Settle in folks; I’m about to share one of my biggest parenting crushes with you all. Do you have a parenting crush? You know, someone who you look at in amazement and wonder just how they manage to pull it off so well? The parents you wish would move next door so your kids could spend more time hanging out at their house, hoping the good parenting will rub off on them and you? At the top of that list for me is my friend Dave Atkinson and his lovely wife Erin Bateman. (He gets top billing only because this post is supposed to be about him and his new book. But we’ll get to that.)
I met Dave in 2007, on his first day working at CBC Radio in Cape Breton. We’d both been with the corporation for a few years, but he and Erin and their two young kids had just relocated to Sydney. I remember being impressed at the number of moves this family had made with young kids – coming to Cape Breton via Saint John, Iqaluit, and Fredericton. Now having kids, I’m in complete awe of how easy they made the transition look!
Dave and Erin are kind, creative souls who embrace the people and places in which they live. They’ve raised three amazing young people who are a treat to visit with – and how many eight, 10, and 12 year olds can you say you enjoy sitting down for a meal with because they’re going to fill you full of wacky stories and funny facts and honestly teach you things? These kids are awesome and it makes me giddy seeing our trio of little people look up to them as friends and role models.
One of the biggest parts of our parenting crush (my husband agrees; he wants them to raise our kids, too!) is their ability to roll with the punches – be that life’s twists and turns or the kids’ latest blow ups. One of those curveballs sent the family on another move, this time to PEI. It’s where they are now, and where Dave has found the time to pursue a writing career. His first book, Wereduck, was released in September 2014 – and it landed him on the shortlist for the 2016 Hackmatack Children’s Choice Book Award alongside Jean Little. This month, he’s celebrating the release of the sequel, Cure for Wereduck, and I’m so excited to get my hands on a copy. One of the many reasons? It’s set right here in New Brunswick, and even mentions our little corner of the province. (Full disclosure: I’m still pretty giddy my name makes a cameo in the first book!)
I sent Dave a few questions about being a writer, a parent, and the new book – and if you read through to the end, there’s a little surprise from his publisher!
What’s your quick synopsis of the Wereduck series so far?
Oh man! I’ve never tried to sum up both books. LET’S DO THIS.
Kate is a super fun gal with a biiiig problem. She’s grown up in a family of werewolves, and on her 13th birthday, she’ll become one, too. Great, right?
Not for Kate. She’s never felt like a wolf. She’s always felt more like a duck. So when the moon comes out, instead of howling… she quacks… and becomes a duck. A wereduck!
Kate, her family, and her best pal John are forced to move from their home in the woods of New Brunswick at the end of book one, because a nosy tabloid reporter (nicknamed Dirt Bag) is hot on their heels. In the beginning of book two, they’ve moved into a little farmhouse in southern Ontario.
Best pal John is also a werewolf. He’s grown up believing his non-werewolf mum died when he was a baby, but he discovers it’s not true. Cure for Wereduck is the adventure Kate and John have as they travel back across the country to find the mum he’s never known. It’s all complicated by the reporter on their heels, John’s grumpy (and dangerous?) dad trying to find them, and an awfully inconvenient moment when they find themselves in a crowded passenger train on the night of the full moon.
(Seriously; doesn’t that sound like such a fun read? I couldn’t even bare to turn Dave’s answers into a proper article, because I just wanted to quote everything he wrote. So I’m just going to keep posting this as a Q&A!)
Tell me about the reaction to the first book – what were you expecting sales/reviews to be like and how did that compare to the real experience – touring schools, on stage at Hackmatack, etc.?
It’s been really good! I never thought anything would ever become of the manuscript, so the fact that was published at all seems like a miracle to me. I’ve learned a lot with the first book, including the fact that it’s really hard being a children’s author in Canada! We just don’t have the market size that they do in the states. In Canada, a book becomes a best-seller at 5,000 copies (which sounds like a lot, but hahahaha boy it’s not).
Luckily, I never dreamed of rolling around in a money pile. The best part of this whole gig is the opportunity to meet and read to tons of fun kids. They even write me LETTERS, and I’m telling you, it’s the best. thing. ever.
Who do you have in mind when you’re writing about Kate?
I’ve been writing Kate for a bunch of years now, so now I just think of Kate. At first, I thought of different people. She’s named after Cape Breton comics artist Kate Beaton, who is absolutely my favourite writer in the universe. But now she’s just Kate. I know her pretty well, and I know how she’ll respond to any situation. I feel that way about most of the characters in the book. I was stuck a bit in my writing recently, and I realized it was because I was trying to force a character to respond to something in a way that he would never actually respond. So I stopped fighting it, and it worked way better.
What impact do you think it has on young readers to see their own communities – like Boundary Creek – reflected in fictional stories?
Oh huge! Kids really notice that. When I do readings in New Brunswick, the kids are so jazzed about the fact that THIS BOOK happens RIGHT HERE. That’s really special to them.
What’s your advice to parents who have aspiring writers at home?
Let ’em write! Don’t get in the way. Whatever they want to write, let them. Don’t try to give them assignments. And don’t pressure them to finish something. For me, growing up, I started dozens of novels and finished exactly none of them. I realize now that finishing wasn’t important. The important part was getting excited about ideas and putting them down on paper. Each of those unfinished works have made me a better writer and storyteller.
Also, don’t worry if the thing your kid is writing is eerily similar to something else. In Grade Five, I was assigned to write a one-page Christmas story. My story was 23 pages long, and it was basically the movie Back to the Future but with a Christmas tree. And it was okay! That’s how we tell stories. We take the things we know and make them our own. I always tell kids I didn’t invent the idea of werewolves. We’ve been telling stories about people who turn into wolves FOREVER. All I did was change it a bit and make it mine.
How do you encourage your children’s interests?
By encouraging them, by studying with them, by helping them find the resources they need, and then standing back so they can make it their own. I’ve realized recently that so much of my job as a parent (and as a homeschooling dad) is to work on their confidence. If they feel good about the things they do, they’ll do a better job, and they’ll want to do it again.
(Now you can see why he and Erin are on the top of our parenting crush list!)
How do you find time to write and encourage your own interests with a full time job and three kids?
It’s really not easy, but we work together as a family. I have a full-time job at UPEI. I only write fiction for a few hours on Sunday mornings. I get a lot done in that short window because I spend my week planning what I’ll write. I walk to work, and during that time, I think about plot, characters, and dialogue, so by the time Sunday rolls around, I just sit down and start typing. If I ever have problems on Sunday morning, I know it’s because I didn’t plan well enough during the week.
It’s a balancing act, and I know that every moment I take writing is a moment I’m away from my family. I also want to make sure my wife gets time to be her creative self, so we plan out every week so that we both have time. Some weeks we’re better at it than others.
How does it feel to have your words – a story you created – being read by families around the country?
Uh, amazing? 🙂
You’re touring through New Brunswick again – where can families find you?
Will you be spending any time in the woods, quacking at the moon?
I’d tell you, but I don’t want Dirt Bag the reporter to find out and write about it in his ridiculous tabloid.
It’s always a good thing to watch out for those reporters, especially the ones from down the hall. 🙂
Thanks to another talented friend, Kristi, for the awesome Cure for Wereduck photo to use with this post.