Our guest: Maureen Fergus is the Winnipeg-based author of a seriously great new children’s picture book called Buddy and Earl (Groundwood, 2015; out August 1 in Canada, and August 11 in the U.S.), illustrated by Carey Sookocheff, among many other picture books and novels.
The Proust-Esque Questionnaire is based on a set of 36 standardized questions designed by Marcel Proust in the 1890’s to give an overview of the respondent’s personality. Our goals are less lofty, but hopefully will provide some insight into how your favorite authors and illustrators work and what they love.
1. WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
I recall being utterly enthralled by a Christmas picture book, the name of which I couldn’t tell you. I couldn’t have been more than three years old; the book was huge in my hands and even with my legs sticking straight out, my feet barely reached the edge of the couch cushion.
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
I don’t identify with characters as much as I briefly inhabit them and experience what they’re experiencing. When a book is good, it’s like I’m actually there.
J.K. Rowling (right) is probably my favorite author because she is both talented and inspiring (my children still tease me about the time I got all teary-eyed while watching her do an interview).
As far as illustrators, I must say I’m a huge fan of the illustrators of my own picture books; I feel inexpressibly lucky to have worked with such gifted people.
4. IF YOU WERE THROWING A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
Mark Twain, Dr. Seuss (left), Ortega (the talking gorilla from my 2011 novel), J.K. Rowling and Laura Ingalls Wilder.
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
I would say honesty. It doesn’t really matter what the book is about, but it needs to feel like the author/illustrator believes in what they are saying
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
Humour. For some reason, I can find a funny twist in almost any situation. Even when I tell myself that I’m going to write something serious, it always ends up being at least a little bit funny.
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
Hmmm… I think it would be awfully interesting to come back as a brave, talented, famous young wizard who has a fortune in gold in a vault at Gringotts. Do you know any characters that fit that description?
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I don’t think that way. If I’m not immersed in writing a new book, I’m looking forward to the next project. I don’t look back and wonder what I could have done differently. Besides, I like my previously published books. I’m proud of them!
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
My first editor told me to read my writing aloud. This technique is hugely helpful when I am editing; I am constantly amazed by how different my words sound when I hear them with my ears compared to when I “hear” them in mind.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
Usually I write for about eight hours a day. However, if I’m trying to finish a novel I’ll sometimes write for twelve hours or even more. On a good day, I’ll write about fifteen hundred words; other days, I’ll do nothing but delete words. It doesn’t matter if I’m feeling inspired or not – if it’s a writing day, I write!