Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions, with Nancy Hartry

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Ten Questions, with Nancy Hartry

Nancy Hartry, whose book Watching Jimmy (Tundra Books) was nominated for the 2010 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award and chosen as the 2010 Children’s Book of the Year by the Canadian Library Association, talks to Open Book about reading as a child, writing for children, receiving recognition and fitting it all in.

Open Book:

Tell us about your book, Watching Jimmy.

Nancy Hartry:

Watching Jimmy is about a feisty twelve-year-old girl named Carolyn, who sees her next-door neighbour and friend bullied by an adult. She decides to keep this a secret for a number of reasons but in the end tells everything in a very public way. Eventually, we find out why Uncle Ted, the bully, is so mean, but that doesn’t excuse his behaviour and he’s banished from the family. The book is about truth conquering all.

OB:

What was the genesis for this book?

NH:

Watching Jimmy started life as the short story "Thunderbird Swing," published in the Tundra Books anthology Secrets edited by Marthe Jocelyn. When I was casting around for a secret, it was the biggest one I could think of.

OB:

Watching Jimmy was nominated for the 2010 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award. How does this sort of recognition affect your work as a writer?

NH:

The recognition has been fantastic, particularly the TD/CBC collaboration with the kids contest. I was interviewed twice by Mary Ito and the contest was mentioned many times. The kids' response was very touching and made me realize that this work is important and very personal to them. It inspires me to keep writing.

The monetary award is also welcome. I intend to put it to good use by taking a writing course or doing some research that I otherwise might not have done.

Watching Jimmy was also chosen as the 2010 Children’s Book of the Year by the Canadian Library Association. This was a very great honour. I took my 85-year-old mother to Edmonton to accept the award and she was thrilled. TD was a sponsor for that award too.

It’s too soon yet to see if there will be any impact on sales, but I expect good things.

OB:

You write both picture books and chapter books for children. How does the writing process for each type of book compare to the other?

NH:

I love picture books. A good picture book feels like a song that can be sung over and over again. Every word counts. You have to have a beginning, middle and end in under 1000 words. The text has to by rhythmic and evoke 18 visual images. I tell kids that you can’t write a good picture book in under a year and they aren’t baby books. In a novel, you have much more time for story telling and character development.

OB:

Watching Jimmy deals with serious issues of abuse and brain damage. How did you approach the challenge of dealing with difficult subject matter in a children's book?

NH:

I wrote the story and didn’t worry too much about the issues. I wanted to be truthful and true to Carolyn’s character. She needed to be a tough little kid to deal with this. I think there are many kids who are old beyond their years because they’re so involved in their parent’s problems.

OB:

Were you a big reader as a child? What book has stayed with you through adulthood?

NH:

I was a very big reader. I read Jane Eyre as a kid, as did Carolyn. It’s my mother’s favourite book. Anne of Green Gables, Kidnapped and all the boys' adventure classics. Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. Unfortunately there were very few Canadian books and I read mostly British and American authors.

OB:

With so many demands on children's attention these days, do you think children are as likely to become readers as they might have been in the past?

NH:

It’s a time factor problem. Kids can watch TV or play video games, and they are so over-programmed in sports and activities. So, no, unless kids have parents who make time for reading and shut down all the noise, I don’t think kids will read as well. You need a different kind of reading to search the web.

I’m worried that particularly boys will miss out on the wisdom that reading brings. You don’t have to live every experience if you can read about it through someone else’s eyes.

OB:

You work as a lawyer in addition to being a writer. How do you find the time to do both?

NH:

It’s not easy. I try to meet and write with a group of writers once a week. Normally, I’m tired in the evening but if I get together with others, there’s some kind of energy that happens. For Watching Jimmy, I took advantage of daylight saving time in the fall and got up an hour earlier and wrote day over day until I was done.

OB:

What are you reading right now?

NH:

I’m writing now and studiously trying not to read. It’s hard. I’m looking forward to the Christmas holidays so I can catch up.

I can’t wait to get into Scars by Cheryl Rainfield, who is a friend through writing. It’s nominated for a GG. I also want to read Michael Crummey’s Galore.

OB:

What will your next project be?

NH:

It’s an adventure novel about two teenage girls working in Northwestern Ontario during a raging forest fire. Some odd things are going on with the bear population and the girls are caught up in the action. My characters seem to be getting older and older!


Nancy Hartry is the author of two picture books, Hold On, McGinty! and Jocelyn and the Ballerina. Nancy finds inspiration for her stories in the antics of her children and her larger family, as well as strangers who have no idea that their quirks and foibles will find their way into books. Watching Jimmy grew from her short story "Thunderbird Swing," which appeared in Secrets, published by Tundra Books. She is currently writing another novel, inspired by her short story “Fore,” which appeared in First Times, also published by Tundra Books. When Nancy is not writing stories, she works as a lawyer. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.

For more information about Watching Jimmy please visit the Tundra Books website.

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

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