Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Looking for the Lightbulb - Part 2

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In today's part 2 of Looking for the Lightbulb, I'm introducing you to three more talented authors of non-fiction children's books: Monica Kulling, Adrienne Mason, and Natalie Hyde.

Note: When I asked them to share their methods of finding ideas for non-fiction books, not one of them said they expected the lightbulb to appear above their head and light up!

MONICA KULLING is a full-time writer of biographies and fiction for young readers. In 2011, her book In THE BAG! MARGARET KNIGHT WRAPS IT UP, the third in Tundra Books “Great Idea” series, was chosen by the Smithsonian as one of the Ten Great Science Books of that year. GOING UP! ELISHA OTIS'S TRIP TO THE TOP will be out in October 2012. She lives in Toronto with her partner, two dogs, and four cats.

MONICA writes:

"When writing my biographies, I mostly follow my fascinations. Who interests me and why? What aspect of the individual’s life intrigues me? There must be struggle, quirkiness, obsession or qualities of that nature to act as a hook on which to hang my story. I’ve found all those aspects present in the lives of inventors. They are often visionaries, lone wolves, a little wacky and off the beaten track, spending years to realize their ideas and being regarded as crazy in the process. And then, everyone can’t live without the invention and the inventor is called a genius. How’s that for a complete about-face?

"I like to “pepper” my biographies with dialogue and set scenes in which the historical characters act out their lives for the reader, rather than merely describing the facts of the life. Critics who are purists in critiquing non-fiction don’t always appreciate this. But a quote from Kathryn Harrison captures what I mean, and also perhaps why I choose to write biography in this way. “I couldn’t change the facts. I could only play with how the people might have responded to the facts of their lives.”
Children respond to playfulness and learn best in those conditions. Playful writing is a draw for them.

"Another source of ideas, for me, is research and reading. In my research on one individual, I often come across other interesting facts and people I hadn’t heard of and wish to explore."

NATALIE HYDE lives in southern Ontario and writes both children’s fiction and non-fiction. She has written 23 non-fiction books on a variety of topics, including SOCCER SCIENCE, MICRO LIFE IN SOIL, DNA, POPULATION PATTERNS, and CRYPTIC CANADA.

NATALIE writes:

"As a non-fiction writer and a bit of an information junkie, my ears are always tuned to an interesting news item, article or website. Sometimes I read an interesting tidbit online that sparks my curiosity and I research it. One of my favourite sites is Science Daily, which is a great place to learn all the latest discoveries in science. That was where I learned about the Black Medusa jellyfish, which is so well camouflaged with its black velvet-like cloak that scientists didn’t even know it existed until 1993.

"Sometimes a word or phrase overheard in a conversation will catch my attention and then I can’t rest until I know all about it. I heard mention of the Birdmen of Easter Island and they sounded so weird, I had to know what they were. The story of these men who participated in one of the world’s most dangerous competitions in order to become ruler of the Pacific Island wound up being in one of my books.

"Other times I get ideas from places I visit. On a trip to L’anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, I was fascinated to learn that Vikings had discovered North America about 500 years before Christopher Columbus. I wondered what other intriguing stories were waiting to be discovered across Canada. That visit was the beginning idea for my newest non-fiction book, Cryptic Canada. In it I take readers on a tour of ancient and mysterious sites across Canada, sites too strange and cool to keep to myself.

"With a world as fascinating, and sometimes bizarre, as ours, I doubt I’ll ever run out of ideas."

ADRIENNE MASON's first book was published in 1991. A full-time writer, Adrienne writes for both adults and children, most often on topics of science, nature, and history. She has published more than 30 titles, including BUILD IT!, MOVE IT!, SKUNKS, SNAKES, OCEANS, and ROBOTS.

ADRIENNE writes:

"By nature I am a bit of a pack rat. I have piles of journals that I've kept over the years. The daily entries are often short on introspective words, rather they include things I've stuck in with glue or tape, snippets of conversations, things my children have said to me, the boring details of the day-to-day life (although these can be very valuable when I look back years later). I start lists and ideas at the back of the journal and somewhere in the middle of the book, the two threads meet and it's time to start a new journal.

"As a non-fiction writer, ideas are everywhere. Sometimes I'll jot down an idea and it will be years before I ever get back to it. Now, for instance, I am working on an idea that I have been thinking about for close to 20 years. I have very thick files with reference material and a long shelf of books. It may be 20 more years before I ever get anything out of it though. Sometimes ideas just need to stew.

"I also find that travel helps develop ideas. And this doesn't necessarily mean travel to exotic destinations. It could mean a walk on the beach, or a drive across the island where I live. I find that when my mind is otherwise occupied, the best ideas seem to pop into my head!"

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

Susan Hughes

Susan Hughes is an award-winning author whose books include The Island Horse, Case Closed?, No Girls Allowed, Earth to Audrey and Virginia.

Go to Susan Hughes’s Author Page