CBC Digital Archives

Heather O'Neill on creating 'Criminals'

Since its debut in 2002, CBC Radio's Canada Reads has quickly become a popular and influential show, attracting huge audiences and driving up book sales. Each year, CBC convenes a panel of prominent Canadians to each pick a work of Canadian fiction and argue why their choice should be the book that all of Canada reads. The CBC Digital Archives brings you a collection of the animated and entertaining final debates, winner "reveals" and interviews with the winning authors of Canada Reads.

Heather O'Neill's debut novel Lullabies for Little Criminals is a sordid coming-of-age tale, oddly poetic as it describes a life of drug use, prostitution, poverty and crime. And in this 2007 interview, she drives home a very important point: it's definitely not autobiographical. In this clip from CBC Radio's The Arts Tonight, host Nora Young and O'Neill discuss how a 30-something first-time novelist so convincingly creates the voice of a 12-year-old girl and how her own childhood influenced her writing.
• As host Nora Young mentions, Heather O'Neill's Lullabies for Little Criminals was a selection for Canada Reads 2007. It eventually won the competition thanks to the advocacy of John K. Samson, who also successfully argued for A Complicated Kindess the year before.

• Heather O'Neill doesn't pretend her adolescence was as bad as that of her protagonist Baby in Lullabies for Little Criminals, but admits she saw rough times and places. In a 2006 interview with Quill & Quire magazine, she described her public school education in Montreal's Notre-Dame de Grace area as "post-apocalyptic" and recalled one year when the school "had only signed up five kids for Grade 7 - the reputation of the school was so bad they couldn't get any more kids to go there."

• In addition to Canada Reads 2007, Lullabies for Little Criminals also won the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction, an award the best piece of English fiction by a writer from Quebec. It was also shortlisted for the 2007 Governor General's Literary Awards. 

Medium: Radio
Program: The Arts Tonight
Broadcast Date: Dec. 11, 2006
Guest(s): Heather O'Neill
Host: Nora Young
Duration: 16:38
Photo: Portrait of Heather O'Neill from Harper Collins © Michael Crouser.

Last updated: February 14, 2012

Page consulted on August 21, 2012

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