A prolific author, screenwriter and playwright, Emma Donoghue is most known for her 2010 novel Room, a finalist for the Man Booker Prize adapted by Donoghue into the acclaimed 2015 film of the same name. Despite all her success and applause, the Irish-Canadian writer found it all to be child’s play in comparison to her latest venture – fiction for middle-graders.
It wasn’t writing the books – 2017’s The Lotterys Plus One and 2018’s The Lotterys More or Less – that was daunting for Donoghue, but the promoting of them to groups of students. “I imagined hordes of children bored by me,” the 49-year-old Dublin native says. “I see my own children, the way their eyes glaze over.” From her home in London, Ont., the author spoke to The Globe and Mail about the new experience of writing for young readers and reading to them, too.
IN HER WORDS
I think kids love the feeling of ownership over a world. As an author, creating that world is enormous fun. I get to throw in stuff that is happening every day: things I read about, things that are happening to friends of mine and real personal mistakes and mishaps. If I mess up as a parent, I think “Oh, I can use that for the Lotterys books.”
Or I can write about something that I’d be too cowardly for. In the second Lotterys book, I have people jumping into Lake Ontario on New Year’s Eve to raise money. I’d love to be as brave as that. But no way.
I’m getting to live vicariously through the Lotterys family, then, doing everything, written large, with seven kids and four parents and living in Toronto rather than London. It’s kind of a fantasy version of my parenting life, with everything bigger and bolder.
When I started writing the Lotterys, I was really keen about writing for children. But I didn’t feel I had any magical gifts for dealing with children en masse. I’ve never been one of those mothers who are completely charming and delightful to her children’s friends. So, I was nervous of doing promotional events. I knew it would be necessary, because in promoting for children, they don’t sit around reading book reviews. Live events are very useful in forming connections with them.
But I was worried. I imagined they would throw spitballs. I know that sounds like cliché fiction, but I couldn’t imagine them being in any way polite, like adults are.
I did my first event in a tiny school in Nova Scotia. I was wracked with nerves. But then when they were incredibly nice and welcoming. I thought, “Well, maybe that’s just because they don’t get many visitors.”
But then I did an event with 700 kids in Calgary. They bused in children from two other schools. They were all sitting uncomfortably on a hard floor, and, yet, they were enthusiastic listeners. I soon realized that not only were kids pretty tolerant of a visitor, but also that teachers and librarians do a huge amount of preparation. You’re not going in cold. You’re part of an educational sequence, where teachers have talked to the children about the issues, read the book, shown the pictures, told them about you, got them all revved up and often got them to prepare questions in advance.
I imagined I would go in and the children would just stare at you. I realize now that schools don’t invite you in unless they’re really going to make it a whole part of their term. So, I feel a little sheepish that I was so nervous.
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