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, Manitoba too!
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.
expressions of speech feature snakes. Here are some of the snake
idioms you'll find as you read the MiddleGate Books.
How do you do 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 PanPastel
Colours. (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. To view sculptures, photographs
and quiltworks, please visit the gallery
at my University of Manitoba website.
long does it take to write a book?
I wrote the
first sentence of The Serpent's Spell on February 15th, 2001—the
first draft took about a year and a half—and the book was published
five years later in April 2006. [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 a writer?
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 then I told everybody, I want to 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
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, Philips 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 nowadays
pen-and-ink whimsies in China Miéville's Un
Lun Dun. My favourite kids' book illustrator is Australia's Shaun
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....If
you have ever read a book that you once loved, but have now forgotten
the title and the author, help is nigh. The What
was that book? group can help you track it down.
your advice for people who want to be writers?
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!
How many books have you published?
I've authored six books now, co-authored one and co-edited
one. Although The Serpent's Spell, Amber Ambrosia, Fish
& Sphinx and Kingdom of Trolls are fantasy novels,
I’ve also written three books and many articles about homelessness
in Canada. (Read more about my homelessness
to the magical and
secret city of MIDDLEGATE
House, 88 Adelaide Street
Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada)
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 red-sided
garter snakes (scientific name: Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis).
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. (You'll want to make
the trek after reading a great article by Bill Redekop, entitled
Snakes on the Plains.) 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.