Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Jane Collins-Philippe and Laura Beingessner

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Ten Questions with Jane Collins-Philippe and Laura Beingessner

Open Book talks to author Jane Collins-Philippe and illustrator Laura Beingessner about sailing, writing, art making and their latest book, Sail Away with Me (Tundra Books).

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book, Sail Away with Me.

Jane Collins-Philippe:

Sail Away with Me is a colourful collection of poems about the sea. As well as my own poetry, there are some wonderful traditional nursery rhymes. Some of the poems are fun, some are mystical and others are downright nonsense! I have always been silly, much to my family’s consternation. I was once a professional clown. It was wonderful! Writing some of the poems for Sail Away with Me kept my inherent clown well exercised.

OBT:

Jane, did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

JCP:

When I wrote Sail Away with Me I was writing for the delicious little imp living inside people of all ages. The official readership is from 3 to 8 years, but I know dozens of adolescents and adults who still fall under the spell of Eugene Field’s "Wynken, Blynken and Nod" and "The Owl and the Pussycat" by Edward Lear! I can only hope that they will also have fun with my "Good Ship Royal" and her wacky crew and with brave "Mary" who dares go to sea with a mean old captain! One of my favourites, "A Boat for Jillian," is a poem I wrote for my great niece when she was ten.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

JCP:

What I like is sitting in front of my seascape with a pen and paper close by. Like many of us, I have become dependent on the computer, but my poems always start off as messy scribbles. Naturally, the best place of all for me to write is sitting in the cockpit of our sailboat while we’re sailing toward the horizon. The trouble is that the captain keeps ordering me to tend to the lines!

OBT:

What was your first publication?

JCP:

My very first publication was a poem that made it into my high school year book. I won’t say how long ago that was! Years later, I sold my first story, about leaving our snug and structured society to go off on a boat, to The Toronto Life magazine.

Laura Beingessner:

Boys Don’t Knit! It was published in 1986, and I was only 19 years old when I drew it.

I can hardly believe it, but it is still in publication. I very naively gave up my royalty rights five years after it was published. Never do this!

OBT:

Jane, you've lived on a sailboat for over twenty years. What attracted you to a life on the sea?

JCP:

According to my mother I come from seven generations of master mariners! It was no surprise to her in 1985 that I gave up my landlocked lifestyle to go sailing. Amongst our long time cruising friends – those who made the same decisions – we never talk about why we left behind that which most people consider essential and valuable. It’s somehow understood. The reasons for exchanging a secure, often comfortable existence for one of uncertainty, hard work, frequent discomfort and persistently wet feet are difficult to explain. As much as being spurred by a love of travel, nature and the sea, we were motivated as well by our search for complete autonomy from the rat race; and the need to recover the values that we believe are no longer represented by a rapidly growing consumer society. There is something overpowering yet mystical about the sea. If you live on it and are dependent on its rhythms and moods the way sailors are, then the sea becomes an integral part of you; sort of like your astrological sign or your taste in foods. The sea brings out the dreamer in us and can add a new dimension to the way we perceive the world. I am fortunate. Making up poems and stories about boats and the sea has brought together two of my greatest passions. I only wish I could find a way to write underwater!

OBT:

Laura, when did you start making art?

LB:

Like most people, I started as a little kid. I knew though, early on that it was a special interest for me, and I have never lost that interest.

OBT:

Describe the collaboration process between author and illustrator.

JCP:

Unfortunately, Laura Beingessner and I have yet to meet. As often happens, writer and artist are not always known to one another. In our case, Tundra Books chose the illustrator they believed appropriate for my work. I congratulate them on their choice; I think Laura’s illustrations are magical. I can’t help but suspect that she may have been to sea!

LB:

It really depends on the project. Mostly I’ve worked independently with some direction from the Art Director at the Publishing house. Jane doesn’t live in Toronto (where I live) and so far we haven’t met in person.

OBT:

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

JCP:

That is a tricky question. If I had to choose only three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift I would choose one from Mordicai Richler’s Jacob Two-Two series, Alligator Pie by Dennis Lee and his Nightwatch – for children to read when they’ve grown up. And of course, I‘d have to include Sail Away with Me!

LB:

The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier, illustrated by Sheldon Cohen.
A Prairie Boys Summer by written and illustrated by William Kurelek.
The Cremation of Sam Mc Gee by Robert Service, illustrated by Ted Harrison.

OBT:

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

JCP:

For anyone who wants to have their work published I recommend persistence; most importantly write lots and lots and then write some more. Share your work – get feedback from people who can criticize constructively, and when you’re confident that you have done your best work then go out and bug the heck out of agents and publishers until you get their attention.

It’s likely to be a rough ride. But even when the gales blow and you’re sure that you’re about to be swamped - whatever you do, don’t jump ship!

LB:

Revise, revise, revise. Take your time with things and don’t send your contacts a new version every five seconds. I don’t think they like that very much.

OBT:

What is your next project?

JCP:

I have a few new projects underway. One is another book of poems for children (the working title – Nothing But Nonsense – lets one cat out of the bag!) and a story for children about an exciting journey to the sea. I am also busy with a book for bigger people about the wonderful wacky people you meet and the crazy adventures you can have when you desert a "sane" structured world to become seagoing vagabonds.

LB:

I am working on writing as well as illustrating a book. Wish me luck on getting a contract!


Jane Collins-Philippe grew up in Toronto and was a teacher. She became a committed and effective advocate for people with disabilities and worked closely with People First, an organization formed and run by people with developmental disabilities. For over twenty years, she has lived life at sea on a sailboat with her husband, splitting her time between the Mediterranean and France.


Laura Beingessner has loved to draw and paint since she was a little girl. She is the illustrator of several books for children including Our Corner Grocery Store by Joanne Schwartz and If the Shoe Fits, a New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing pick. She lives in Toronto with her husband and son.

Photo of Laura Beingessner by Beverley Daniels.

For more information on Sail Away with Me, please visit the Tundra Books website at www.tundrabooks.com

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

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