NOTES from May 10 meeting; SPEAKERS: Forest of Reading Nominees Teresa Toten, Lena Coakley, Sue Irwin, John Spray

Monday, May 29, 2017 10:05 PM | Helena Aalto (Administrator)


President Sharon Jennings welcomed everyone, including a sprinkling of newcomers. Sharon noted that she was still at the front of the room because at last month’s AGM, she agreed to stay on for a second term to finish projects started. Enthusiastic applause followed this announcement. 

Mentioning that we are such a great group of friends, she then announced the sudden death of Gisela Sherman, a friend to many for so many years. Gisela was a Past President of CANSCAIP, an author, actor, and environmentalist. Her last book, The Farmerettes, was nominated last year for The Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction. Always the dedicated CANSCAIP volunteer, Gisela will be missed. 


JoEllen Bogart presented her new picture book Counting Chickens (Tundra Penguin/Random House). A different kind of counting book, it invites readers to count groups of chickens with something in common, as in "How many chicks have chicken pox?"

Michele Nidenoff presented a book she illustrated, Children's Prayers with Hope Bear (written by Judy Rois), published by the Anglican Foundation of Canada to coincide with their 60th Anniversary. The book has 24 prayers for liturgical seasons, holidays and everyday situations in a child's life such as starting school, the arrival of a new sibling, loss of a loved one, and it features a teddy bear named Hope Bear. There will be a book launch and exhibition of original artwork with a reception Saturday, June 10th 7:00 - 9:00 pm, exhibit continuing Sunday June 11th 12:00 to 4:00 pm at Rosedale Presbyterian Church, 129 Mount Pleasant Road, Toronto. 

Jennifer Maruno presented her first picture book. Moose’s Roof (Tuckamore). Until he found a park pavilion, Moose had never thought about a roof. His friends Beaver, Bear and Squirrel all seem to be roof experts. With their help, Moose puts his antlers to good use and soon has his own roof. But Moose finds that carrying a roof day and night makes him very tired and cranky. Can Moose learn to be himself again?           


Theo Heras, IBBY Canada Vice President, noted that IBBY is still looking for a CANSCAIP/IBBY liaison. Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr has received IBBY Canada’s Frances E. Russell Grant to support her research on the development of children’s literature in Canada in the early 1970s. The annual USBBY conference will be at the University of Washington in Seattle from October 20 to 22. The USBBY conference will include keynotes by CANSCAIPers Sarah Ellis and Teresa Toten and Theo Heras will present a paper. 

Sylvia McNicoll sent an Access Copyright update. Payback claims will be accepted until May 31st. All writers and visual artists affiliated with Access Copyright as of December 31, 2016 are eligible to submit a claim for the 2017 Payback payment, distributed in November. Visit for more information. Access Copyright royalties, will be significantly lower this year. These diminished payments are directly related to decreased licensing revenue from the education sector, which is attempting to enshrine broad “fair dealing” policies surrounding content use that are designed to permit much of what is offered through Access Copyright’s licences for free. Canadian creators as well as publishers have been impacted by these policies. The federal government’s upcoming review of the Copyright Act this fall will be an important opportunity for members of Canada’s creative community to be vocal and share their perspective. Prior to the launch of the review, we encourage you to contact your local MP and illustrate how the issue of “educational fair dealing” has impacted you. Access Copyright has prepared a public advocacy tool kit, available here:


CANSCAIP's administrative director Helena Aalto noted that CANSCAIP has concluded its strategic planning with Jennifer Murray, who advised us to try and raise more money to undertake initiatives and provided suggestions for likely sources of government funding. 

CANSCAIP wants to make our meetings accessible to members across country via livestreaming and will also doing more webinars. (Webinars, for which we charge a low fee, also raise revenue for CANSCAIP). In September, Heather O’Conner will be doing a webinar for us on grant writing. 

The Writing for Children Competition deadline is June 30th. This is a good opportunity for unpublished writers to get feedback. Submissions go through one to three rounds with readers, and three publishers will read the works of finalists and winners. 

The Packaging Your Imagination conference will be held Saturday, November 11th the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, where it was held last year. 

SPEAKERS: Panel of Forest of Reading Award Nominees 

Sharon Jennings introduced our panel of writers who have been nominated for one of the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading Awards (Tree Awards). Teresa Toten, author of a dozen books and winner of the GG, is nominated for the Red Maple for Shattered Glass.  John Spray, who sponsors The John Spray Mystery Award presented annually at the TD Gala, is nominated for the Golden Oak for Next Round: A Young Athlete’s Journey to Gold. Sue Irwin, Silver Birch Non-fiction nominee for her first book, Safety Stars: Players Who Fought to Make the Hard Hitting Game of Hockey Safer, is an elementary school teacher and avid hockey fan. Lena Coakley, nominated for the White Pine for Worlds of Ink and Shadow, was formerly CANSCAIP’s office administrator; her first YA novel The Witchlanders won SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Award. 

Jennifer Maruno moderated the panel and presented a series of questions. 

What is your writing routine? 

Lena is at her desk by 9 and works until 4:30. It took her a long time to get this disciplined.

Teresa can only do a first draft at home. As she spends so much time on the road these days, when she’s home she writes for long hours every day. 

Sue has a day job, so her writing starts at 7 pm. During her writing time, she tries not to go online. She aims for 500 words a day and uses Scrivener software. She writes on Saturdays, too. 

John Spray has his own investigative agency so he writes from 10 pm to 1 am, and also on weekends. 

How do you measure success? 

John says if he’s pleased with what he’s written and gets accolades/gratitude from kids, that’s all the reward he needs. 

Sue loves researching and celebrating discoveries; she finds her satisfaction in finding out something new and sharing it with kids. 

Teresa says that on her 12th book, she is still as anxious and fearful and nervous as she was when she started. She says her books are never as close to what they are in her head. It’s always a struggle, but you have to believe the struggle is worth it. 

Lena has come to love the process and says you have to find satisfaction in that. If she’s not having fun, she will write something else that she really loves. 

What one thing would you liked to have known before you started this career? 

Sue didn’t realize that so much was involved in marketing and promoting, and would have done more research and implementation of marketing/promotion initiatives. 

John says he spent a lot of time interviewing, but wished he had spent more time with his subject beyond interviews. 

Teresa feels blissful ignorance is needed to feed you at the beginning. 

Lena told us how, after publishing her first novel, she said to Barbara Greenwood, “Now I know how to do it,” and Barbara replied, “No, you don’t.” 

Which book do you think made you a writer? 

Lena first wrote a lot of short stories, and she found it helpful to get positive feedback on those stories while she spent ten years writing The Witchlanders

Teresa said her writing group kept her feet to the fire. She said she learns nothing from one book to the next, but she finds it useful to say to herself, “I’ve felt this fear before and got through it.” 

Sue reminded us that this is her first book; she is working on another one and has been working on it for ten years. 

John said that in his day job, he wrote 1000 investigative reports before he wrote his book. He had to get more poetic for the book, but the reports gave him good writing practice. He’s working on a novel now, and the experience is very different. 

What was your most difficult experience with an audience? 

John said “this one!” It’s difficult because people are asking about mechanics. 

Sue speaks with children every day, so is in her comfort zone when giving a presentation. She is more nervous talking to adults here because a lot of them are seasoned writers. 

Teresa said it’s difficult to get in front of your peers. As for schools, at the beginning of her career, she asked for challenging schools. She went to one where the students had never seen an author. She was presenting Me and the Blondes, and students were smoking at the back, nor did the audience react at all. Also, there was a stabbing afterwards! 

Lena said all her audiences have been good this season, but all her presentations have been White Pine related, and the kids have read the book. She said in the past, her audiences let her know she needed to be more honest. 

Where do you go for support? 

John: The liquor cabinet! 

Sue: Chocolate and her husband! 

Teresa: Her writing group, her stitch-and-bitch group – anyone who will listen! 

Lena: CANSCAIP; her writing community; the author friends she makes writing dates with. 

Where do you go for inspiration/how does inspiration come to you? 

Teresa does not plot; she starts with an idea or visual image. For Beware That Girl, it was the visual image of two beautiful girls in a hospital. 

Sue came to the idea for her book via her husband, who was tall but not fast, and put in the net when he played hockey. He wrote to Jacques Pont, the first person to wear a mask regularly in games. Jacques wrote back with a list of tips for goalies. Sue’s book started out as a biography of Jacques Pont.  When she hears about interesting adults, she feels compelled to tailor their stories for children. 

John writes to music, which helps with rhythm and mood. While writing this book, he listened to gypsy violin music and the theme from Rocky.

Lena is always telling herself stories; has a lot of people in her head. 

What are you currently working on? 

Lena just sold her first middle grade book, about a feral boy living in the forest who thinks he’s a fairy. She is also working on a new YA fantasy. 

Teresa is working on a new book that started with the image of three characters doing a blood brother ritual and girl screams ‘Third on the match’. 

Sue is continuing work on the book about a Canadian no one knows by name, but everyone knows what they’ve done. 

John is working on one mystery and one fantasy. The first is called Looking for Nancy Drew. The other is called Mike Mantis PI. Mike is half human, half mantis. 

What would you never write? 

John: Soap commercials; nothing boring. 

Sue: Fantasy. 

Teresa: Game for anything! 

Lena: mystery would be difficult, but would welcome the challenge. 

Q & A 

Lena, can you give specifics about being honest with teens?

Lena said she, a normally reserved person, learned she had to talk more honestly about her own background and how it related to Worlds of Ink and Shadow

Sue, how do you manage to teach and write?

Sue said her husband retired a few years ago, and he takes care of the day-to-day stuff. And she doesn’t have children. She is not a classroom teacher—she works one on one with students and doesn’t have the responsibilities of regular teachers (report cards, etc.). 

How do you all keep from comparing yourself to other writers?

John said the important thing is to develop your own voice. The right books for you just come out. 

Sue writes non-fiction and is very satisfied when she discovers a story and finds a publisher who wants to share it with others. 

Teresa said it’s always tempting to compare yourself to others, but urges writers to nurture their original voices, their own visions, to write about personal humiliations and ecstasies. That is what’s important. 

Lena said if you nurture your own voice and get a child coming up to you saying yours is my favorite book, that’s an amazing feeling you may not have gotten if you hadn’t developed your own voice. 

How do you feel about the editing process?

Lena loves getting feedback and tries to incorporate it all. She works with US and Canadian editors and generally, they don’t disagree. For Worlds of Ink and Shadow, her US editor wanted her to focus on a different character than she’d originally intended – a suggestion she followed. 

Teresa said her US and Canadian editors get together with their comments. She likes the revision process because it means the hard part is over. There’s a book there with a beginning, middle and end; she’s just tidying it up! 

Sue enjoyed the process. The editors made it better and were very encouraging. 

John reads his employees’ investigative reports and is a practiced editor himself, so his non-fiction was not edited much. He expects much more editing with his fiction projects. 

Did you get a lot of rejection letters? Can you explain the process of getting published? 

Lena published two picture books before the novels. She worked at the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Knowing editors didn’t help. She sent her projects out cold and got rejections. Orca published her picture books, but she got an agent before she sent out her novels. She got many rejections from agents, but once an agent took her on, her books sold fairly quickly. 

Teresa took Peter Carver’s class in 1995, and wrote her first book there, which got picked up by Red Deer. Tim Wynne Jones was her first editor. Her next few books were not agented. Now she has an agent. The business gets more complex with international rights, etc. It isn’t necessary to have agent in Canada.  Go to PYI and introduce yourself to editors, etc.  

Sue started small with magazine articles. She got nice, personal rejection letters that she found encouraging. She went to a PYI conference and researched a publisher because of what someone said at the conference. She recommends studying the books released by the publisher you want. She made her manuscript fit their guidelines; it was all very targeted. 

John says part of it for him was luck and timing. His subject got the first gold medal in his sport for his country in 40 years. He said he knew the sport, as he himself was an amateur boxer for several years. He had writing experience from his job and he also used to write for TV.  And he was inspired by the story of his subject. 


The meeting concluded with Sharon thanking everyone for coming and telling attendees that when stuck on a book, she often goes through old PYI notes and is amazed at the helpful advice! She also reminded us that our last meeting before the summer break is next month – June 14th – and the featured speaker is renowned illustrator Frank Viva.