To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s classic novel, James & The Giant Peach, Small Print Toronto invited young authors between 9-12 years old to compose a short story based on the scenario: "What would happen if James discovered the Giant Peach in today’s Toronto?" The panel of judges included Kelley Armstrong, Susan Kernohan, Adrienne Kress, Lesley Livingston, Mark Medley, Evan Munday, Kevin Sylvester, Vikki Vansickle and Janet Somerville. A Toronto Roald Dahl Day celebration took place on October 23rd at The Gladstone Hotel, where Sierra McLean was announced as the grand prize winner. To read her winning entry “James Goes To The R.O.M.”, please visit the online home for YA author and blogger Kat Kruger.
I had the privilege to chat with Sierra about her writing practices and the life of this burgeoning young author.
Julie Wilson: Sierra, congratulations on winning the Toronto Roald Dahl Day Story Contest! How did you come up with your idea for "James Goes to the R.O.M."?
Sierra McLean: I didn't really come up with it until I had written most of the story. In fact, that's what I do with most stories that I write. I come up with a basic idea, and then add to it as I go along. I find it a brilliant way to do things!
Before I write a story, I always think of just a basic idea. In this particular story, the basic idea was already in place, so I was probably thinking about how "James finds a giant peach in Toronto filled with friendly creatures."
JW: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? I understand you used to dictate your stories to your mother when you were as young as four years old!
SM: I'm not exactly sure, but it was at a fairly young age. But whenever I was bored I would absentmindedly pick up a piece of paper and a pencil and just start writing.
JW: Do you write mostly with paper and pencil or pen? If so, what do you like about it?
SM: Yes. I usually just sit down with lined paper (and a pencil because it erases) and start writing about whatever comes to mind. Most of the time I edit as I go along, so the pencil can be easily removed, as the pen doesn't erase.
JW: Where do you do most of your writing? Do you have a favourite place you like to work?
SM: It doesn't really matter where I write, but I find myself automatically strolling to the dining room table to write. Amazingly, we only eat there about once a month, so it's mostly a craft table.
JW: Any tips for other writers as to how they might make time for their own writing?
SM: Hmm . . . making time for writing. That can be tough, especially with school and extra activities. But it's not like you have to write a lot every day. I try to do about a page a day if I'm working on a pretty long story, and two on weekends. It really helps to make constant goals for yourself (e.g. finish a chapter by Friday).
JW: Do you also enjoy reading as much as writing?
SM: Definitely! I adore reading almost as much as I do writing. It's just so fascinating and addicting (especially fantasy books). The best series I ever read was BY FAR Harry Potter. And right now I'm reading a series called The Edge Chronicles. My favourite one yet was "Beyond the Deepwoods," in which a young boy named Twig and a mighty sky pirate crew go off in search of a valuable gem located in the Twilight Woods. It was written by Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart. It was an absolutely AMAZING read!
JW: What do you like about fantasy books? And does it inspire your imagination to turn to writing fantasy stories of your own?
SM: Fantasy is by far the best form of writing, and there are many reasons why. For example, in the story Fantastic Mr. Fox, the foxes are very intelligent, clever, and can even talk. So whenever I see a fox in the wild or in a zoo, I always imagine it with a brown tailcoat, a lovely wife, and three adventurous cubs. Also, fantasy stories are the hardest to put down. I mean that in a good way!
Because I almost ONLY read fantasy novels, it's just instinct that makes me want to write fantasy stories.
JW: I asked Kat Kruger, YA author and blogger, if she had a recommendation for you, Sierra, and here's her response.
Kat Kruger: Congratulations on your win, Sierra! Julie tells me you're a fan of fantasy and asked me if I could give a reading recommendation. When I was about your age I was hooked on a number of multi-book fantasy series. One of the early influences in my writing was The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. It's about an assistant pig keeper who finds himself tangled up in adventures against evil and includes some fun creatures like Hen Wen (a pig who can see into the future) and Gurgi (a loyal creature companion who speaks in rhyme). I hope that you'll enjoy the books as much as I did and find inspiration in their pages to keep writing. (Read Sierra's winning story on Kat's Website.)