Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Alison Hughes on hooking reluctant readers and the fictional characters she'd invite to dinner

The author of the YA novel Hit the Ground Running, which is a finalist for a Governor General's Literary Award, answers eight questions from eight fellow writers.
Alison Hughes is the author of the young adult novel Hit the Ground Running. (Barbara Heintzman)

Alison Hughes is an author from Edmonton, Alta., who has published picture books, young adult novels and short stories. Her latest book, the YA novel Hit the Ground Running, follows a teenage girl and her little brother, as they embark on a road trip from their home in Arizona to Canada after their father disappears. The book is a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text.

Below, Hughes takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight questions from eight fellow writers.  

1. Aviaq Johnston asks, "What is your favourite thing to hear from people who have read your work?"

Writing for young people, I love to hear that one of my books has hooked a reluctant reader. It's very humbling that in some small way, I might have helped nudge open a door leading to escape, adventure, empathy and connection.

2. Danielle Younge-Ullman asks, "What do you do when you're feeling creatively exhausted, to regenerate?"

I get away from my desk. Throwing myself into physical work, like yard work, cleaning or painting seems to help. My house is never cleaner than when I've just finished a book. I also bike and walk a lot, on trails in the river valley. I try not to think or plan, but just observe and move. Usually, within a few days, another project starts to whisper. 

3. Gregory Scofield asks, "If you could change one thing about anything you've written, what would it be? And why?"

When I started out, I felt I had to explain everything, sometimes twice. Dreadful, annoying, heavy-handed writing. Thankfully, much of it wasn't published; I've since become a cold and ruthless editor, and learned to trust the reader to make connections.
4. Ed Riche asks, "Is there a literary genre that you cannot imagine working in?"

Memoir holds no appeal for me (too revealing); neither does horror (bit of a wimp). But I've written all forms of children's literature, short story, articles and poetry, so I suppose I'm wary of falling into writing ruts. Currently, science fiction seems most daunting to me, which probably means that it should be next on my list.

5. Hoa Nguyen asks, "What is your writing area or desk like? Please share a description"

My desk is in a corner of our under-used living room. A foldable screen shields me from the kitchen traffic, and I have a good supply of silicone earplugs. I have a few lamps to stave off gloomy winter days, a tall vase of wooden tulips from Amsterdam, and various dogs and cats who wander in to nap on the couches and chairs. 

When I need a change of scene (or closed doors), I drive to a park, open the windows and write in the car. I highly recommend car writing.

 6. Silvia Moreno-Garcia asks, "If you could have dinner with a fictional character, who would it be and why?"

I'd invite Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus to walk me through (and explain) that baffling day in Dublin. Ulysses has defeated me three times.

7. Paul Yee asks, "Do you think writing is a talent that you're born with or is it a skill that can be learned?"

Talent or learned skill? A bit of both, I think, if by "talent" we mean a natural curiosity, a tendency to observe and wonder, and a need to express it fluidly in writing. While all that may provide the spark, practice, persistence and dogged determination also count for a lot. 

8. Allan Stratton asks, "Some writers are in peak form until they die, others have a sharp drop-off. Do you plan to keep publishing if you're in decline; if not, how do you think you'll know when the time has come?"

I'm hoping my children will have to pry the pen out of my gnarled, dead fingers. 

However, I'm pretty clear-eyed about my writing, so I suspect I'll know when it's losing strength or resonance. Publishing tends not to be within the writer's control, so the editors will also help to decide what's worth putting out there. But published or not, I'll keep writing as long as the spring still bubbles up.


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