Books·Magic 8 Q&A

How going for a walk solves most of Jean E. Pendziwol's writing problems

The children's author has written her first book for adults — so we challenged her to take the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.
Jean E. Pendziwol is the author of The Lightkeeper's Daughters. (Harper Collins)

Jean E. Pendziwol's books for children have been nominated for the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award and the Governor General's Literary Award.

She's branching out with her first novel for adults, The Lightkeeper's Daughters, so we challenged her to take the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answer eight questions submitted by eight of her fellow authors.


1. Sharon Butala asks, "What is the main question that you wish somebody would ask you, although nobody ever has?"

As a children's author, I've spent more than a few days visiting classrooms, and I tell you, kids have the best questions and the least reservations asking them! So I've been asked a lot of things. In terms of my experiences writing, I think one question that I wish somebody would ask is how where I live has affected my career as a writer. It would be an interesting dialogue to look at the advantages and disadvantages of geography — especially in a country as vast and varied as Canada —  on both the creative and business aspects of being a writer.

2. Grace O'Connell asks, "What themes or objects or activities do you see popping up repeatedly in your work? Is there anything you've included in multiple books or works, consciously or unconsciously?"

I'm not sure it's a conscious choice, but certainly a natural tendency to include themes related to where I live. (Am I answering question #1 here too?) My home is my inspiration. I grew up in northwestern Ontario and spent much of my childhood sailing on Lake Superior. I've paddled the lakes of Quetico and the Boundary Waters and explored the boreal woods in winter on skis and snowshoes. The influence of the people, places, geography and climate of my home, especially Lake Superior, has crept into my work in subtle and more defined ways, both in my writing for children and most recently in my adult novel The Lightkeeper's Daughters.

3. Ian Brown asks, "What is your fantasy job — the work you'd love to do if you weren't a writer?"

Creative writing is just starting to become my main endeavour. I've always worked in some capacity at other jobs including event management, freelance commercial writing and administration, not to mention full time parenting and I enjoyed them all. But if I wasn't writing, I think I would like to run an artist's retreat — a little place where people could come to reconnect with their craft and I would feed them and bake them fresh bread in a wood fired oven and pour them wine that they could sip it in front of a fire and they would go on to produce masterpieces. I'm not fond of the limelight and I'd much prefer to be feeding creativity in all the multi-faceted ways that could be done. 

4. Durga Chew-Bose asks, "What fictional depiction of friendship have you felt nearest to?"

Anne Shirley's descriptions of her various relationships has always resonated with me. I'm not terribly talkative, so I need people in my life who are kindred spirits – the Annes to my Matthew. And then there are bosom friends – those people to whom you can confide your innermost soul. I love how sometimes you just know when you meet someone for the first time that they're a kindred spirit.

5. Michael Christie asks, "What is the book you're most embarrassed to admit that you love?"

I don't think there are books that I would be embarrassed to admit that I love, but there are books that I'm embarrassed to admit that I DON'T love. There are lots of books that people assume everyone has read — great works of literary fiction both classic and contemporary. Some of them I just can't get into and I'm embarrassed to admit I don't love them. I don't care if they've won a million awards. Give me plot. Give me relatable characters. Give me beautiful descriptions that don't go on needlessly for page after dreary page. I want a book I can get lost in, not one that I'm supposed to love just because someone says it's fabulous.

6. Vivek Shraya asks, "What are your favourite songs or albums to listen to when you write? What songs or albums inspired your last book?"

I don't really have music playing while I'm writing, but music does play a major role in The Lightkeeper's Daughters, so I would sometimes listen to pieces by Mozart or Beethoven or Celtic fiddle music by Pierre Schryer. One of my characters, Morgan, listened to symphonic metal, so I had to search out samples from bands like Epica to listen to. And, of course, Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" comes to mind as a source of inspiration for a story set on Lake Superior, because "The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead / When the skies of November turn gloomy…"

7. Kate Taylor asks, "What was the last novel you read?"

The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich. Currently reading The Alice Network by Kate Quinn.

8. Gail Anderson-Dargatz asks, "Where do your best ideas find you? Shower, walk, kitchen sink, cafe, driving down the road?"

I'm a walker. If I have a plot problem to work through, I usually take it — and my dog — for a walk. But sometimes just staring out the window works too. It's been hard convincing my husband that I'm "working" when I'm simply sitting on the couch, cup of tea in hand (usually cold), watching the clouds scurry by or snowflakes fall. But I'm working. Really I am.

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