I was raised by a single mom and grew up in Bruce County, Sarnia and London, Ontario. I’ve lived in Manhattan, Montreal, Vancouver and Switzerland – but mostly in Toronto.
After starting as an actor, I became a playwright, then an arts school drama head for a few years, and now, since 2000, a novelist. My books have won awards and been published in over twenty countries, which you can read about elsewhere.
I always used to have a dog. Right now, though, my partner and I have three cats who think they’re dogs. Aside from animals, I love travel and have been to almost forty countries and on every continent except Antarctica and Australia.
Here are the top ten things I’ll never forget:
1) Swimming with sharks in Cuba.
2) Wandering alone in a pyramid in Egypt
3) White-water rafting in the Canadian Rockies
4) Taking a balloon ride with my eighty-year-old mom in Cappadocia, Turkey
5) Waking up to find an elephant beside my tent in Botswana
6) Skiing opposite the Matterhorn
7) Hiking along the Great Wall of China
8) Crawling through Viet Cong tunnels in Vietnam
9) Seeing Buddhist temples in Thailand and Cambodia
10) Eating a mopani worm in Zimbabwe
ALLAN STRATTON is the internationally acclaimed author of CHANDA’S SECRETS, winner of over twenty-six awards and citations including the American Library Association’s Michael L. Printz Honor Book, the Children’s Africana Book Award, and Booklist’s Editor’s Choice. The film adaptation, LIFE, ABOVE ALL, won the Francois Chalais Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival, 2010, and was South Africa’s official entry for the 2011 Oscar for best foreign language film.
Allan’s other YA and children’s novels include: CHANDA’S WARS, winner of the Young Adult Canadian Book Award, 2009, and a Junior Library Guild selection (USA); the American Library Association Best Fiction novels BORDERLINE and LESLIE’S JOURNAL; the Junior Library Guild selection, Governor General’s Award nominee and Times of London Book of the Week THE GRAVE ROBBER’S APPRENTICE; CURSE OF THE DREAM WITCH, the 2014 Canadian Library Association Best Book for Children Award.
His last novel, THE DOGS, sold into fourteen countries, won the 2015 Red Maple Award (Canada); was runnerup for De Gouden Lijst (the Netherlands’ best novel in translation award); was an ALA Quick Picks (USA); and was nominated for the Carnegie Medal (UK).
Allan’s career took off with NURSE JANE GOES TO HAWAII (1980); with over 350 North American productions, it is one of the most produced plays in Canadian theatre history. A Polish translation has been running in Warsaw, Poland, since April 2016. His other plays, which include REXY!, PAPERS, and BAG BABIES, have variously won the Canadian Authors Association Award, the Dora Mavor Moore Award, the Chalmers Award, and been nominated for the Governor General’s Award.
Allan is published in the USA, the U.K., Italy, France, Germany, Korea, China, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Italy, Israel, Brazil, Romania, Poland, Denmark, Romania, Turkey, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Australia. He has safariied in Africa; hiked the Great Wall of China; swum with sharks; flown over Cappadocia in a balloon; seen moai on Easter Island, penguins and volcanos in Chile; and explored pyramids in Egypt, temples in Cambodia, Incan ruins in the Andes, and Viet Cong tunnels in Vietnam.
Allan lives in Toronto with his husband and three cats.
Allan Stratton is an award winning, internationally published and produced playwright and novelist.
His professional arts career began while he was still in high school, when James Reaney published his play The Rusting Heart in the respected literary magazine Alphabet. It was broadcast on CBC radio in 1970.
The focus of his early work, however, was acting. While working on an Honours degree in English at Victoria College, University of Toronto (`73), he performed with the Stratford Festival and the Huron Country Playhouse. After completing his M.A. at The Graduate Centre for the Study of Drama, U. of T. (’74), he appeared with regional theatres across the country, originating a range of roles in new work by playwrights such as James Reaney, Rex Deverell and Sharon Pollock.
Throughout this period, he continued to write, and in 1977 his first professional stage play, 72 Under the 0, was produced at The Vancouver Playhouse by Christopher Newton. A few years later, he turned to writing fulltime, thanks to the success of Nurse Jane Goes to Hawaii, a play that has had over three hundred productions internationally. Rexy!, a satire about Mackenzie King, was premiered in the winter of 1981. It likewise played across the country, and won the Chalmers Award, the Canadian Authors’ Association Award, and the Dora Mavor Moore Award, all for Best New Play.
In 1982, he moved to New York, where he was a member of the Playwright/Director Unit of Lee Strasbergs’ The Actors’ Studio, chaired by film legend Arthur Penn. While there, Christopher Newton commissioned him to write an adaptation of the classic Labiche farce Célimare for the Shaw Festival Mainstage. The production went on to tour to The National Arts Centre, and was the first Shaw production aired on C.B.C. television. Papers, another of his plays with an international publication and production record, followed soon after. It premiered at the Tarragon Theatre, and won a Chalmers Award for Outstanding New Play, as well as being nominated for The Governor General’s Award and the Dora Mavor Moore Award.
Allan returned to Canada in the late 1980s, and moved to Montréal, where he wrote the comedy-of-bad-manners Bag Babies, which opened at Theatre Passe Muraille in 1990. It was nominated for the Toronto Book Award and produced across Canada, as well as in the United States, Edinburgh and London (England). A few years later, he was commissioned to adapt Dracula for the Skylight Theatre. A female van Helsing, a comic look at Victorian mores, and a recreation of the novel’s sweep distinguish this adaptation which was nominated for The Dora Mavor Moore Award for Best New Play, Large Theatre Division, 1995.
Other plays include The 101 Miracles of Hope Chance, premiered at the Manitoba Theatre Centre; Joggers, premiered at Toronto Free Theatre (now Canadianstage); A Flush of Tories, premiered at Prairie Theatre Exchange, and aired as a drama special on C.B.C. television; and the radio play When Father Passed Away.
In the mid 1990s, Allan headed the Drama Department at The Etobicoke School of the Arts, where he taught senior directing, acting and playwriting. His students won many awards, including three consecutive Best New Play Awards at the Sears Drama Festival provincial championships. However, classroom and administrative duties restricted his creative time and consequently he returned to fulltime writing, this time in the field of fiction.
In fall 2000, he released Leslie’s Journal, a young adult novel about sexual abuse in adolescent dating relationships, published in Canada and the United States by Annick Press, and in foreign translation in Korea, Slovenia and Germany.
Leslie’s Journal was selected for The American Library Association’s “Best Books for Young Adults, 2002”, “Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 2003” and “Best Reading List, 2003”. Other citations include The Canadian Bookseller’s “The Best of Canadian Young Adult: Gems of 2000”, The Young Adult Learning Services Association (A.L.A.)’s “Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers 2001”, The McNally Robinson Booksellers’ “Our Choice 2001”, and The Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s “Best Books for Young Adults”. A revised edition incorporating cyber bulling in its narrative structure was released in 2008.
Allan’s next novel was the internationally acclaimed bestseller Chanda’s Secrets, 2004. Set against the HIV/AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa, this adult/young adult crossover novel is being published and distributed to countries including the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Brazil, India, Japan, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the African francophonie. It is has won the American Library Association’s Michael L. Printz Honor Book for Excellence in Young Adult Litereature, the African Studies Association’s Children’s Africana Book Award for Best Book for the Older Reader, and a host of other best book awards, citations and nominations in Canada, the United States and Europe.
In 2010, Chanda’s Secrets was made into the award-winning film Life, Above All. The film, a German/South African co-production, premiered at the Cannes International Film Festival, where it won the Prix François Chalais. A winner at various oither international film festivals, it was South Africa’s entry for Best Foreign Film at the 2011 Oscars, and was one of nine finalists.
Allan followed up Chanda’s Secrets, with the stand-alone sequel Chanda’s Wars, 2008, was been published to acclaim by HarperCollins in the U.S. and Canada, and by Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag in Germany, Van Goor Uniebok in the Netherlands, Editora Pruno in Brazil, and Bayard Jeunesse in France, It won the Canadian Library Association’s Best Young Adult Canadian Book Award, and was a Junior Library Guild selection.
Borderline, 2010, was published to acclaim in the United States, Canada and France and was nominated for multiple awards including the Arthur Ellis Award, CLA Best YA Fiction Award, and the inaugural John Spray Award. It was an ALA Best Fiction and Bank Street’s Best Book selection.
The Grave Robber’s Apprentice, 2012, was published by Harper in the United states ands Canada, Faber and Faber in the UK, and is also scheduled for publication in France and Brazil. It is a Times of London’s Children’s Book of the Week and has been nominated for The Governor General’s Award and the Silver Birch Award.
Curse of the Dream Witch was published by Faber and Faber in spring 2013 and by Scholastic Canada, with publication by Bayard Jeunesse, France, and others, scheduled later. Allan’s second adult novel, The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish was published by Dundurn Press in 2014.
Aside from his novels and plays, Allan has written for international events, including the evenings for Stephen Sondheim, Robert Rauschenberg and Guy Laliberté at The Harbourfront Centre World Leaders’ Festival, Toronto. He also maintains an active public speaking and theatre adjudication schedule. In private life, he enjoys reading, weightlifting, and travel; his interests have taken him to Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean and throughout Europe and North America. For several years, he volunteered at a Manhattan soup kitchen, and has undergone Santerian purification rituals, witnessed an exorcism in Botswana, and slept between rail cars behind the former Iron Curtain.
His work is published internationally by HarperCollins, Faber and Faber, Penguin Books, Samuel French, The Riverbank Press, Annick Press, Deutscher Taschenburg Verlag, Allen and Unwin, The Chicken House, Bayard Jeunesse, Asunaro Shobo, Hsiao Lu Publishing, Random House: Joong Ang, Zalozba Mis, Van Goor, Thuong Huyen Books, Hangilsa Publishing Company, Editora Planeta, Editora Pruno, Sinnos, Scholastic Canada, Coach House Press, and Playwrights Canada, among others, and has been widely anthologized. He and his spouse live in Toronto with their three cats.
The Phoenix Lottery
The Riverbank Press (Toronto: 2000)
The Stephen Leacock Award of Merit
The Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour (finalist)
The TORGI Award (finalist)
Annick Press (Toronto/New York: Sept. 2000)
Hangilsa Publishing Co., Ltd. (Korea, Fall 2006)
ZALOZBA MIŠ, (MISH – Janez Miš) (Slovenia, Fall 2006)
Germany – Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, winter 2009
Bayard Jeunesse, (France, 2013)
The American Library Association: “Best Books for Young Adults, 2002″
The American Library Association: “Best Reading List, 2003”
A.L.A.’s Young Adult Learning Services Association: “Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2001”
A.L.A.’s Young Adult Learning Services Association: “Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 2003”
Canadian Bookseller: “The Best of Canadian Young Adult: Gems of 2000”
McNally Robinson Booksellers Online: “Our Choice 2001”
The Canadian Children’s Book Centre: “Best Books for Young Adults.”
The Tayshas Reading Circle Award
The White Pines Award (runner up)
Canada, U.S.A.: Annick Press, April 2004 (dist.: Firefly)
Australia, New Zealand: Allen & Unwin, August 2004
U.K., Ireland: The Chicken House, May 2005
Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag (dtv jr.), 2005.
Japan: Asunaro Sobo, Fall, 2005.
France, the African francophonie: Bayard Jeunesse, fall 2005.
India: The Chicken House, May 2005 (dist.: Scholastic)
South Africa: The Chicken House, 2005 (dist.: Penguin)
China: Hsiao Lu Publishing Co., 2006
Korea: Random House Joong Ang, Summer 2005
Portugal: optioned by Sopa de Letras
Slovenia: ZALOZBA MIŠ, (MISH – Janez Miš), 2006
The Netherlands (World Dutch rights): Van Goor, 2007
Vietnam: Thuong Hyyen Books
Italy: Sinnos, 2011
Brazil: Editora Prumo, 2011
China: Beijing Yutian Hanfeng Book Co, 2011
Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland: Pearson/Longman, 2011
2005 Michael L. Printz Honor Book for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, awarded by the American Library Association
Children’s Africana Book Award, 2005, Best Book for the Older Reader, awarded by the African Studies Association (U.S.A.)
American Library Association, Best Books for Young Adults, 2005 (unanimous vote)
ForeWord Magazine: Book of the Year, 2005
New York Public Library: Books for the Teen Age, starred citation, 2005
Silver Stones Honor Book, 2005
Booklist, Editor’s Choice, 2005
International Readers Association, Notable Book, 2005
International Readers Association: Notable Book for a Global Society, 2005
American Library Association, Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 2005
Canadian Library Association: 2005 Young Adult Canadian Book Award (finalist)
Willow Award (current nominee)
White Pines Honour Book Award, 2005
Resource Links, “The Year’s Best, 2005”
Independant Publisher Book Award (U.S.A.), “The IPPY Award”, 2005: Best Juvenile and YA Fiction
Our Choice 2005, Starred Selection, Canadian Children’s Book Centre
Top 10 Black History Books for Youth, 2005; American Library Association-Booklist, U.S.A.
The Children’s Literature Choice List, 2005; Children’s Literature, U.S.A.
Children’s Book Award Notable Book 2005, U.S.A.
Leicester Book of the Year Award for Teenage Fiction 2005, (Long List), U.K.
American Junior Library Guild Selection
Canada: HarperCollins Publishers, shipping in February 2008
U.S.A.: HarperCollins Children’s Books, March 1, 2008
U.S.A.: Junior Library Guild, Spring 2008
Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, October 2007
France: Bayard Jeunesse, fall 2008
Brazil, Editora Pruma, 2013
Junior Library Guild Selection, USA, 2008
CCBC Best Books List (USA)
Canadian Library Association’s Best Book for Young Adults Award, 2009 (finalist)
Ontario Library Association White Pine Award, 2009 (finalist)
Stellar Book Award 2011 Nominee
USA: HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2010
Canada: Harper Trophy Canada, 2010
Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag (dtv), 2010
France: Bayard Jeunesse, 2011
American Library Association’s Best Fiction For Young Adults, 2011
Tayshas Best Reading List, 2010
White Pine Award Finalist (Nominee, 2011)
Resource Links: Best Books list
Canadian Library Association: Best Young Adult Fiction Award (nominee)
Bank Street’s Best Books of the Year list, 2011
Arthur Ellis Award (nominee)
Florida Reads (nominee)
The Grave Robber’s Apprentice
Canada: HarperCollins, 2012
UK: Faber & Faber Children’s Books, 2012
France: Bayard Jeunesse
Brazil: Editora Planeta
China: Beijing Publishing Group
Turkey: Marti Publishing
Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children Award, Honour Book
Finalist 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award
Resource Links ‘The Year’s Best 2012’ List
Junior Library Guild selection
Times of London, Book of the Week
Best Books 2012 (Starred), Canadian Children’s Book Center
Pearson Foundation/ Writer’s Trust “Read for my School” inaugural selection, United Kingdom
Ontario Library Association’s Best Bets for Middle Grade Fiction list
Silver Birch Award (nominee)
Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award (nominee)
Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award (nominee)
Black-Eyed Susan Book Award, Maryland (nominee)
Diamond Willow Award: Saskatchewan Student Choice Award (nominee)
Austin Waldorf Children’s Choice Award
Red Cedar, BCLA (nominee)
Curse of the Dream Witch
Canada: HarperCollins, 2012
UK: Faber & Faber Children’s Books, 2012
France: Bayard Jeunesse
China: Beijing Publishing Group
Winner Of the 2014 Canadian Library Association Best Book for Children Award
2014 Forest of Reading “Silver Birch” Award Honour Book
Nominated for the 2014 Canadian Children’s Book Centre Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy
Nominated for the 2015 Rocky Mountain Book Award (Alberta Students Choice)
Nominated for the 2015 Red Cedar Award (BC Student’s Choice)
Fantastic Book Awards, UK (nominee)
2015 Diamond Willow Award (nominee)
The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish
Dundurn Press, Canada, 2014
Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour (longlist)
Bony Blithe Mystery Award (finalist)
UK: Andersen Press, 2015
English Canada: Scholastic, 2015
USA: Sourcebooks, 2015
Quebec: Éditions Scholastic, 2015
France: Milan, 2015
France, Book Club, Éditions France Loisirs, 2016
Dutch: Gottmer, 2015
Italy: Mondadori, 2015
Australia: Penguin, 2015
Denmark: Turbine, 2016
Romania: Pandora/Trei, 2016
Israel: Keter, 2016
Spain: Circulo de Lectores, 2016
Poland: Grupa Wydawnicza Foksal, 2016
Germany: DTV, 2017
OLA Red Maple Award, Winner
Manitoba Young Readers Choice Awards, Winner
Snow Willow Award, Nominee
American Library Association, Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers
De Gouden Lijst, the Netherlands (nominee)
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Summer Reading Choice
Ontario Library Association, Best Bets
A Quill and Quire Best Book 2015
Warwickshire, UK, Year Nine Award finalist
Arthur Ellis Award (nominee)
International Thriller Writers: Best YA Novel Award, 2016 (nominee)
American Library Association Best Fiction for Young Adults (nominee)
Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Book Award (nominee)
Black-Eyed Susan Book Award (nominee)
IODE Violet Downey Award (nominee)
Carnegie Medal (nominee)
Sunburst Award (shortlist)
The Way Back Home
Canada: Scholastic Canada, May 2017
UK: Andersen Press, May 2017
France: Milan, 2018
Italy: Mondadori, 2018
Poland: Grupa Wydawnicza Foksal
Nurse Jane Goes to Hawaii
Samuel French Inc. (New York: 1981)
Also published by Playwrights Canada Press (Toronto: 1983)
Also published by Coach House Press (Toronto: 1988) in Words In Play: three comedies by Allan Stratton, ed. Robert Wallace
Premiered at Phoenix Theatre, Toronto, 1980.
Hundreds of professional and community productions from Whitehorse to Albuquerque, Vancouver to New York.
Penguin Books (Toronto: 1984) in The Penguin Book of Modern Canadian Drama, ed. Richard Plant
Also published by Playwrights Canada Press (Toronto: 1981)
Also published by éditions nu-age (Montreal: 1991) in Canada Split, two plays by Allan Stratton, ed. Odette Dubé.
Premiered at Phoenix Theatre, Toronto, 1981.
Twelve major regional theatre productions across Canada.
Canadian Authors’ Association Award (1982)
Chalmers Award (1981)
Dora Mavor Moore Award (1981)
Coach House Press (Toronto: 1988) in Words In Play: three comedies by Allan Stratton, ed. Robert Wallace.
Premiered at Toronto Free Theatre, 1982.
Subsequent regional productions across Canada.
Friends Of A Feather (adapted from Célimare by Labiche & Delacourt)
Playwrights Canada Press (Toronto: 1984)
Premiered at Shaw Festival, Mainstage, 1984.
Toured to The National Arts Centre and The Grand Theatre, London
CBC special, 1985. Adapted from the Shaw Festival Production
A Flush of Tories
éditions nu-age (Montreal: 1991) in Canada Split, two plays by Allan Stratton, ed. Odette Dubé. (See also “Teleplays” below.)
C.B.C. drama special, 1982 featuring Douglas Rain, Neil Munro, Roberta Maxwell and Tony van Bridge
Stage version premiered at Prairie Theatre Exchange, Winnipeg, 1991.
Playwrights Canada Press (Toronto: 1986)
Also published by Samuel French Inc. (New York: 1989)
Premiered at Tarragon Theatre, Toronto, 1985.
Major regional theatre productions throughout Canada and the U.S.A..
Chalmer’s Award, Outstanding New Play (1985)
Finalist: Governor General’s Award (1986)
Finalist: Dora Mavor Moore Award (1986)
Samuel French Inc. (New York: 1987).
Also published by Playwrights Coop (Toronto: 1977) in an earlier version under the title 72 Under the O.
Premiered at The Vancouver Playhouse, 1977, under the title 72 Under the O
Revised text premiered by The Gryphon Theatre, Barrie, 1985.
Professional productions throughout Canada and the U.S.A.
The Hundred and One Miracles of Hope Chance
Coach House Press (Toronto: 1988) in Words in Play: three comedies by Allan Stratton.
Premiered at The Manitoba Theatre Centre, 1987. Subsequent professional productions across Canada.
Coach House Press (Toronto: 1991)
Reprinted by Playwrights Canada Press (Toronto: 1997)
Premiered at Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto, 1990.
Productions across Canada, in the U.S.A, and in London, England.
Staged reading opened the Traverse Theatre 2nd Space, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Toronto Book Awards, 1992(Finalist)
Dracula (adapted from the novel by Bram Stoker)
Premiered at Skylight Theatre, Toronto, 1995. Subsequently produced at The Stephenville Festival, 1996.
1996 Dora Mavor Moore Award; Best New Play (Finalist)
The Phoenix Lottery (play version)
Playwrights Canada Press (Toronto: 2001)
Premiered at The Grand Theatre, London, Ontario, 2001
The Rusting Heart
James Reaney’s Alphabet Magazine #15 (London: 1968)
Premiered at Alpha Centre, London
Produced by C.B.C. Radio, 1968.
Nurse Jane Goes to Hawaii is excerpted in Two for the Show, Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 1999; and in Scenes from Canadian Plays, Saskatoon: 5th Street Publishing, 1989, and in And What Are You Going To Do For Us? 2nd edition, Toronto: Simon and Pierre, 1982.
Papers is excerpted in And Do You Have Anything Else?, Toronto: Simon & Pierre, 1992; in The Perfect Piece, Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 1991; and in You’re Making a Scene, Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press 1993.
Bag Babies is excerpted in The Macmillan Book of Canadian Humour, Toronto: Macmillan 1992; and in The Perfect Piece, Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 1991.
Toast (a.k.a. The Phoenix Lottery) is excerpted in Another Perfect Piece, Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 1995.
Q: You have worn many different creative hats, actor, playwright, author and more. What is your preferred medium and why?
A: I work on what excites me most; at the moment that’s fiction. I love the ability to write large-scale fantasies and quest narratives as well as character-driven dramas. In fiction the sky is the limit, but a play’s cast size is limited by the cost of feeding the actors. Ditto for settings. In The Grave Robber’s Apprentice, there’s a scene where Hans and Angela sled down a mountain in a coffin in advance of a thundering avalanche. That’s a little tricky to do in the theatre.
But all storytelling media are related. I learned how to construct tight story structures and natural dialogue from my work as a playwright. Similarly, my actor’s training has given me a keen understanding of the need for characters to have high stakes; it’s trained me to think inside my characters’ heads.
Q: If you had not become a writer what do you think you would be doing for a living?
A: I love public speaking and education and argument, so I might have been a lawyer or a teacher. Being a tour guide to exotic travel destinations would also have been fun.
Q: What advice do you wish an artist had passed on to you early in your career, which you only learned through experience?
A: Hard work and talent aren’t enough; you also need some luck. I’ve seen the arts ruin so many lives it gives me chills. I always urge young people who want to go into the arts professionally to make sure they have something to fall back on — also to only go into the arts if it’s the only thing they want to do. The arts can be cruel; you have to have the passion to withstand hard times.
But the other key thing is to write because you love it, whether or not you do it as a living. Creating worlds, reflecting on experience, imagining oneself I to the heads of other people, these are some of the best ways to develop empathy, to feel connected to the wider world, and to feel not quite so at the mercy of one’s fears.
Q: Who were some of your biggest supporters and contributors to your early success?
A: James Reaney. I was in the original production of his play Listen to the Wind when I was in grade nine. He published my first play, The Rusting Heart, when I was in grade twelve – the first work I ever had professionally produced. (On CBC radio.) Also Chris Newton. He produced my first stage play at the Vancouver Playhouse and hired me to adapt a Labiche farce for the Shaw Festival. Also Graham Harley who produced my first two big stage hits – Nurse Jane Goes To Hawaii and Rexy!, which brought me critical visibility and the ability to live solely from my writing.
But mainly my Mom – the most courageous and inspiring person I’ve ever known. Her unconditional love and encouragement has sustained me though my darkest days.
Q: What authors influenced your writing style and format?
A: None consciously. When I was a teenager I wrote some theatre-of-the-absurd knock-offs. But as you grow up you develop your own voice – which is the sum of who you are and how you see the world.
Q: What does your writing process look like? Takes us through the steps from idea to publishing?
A: Yikes. Ideas come from dreams, characters, situations, suggestions – from everywhere. I mull them for months figuring out problems in the material and possible ways to solve them. Then I write a preliminary outline – which is always subject to change as the story and characters grow. Then I start and work consecutively through the story. Each morning I’ll start by revising what went before to get me into the flow of the piece. When I hit a logjam I take a break and mull and mull and mull. I need to see and feel a scene before I write it. And etceteras. All the while I’m reading my new material to a handful of key friends who are quite ruthless with me; if they don’t get something, I know there’s a problem. Then there’s lots of back and forth with my editors. From idea to this point is about a year-and-a-half. But finally it’s done. Whew! And then the wait for the next idea. (I keep a folder of ideas as they come to me, but I hardly ever use them.)
Q: What of your books is your favorite and why?
A: That’s like asking a parent to name their favourite child!
Q: What of your books was the hardest to write and why?
A: Every book, like every child, has its own challenges. Nurse Jane Goes to Hawaii was the hardest from the point of view of farce structure. Chanda’s Secrets from the point of view of making sure it was accurate to the HIV/AIDS and subSaharan experience, which required travel, much vetting from friends on the ground, and, of course, digging back into my past when I did palliative AIDS care and buried friends in the 1980s. Chanda’s Wars for the bush-tracking sections. The Grave Robber’s Apprentice for its total change from my previous work. And The Dogs and The Way Back Home for some of the more painful family memories at their cores.
Q: In your book The Grave Robber’s Apprentice two people both on the run end up working together. What was the original inspiration behind this story?
A: Shakespearian motifs: a family separated by the sea; an evil usurping uncle; plays-within-plays; tales of prophecies and witches, of innocence and experience, of identity as characters discover their true selves.
Q: In the description for The Grave Robber’s Apprentice it states “Together, Hans and Angela gallop through dark forests, treacherous lands and secret passageways on their quest to uncover the truth about Hans’ shadowy past and save Angela’s parents from the archduke’s monstrous asylum. In this world of highwaymen, hermits and dancing bears, anything is possible—even for a grave robber’s apprentice.” How did you decide to combine such elements into a story that looks like an incredible adventure?
A: It built up piece by piece, one discovery leading to the next. But as mentioned, Shakespeare was my model, also in terms of the various types and range of characters from high to low
Q: I once heard Madeleine L’Engle state that her characters were real to her and almost an extended part of her family, she said once that at the dinner table she sat up and stated “Meg just finished her PhD.” Are your characters real to you, do you ever get glimpses of what they are up to now, or once you finish a book is that it?
A: Oh yes. Chanda’s Wars came to me in a nightmare. In the weeks before the inspiration, I’d been wondering what happened to Chanda after Chanda’s Secrets. One night, I woke up in a panic from a dream filled with soldiers and fire, and I said out loud, “Soly and Iris have been kidnapped. I have to save them.” By the way, I also talk out loud a lot. I’m so glad for Bluetooth. People used to think I was crazy; now they just think I’m on the phone.
Q: I once had a university professor state that the true goal of a university education should be to teach one to learn how to think. What would you state should be the goal of higher education and why?
A: Well, I think that professor said it perfectly. Because we don’t just learn a set of facts; we learn processes to put those facts together in new and creative ways.
Q: Some of your books are available in electronic formats but with that comes bootleg distribution. What are your impressions of ebooks and the distribution of them through torrents and other illegal means?
A: Theft is theft. Some people steal products from bricks and mortar stores. Other people steal electronically. When stores are trashed during riots, some people steal because everyone else is doing it. Well, it’s still stealing.
Q: Some authors monitor torrent sites and have their publishers contact them to remove their content. Do you do so are have someone do so for you?
A: If I discovered I was losing a fortune, I would. But I don’t want my life to turn into sentry duty. With the ever-expanding number of sites, chasing thieves is like playing Whack-A-Mole.
Q: What was your favorite role you play on stage and why?
A: I loved originating the lead role, M.C., in Sharon Pollack’s The Komagata Maru Incident and the leading role of Mackenzie King in James Reaney’s The dismissal. I also loved playing Matt in the Fantasticks because it gave me the chance to sing a terrific score and got me my Actors Equity card.
Q: What were some of your favorite authors in your teen years who helped shape you?
A: Henry Fielding, James Reaney, Edward Albee, Ionesco, Mordecai Richler, Shakespeare, Emily Bronte, Tom Stoppard.
Q: What are some of your favorite books and authors now?
A: To the above add Carl Hiaassen, Barbara Gowdy, Jonathon Franzen, Tony Kushner, David Hare, Carol Churchill, Michael Frayn and David Sedaris.
Q: If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have 10 books to read again and again, what books would you want with you?
A: The Donnelley’s Trilogy, Tom Jones, Angels in America, King Lear, The Invention of Love, Wuthering Heights, The Brothers Karamazov, Benefactors, Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, the Bible. Okay, the last one is a cheat because it’s a collection of books – but the stories are great, and besides, it’s long and I only get to have ten.
Q: What advice would you give to young aspiring authors and artists?
A: 3 Things:
1) Read, read, read. Write, write, write.
2) When in doubt, cut it out.
3) What does each character want? What will they do to get it?