How Emma Donoghue found inspiration for her multicultural family saga in a multi-course meal

The award-winning novelist discusses writing her first children's book, The Lotterys Plus One.
Emma Donoghue is the bestselling author of Room. The Lotterys Plus One is her first book for children. (Punch Photographic/HarperCollins)

Emma Donoghue, the award-winning author of Room, has published her first children's book. The Lotterys Plus One follows a large, rambunctious, multicultural family living in a 32-room Victorian mansion. Drama ensues when the family, headed by two same-sex couples, finds their already chaotic life upended upon the arrival of a distant grandfather.

Big happy family

When they were all getting together to make their first baby, they accidently find a lottery ticket on the floor of the hospital. They win enough money that they could all give up their jobs, stay home and have lots more children. They have seven children in total, some by birth, some by adoption. They have five pets. Everything about the family is on a large-scale. They are all from different parts of the world. The fathers are from India and the Yukon. One mother is Mohawk and one is from Jamaica. I wanted this to be a family fizzing with energy, difference and vitality.

Finding inspiration in a multi-course meal 

A friend was serving me a lovely multi-course New Year's dinner and she said over the appetizers, "Emma, why don't you write us a good middle-grade book about kids who have two mothers? That rarely comes up in a book." By the next course I decided that I had to do more than that. It had to be a really big and interesting story. So I thought, what if we have this very liberal, very hippy family, who, despite being lottery winners, also go out scavenging through the garbage recycling things because they are so zealously environmentalist? Then, what if I complicate things by having a crusty old grandfather, who has never met these children, have to move in with them because he is experiencing early dementia? And what if I set the stage for an appalling culture clash between this old man and this "brood of mongrels" as he calls them? Suddenly, I had a much more interesting scenario on my hands.

Emma Donoghue's comments have been edited and condensed.