Lisa Dalrymple has lived with chickens in South Korea, a cat in Scotland, swam with sharks and a gecko (in her shower) in Thailand, swam and fished for piranha in the Amazon River – but she has never EVER shared a home with a polar bear. Between all her adventures, she’s also made some time to write several inspiring children’s books, including the award winning Skink on the Brink.
She lives with her husband in Fergus, Ontario, Canada. They have three energetic and imaginative kids who it would be only right to credit as co-creators of many of her children’s stories.
Skink on the Brink won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for Canada 2014 and has also been nominated for a Rainforest of Reading award in Grenada. A Moose Goes A’Mummering, her next book, is due to be released in October 2014.
We caught up with busy Lisa, if only to put her under our Author’s Spotlight. Let me tell you, we enjoyed it. Here’s Lisa!
About writing …
When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, so I don’t actually recall a time before I knew it was something I wanted to do. I do, however, recall the first time I submitted to a publisher. I was twelve and it was a middle-grade adventure story à la Nancy Drew or Trixie Beldon. I sent it to Grolier, the encyclopedia people, to ask if they would be interested in considering it for publication. Needless to say, they weren’t. (However, they did send me a very nice rejection letter.)
What book(s) has most influenced your writing?
As a reader and as a writer I go through phases. I often get so involved in another writer’s world that I find myself starting to write in a similar manner. I have to remind myself to step away in order to find my own voice again. Even then, there continue to be times when I hear in my own writing the influence of writers I’ve previously (and still) adore, like Margaret Laurence or Daphne Marlatt–or even as far back as Roger Hargreaves (of Mr. Men fame.)
When and where do you prefer to write?
At the risk of sounding like a difficult artist, I do need complete silence, with no distractions, in order to be able to write. As luck would have it, we live in an old house, with poor insulation and 3 incredibly energetic (read: loud) children. Needless to say, I just have to write whenever and wherever I can find a moment–which isn’t really often enough. As luck would also have it, however, I do tend to be able to write in just about any physical location. I actually have an old shelf, pulled from a bookcase, which journeys with me from room to room–to front porch, to front seat of our van, to anywhere else that I may be able to hide, curled up with my laptop on my knees.
What was your biggest challenge in writing your book?
I know how I work and I often spend years on a project. A 500-word picture book can easily take me 3 years to complete as I write, revise, walk away for a while, and then write and revise some more. This is part of my process. It’s infuriatingly slow, but there seems to be very little I can do about that. However, after a book is accepted for publication, a publisher usually likes to request further edits to be completed according to a publication timeline. This is always my challenge. Without the luxury of being able to put a piece away between rounds of revision, it’s difficult for my brain to be able to revise in the way that works best for me.
What advice do you have for other writers?
I’m always uncomfortable at being asked for advice when there is so much good advice out there from others far more qualified to give it. That’s probably why my advice is always to get out there, meet those other writers, listen, and learn–not only to what they have to say about craft or ‘the writing life’ but also about what’s going on in the business of writing and publishing too. Also, as author Karen Autio recently said, I cannot recommend a critique group enough. Even if your writing is awesome, I think there’s much value in receiving feedback from others and also in developing your own analytical eye as well.
About you …
What do you like to do when you are not writing (other than reading, of course)?
I enjoy gardening, cooking and baking–none of which I am particularly good at. Other than that, I enjoy sitting in my decrepit garden, eating the baking that even my children often won’t eat.
Can you share something that is happening in your life that would surprise us?
I love travelling and it seems our kids have been bitten by the travel bug as well. We recently returned from a 3-week road trip to Savannah, Orlando and New Orleans. A couple of years ago, without the kids, Marc and I were fortunate enough to trek up to Machu Picchu in the Andes and then to spend several nights in a jungle lodge on the Amazon in Peru. In November (2014), because Skink on the Brink has been nominated for the Rainforest of Reading award, I’ll be travelling to Grenada and St. Lucia as part of the literacy initiatives of OneWorld Schoolhouse. I can’t imagine a better melding of two of the things I enjoy most.
Do you have any unique talents besides writing?
My husband, hovering over my shoulder as I answer these questions has suggested that I’m really good at “making lists.” I hope that qualifies as, technically, I guess, making lists is still a kind of writing.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I have a new picture book coming out in October 2014. It’s called A Moose Goes A Mummering and it is being illustrated by David Sturge. At Christmastime, in Newfoundland, Canada, mummers disguise themselves and visit their neighbours while trying to keep their identity a secret. Houses are filled with music, food, friends and mischief. When Tuckamore Books asked me to write a Newfoundland “Twelve Days of Christmas” story, I thought this would be a fabulous idea for a fun and festive children’s book. Dave has been doing a terrific job with the illustrations and I can’t wait to see it completed.
Quick hits …
Is there an author that you would really like to meet?
Virginia Woolf. Unfortunately, that’s pretty unlikely to happen.
What book are you currently reading?
Last night, I finished The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and, this morning, a neighbour has dropped off The Man from St. Petersburg by Ken Follett, so I’m technically “between books.”
Who designed your latest book cover?
Because I write picture books, most of the credit for the covers needs to go to the illustrators. Suzanne Del Rizzo, of course, created the artwork for Skink on the Brink and Elizabeth Pratt created the artwork for Bubbly Troubly Polar Bear and If It’s No Trouble… a Big Polar Bear.
What is your favourite quote?
The first quote that comes to mind is one sent to me by one of my critique partners, Aimee Reid. It’s the beginning lines of the poem “Walking to Sleep” by Richard Wilbur and I’ve been turning to them a lot lately:
As a queen sits down, knowing that a chair will be there,
Or a general raises his hand and is given field glasses,
Step off assuredly into the blank of your mind.
Something will come to you.
Stewie the Skink is a lizard with an identity crisis. As he is growing up, his shockingly bright blue tail is fading to gray and, to make matters worse, he seems to be developing a red head. Stewie is a fun and engaging character who darts through the woods making up rhymes while he’s looking for lunch, whispering songs while he’s dodging predators and, one day, realizing he needs to discover just who he is if he can no longer call himself “Stewie the Blue.” He demonstrates for readers what a skink is, why it needs protection and how it’s important to respect yourself for who you are, even as you change and grow. Skink on the Brink also includes non-fiction back matter with bonus information and activities for students.
It’s “Bring Your Kids to Work Day” and Dad is taking Nat and her polar bear to Mr. McDermott’s Detergents and Soaps. Nat promises Bear will be no trouble until she hears that Floppery Flippery Slippery Slop sound, and she wonders just who else Bear has brought with him. Surely a big polar bear and all his pesky friends couldn’t get into too much bubbly troubly in a soap factory, right?
Natalie’s finished her Christmas list. It’s really quite perfect, with one little twist: a remote control scooter, some candy to share and, if it’s no trouble, a big polar bear.
But a fun-loving bear as a pet? He’s very big and always hungry. And he scares the pants off the mail lady. How will Natalie ever convince the grown-ups that, despite all his shenanigans, a polar bear really is no trouble?
Here are a couple of Lisa Dalrymple appearances:
Lisa, it’s been wonderful to learn about your journey. We wish you success with A Moose Goes A Mummering in October and with your Rainforest of Reading Award nomination. Enjoy your baking, garden and Grenada!