WINNER  2013 RED MAPLE Non-fiction Ontario Library Association
Q: Sports books by Bill Swan. These are kids’ books.      Have you ever thought of writing a real book? A: I know. Children aren’t real. They are figments of our imagination. But I’ve always been a dreamer, and identify more with figments than with adults. You ever see a whole room full of adults? How boring. They sit still. They fall asleep sitting up sometimes. Q: What are your books about? A: Well, you have to read them. So far I’ve written five books featuring running (track, cross-country, triathlon, road racing), one on soccer, and two on hockey. In each book, I’ve tried to paint a situation involving school, family, and sport, and to show how kids meet their own challenges and solve problems. And even in some cases, they show adults how to use their own advice. Q: Surely the characters in your books behave      properly? A: The characters in my books behave very much as real people behave. The most inappropriate behaviour, such as kids climbing on the roof of portable classrooms, kicking in glass doors, finding lost books, running gutsy races, scoring impossible goal-mouth deflections — all the most impossible happenings are based on real events by real people. It’s the everyday stuff I make up. Kids know “inappropriate behaviour” – but I always warn them to tell their parents not to try this at home. Q. Why kids’ books? Why not write for adults? A: I have one adult book completed, another half done, and twelve in my head. I need to find a publisher for those. For kids books, Lorimer has given me contracts for two more. They are all part of a terrific Canadian Sports Series published by James Lorimer and Company, Toronto, aimed at readers 8-12. But adult books: Give me contracts and I’ll write adult books for you. By the way, what do you mean by, ‘adult’? Does that mean it would have to be boring? Or just have different pictures? Q. So kids books are just sort of a warm up to      something real? A: Just the opposite. Ever see a kid with a book he or she thought boring? Whoops! Heave-ho. Kids books have to grab and hold the interest of an audience that is developing reading skills. It’s like learning to skate. You get tired faster when you’re learning to skate than you do when you’re in shape to play hockey. It is the same with reading. Bore kids for a page and you’ve likely lost them. Adults, on the other hand — those who can read and don’t need pictures to help them – will put up with pages and pages of boring stuff just to get to the good parts. That’s because adult readers are experienced, and know that the really, really good parts are worth the effort. Kids don’t know that yet, thank goodness. So you can’t fool them. In that way, kids’ books are harder to write. Q: And the book’s about, what, running, hockey,      other sports? Aren’t most sports boring? A: I’ll forget you asked that. Running isn’t boring. It depends what you’re running from or to. Four of my books involve running — but are about the heart of sport. About not giving up; about needing others to support you even in the “lonely” sports. About digging down when common sense says, “Give up. Quit.” Team sports require this same dedication. Actually, life requires this a lot of the time, too, but most children, fortunately, have yet to discover that. Q: The life of an author must be pretty soft. A: Writing novels is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve either written for or edited newspapers, or taught people how to do both, for most of my adult life. I wrote my first children’s novel, that is, fiction, almost twenty years ago. I didn’t show it to anyone, or send it anywhere, for six years. When I did, the first publisher, Lorimer, liked it, and said they wanted to publish it. But are you ready for the punch line? Could I re-write it. Make the main character a boy (it was a girl.) I said sure. But I don’t know if you’ve noticed: boys and girls are different. Even at the age of 12 and 13. Especially at the ages of 12 and 13. So it became a different book. A couple of national reviews have put in on their Highly Recommended lists. That is something that gives an author a lift on a dull day. Q: But the second book must have been easier. A: Different, not easier. I first wrote Mud Run as Ganaraska Gold right after Fast Finish was published. Lorimer turned it down. I cried a lot. Drank many, many cups of tea, with predictable results. Rewrote it. Lorimer turned it down again. I cried some more. Rewrote it again. Sent it in and heard nothing. Then one day I got it out and took it to a grade 5 class at S.T.Worden Public School, which is a three minute walk from my home. Over two weeks, I read it to the class. They liked it, I still liked it, and the day we got to the final race scene, Hadley Dyer, Lorimer’s new children’s editor, phoned to say she liked it, too, and wanted to publish it. Then we started rewriting all over again. Q: All that re-writing. You must not be very good. A: On the contrary. I think I’ve very good at what I do. Rewriting and editing for editors is like a team going from regular season play to Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s a different mindset. Just when you thought you’d squeezed everything out of a book – a good editor will come along and help you identify areas that can be improved. I once heard Barbara Gowdy in a CBC interview telling how her editor in New York took her word by word through a book. That’s after an author has written and re-written before showing it to anyone. That’s what happens after a writer thinks he or she is done. An editor does with a writer what a good coach does with an athlete: squeeze even more performance and improvement even when the performer (athlete or writer) thinks he or she has given everything. And that’s when the really good things happen. Q: Any message to go with this? A: Yes. Don’t give up. Run. Read. Play hockey, soccer, lacrosse. Read and play every day, for fun. You want my real message about reading? Q: Okay, sure. A: Parents: Read to your kids. Every night. Half an hour to an hour. Start early – before they’re born. Do it until the kid tells you not to. If a kid says a book is boring, quit it. Find another. This is good for parents, for kids, for librarians. It’s good for writers, too.     A: Children: Insist that your parents read to you for half an hour every night even if you think you’re too big for that stuff. And read on your own, too. Read for fun, adventure, and sheer joy. Q: What’s next? A: I thought you’d never ask. I have two science fiction novels completed, (aimed at readers 10-16, although I surely hope that any reader at any age could enjoy these.) Both are now waiting for the right publisher to drive up in a pumpkin so we can turn that pumpkin into a glittering chariot. Or something like that. I also have an adult novel completed, but that’s in a completely different field and is ever so boring — except, I hope, to adults, some of whom can read books without any pictures at all.
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