One of my favourite authors is Riel Nason, who is also from New Brunswick, Canada.
2020 was a big year for Riel: she had both a picture book - THE LITTLE GHOST WHO WAS A QUILT and a middle grade novel - WAITING UNDER WATER - published!
First of all, you had two books come out last year — a picture book called The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt and a middle grade novel called Waiting Under Water — so congratulations! What was it like having two books come out in 2020?
Well, had I known what 2020 had in store for us all … but, trying to stay on the positive side of things, reading is something that you can do at home alone, so although it was less than an ideal time to release books as far as having events, the stories did reach readers.
Although this blog is about middle grade fiction, I can’t help but ask a couple of questions about your wonderful picture book. What inspired your delightful ghost, Scrappy?
I love Halloween and I love quilting. I had wanted to write a children’s picture book for quite a while – I just had to come up with what I thought was a really good idea. The idea of a quilt ghost struck me as something really fun and more importantly, so different, to work with, so then it was a matter of what his story would be.
As someone who is just dipping their toes into writing a picture book herself, what is the drafting process like compared with writing YA or MG?
I am not someone who makes formal drafts, but I absolutely jot down many, many snippets of ideas and major plot points. For a novel, I think about the main plot, what may be subplots, different scenes, etc. But for a picture book, there is one story, one plot. It has to be clear and short while still being fun and clever – AND still leaving little bits of the story for the illustrator to tell. When writing and editing any piece obviously every word counts, but with a picture book every word REALLY counts.
Will we ever see Scrappy again?
I would be thrilled if The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt could have more adventures …
Waiting Under Water is one of my favourite middle grade books of 2020! What inspired the story?
I am terrible at remembering what things all align in my head to come up with a story, but I am committed to writing stories set in New Brunswick and writing about small town-life.
And quilts appear in this book, too! I love that Hope quilts and that quilting is presented as something wonderfully creative, not something reserved for little old ladies in church halls (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Did you quilt when you were Hope’s age?
I didn’t quilt when I was Hope’s age, but I did crochet and make many kinds of crafts. I only started quilting about 10 or 12 years ago.
Hope is about to be snatched out of the magical village of St. David’s and moved to a big city far away. Did you experience anything similar as a kid?
Kind of. I did live in Toronto for a year when I was Hope’s age. My Dad was on sabbatical for a year and went to U of T. So our family went from Hawkshaw, NB (Population 25ish) to Toronto for a year and then back to Hawkshaw, NB again.
As the reader, I thought that you dealt with Hope’s anxieties and tics perfectly; they’re an issue, but they aren’t the heart of the story. How difficult was it to find that balance?
I’m not sure that it was something I thought about. I think for me, once I know what a character is like, what personality traits I have decided for them to have, what challenges, etc. are established then I work with those as the character goes through each scene and situation in the book. It’s never a matter of like, oh yeah, time to mention the tics again, but more, wow this thing happening in the book would really stress Hope out, she likely will have anxiety here.
Friendship is a huge theme in the novel, not just for the kids, but we see the adults grappling with leaving friends, too. Hope and her best friend, Willa, have their own friendship challenge, as well as with the ‘mean girls’ who tease them, and all of the relationships evolve. How do you work on your characters to make them so vivid?
Hmm, not sure other than every time someone does something in the book I think about whether it is reasonable for that character to do. If I realise that something has to happen to advance the plot or get some information out to the reader, I think through how it make it happen naturally. I also try to imagine myself in different scenes, thinking about what I may do or say.
I’m pretty sure I know the village that inspired St. David’s is — I spent a lot of time there as a kid — and you captured it perfectly! What do you think living in a small place gives a kid?
I likely know where you are referring to. Because only one small village in NB has “sea caves” that are popular for visiting, some people have assumed that St. David’s is inspired by this single place. But that’s not the case. It’s a fictional version inspired by many, many tiny villages I’ve visited often in New Brunswick and Maine. I think spending a summer in a small seaside village as a kid is a wonderful thing.
I’m not going to give the ending away, but it is so SATISFYING. Did you plan the ending that way from the very beginning or is there an alternate Hope universe out in the ether?
So glad you like the ending. It was always that way right from the first draft.
What are you working on next?
I am writing a new middle grade novel. I am just starting. I also have a couple of picture books in the works. My next picture book comes out in July. It’s called Disaster at the Highland Games.
And finally, do you really make a wish when someone gives you a quilt? Because I’ve got a couple that I’m pretty sure no one has ever made a wish on and I’m wondering if I’m too late…
Hmm, it’s supposed to be wished on the first night by the first person who sleeps under it, but it’s not an exact science, so maybe ? Thanks Wendy!
Want to learn more about Riel?