Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Christopher Moore

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Christopher Moore (photo credit: Paul Lawrence)

Historian, writer and journalist Christopher Moore is about to launch his most recent book, From Then to Now: A Short History of the World (Tundra Books). He talks to Open Book about how he got started as a historian, how he approaches writing for kids and how to inspire young people to care about history. (Hint: it doesn’t include lecturing at them).

Open Book:

Tell us about your book From Then to Now: A Short History of the World.

Christopher Moore:

Today we are aware of the whole world. Our neighbours, our music, our stuff, the things we eat, our news, our sports — they come from all over, they connect us to Africa, to Asia, to Latin America, to Europe, to all the world. I wanted From Then to Now to be a history that reflects that. It looks at where humanity came from and where we are going to, without being so centered on Europe’s history, as a lot of world histories seem to be.


It can't be easy to write a "short" history, especially for ten-year-olds. How did you decide which subjects, events and developments to include?


You can’t cover everything. There were times I thought, “Hmm, is World War II important enough to rate a mention?” (You don’t often get to think that!) I tried to build a narrative that followed 50,000 years of history by examples — a narrative that expresses wonder and curiosity about humanity and all it has done.


You write history for readers of all ages. How does your approach differ when you are writing a history book for a younger audience?


I don’t expect young readers to know the background to everything. I won’t just write “the Romans” or “the Great Depression” and expect they will know what I am referring to, the way an adult reader might. In a young readers’ book I won’t raise a subject unless I can flesh it what it’s about. And I want vivid scenes and strong characters to drive the narrative. (You know what? Lots of adults like that too.) I figure young readers are pretty smart; no need to shy away from big ideas or grim situations.


Have you been interested in history since childhood? Can you remember when you first became aware of your special interest?


Yes, history interested me, but along with many other things. And I studied history, but I did not expect to make it a career. It was stumbling upon a truly wonderful first job, with the historic sites service of Parks Canada, that really sold me on doing history. It was probably writing that was my "special" interest, and eventually the two came together.


Is there a historical period that captivates you over others, or that you prefer to write about?


I’m a freelance writer, so I can’t really be a specialist. I’ve written about just about anything and everything in the history of Canada, in all kinds of forms, for all kinds of audiences. (See for the details.) I think that suits me. I was probably a know-it-all kid, and some of that has stuck. Can you see why the history of the whole world appealed to me?


How do you think that we can best encourage young people to want to learn about historical events?


Nothing encourages young people’s historical interest like knowing adults take history seriously themselves. When adults value a sense of history like a sense of music or nature or science — part of any cultured person’s repertoire — kids pick up on that. Treat history as just something we can dump on school kids, and kids will conclude they are being scammed.


What will be your next book-length project?


I write history for adults as well as kids, and now I’m deep into a book about a few weeks in Quebec City in 1864 when the constitution of Canada was debated over, horse-traded over, partied over, and pretty much wrangled into the rules and principles Canadians have lived with ever since. It’s a great story.

Christopher Moore is a Toronto-based writer who has been presenting Canadian history to non-specialist audiences through many media for 20 years. Moore is a full-time writer; his other writing includes magazine essays, a blog, columns, film scripts, radio documentaries, guidebooks, reference works and computer simulations. Moore covers Canadian historical news in a long-running column in Canada's History and makes legal history sparkle in a featured Law Times column. CBC Radio "Ideas" listeners know his insightful radio documentaries. His provocative commentaries on history and politics have appeared in the Globe and Mail, The National Post, Saturday Night and other periodicals.

His awards include the Governor General's Award, the Mr. Christie Award and the Children's Literature Roundtable Award (for The Story of Canada) and the Secretary of State's Prize for Excellence in Canadian Studies, as well as recognition from the Canadian Historical Association, the Ontario Historical Society and the Canadian Who's Who. Visit Christopher Moore at his website.

For more information about From Then to Now: A Short History of the World 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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