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. :)