Helaine Becker’s new middle grade offering, Dirk Daring, Secret Agent, will hit shelves this October. In the book, Darren Dirkowitz (aka Dirk Daring), has to navigate the usual middle school hurdles, as well as his keep his covert alternate life as a secret agent under wraps. We sat down with Helaine Becker to learn about her inspiration for the book, and to uncover some of the top-secret deets all wannabe spies should know.
Helaine, what was your inspiration for Dirk Daring, Secret Agent? Did you do any spying or secret agent-ing as a kid?
I was a little sister, so I HAD to be a spy. It was the only way a kid could find anything out. I was also a big fan of Harriet the Spy.
I’ve drawn on my childhood spy past in two previous books, Secret Agent Y.O.U., a kind of How-to, and the Quiz Book for Spies. Like Dirk Daring, both of those are funny. I’m really too much of a big mouth to be a successful spy. My best policy is to have no secrets since I can’t keep them.
Do you have an alter-ego like Darren Dirkowitz (aka Dirk Daring)?
My alter-ego is a pirate. Lady Pink. Don’t cross me or you’ll be walkin’ the plank. Arrrr.
Why did you choose the ‘mission journal’ format for the book?
I like a story that unfolds in an interesting way. Straight narrative is great for certain kinds of tales. But for Dirk Daring, I thought a mission journal, and text that went back and forth between his two personalities, was more reflective of what was happening. It involves the reader as if you’re experiencing the story in “real time.”
Did you ever keep a journal or diary? What kinds of things did you record in it?
I remember getting a diary for my birthday when I was around 11. I was excited because it had this cute little key and everything. The problem was that at 11 my life was extremely dull. I remember trying to fill up a page with the day’s news, and failing–I think I drew an arrow from the top of the page to the bottom and wrote. “Ditto.” Instead, that was around the same time I began writing my first “Real” novel. If you have nothing happening in real life, make up a better one, I say! So I wrote “The Great Plan,” a story about an 11 year old girl who keeps getting sent to the principal’s office for doing dopey stuff like putting a pat mouse in a gift box and giving it as a birthday present to her frenemy. I dug it out recently. It’s not terrible.
5) Do you have any advice for aspiring young secret agents?
Get off your computer and/or phone. Keep your eyes and ears open. You will discover tons of secrets just by paying attention, so get out there. You also need to be physically fit. Oh–and learn Mandarin and Russian.
Helaine Becker is the bestselling author of more than fifty books for children and young adults, including the “enduring Canadian Christmas classic” A Porcupine in a Pine Tree and the giggle-inducing Ode to Underwear. She’s also a three-time winner of the Silver Birch Award and a two-time winner of the Lane Anderson Award for Science Writing for Children. Helaine lives in Toronto with her husband and her dog, Ella. For more information, visit www.helainebecker.com.