Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Cary Fagan and Dušan Petričić

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Ten Questions with Cary Fagan and Dušan Petričić

He’s back… the boy with two ears and two eyes and two arms and two feet and two shoes. He had two older sisters, Emma and Marfa, and two older brothers, Daniel and Noah. The late Mordecai Richler had planned more stories for his small hero and now, with the full support of the Richler family, award-winning author Cary Fagan took on the daunting task for a whole new generation of Jacob Two-Two fans. Open Book talks to Cary and illustrator Dušan Petričić about Jacob Two-Two on the High Seas (Tundra Books).

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your book, Jacob Two-Two on the High Seas.

Cary Fagan:

The novel takes place after the first book that Mordecai Richler wrote. In that book the family lives in England but in the second they have moved to Canada. My novel takes place during the ship ride across the ocean. And what is a ship story without pirates?

OBT:

Cary, what was it like to write about a character that another author had created? How did you balance your own voice with Mordecai Richler's?

CF:

While I felt fairly confident about writing the book, I must admit I was a bit nervous at first. In my first draft I was very, very careful, trying to sound as much like the other books as possible. But after I felt that I had the feel of the language I relaxed and let myself get looser.

I knew that the book would only be successful if I could combine my imagined recreation of Richler's voice with my own. I had to use my strengths too. I enjoyed doing Richler-like humour – satiric characters like the vain ship's captain, a snobby passenger who thinks her family is better than Jacob's. But I also let my own kind of humour in, which I haven't really analyzed but I guess comes more out of the story and situations and characters saying funny things, intentionally and otherwise. Also, I have a somewhat more developed narrative than Richler used. But I always felt it was important that a child reader wouldn't think about who wrote the book and would see it as another Jacob Two-Two story.

OBT:

Which books made a great impression on you when you were a child?

CF:

The first books that I can actually remember are a bunch of little Beatrix Potters that were kept in a basket on the floor of the library in North York where my mother took me. I loved those books, more for the size of them and the illustrations. I found the stories quite strange – the whole English tone was bizarre and mysterious to me.

Dušan Petričić:

Winnie the Pooh, Alice in Wonderland and The Paul Street Boys.

OBT:

Describe the collaboration process between author and illustrator.

CF:

We had no collaboration! Dušan just took the manuscript and did his thing. He's a great illustrator and I was very happy with the choice.

One thing I've learned over time, the best thing to do is choose an illustrator who excites you and then get out of his or her way.

DP:

I believe that the illustrator is the first reader of the book, who tries, like a movie director, to translate the content and the meaning of the text to a new, attractive visual language using a variety of different tools and tricks. He offers the next readers a first, personal visual version with an idea to initiate the whole new spectrum of associations and images in their heads.

OBT:

Describe your ideal work environment.

CF:

I don't really have an ideal environment. I like to think I can write just about anywhere – in my study, in a restaurant, on an airplane. Sometimes I need a change of atmosphere, though.

DP:

A long walking path surrounded with trees, sky above and river, sea or lake beside. I need to walk to be able to think. Can’t do that sitting or standing in the closed space.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

CF:

My first "book" publication was a little chapbook of three short stories that I typeset myself and had printed up. At the time I was very frustrated by rejections. I gave it away, sold some in stories, sent it to people. Got a good review or two and based on it, a nice quote from the late Timothy Findley, who was so good to young writers.

Writers are very insecure about publishing their own work but taking control of things even in a small way was very liberating.

DP:

A picture book of poems Jos nam samo ale fale by Ljubivoje Rsumovic, about all kinds of dragons, monsters and similar creatures.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

CF:

I'm reading Derek McCormack's The Show that Smells, John Marchese's fine non-fiction book The Violin Maker and I'm re-reading Grace Paley's stories.

DP:

An amazing book – Moscow ow-ow, by Russian writer Vasily Aksyonov, who passed away a few months ago.

OBT:

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

CF:

I'll answer this question the way I did once before – just by giving out good books. This time around I'd choose Elizabeth Hay's story collection Small Change, David Donnell's poetry book Settlements and Michael Healey's play Rune Arlidge.

DP:

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, This Is My Country, What’s Yours by Noah Richler, The Film Work of Norman McLaren by Terence Dorson

OBT:

What advice do you have for authors and illustrators who are trying to get published?

CF:

Only send out work that is the very best you can do. If you have a single doubt about it, it's not ready.

DP:

Believe that your book is the best in the world and NEVER get discouraged by potential publisher’s refusal.
Try again, and again and again.
There are so many publishers around.

OBT:

What is your next project?

CF:

I have a short kid's novel called The Big Swim coming out next year, as well as a couple of picture books in process. And a collection of stories.

DP:

Ti-Jean by Jan Andrews, Groundwood Books, Toronto.

Cary Fagan has received the Toronto Book Award, the Jewish Book Committee Prize for Fiction, and the Mr. Christie Silver Medal. His recent picture books include Ten Old Men and a Mouse, My New Shirt and Thing-Thing. His children’s novels include The Fortress of Kaspar Snit (Silver Birch Honor Book), Directed by Kaspar Snit (Silver Birch nominee) and Ten Lessons for Kaspar Snit. Cary Fagan lives in Toronto.

For more information about Cary Fagan, visit www.caryfagan.com.

Photo of Cary Fagan by Josh Levine.


Dušan Petričić is the award-winning illustrator of more than twenty books for children including My New Shirt by Cary Fagan. A former professor of illustration and book design, his work appears in The New York Times, Scientific American, The Wall Street Journal and The Toronto Star. He lives in Toronto

Photo of Dušan Petričić by Bane Dimitrijevic.

For more information about Jacob Two-Two on the High Seas, please visit the Tundra Books website at www.tundrabooks.com/jacob22.

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

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