Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Toronto (Canada).
What is your earliest memory of writing/drawing?
When I was too little to print, I would dictate stories about my My Little Ponies to my mom, who would write them down and staple them into “books,” which I would then illustrate with crayon.
What inspired you to write/illustrate your first book?
I’ve always liked ghost stories, but I found that in most books about people who can see ghosts, this talent is seen as something scary or annoying, a hassle, a problem. So the idea of a character who welcomed the spirits she could see, who saw them as friends, really appealed to me. I wanted to figure out what could have happened to her to make her feel more comfortable with the dead than the living, and what sort of relationship might be able to draw her back into regular life again.
Do you use your childhood as inspiration?
Definitely! I often think back to my teen years—the sorts of things I experienced, that my friends experienced, what was important to me—the stories I would have wanted to read back then. In a lot of ways, I write for that teen me, the books that I didn’t have.
What books from your childhood have most influenced your work? What about adult titles?
I think the book from my childhood that’s influenced my writing the most is Roald Dahl’s The Witches. That book always stood out in my mind because despite the humor and fantastic nature of the story, Dahl wasn’t afraid to let the darkness in and to end on a note that was actually rather sad for the main character. Sometimes bad things happen, and you can’t completely fix them. A true hero does his or her best with what s/he has, regardless of whether it’s the most ideal situation. I’ve always believed that books for children and teens shouldn’t whitewash the world or pretend that the problems life throws at us are always easily resolved, even (perhaps especially) when there’s magic or other supernatural forces at work.
I was also very influenced by Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Changeling, which I love for its intense friendship and the way it brings a sort of magic into everyday life.
As adult books go, I adore Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn for many of the same reasons I love The Witches—despite being a fantasy story, the characters feel as real and the choices they have to make are as difficult as if it were set in the “real” world.
What are your hobbies and interests besides reading and books?
I love pretty much all the arts, particularly movies and music. I’m fascinated by mythology, folklore, and ancient civilizations. I’ve been learning kung fu for the past two years and am now a green sash (the third level of six). I like to travel and have been all over Britain, as well as to China and Italy. I enjoy getting out into nature, and escape to a cottage in the woods at least once a year.
Who are a couple of your favorite author/illustrators? What is it about their work that inspires and interests you?
I’m a huge fan of Roald Dahl’s work. I love the way he combines humor and dramatic intensity in his stories, the way he confronts the darker elements of life head-on, and the strong relationships he creates between his young main characters and their parental figures. When people think about his books, I think they focus on the crazy, fantastic stories—which are wonderful, but he manages to work a strong emotional thread into all of them as well, and I think that’s what makes the stories endure.
I also love Diana Wynne Jones’s books—she creates such fascinating worlds and stories, and such unique characters, it never ceases to amaze me. I’m never quite sure where the story will go, but once it gets there, everything falls into place. And she’s able to slip from drama to humor and back again with a skill I have to admire.
What one or two words of advice would you give for young authors/illustrators?
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. There’s always a way. If you want to write, write. If you want to draw, draw. Persistence is the largest part of success. It may take a long time coming, but if you keep at it, you’ll get there.