great surprise!
Reading from Body Swap at Hamilton Awards Night
Another wonderful surprise came earlier in 2019 when my agent Amy Tompkins, who attended the Hamilton Awards Ceremony, sold Russian translation rights for the Great Mistake Mysteries to Eksmo Publishing.The plot twist is that the Russian literary agent involved lives part time right in my own town Burlington.I was able to go to lunch with Olga Baykova. What a rare privilege.It’s so much fun to meet people whose great geographical differences are still surpassed by the commonality of our love of children’s literature. A new friend from a distant land.
Finally, the biggest privilege of the year came from the I Read Canadian campaign initiated by Eric Walters. I pitched a project to my son Craig McNicoll at Epilogue Productions. We video authors in my home at below market rates so long as we can get five together on any given day. This videos are readings and interviews designed to raise awareness of the wonderful writers and stories Canada produces. Craig agreed, he’s grown up around all my writer friends and loves authors and books.
We hoped for a day or two but because of the enthusiastic response, we keep going.So far we have videoed some 20 authors.( I will post my own videos here soon.) And into the new year expect to video some 20 more. How often do you get to partner with your son on a project you both are passionate about. You can watch the videos at Sylvia McNicoll-YouTube You can also read the titles, February 19, or any day by visiting your local library or ordering them from your favourite bookstore. Happy New Year!
Because dogs and dog walking feature so prominently in the entire Great Mistake Mystery Series and because recently everyone in my family adopted dogs, we decided the canines needed to earn their kibble.
We joined paws with epilogueproductions.com to get Rosie, the Bernadoodle, Mortie (who is really Ping in the series) Worf,( who is the model for Pong as well as Brownie, the dog in a new title What the Dog Knows)
and Piper,( the ultra cute Scottie terrier mix) to tell us what they think of The Diamond Mistake Mystery. This cost us a lot of liver bites so we hope you enjoy and share.
At talks I gave in Seoul and Bogotá on a standalone novel called Revenge on the Fly, the same question arose: “What do I think of series?” It was clear that the answer was supposed to be that they were a lesser form of literature that you shouldn’t encourage or even allow your young people to read.
Venganza contra las moscas
파리 잡기 대회
Which reminded me that when I was a young reader, I was shocked when one of my closest friends was forbidden to read Nancy Drew. She was also not allowed to be friends with me but that’s another story.
Aw c’mon, why can’t kids latch on to a set of characters, a premise and/or a certain writer for awhile? It’s so comforting. Like visiting the same cottage every summer. Like binge watching a show on Netflicks.
Back as an early reader I graduated from Nancy Drew to Little House on the Prairies, devouring every book as fast as I could get them off the shelves.
Many years later, I wrote six books in a Stage School series for an English publisher, Orchard Publishing, under the pseudonym Gena Dare. Sharon Siamon and Linda Hendry wrote the other six sharing the same pseudonym.
My six Stage School novels for Orchard Publishing
Even though the characters were of Sharon Siamon’s creation, I became addicted to what was happening in their lives. Sharon and I would argue over whether say dancerJenna could experience anorexia, or whether Actor Claire would every fall for Comic Dan. They were so real to us. Working together was so much fun; I miss her.
The experience was also excellent in learning how to research and write quickly without so much second guessing. Second guessing leads to writing block and with a book to write every three months there was no time.
Revisiting characters was also a lot of fun so I created my own new characters for Wild Life series “Et Vilt Liv” under my name for a Norwegian publisher. Only the first one, Last Chance for Paris, made it to the Canadian Publishing scene.
In Canada I wrote one-offs that grew into series because I couldn’t let the characters go.
Elizabeth and Beauty are a duo that I still want to peek in on now and again.
These past couple of years I worked on The Great Mistake Mysteries. One of my close writing friends said of them “I wish I had a set of characters I could just call up like that.”
When you think about it, books for children are shorter, Harry Potter excepting. So if your child wants to have that epic reading experience you enjoy from a full length novel, without the pressure of acquiring that super-thick, extra-heavy book, series satisfies the bill.
If you’re not careful being a parent can become all about worrying. Are they walking or talking on schedule. Are they reading up to grade level? Will they never move on from Captain Underpants or Dogman? Will they ever read–Insert latest GG winner here–?
As a reader, I recently cracked open a Louise Penny series mystery. Oh my, instantly I curled up and relaxed into a visit with my favourite detective Inspector Gamache. There was no working hard to get to the place where I understood the book’s world or how the characters related. I could immerse myself from the opening pages.
Sometimes for your book club or your university literature class you want more of a challenge. Perhaps our educators also need to present young readers with challenges to move out of their reading comfort zone whether that be graphic novels, series or standalone mono-genre novels.
So what do I think of series? Even when I write the occasional stand alone books and get to tour beautiful countries with them, I feel series are excellent, both to read and to write. From a writer’s perspective, a marketing problem exists in how reviewing bodies treat them as identical triplets or sextuplets instead of individuals. A distribution issue in Canada, certainly, is how the bookstores only stock the last title in the series. There’s an assumption that series are grand money makers–they’re not. They’re just fulfilling to write.
Lately I’ve been signing in stores and enjoyed the strange position of defending the Wimpy Kid books (not my own series sadly)–apparently the main character inspires laziness in kids or at least one customer’s kid.
Let kids wallow in the kind of story they like for as long as they want. They’ll learn to walk, talk, spell, grow up, get a job and be a responsible person all in their own good time.
PS The Great Mistake Mysteries has just been purchased by a Russian publisher. With any luck, some day I can speak in a Russian library and answer how I feel standalone novels measure up to series in terms of growing readers.