#TuesdayTalk with Alison Hughes. Alison’s new middle reader, Lost in the Backyard, launches this April.
Alison, what do you look for in a good book?
I love a good mystery, but I have to say that it’s wonderful, realistic characters that float my boat.
When did you first know you wanted to become a writer?
I went to university for a long time, studying English literature and law, so I did a ton of writing then. Then I did some freelance writing for magazines. But the fun, creative writing started when my three kids were little and I was at home with them. We once checked 75 books out at the library (I think they set a limit shortly after that), and reading them out loud until my throat was sore, I began to wonder if I could write one. And the amazing thing about writing is that the more you do it, the more ideas you get, the more stories there are to tell.
Where do you find inspiration for your stories?
I’m constantly boring my family with my “great ideas for a story!” that hit me sometimes out of the blue, or spring from something I’ve read or heard or seen. The inspiration for my story Lost in the Backyard was very close to home: my 14 year old son was in a grade 9 Environmental Education class and hating it, mostly because he insisted on wearing skimpy little hoodies. Once, in the car, I saw the class shivering in a field, most of them looking at their phones, and wondered what these kids would do if they really had to survive. And Flynn, my main character, sprung up in my mind, fully formed. And pretty soon, I was crawling under a huge evergreen on a dark, cold evening in the woods.
Three unexpected traveling adventures–go!
We lived in Australia for several years, where an emu once stole a tuna sandwich right out of my hand. I also got lost in Thailand once by walking along a beach. The tide rolled in, closed off the return route and I was rescued by a kindly fisherman. In Japan, many years ago, I spent four hours waving as the sole attraction on a parade float, wearing a Miss America-style banner that said “Youth Exchange Student.” It was not my idea.
Any quirky habits you don’t like to admit to? Tell us!
Other than exercise-biking to Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself,” I have very few things I won’t admit to. I can’t walk past a thrift shop without popping in, and I have an annoying habit of telling people I “only paid TWO BUCKS for that!”
Advice for aspiring writers?
Carve out time for your writing, even if it’s just a little every day, and limit distractions. Think about your characters when you’re not writing, when you’re in line at the grocery store or driving in the car, or pretending to watch a basketball game. Really believe in your story and your characters will start to lead the way. And never, ever give up; take rejection letters as a challenge to send the story out again. And chocolate always helps.
Alison Hughes has lived, worked and studied in Canada, England and Australia. She started writing when it became clear that it was much more fun and flexible than being a lawyer, and didn’t require her to wear nylons. She won the Writers’ Union of Canada’s Writing for Children Competition, and her short stories have been short- and longlisted for the CBC Literary Awards. She lives in Edmonton, Alberta, with her husband, three children, three dogs and two cats.