I had the opportunity to meet and discuss my writing with Caroline Pignat at the SCBWI Canada East Fall 2014 Conference. I thought it only fair that she have the opportunity to discuss her work.
Thanks again Caroline for taking the time to answer my questions.
· What inspired you to write your first book?
I was at at the Highlights Foundation Chatauqua Workshop in 2003. Jerry Spinelli’s workshop got us starting with “an emotionally charged memory” and, for whatever reason, I wrote about being a bystander to bullying back in grade 7. That prompt and the wonderful inspiration and support I got at that conference was the catalyst for Egghead, though it took me five more years to write it.
· What are your new titles and can you give us a hint of what they are about?
The Gospel Truth - is a free verse novel told in the voices of six characters living at Whitehaven Plantation in 1858. Seen through the eyes of the master, his daughter, her maid Phoebe, the cook, the kitchen boy and a mysterious man from Canada -- truth is not so black and white.
Unspeakable is a fictional story about the historic sinking of the Empress of Ireland on May 29, 1914 -- Canada’s worst maritime disaster -- with more passengers lost, than the Titanic. Seen through Ellie’s eyes the sole surviving stewardess finds the courage to tell the story she’d never say, to the man she’d never tell, and discovers hope and healing in sharing the unspeakable.
· What books/authors have influenced your writing?
As a tween, I loved Judy Blume’s books. Her characters were so real to me. The first book that I remember being amazed by was Heidi. I am drawn to historical fiction -- in particular, Philippa Gregory, Ann Rinaldi, Diana Gabaldon -- because they have found that sweet spot of engaging characters in fascinating times. I also love Sue Monk Kidd, Markus Zusak, Wally Lamb and Anita Diamant because they write lines that make me stop and say “wow.”
· What books are you reading now?
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Escape from Killarney by Angela Graham
· Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I wrote poems in elementary school. My grade 3 teacher was someone other than my parents who said what I wrote was good. It amazed me how finding the right words really caught my feelings -- and helped other people get it, too. Journalling and writing letters to my granny in Ireland also helped me find a love of written expression.
· Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I don’t have a favourite, actually. What strikes me about a book is if the author is able to draw me in to the point that I’ve forgotten to analyze the work. That’s the sign of a great book, to me. Regardless of genre, if I am swept up and taken along for the ride, if I miss the characters when I’m done reading, then I know what I’ve read is a keeper. John Green does it really well -- I still can’t figure out how. :)
· Have you ever hated something you wrote?
I have things that make me cringe when I reread them. It’s like hearing my voice on the answering machine. Really? I sound like that? Ew. But I’ve come to look at those cringe-worthy drafts as a sign that my writing has improved. Yes, that sucks. But, hey, at least now I know it does.
· While you were writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters?
Absolutely. All the time, actually. Because of the Spinelli advice to start with an “emotionally charged memory” -- the emotion in my main characters is most definitely me. I put myself in their situation -- but lean on their strengths and personalities to get us out.
· Do you see writing as a career?
That’s a tough question.
Okay, I actually looked up the definition of career -- #Englishteacher #nerd -- and it says:
a career is an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person's life and with opportunities for progress.
As a product, my writing is a career. I’ve spent almost 20 years developing my skills to make a product that is marketable and helps me pay my bills. But, as you know, writing is SO much more than that.
Writing is art. It’s the voice of the soul. It’s where and how I find and fix myself. I would still write even if no one wanted it. That part of the writing journey is much, much larger than “career”.
Teaching is like that. So is parenting.
Still, it took me a long time to even call myself a writer. Like I wasn’t worthy of it because I wasn’t published, I wasn’t (and still am not) living off my books, or I wasn’t “successful” -- however I defined success at the time.
So yes, a part of it is career -- a lot of is soul searching -- but writing for me is a kind of unfolding.
· Have you any other ideas for any more books
Yes. I’m always worried the last one was the LAST one. But I usually get an a-ha that sets me off on another treasure hunt.
· Where do you find inspirations and ideas for your plots and characters?
I get inspired by what I read, by challenges I’ve faced, and through people I’ve known. Historical events are a great source (just visit a museum -- there’s a million stories in there.) The more I stay open to, the richer the story becomes. It’s like a stew. Throw it all in there (with a bit of Guinness) let it simmer, and see what happens.