Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Open Book's Interview with Deborah Ellis

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Open Book's Interview with Deborah Ellis

Deborah Ellis is the internationally acclaimed author of a number of award-winning titles for children, including the Breadwinner trilogy, A Company of Fools, The Heaven Shop, and Our Stories, Our Songs. A peace activist and humanitarian field worker, Deborah has traveled the world to meet with and hear the stories of children marginalized by poverty, war, and illness.

She is the recipient of the Governor General’s Award, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, the Vicky Metcalf Award for a body of work, an ALA Notable, and the Children’s Africana Book Award Honor Book for Older Readers. In 2006 Deborah was named to the Order of Ontario.

Considered one of the most popular YA writers today, Deborah Ellis is also a philanthropist, donating almost all of her royalties on her books to such causes as "Women for Women in Afghanistan" and UNICEF.

Open Book interviewed Deborah Ellis about his most recent book, Bifocal, which she co-authored with Eric Walters. The interview was conducted by email.

OB:

Is this the first time you’ve co-authored a book? What led you to work with Eric Walters?

DE:

Bifocal is the first co-author experience I've done. I said yes when Eric asked me because he's a good writer, the subject was compelling, and he seemed like a no-nonsense sort of guy that I could work with without a lot of fuss. Since then, I've done one other co-author project, Click, published by Scholastic, with nine other writers from the US, Canada, Ireland, England, and Australia, as a benefit for Amnesty International.

OB:

What was the most challenging aspect of co-authoring a book?

DE:

The most challenging was trying to make all the small parts fit together. We had a similar vision for the book as a whole, and then had to match the stories up with one another. The editor, Ann Featherstone, took on a lot of that.

OB:

Bifocal is about racial tensions between Muslim and non-Muslim teens at a high school. Did the idea for your book stem from a specific incident?

DE:

The idea for the book came from all the arrests that happened in the Toronto area a year and a half ago of people suspected of terrorism-related activity, including a couple of 15 year old high school students. We wanted to try to understand the impact of those arrests on a community, and on two very different communities within one high school.

OB:

How did you research your book?

DE:

We researched by visiting a couple of high schools. Plus reading newspapers and other accounts of the situation from different sources.

OB:

When did you first realize that you wanted to be writer?

DE:

I first knew I wanted to be a writer when I was 11 or 12.

OB:

What was your first publication?

DE:

My first published book was Looking for X in 1999.

OB:

What’s the most memorable response to your work that you’ve received from a reader?

DE:

My most memorable response from readers would likely have to be letters I get from refugee kids who talk about how some of my books mirror their own experiences, and give them a way to talk about their own lives with Canadian-born kids.

OB:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

DE:

The best advice I received as a writer is to get out of the way and just tell the story. I tend to pontificate. Luckily, I have always worked with great editors who are not shy about telling me to shut up and let the characters talk.

OB:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

DE:

My ideal writing environment is a quiet place without a lot of clutter, or a donut shop or shopping mall food court, or an air plane, or a cheap motel, or an alley - anywhere, really.

OB:

What’s your next project?

DE:

My next project - I have 2 books coming out next September. Both are non-fiction books of interviews, one with children of military parents serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, and one of Iraqi kids who are now refugees in Jordan.

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