Iain Lawrence has worked as a logger, a small-town journalist, a fisherman and a fish farmer, among many other jobs. He's also the acclaimed author of 15 books for young readers, including Gemini Summer, which won the Governor-General's Literary Award for Children's Literature, and a past recipient of the prestigious Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People. His latest novel, The Skeleton Tree, about two boys stranded in the Alaskan wild, was just published by Tundra Books.
Which fictional character do you wish you'd created?
Without a doubt, that would be Captain Ahab. I have to admit that my mind went adrift when I read Moby Dick, and it's really Gregory Peck who comes to my mind when I think of Herman Melville's vengeful whaling captain. But Ahab is amazing. He doesn't appear until the 28th chapter, when he's suddenly standing on the quarterdeck of the Pequod. Like the ship itself, Ahab has been patched with the bones of the animals that he hunts on the sea. He wears an artificial leg made of whalebone, as though he has become part whale himself.
Which fictional character do you wish you were?
Assuming I could live in the story as well, I would like to be Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride. I would be any of its characters, just to live out that story, but Inigo, with his noble quest to avenge the murder of his father, is my favourite. At my own father's encouragement, I studied fencing in high school, and I wish I'd kept it up. Unfortunately, the only thing I have in common with the dashing Spaniard is that I am not left-handed.
What question do you wish people would ask about your work (that they don't ask)?
Which parts are true? Time and again I draw from my past to provide the details in a story. I named a fictional bully after a boy who made a year of my childhood a misery, changing it just a little, so that he alone might recognize it. In The Skeleton Tree, some of the memories recalled by Chris are my own. I imagine every writer does the same thing, sometimes with a wicked glee. Novels must always be a blend of imagination and true confessions. I would love to know which real people are disguised in the names of characters, what real events are hidden plots, what confessions are made in secrecy.
Which books have you reread most in your life?
I like to watch movies over and over, but I seldom read a book more than once. I'm not a fast reader, so a novel is a considerable investment, and I already have more books to read than time left to read them. But among the few I've returned to are Treasure Island, and the Rabbit stories of John Updike. I go back to Treasure Island for its sheer adventure and romance, and to Updike for his lessons. In Harry (Rabbit) Angstrom, Updike created a more realistic character in a more realistic world than I could ever imagine.
What's the best death scene in literature?
Oh, poor Old Yeller. I still get so sad when I think of him that I feel like crying. The death of that old dog at the hands of his young owner probably shaped the way I tell stories. I have a rule now that something sad has to happen, and that someone has to die. It was heartbreaking when I first read about the death of Old Yeller, and worse when I first saw it in the Disney movie. Do I remember where I was when I heard Kennedy was shot? No – I was eight years old. But I remember very clearly watching Old Yeller collapse on the street on a television screen in Calgary. I think it might have been the moment my childhood ended.