Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Writers at Night: The Writers' Trust Gala Series with Paul Yee

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Paul Yee

Paul Yee's most recent book is The Secret Keepers (Tradewind Books) and just one week ago, he was awarded the Vicky Metcalf Award for Children's Literature for his body of work. Today he joins us as part of our Writers at Night series.

Writers at Night celebrates the Writers' Trust Gala, an annual black tie fundraiser for the Writers' Trust. The charity supports authors across Canada through a variety of programs, prizes and scholarships.

This week we're asking a handful of guest authors to spill about their plans for the glitzy evening, including the most important question — what everyone will be wearing on the big night.

The 27th annual Writers' Trust Gala takes place on November 15, 2012. Stay tuned for more interviews this week!

Open Book:

Is this your first time attending the Writers' Trust Gala? If so, to what aspect of the event are you most looking forward? If you've attended before, what is one of your favourite gala memories?

Paul Yee:

Yes, this is my first time attending the Writers’ Trust Gala. I’m looking forward to playing literary trivia. I sure hope the Canadian Fiction class I took in fourth year university comes in handy!

OB:

Each guest at your table receives a copy of your latest book as a gift. Tell us a bit about your recent book.

PY:

The Secret Keepers is pitched at readers from Grades 5 to 8, and depicts one of my favourite themes in writing: ghosts.

The adventure is set in San Francisco in 1907, a year after the great earthquake and fire have destroyed that city and its Chinatown. The premise is that the earthquake shakes loose long-hidden secrets and a box of skeletal bones, which Jackson Leong, the 14-year-old hero, must confront.

Jackson is trying to run the family business, which is Chinatown’s nickelodeon, an operation that functions best in a darkened hall.

Ghosts love darkened halls too, especially ones crowded with eager paying customers who are easily panicked, so Jackson is keenly motivated to evict this ghost in order to save the family from ruin. When the Temple Keeper fails to drive away the ghost, Jackson is forced to delve into the ghost’s past, to find out why it is so powerful and so relentless.

What complicates Jackson’s mission is he is still reeling from the death of his older brother Lincoln, who was killed in the great earthquake.

This story comes with one of my all-time favourite book covers that perfectly captures a sense of the ghost world.

OB:

What will you be wearing to the gala?

PY:

I’m wearing a black Indian-style suit (Nehru collar) that was tailored in Calcutta.

OB:

What Canadian writer, living or dead, would you most like to sit next to at dinner? What might you ask him or her?

PY:

I would really like to sit next to W.O. Mitchell. I’d say, “Mr. Mitchell, please tell me about your favourite Chinese-run café in small-town Saskatchewan.”

Mitchell is one of the few Canadian writers who has written about such cafes in the prairies. These businesses flourished from the 1910 decade on, often with the owner-operator as the only Chinese person living in town. These cafes served a strictly western menu of coffee and red meats, potatoes and fruit pies.

My father ran one of those cafes in a small town in Saskatchewan, 200 miles straight north of Regina. After World War II, he brought my mother over from China, and my older brother and I were born there. But my parents died shortly afterwards, and I was taken to Vancouver and raised by relatives there. So I never knew my parents, nor anything about their lives running a café where townspeople passed through regularly.

In Mitchell’s Who Has Seen the Wind, the owner of the Bluebird Café is a small stooped man named Wong. His wife joins him from China, and bears him two children. But after she dies, a despondent Wong neglects his café. Business declines. It doesn’t help that the Depression is in full swing. Mitchell then tells how different townspeople respond differently to the Chinese in their midst.


Paul Yee is one of Canada's finest writers for children. He was raised in Vancouver and now lives in Toronto. He won the Governor General's Literary Award for Children's Literature for Ghost Train.

For more information about The Secret Keepers please visit the Tradewind Books website.

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

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