Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Entitled Interview with Kyo Maclear

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Kyo Maclear

Today we're getting specific with award-winning author Kyo Maclear. That is, we're talking to her about The Specific Ocean (KidsCan Press, illustrated by Katty Maurey), her newest picture book, and its intriguing title, as part of our Entitled Interview series.

The Specific Ocean follows a young, city-dwelling girl whose parents take her to the Pacific ("specific") Ocean on a trip. Reluctant to leave the city she loves, the girl eventually warms to the wild natural world, finding its beauty and rhythms reflected in herself. It's a gorgeously illustrated book, full of irresistibly poetic lines and a deep and moving love of nature. If you have little ones in your life (be they urban or wild), this will be a great read for them.

Today Kyo tells us about the real life trip that inspired The Specific Ocean, the draw of odd words and what is next for her, including a memoir about which we're very excited!

Open Book:

Tell us about the title of your newest book and how you came to it.

Kyo Maclear:

My newest picture book with KidsCan Press is The Specific Ocean. It’s the story of a girl who, despite her initial reluctance, falls in love with the Pacific Ocean. It was inspired by a trip my family and I took to British Columbia. We stayed in a beautiful hamlet on the Sunshine Coast looking out on a soft and ancient coastline and, in the far-off distance, a little island. One day as we sat on rocks watching a pod of dolphins magically leap across the bay, I watched my youngest son fall in love. When we left the coast to return to Toronto, he was truly bereft. I wanted to look at themes of ownership (what is ours to keep?), memory (how do you keep something you love with you when it’s no longer physically present?), and creativity. I worked with the wonderful Montreal artist Katty Maurey who perfectly captured the feel of the ocean in this book. It’s a calm palette with colors that remind me of seaglass and sunbleached china.


What, in your opinion, is most important function of a title?


I think a good title should be beguiling. I am drawn in by the use an odd word (i.e. Bluets) or the use of a familiar word in an odd place (i.e. Autobiography of Red) I think a good title should give me the general slant, colour or temperature of the book I’m about to read. This is different from forecasting the content, which I find less interesting. So generally: connotation over denotation. And, of course, all of this is completely wrapped up in the visual experience of beholding the title (in what font? What colour? Etc.)


What is your favourite title that you've ever come up with and why? (For any kind of piece, short or long.)


I like Virginia Wolf for its doubleness. To the adult it says: “famous English writer, misspelled.” To the child it suggests: “animal transformation story.”


What about your favourite title as a reader, from someone else's work?


Hard to choose a favourite so I am going to select the first one that comes to mind: The Gangster We Are All Looking For by lê thi diem thúy. I like its strange syntax. I like that it has an old dime store ring to it — a touch of bravado and mystery — when really it’s a novel about a young Vietnamese refugee whose father is rumoured to have a shady (possibly gangster) past. It doesn’t hurt that it’s one of my most beloved novels ever.


Did you consider any other titles for your current book and if so what were they? Why did you decide to go with the title you eventually picked?


While we were staying on the Pacific Ocean, my youngest son took to calling it the Specific Ocean after mishearing its true name or maybe after deciding that he knew its truer name. That awesome malapropism set me thinking about the idea of place and where we find our specific oases of calm and belonging. So the title in this case actually spawned the story. It could never have been called anything else.


What are you working on now?


I have several picture books in process, including one about the incredible fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli. I have also been working on a creative memoir (loosely about city birds) and I am ever-so-slowly putting together a dissertation that looks at, among other things, the role of children in narratives of environmental collapse.


Kyo Maclear resides in Toronto, where she shares a home with two children, a cat, a musician and a lot of books. In addition to writing, she likes to listen to music, watch old movies, do yoga, make art and play around in her bright, open kitchen. Spork, the story of a mixed kitchen utensil and Kyo's debut book for children, was originally conceived with her husband to celebrate the birth of their first child. As well as writing for children, Kyo is a novelist and a visual-arts writer.

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