Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

My SideStreets Novels and How They Came About

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The first novel I ever sold to Lorimer SideStreets was Schizo. It’s about a kid named Dan whose mother is slipping further and further into schizophrenia. In the book Dan tries to maintain a normal life for both himself and his little brother but things aren't going well. I picked the subject matter for Schizo from my past. When I first left home I fell in with a bunch of street kids, one of whom was rumoured to have a schizophrenic mother. He would always show up to hang out late at night after, it was said, he was sure his little brother and mother were safely asleep. I never questioned him about whether these stories were true or not. He looked so tired and worn out that I always felt my curious prying would be too much. I kept thinking about the kid though, even after our lives took us in different directions, and I wrote Schizo as a result.

After Schizo I decided to write about teen pregnancy in a book called Hook Up. Now, I wasn't interested in doing teen pregnancy from the girl’s point of view, I wanted to see it through the lens of the boy — and not just any boy, a boy who was fundamentally against abortion. You see, I really wanted to flip this subject matter on its head. And then, as if teen pregnancy, the male prospective, and abortion wasn't enough, I made the main character come from the Tsuu T'ina Nation. Lots of research lay ahead of me but I think native people are so cool and interesting, I couldn't resist having Cody Manywounds in the lead role.

Right after Hook Up came out I wrote Touch. I wanted to do a couple of things with this novel. First I wanted to turn another girl dominated subject on its head, and second I wanted to create a flawed character and redeem him. To accomplish this I made Ethan, a computer hacker, have a super manipulative dad and a step family consisting of a younger sister and mother. Then I had his sister accuse his dad of sexual abuse.

When I was a teen I experienced sexual abuse and, after it was stopped, I went to counselling. In group therapy I met girls who were being attacked by their brothers for “lying”. This made me wonder, why would a brother not believe his sister? Why would he be so angry? Why would he not side with her? I used Touch to explore all this.

Touch has gotten more negative comments than any other book I have written to date. It has more people talking too. When I was doing research for Touch, I didn't find any other books on the market which dealt with the subject of the sibling’s reaction to sexual abuse. But if ten percent of girls are being abused then there is at least another ten percent of the population which are siblings dealing with the aftermath. Touch deals with tough questions. It’s hard to tell this kind of story keep the main character loveable. But, bad reviews aside, I’m still really glad I wrote this book and I still think the subject matter is important.

My latest book, Stupid, is due out in the spring of 2014. It’s just a fun book. It introduces Martin, a film maker with undiagnosed dyslexia, who meets Stick, a kid who does parkour, while breaking into the old Calgary Brewery site. I've been getting interested in film making lately and parkour has always fascinated me. I put both of those things together with my own learning disabilities and Stupid was the result. This book has lots of physical action and humour. It was a blast to write.

So that’s how I got the ideas for my SideStreet collection. Each book is as different as my interests at the time. If you get the chance to read one, let me know what you think. I’d love to hear it.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Kim Firmston

Kim Firmston is a writer and creative writing instructor in Calgary. Her teen novels Schizo and Hook Up were Canadian Children's Book Centre Best Bet Selections. Her short story "Life Before War" was shortlisted for the 2008 CBC Literary Awards. Her most recent novel for teens is Touch, about a teenage hacker with a troubled family life.

Go to Kim Firmston’s Author Page