Guest Blogger–Jan L. Coates

Today, I am pleased and excited to welcome Jan Coates to my blog. I met Jan a bit over a year ago just before her book, “A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk” was published. Jan’s book made the shortlist for the Ann Conner Brimer Award this year and has also been nominated for Saskatchewan Young Readers Choice Awards (SYRCA) Snow Willow Award; USBBY Honor List of Outstanding International Books 2011; Skipping Stones Honor List, 2011 Way to go Jan!!! Check out Jan’s blog over at Jan L. Coates, Author

A Lost Boy, a Cup of Coffee, Hares and Elephants

When I visit schools as an author, I confess to students that one of the characteristics essential to being a writer is nosiness. They usually giggle, but lots of them are willing to admit to being nosey, too. Well, the younger students will admit to it, anyway. When I describe myself as nosey, I mean it in a good way – I’m simply interested in people and why they do the things they do. Most days as I go about my daily life, I see four or five things that are story-worthy; if only I could retrieve them from the dark recesses of my memory at the right time! Four years ago, when the Acadia Alumni Bulletin asked me to interview Jacob Deng, then an Acadia student, I jumped at the chance as I already knew a little of his story because he had visited my daughter’s school a few weeks earlier. So, we arranged to meet for coffee.

Little did I know that a two-hour meeting over coffee would lead to me spending three years researching and writing Jacob’s story as a Lost Boy of Sudan between 1987 and 1994. During our first two hour meeting, we laughed and cried, and Jacob talked and talked while I listened incredulously. How could boys as young as 5 survive being ripped away from their families by war, only to have to walk for weeks through unbelievably grueling conditions? I was already a children’s writer when Jacob and I met, but I had never written anything longer than picture book manuscripts. As I walked down the street after saying goodbye to Jacob that day, I was already thinking that his story needed to be told for young readers; readers who, like me, are most often blissfully unaware of, or at least not paying attention to, the horrible conditions people around the world are forced to endure on a daily basis.

Of course, I had no idea of the work that would be involved in writing a 300-page novel, regardless of the topic. But I was determined, and once I decide to do something, it takes a lot to deter me from that course. An unexpected heart attack a few months after my initial meeting with Jacob, a striking reminder of how precious time is, spurred me on and gave me time to begin writing. As I started to research and write, things fell into place. I received a mentorship from the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia which enabled me to write the bulk of the manuscript under the wise and intelligent guidance of Gary L. Blackwood. I then submitted it to Peter Carver, children’s editor at Red Deer Press, and he called to say he loved it – a dream-come-true telephone call that made me weepy.

Twelve months later, A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk was launched. Proceeds from the book are being shared with Wadeng Wings of Hope, Jacob’s foundation through which he’s raising money to build a school in South Sudan, the world’s newest country! It’s all good, and it all began with a 400-word magazine article and a cup of coffee…

Speaking of coffee, the first time Laura and I met for coffee, I’m sure that meeting lasted for at least three hours – yay, coffee! Thanks, Laura, for asking me to be part of your blog

*I admit to scarcely remembering the taste of the coffee, Jan. Just the great conversation we had that day. Thanks for dropping in and sharing this with us. :)

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12 Comments

  1. I’m quite nosey myself!

    Congrats on the nominations!! :D

    Reply
    • Thanks for your support, Melanie – maybe we’ll meet up some day – I’ve heard so much about you! (all good, of course…)

      Reply
  2. Wendy Elliott

     /  August 31, 2011

    Hey Jan, you have the makings for a good reporter too. Curiousity is a good thing.

    Reply
    • Hi, Wendy – when I headed to Acadia in 1978, that was my original goal. I’m still hoping Shannon might go that route:)

      Reply
  3. Wonderful article. Congratulations, Jan, your book sounds wonderful. Thanks for sharing your story. It never fails to inspire me hearing how other writers got to where they are. Thanks, Laura.

    Reply
  4. Thanks Laura for interviewing Jan. Her book is intriguing and important for young people to read. I am always keen to share stories of other cultures. I would be curious to know how Jan came up with the title of the book. A great interview!

    Reply
  5. Hi, Darlene: I get asked that question regularly during school visits. Even without having read the book, some kids can usually figure out that the Elephant is the war when I tell them Jacob is the Hare (both in personality and physically). I think I went through about 15 titles before deciding on that one – my mentor, Gary Blackwood, was insistent I have an intriguing title. I’m still happy with it:) Thanks for reading!

    Reply
    • It is a great title Jan and one kids would love (and figure out much quicker than us adults!)

      Reply
      • In hindsight, of course, I was thinking my reply may have been a little insulting – it certainly wasn’t meant to be:) Happy writing!

        Reply
  6. Interesting background, and story that needs to be told. Thanks, Laura and Jan.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your interest – before meeting Jacob, I knew nothing about the Lost Boys of Sudan. About 5,000 of them ended up in North America as young adults, and there have been some other accounts of their stories written – “God Grew Tired of Us”, and “What is the What”, for example. Jacob’s a good example of “what doesn’t defeat us makes us stronger”.Cheers!

      Reply

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