Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Dirty Dozen, with Susin Nielsen

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Susin Nielsen

Susin Nielsen is the author of The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen (Random House Canada), which won the 2012 Governor General's Literary Award for children's literature. The book tells the story of Henry, whose brother was a victim of bullying, who ended both his life and his tormentor's life in a murder-suicide.

Today Susin speaks with Open Book as part of the Dirty Dozen series, which invites authors to share twelve unexpected facts about themselves. Read on to hear from Susin about issues with names, pink hair and doomed kisses.

  1. While we’re still getting to know each other, I guess I should start with the origins of the spelling of “Susin.” It’s an embarrassing story. I changed the spelling from “Susan” when I was 13, because I thought “Susan” was too boring. Now it’s the name I’m known by, so I can’t go back. I’ve thought of lying when people ask me, and telling them it’s the Danish spelling, but I figure if I do that I will be caught out by a Danish person.
  2. When I was in first grade, I was in love with the boy who sat next to me. His name was Willy. One day I just leaned over and kissed him. The following day Willy was sitting in a different seat, far, far away from me. I was heartbroken.
  3. One of my favorite toys was a set of plastic pink beads that held back our shower curtain. They were my magic beads, and I used them in all my games. They helped me get over shark-infested waters, stuff like that. I know it’s where the nubbin of the idea of my children’s book, The Magic Beads, came from.
  4. My favorite movie of all time is West Side Story. I saw it when I was too young, and was stunned and devastated when Tony died. My completely unattainable dream would be to play Anita. I can’t sing, I can’t dance and I can barely act. But don’t we all have to have one unattainable dream?
  5. When I graduated from Ryerson I gave my full name as Susin Cecilia Nielsen. My real name is Susin Catherine Nielsen. But I decided I liked Cecilia better. That’s what’s on my degree. My mother chased me around the house hitting me with the tube it had come in when she found out what I’d done. Clearly I have a thing about my name.
  6. I once had spiked hot pink hair. This was an accident. My hairdresser was a friend of mine and he was new, and experimenting. It was supposed to be a streak. I wound up liking it so much I followed it with purple, then vibrant blue.
  7. Many years ago I wrote an entire young adult novel. A well-respected editor told me in the politest terms possible that it was crap. I was devastated. But she was right. It took me years to get up the courage to try again — which was very stupid.
  8. I’ve done a lot of writing for TV as well and I’ve met a lot of fine Canadian talent. A couple of favorite memories: Leslie Nielsen using his fart machine on set; Margot Kidder holding my eyes open for an indoor picture with her because my eyes always shut on the flash. Most embarrassing memory: Kissing Mark McKinney on the lips the very first time I met him (and I was supposed to convince him to do our show, a series called “Robson Arms”) because I felt that I knew him. You know when you’re about to do something, and your brain starts shouting, “This is wrong! Abort mission!” But it was too late.
  9. I have a terrible sense of direction. Like, really terrible. I was eternally grateful when GPS’s were invented.
  10. I once chased one of my literary idols, David Sedaris, down the hall and out of the CBC building in Vancouver. He’d been taping a “book club” and I was in the building having a TV-related meeting. When I left I saw two CBC employees running down the hall. My spidey sense said, “They are chasing after David.” So I started running, too. And I was right. They WERE chasing David. He was putting his bag into a cab, and very patiently spoke to them, then to me. Because I hadn’t expected to see him, I didn’t have my books, but he kindly signed my notebook. I then said something memorably cheesy: “Thanks for all the laughter and the tears.” Ugh!!
  11. I am a cat person, through and through. I’ve had a number of cats in my life: Mississippi and Willy growing up, followed by Lucy and Mr. Mooney, then Sam, then Teddy, and now, Emily Bronte and Erwin Schrodinger.
  12. I played the janitor on two episodes of “Degrassi Junior High” in my early 20s. I worked on the crew, and because it was a non-union show in those days, they would use crew members to play small roles sometimes. I got to say to Joey Jeremiah, “Good guess, goofball.”


Susan Nielsen got her start writing a spec script for the popular television series Degrassi Junior High. She went on to pen sixteen episodes of the hit television show and four of the Degrassi books. Since then, she has received two Canadian Screenwriter Awards and a Gemini Award and has written for many home-grown TV series. Her novel Word Nerd, published to much critical acclaim, was a finalist for the TD Canadian Children's Book Award and won the Red Maple, Rocky Mountain, Willow, and Manitoba Young Readers' Choice Awards. This was soon followed by the hilarious and heartwarming Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom, which has received rave reviews and has already been translated into French, Portuguese and German. Susin Nielsen lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

For more information about The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen please visit the Random House Canada website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the Dirty Dozen interviews in our archives.

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