by Journey Meyerhoff, Age 14, Canada
Read on to find out about childrens’ author Jacqueline Pearce. See what her writing routine is, the challenges she faced while publishing, and what advice she has for young writers.
When did you start writing?
I’ve been writing stories and poetry ever since I was a kid. The first story I remember writing was in grade two. We were working on stories in class, and the teacher said we could keep writing until we finished. So, when the period ended, and everyone else moved on to doing Arithmetic, I kept writing my story─partly to avoid Arithmetic (although I did like Arithmetic), but mostly because I thought making up a story was fun. It was like being told I could keep playing while everyone else had to work.
What made you want to be a writer?
Wanting to be a writer is tied to my love of reading. I fell in love with books like The Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis and the Emily of New Moon series by L.M Montgomery when I was in grade six. I loved being transported to another world through reading, and writing my own stories was a continuation of that. I felt like there were magical stories all around me just waiting to be discovered and written down. I still feel that way (and always carry a note book with me in case a new idea shows itself).
What was the first thing you published?
When I was twelve years old, I had a poem published in the local newspaper and got paid $2. I’d forgotten about it until recently, when I found a receipt for the payment in a box in my parents’ attic. I guess that was my first official publication. I started working on a novel when I was about twelve, too, and ended up with several notebooks filled with first and second chapters, but I didn’t get a whole novel finished until years later. My first published novel was The Reunion, a story that takes place in a small town on Vancouver Island during World War II (it was published in 2002).
Was it difficult to get your first piece published?
For me, the biggest step to getting published was taking a chance and sending my first story to a publisher (I think I’d been avoiding failure by avoiding sending anything out). I got a very nice rejection letter for that one (by “nice” I mean the editor wrote some encouraging personal comments at the end of the form letter), which was actually pretty exciting (there can be a positive side to rejection letters).
A few years later, I sent that same publisher a different story (a picture book story) and received a letter from the editor saying she liked it, but she thought it might work better as a novel. She said she couldn’t guarantee they’d want to publish it, but if I wanted to rewrite it and resubmit it, she’d give it a read. I went back to the drawing board, did more research and a lot more writing, and that story became my first book, The Reunion. I’d also had a couple short stories published before this, which might have helped me get my foot in the door.
What is your daily writing routine?
I have an office in my home, and I usually get up in the morning and go straight to my computer. I usually check my emails (and sometimes Facebook) first, which is not necessarily a good thing, because it can take me off on time-consuming tangents.
Ideally, I like to write for a few hours, then take a break and do something different like go for a walk or go on some kind of “mission” (which usually involves taking the bus or Skytrain somewhere). If I’m in the middle of writing a story, the next scene often comes to me while I’m on my break. Or, sometimes it comes to me in the middle of the night, and I have to get up and write it down, or I won’t be able to sleep.
Do you have any favourite books about writing?
I haven’t read many books about writing. Most of the useful information I’ve come across about writing has been from courses, workshops, and talking to other writers and editors.
Where do you like to do most of your writing?
I do most of my writing in my home office, but sometimes I like to leave my laptop at home and take an old fashioned notebook and pen to a coffee shop to work (for a change of pace and to remove myself from Internet and home distractions). A couple times I’ve gone on a writing retreat (for example, once I spent a week writing in an old farm house in rural Ontario), and it was great for cutting out distractions and getting work done. I also like to visit other places to see new things and get new inspirations and ideas.
How much do you write each day on average?
Most days I feel like I’m working on something from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed, but it’s hard to identify how much of that time is productive writing time (sometimes I get side-tracked). If I’m in the middle of a story and getting close to a deadline, my concentration is more focused, and I write for four to eight hours a day (some writing in the morning and some in the evening). But sometimes I’ll sit at my computer all day and only have a few new lines to show for it.
What do you think you can offer to young writers in the upcoming Junior Authors Writers Conference in Richmond?
I’m going to be talking about writing historical fiction, and I’m hoping some of my enthusiasm for stories about the past will be caught by the young writers attending the conference. But the writing tips I plan to share can also be applied to other types of writing, and I’m happy to answer (or at least try to answer) any questions people want to throw at me. I love writing, I love talking about writing with anyone who’s interested, and I’m hoping people will come away from my talk/workshop feeling inspired and encouraged to continue with their own writing.
What advice would you give to young writers who want to be published?
The best advice I can give is keep reading, keep writing, keep interested in your subject, and keep open to improving. The more you read and the more you practice writing, the more you will learn about what makes a good story and good writing. If you care about your subject and write about something you can enthusiastically sink your teeth into, your readers will care, too. Believe in yourself, but also be open to constructive feedback and learning opportunities that can help you improve your writing and make it the best it can be.
A good way to for young writers to break into publishing is to start with short story contests and magazines that are looking for writing specifically from young people. Here is a list of places young writers can submit, put together by author Karen Crossing.
Thanks for the interview, Journey! I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at the conference!