Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

At the Desk: Anna Humphrey

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Anna Humphrey (photo credit: Christine Saunders Photography)

Clara has a secret, and it's a big one. She thinks she just might have superpowers. It's a lot for a fourth-grader to deal with, but Clara has already got a lot on her plate: her favourite neighbour, Momo, is moving to a retirement home far away, and Clara's rivals from another school are joining Clara's class for the term. It's a good thing Clara and her best friend Bradley have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Funny, quirky, and relatable, Clara is the creation of author Anna Humphrey, supported by illustrator Lisa Cinar, who creates Clara's sketches and superhero comic book, @Cat. You can catch all of Clara's (mis)adventures in Clara Humble and the Not-So-Super Powers (Owl Kids).

Today we welcome Anna to Open Book as part of our At the Desk series, where we get the chance to look at the spaces where authors create their books, be they home offices, kitchen tables, coffeeshops, writing retreats, or otherwise.

Anna takes us into her attic retreat, telling us about writing her first three books at a bedroom desk, later crafting a not-quite-grown-up office for grown up writing, and working under the watchful eye of a sock puppet muse.

My Desk: Anna Humphrey

I wrote my first three books in a corner of the bedroom in my East York semi, mostly while my kids napped. My desk was wedged between the dresser and the window. It wasn’t bad, but it was less than ideal falling asleep every night inches from my workspace, staring at the to-do list I kept posted on the wall.

During those years I dreamed about how an office — a real office (with a door that closed and everything) would change my writer-life. I suspected it would make me better, sharper, more productive. And I felt certain it would make everyone (myself included) take me seriously. I mean, how could it not? If I had an actual office, I’d be a for-real writer.

In 2014, when my husband and I sold our Toronto house and moved to Kitchener, a home office space became an actual affordable possibility, and I knew I’d met my dream house when I walked into my now-office: a finished attic with sloped ceilings and wide floorboards. Not only did it have a door that closed and everything, it was an entire floor, just for me! Just for writing!

In those early weeks, I tried to make it a for-real-writer space, but I should have known that taking myself seriously isn’t my forte. Over the last two years, my office space has evolved into a sanctuary for my inner child — which makes sense. I spend my days putting myself in kids’ shoes. For better or worse (and I mostly like to think it’s for better) I’m a grown-up who hasn’t quite grown up.

In the mornings, after the kids leave for school, the sunlight pours through the east-facing window and spills down the attic stairs to welcome me up. I reach for the crystal doorknob and get a little thrill when I turn it. It’s just so pretty.

My little desk from Toronto sits in the middle of the room, but these days I mostly forego it in favour of the L-shaped sofa. It’s decorated with squishy pillows — hot pink and lime green.

From there I can see the postcard I’ve tacked to the wall. I chose it to represent my “muse.” It’s a picture of a sock puppet playing the harmonica. I can also see some paintings I made for my daughter’s nursery that I inherited when she outgrew them — a cross-eyed unicorn and two cats.

On the wall behind me, there are colourful framed prints of punctuation marks — as well as the file folders I use to keep track of freelance editing projects. These days, I also have a collection of sketches by Lisa Cinar (the illustrator for the Clara Humble series) taped up on one side of the sloped ceiling so that I can glance up for a little comic inspiration.

My favourite way to work is in silence with the windows open and a cat by my side. I set the timer on my phone and write in one-hour bursts. When the timer goes, I leave the attic to do a few mundane things, like laundry, groceries or returning phone calls.

When I return, I’m greeted by the sight of my grandmother’s typewriter, which I loved to compose stories on as a kid. I have a candle that smells like cinnamon buns and a bunch of perfectly sharpened pencil crayons.

There’s a lot to love, but my favourite part of the attic is the smallest window. It sits inside the pointiest part of the roof, making a triangle-shaped cave that’s just the right size for crawling into. I’ve filled it with pillows and quilts — and when a less-than-kind review or a rejection from a publisher comes in, it’s where you’ll often find me, curled up and (I’m not ashamed to admit) crying until the storm of self-doubt passes.

More often, though, as my workday comes to a close, the sun hits that window and charges the solar-powered crystal my dad bought me for Christmas. It starts to rotate, casting moving rainbows along the sloped walls. It always happens just before I need to collect the kids from school, then get started on the routines of snack-fetching, homework-checking, sibling-spat mediation, and dinner making — but before I have to emerge into the adult world, I try to sit for just a minute with my rainbows — and when I do I feel calm and protected, like no matter what comes next in my writing or my life, I’ve got a safe place to land, and it’s going to be okay.

— — Anna Humphrey


Anna Humphrey dreamt of being a writer since she was a teenager. And those dreams came true with the publication of her first YA novel Mission (Un)Popular, published by Disney/Hyperion. Clara Humble will be Anna’s fourth book. She lives in Kitchener, ON.

All images courtesy of Christine Saunders Photography

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