Books·How I Wrote It

Why Kit Pearson plows through the first draft of her books

The award-winning author and self-described "great procrastinator" talks about writing A Day of Signs of Wonders, a finalist for the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award.
Kit Pearson's book A Day of Signs and Wonders is inspired by the childhood of Canadian artist Emily Carr. (TD Canadian Children's Literature Award)

In A Day of Signs and WondersKit Pearson brings together two very different young girls — rambunctious, budding artist Emily Carr and reserved socialite Kitty O'Reilly — for a day of art and healing in B.C.'s picturesque outdoors. Though it is not known whether the two ever met in real life, as a girl in the 1880s Carr did stay at a house next door to O'Reilly's home, known as Point Ellice House.

Below, Pearson discusses the inspiration behind the book, which was a finalist for the 2017 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award.

Two very different girls

"They were both interested in art, but Emily was a genius whereas Kathleen was an ordinary young girl. I thought it would be interesting to contrast them. It's hard to find out anything about Kathleen, whom they called Kitty. She has diaries but they're incredibly boring. Just, 'Went for tea. Played golf.' 

"It was easy to recreate Emily from what she what she wrote about herself and what people wrote about her. She was a real character even at nine years old. She was feisty and exuberant and greedy and passionate and already showing signs of being a good artist. They were so different, but then as they became real to me as fictional characters, I thought they would probably console each other. Kitty's little sister had died. She was still mourning her. Emily, in a way, was like her little sister come to life, but was different from what her real sister was like."

Plowing through the first draft

"I didn't plan [the book] very much at the beginning. First, I do a lot of research and then I forget about the research and just sit down and start writing. It's quite excruciating, really awful, short and fast. But at least I get it out — I'm a great procrastinator and I like to put things off.

"The essence of the story, especially the emotions which are the most important, come out [when writing the first draft]. Those I don't change much. Millions of other things changed, but the core, the essence, I have to write really fast to get that. I just have to plow through it and then go back."

Introducing young readers to Emily Carr

"I'd love for readers to find out about Emily Carr's art and her writing. I discovered her art when I was a teenager in Vancouver. My mother and I used to go down to the old Vancouver Art Gallery and I couldn't believe these paintings of trees; it just made you want to walk right into the painting. We had moved from Edmonton to Vancouver and the big trees were astounding to me."

Kit Pearson's comments have been edited and condensed.


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