#TuesdayTalk with Michael Bradford. Michael’s debut novel, Button Hill, launched this April.
How did you know you wanted to become a writer? Or when did you decide?
When I was a kid I was more of a reader, and I lived and breathed the stories I loved. It wasn’t until I hit university and met a wonderful poet who was also a professor there that I started writing poetry. I didn’t know I wanted to write stories for kids until after my son and daughter, Duncan and Emma, were born. Something clicked inside my brain then, and all the stories I had read growing up seemed to wake up, and say,”it’s your turn now.” I feel so blessed to have written a story that not just my own kids will read, and I hope I get to keep doing it, over and over.
Where do you get ideas for your stories?
For me, story ideas come from lots of places, both usual and suspect. My “ideas” notebook is littered with plot ideas, character quirks, and places worth putting in a story from things I heard on CBC radio. saw on Facebook. But the best source for ideas are kids. One time at a school I was reading Ezra Jack Keats picture books to some students. In one, a cat was disappearing behind a door that had been turned on its side, and was leaning against a wall. One of the students asked, “Where do you think that cat is going?” That made me wonder what would happen if a boy opened a door to somewhere he shouldn’t? And if animals can go places people can’t? Eventually I wrote Button Hill, and I was delighted when both of these things ended up happening in the book.
Do you have a writing routine? What is it?
Step One: remind myself of the deadline for what I’m working on, and allow a small amount of panic to creep into my brain. Or a large amount, depending on how close the deadine is. Step Two: get a mug of Irish Breakfast tea and a bowl of Pirate Cookies from kitchen. It’s scientifically proven that a combination of peanut butter, tea, and cookies sharpen a writer’s mind! Step Three: descend to my awesome basement office. Try not to be tempted by any of the stacks of books that litter my oversized desk. Sometimes I give in to temptation, but I tell myself this is research. Step Four: Set the Fat-Man egg timer and write until he dings, no matter what. When he’s done, I’m done, even if I still have ideas. That way I have something to think about until tomorrow and I can get started right away.
What do you look for in a good book?
I love stories where real people end up in strange situations. I can believe in the strange situation (talking animals, weird future society, other dimensions, ghosts, cute new neighbour girl who disappears mysteriously etc.) as long as I can believe in the character. The more real the character the more I buy in to whatever strangeness came into their lives. A book like Lois Lowry’s The Giver is a master example of this sort of thing.
Have you ever had an unlikely adventure? Tell us!
This story is true: when I was in grade 9, our teacher was an out-of-work National Geographic photographer. He paced like a bear trapped in a cage at the zoo whenever we were in the classroom, which was as rarely as he could manage it. He was always taking us on crazy outdoor excursions and camping trips. One time, he took our class skiing across the Plain of the Six Glaciers, above Lake Louise, Alberta. Half the group was skiing across a treeless slope, when the snow at the top of the bowl collapsed. There was a crack like a gunshot, and then thunder as the avalanche swept the teacher and a handful of students down the mountain! The teacher had trained the class for this kind of emergency, and after the thunder died down along with the shock of watching our friends and teacher be swept away, we activated our transponders and dug them out. Luckily, we found everyone, scared but unhurt for the most part. The teacher let the class decide if we wanted to continue with the trip. It had to be unanimous or he would take us back right then. We figured he would be in big trouble after the trip, so we voted to continue on. And so we got to explore one of the most beautiful places in Canada. I’m so glad we didn’t turn back, because it was the last time we were allowed to leave the school that year. Even though he nearly killed half the class, that teacher infected me with a spirit of adventure that I will never lose.
What one place are you dying to visit?
New Zealand all the way. Because adventure! Every possible outdoor fun you can think of, on one little island – mountains, forests, camping, surfing, diving, biking. And that’s just the first week! Also just a boat ride away from penguins. Who wouldn’t want to see penguins?
Do you have any so-called “guilty pleasures”?
I’m mad for Studio Ghibli animated films! I have to watch My Neighbor Totoro at least once a year, and this usually turns into a movie binge of epic proportions. I can’t wait for The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, the documentary about Studio Ghibli to come out at the end of January!
Favourite board game–go!
It’s got to be Balderdash, doesn’t it? What writer wouldn’t love writing sensible (or ridiculous) definitions to words no one’s ever heard of, then trying to convince the other players yours is right? My wife is really hard to fool – she says she can always tell it’s me because my definitions are too know-it-all – so it’s extra sweet when I do pull the wool over her eyes!
What advice would you give an aspiring author?
I would say read, read, read, and then write, write, write. Finish things, then write some more. This advice sounds simple, but I know for me the more I read, and try to puzzle out how writers of great stories made their stories great, the better I get as a writer. In some ways, I think learning to write is like learning to play a musical instrument – it takes a lot of practice before it looks (or sounds) effortless, as if the words just bloomed out of the page like magic with little work on the part of the writer. Don’t give up when it’s hard at first and you don’t like what you wrote at first. It gets better the more you do it. Also, if your city or town has a writer in residence at the public library, you should visit that person as often as you can. They want to inspire you and help you get better, whatever stage you’re at.
Michael Bradford was born in 1975 in St. Albert, Alberta. He has worked as a grass cutter, waiter, pizza-delivery boy, literacy teacher, elementary-school vice-principal and published poet. Button Hill is his first novel. He lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, with his wife and two children. Visit www.michaelbradford.ca for more information.