Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Allan Stratton

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Ten Questions with Allan Stratton

Open Book talks to Allan Stratton about his award-winning young adult novels, Chanda's Secrets and Chanda's Wars, his forthcoming book and his advice for writers who are trying to get published.

OBT:

Tell us about your latest book, Chanda's Wars.

AS:

Chanda's Wars is this year’s winner of the Canadian Library Association’s Young Adult Book Award. It’s the follow-up to Chanda's Secrets, and follows sixteen-year-old Chanda Kabelo as she raises her young brother and sister, Soly and Iris, following their mother’s death from HIV/AIDS. Attempting to heal a family wound, Chanda brings her siblings to her grandparents home in the north of her country. A civil war sweeps across the neighboring border and the children are kidnapped to become child soldiers. Chanda risks her life as she and a young tracker go into the bush to find them and bring them home.

HarperCollins is publishing a second edition of Chanda's Wars this fall. The Afterword by the Honourable Roméo Dallaire, Lieutenant-General (ret.) will be accompanied by an "Extras" section that will include an interview, unpublished draft material with commentary on the revision process and a drawing by a former child soldier.

OBT:

What did you do to research the book?

AS:

To write the book, I met with former child soldiers from Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army as well as their rehabilitators. I also spoke frequently with Dr. Philip, the executive assistant to retired Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire during the Rwandan genocide. And I travelled into the bush in Malawi and Zambia to learn tracking and survival skills first-hand.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

AS:

The book was published under the YA imprint of HarperCollins, but as with all my writing, I focus on the characters and their story, trying to write the kind of story that I would like to read. As a result, adults as well as teens enjoy the book; each values it from their own perspective – either as fellow teens who, in another context could be child soldiers, or as the parents who, in another context, could be the parents of child soldiers.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

AS:

Anywhere quiet. Generally, I write in my office in the back of my house. But I have also taken my computer with me on working holidays to Cuba. I write from 7 to 10 in the morning, then hit the beach to snorkel. I return to my room relaxed and work from 7 to 10 at night.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

AS:

My first publication was The Rusting Heart, a play I wrote in grade 12. It was published by James Reaney in 1968 in his literary magazine Alphabet. A CBC producer from Vancouver happened to read it and commissioned me to do a radio adaptation that aired during my grade 13 year.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

AS:

Mordecai Richler’s Solomon Gursky Was Here
Richler is my favourite novelist, and, in my view, this is his best novel. It includes trenchant social observations on Canada from the Arctic to Montreal. It’s also a thinly disguised roman a clef, and is absolutely spot-on-the-money hilarious.

James Reaney’s The Donnelly Trilogy
By far the best dramas from the best dramatist in our country’s history. It speaks to religious divides and a world of outsiders.

David Fennario’s Balconville
A brilliant, bilingual comedy/drama that toured the country to acclaim.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

AS:

Tenderness by Robert Cormier. A beautiful, moving YA novel about an at-risk teen runaway and a mid-twenties serial killer. Absolutely nothing like what you’d think. It opens your heart, turns your head inside out, and makes you realize why Cormier is considered one of the finest YA writers ever.

OBT:

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

AS:

Write, write, write!

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

AS:

Each writer’s journey is unique. I started as an actor and used that opening to show my plays to directors and producers. My plays led a fiction publisher to ask me to write a novel because of my skill with dialogue.

I’d suggest taking a writing course at a place where the teachers are writers and editors active in publishing. It’s always nice to have a space to share one’s work and get constructive feedback. As for having teachers from within the industry: Contacts are to publishing what location is to real estate.

OBT:

What is your next project?

AS:

Borderline is coming out next spring from HarperCollins. It’s about a Muslim teen whose father is accused of being part of an international terror cell. Themes of identity, loyalty and family/social divides figure prominently as in my other work.




Allan Stratton is the internationally acclaimed author of Chanda's Secrets, winner of the American Library Association's Michael L. Printz Honor Book, the Children's Africana Book Award, ALA Booklist's Editor's Choice, and many others. Allan began his career as a playwright. His comedy Nurse Jane Goes to Hawaii (1980), remains one of the most produced plays in Canadian theatre history. Other award-winning plays include Rexy!, Papers and Bag Babies. Allan’s newest novel, Chanda's Wars, won the Canadian Library Association's Young Adult Canadian Book Award, 2009, and is on both the Canadian and USA CCBC Best Books Lists. Other awards include the Dora Mavor Moore Award, the Chalmers Award, the Stephen Leacock Award of Merit, and the shortlist for the Governor General’s Book Award and the Toronto Book Award. He is published in the USA, France, Germany, Korea, China, Japan, Vietnam, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Australia and Slovenia.
For more information about Allan Stratton and his books, You can visit him online at www.allanstratton.com and go to the Annick Press and HarperCollins websites.

Watch an interview with Allan Stratton on AuthorViews.

A trailer for Chanda's Secrets is featured in the Africa Then and Now video series from Annick Press.

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

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