'I have a confession to make: if I have my druthers, I pick a good children's book over an adult book every time. So when asked by the editor to interview a local children's author, I knew immediately that I wanted to chat with Welwyn Wilton Katz. Having read seven of her books, my excitement peaked on the interview day - just ask my fellow bookmates!
'I found Welwyn Katz to be a woman of many passions, insights, and talents. She was raised in London. Her parents never dreamed that their daughter would become a writer. Needing a stable job, Welwyn taught math at South Secondary School for seven years. She liked the kids but after four years realized that teaching did not stimulate her enough.
'As a child, Welwyn had read Enid Blyton, Arthur Ransome and Carolyn Keene's Nancy Drew books. As an adult, she discovered wonderful fantasy writers such as Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. "My favourite books [of mine] to date are Out of the Dark and The Third Magic because of the fantasy and myths that they embody."
'When Welwyn Katz started to write, it was on fantasy that she set her sights. Her first rejected work was for adults, a "Lord of the Rings" look-alike. In re-reading it, she realized that the best ninety pages involved children as heroes. She doesn't consider herself a children's writer and strongly rejects labels. "I happen to be a writer with children in my stories," she says, conceding that she shares an affinity with 10- to 16-year-olds. She feels that this age group embodies the potential for change, as their ideas are not set.
'The setting is key for Katz when beginning to write a new book. She visited Newfoundland, the setting for Out of the Dark, to get the authentic feel of the place. My favourite book by Katz is because of the setting. False Face, winner of a Governor General's Award, is set in London. It deals with Sifton Bog and Neutral Indians who might have had masks in their culture. The fun for me in this novel is visualizing the heroine, Laney, on the Richmond Street bus and imagining the stores that she went into on Richmond Row. Did she go into Oxford Book Shop I wonder?
'Katz's books appeal to both sexes because of her use of a hero and a heroine. She likes two points of view. It is easier to write and provides two ways to get information to the reader. "Also," states the pragmatic author, "publishers like it too!"
'Welwyn Wilton Katz has some definite views on the publishing industry, especially where it concerns her teenaged daughter, Meredith (a twice published author in In 2 Print magazine). Although proud of her, she would not encourage her to be a writer. The pace is gruelling and there is not enough money in it. For the first five years, Katz wrote eight to ten hours a day. "Very few writers can make a living by just writing," she says. "In trying to stay alive, a writer takes on reviews, editing, and speaking engagements so that there is less time to write."
'For the past two years, Welwyn Katz has been focusing more on spiritual growth and reading books on religion, than on her own writing.
'Welwyn encourages adults to read children's books. She agrees with C.S. Lewis that if a book was good at seven, it will be good at seventy.
'I like the way this London author writes. Her books stretch your imagination, make your heart thump with anticipation, and give you a sense of closure when the last page is turned. Welwyn Wilton Katz's new book is coming out in the fall of 1999. "Very different," is all she will say. "Can't wait," say I.'
--M. Margison, "The Oxford Times", Spring/Summer 1999
MM: As a writer, you have come under some attack recently, so I think you would enjoy hearing how my students responded to the whole "appropriation of voice" and other charges levelled against you. When they presented a group seminar on your novel False Face, they chose one student (David Upper) as a primary lecturer. Then, by pre-arranged design, as soon as he started to express a point of view, someone would jump up from the audience and interrupt him. If he said he would speak on Native rituals, someone would declare herself an expert and come up and take over; likewise, there were experts on divorce, race, etc. etc., all of whom silenced him. After all this, David took off his hat and sunglasses (he had fairly long hair) and revealed his "real identity" as the author, Welwyn Katz. He then gave his/her point of view, and defended him/herself in relation to all the topics. He ended by saying of False Face that, despite all these dissenting voices, "It's a damn good story!"
WWK: What an interesting children's literature course you must have, Marianne! And thanks to your student, David Upper. I hope he was speaking as himself rather than in his role as me! This anecdote addresses so much of what I want to say about the reading of books generally, as well as the reading of my own. A story has integrity, and if the story is to be enjoyable, it probably cannot be interrupted by other voices crying "foul". Most readers, and especially children, read a story from beginning to end, and as far as I know, don't interrupt themselves to think upon topics such as divorce, race, point of view, etc. Of course, critics and academics do do that, sometimes.
MM: Some theorists would say that the reading of a book depends on whether the reader is the author's "intended reader". In the case of children's literature, some break this down into age groups. I never like to think of a book as intended for a certain age group. Do you write for a specific age group?
WWK: First, I never write for a particular reader, or even a group of readers. I don't determine the age-range for any of my books: my publisher decides that after they are written. Who I do write for is my own particular characters, who usually have problems (who doesn't?) and who need to deal with them. When I imagine characters, at first they seem rather like ghosts, or perhaps I should say, more like beings with bits of them in this world and the rest of them in another: That is, I see parts of them (usually their hearts and minds) rather more clearly than others, when I begin thinking about a book. As I think through their dilemmas, and build a plot around them, the characters become more and more like real people to me. In my latest book, Out of the Dark, Ben was and remains my son, and I love him now and loved him all the way through writing the book, even when he was being the most idiotic in his behaviour with the other children in Ship Cove. Now, when I say this, I'm not saying I'm the murdered Frances, who in my book was Ben's real mother. What I am saying is that I love Ben the way any mother who gives birth to a child loves that child. I did give birth to him -- in a way, more than Frances did -- and I understand him deep to his core, and weep for him still, when I remember his terrible moments in the parking lot and what has happened to him because of them. I cried many times when I wrote this book. Sometimes I simply had to get up from the computer and go away from Ben who so desperately needed comfort. It was hard for the mother in me not to let him have that comfort until he had earned it, until he had done all the things he needed to come to terms with himself and his past. I dream about him and wonder about him still, three years after the book came out. Obviously, then, to me Ben is real.
I hope I am a good enough writer to bring characters like Ben to life in the reader's eyes too, whoever that reader might be. I work very hard, in fact, not ever to misrepresent my character's heart and mind, but to let the character show by his/her thoughts, words, and actions, what he/she is feeling, and to write it so that even when the character doesn't know why he/she is feeling the way she/he does, the reader will. And so, what I hope for from my reader is a kind of dichotomy: that the reader, while retaining the intelligence to put together clues about my character's dilemma, on an emotional level will "become" my character.
I know that when reading a story that is exactly what I want: a believable plot-line, realistic setting, honest characterization and the intelligent weaving-in of the outer truth that the characters can't yet know; and as well and equally important, a story that will make me "enter into" the story and "become" the main character. So, for example, I would like my reader to forget for a brief space of time that she's a professor teaching the book or a literary critic judging the book as to its political correctness or interpreting it in the light of the newest theory. I want that reader to become Ben, to cry for him as I did and as many other people -- admired writers such as Kit Pearson, for example -- told me they did. I want them to remember what it was like to have become Ben when they later teach and analyse the book.
In a recent article in CCL, [Cornelia Hoogland's "Constellations of Identity in Canadian Young Adult Novels" 86, 23:2 (Summer 1997)] I felt that what I got was a post-modernist's attempt to deconstruct Out of the Dark and another of my books, False Face, into political statements. I thank that books are about individuals, and are not political statements about people as a whole. Individuals think what they think, and feel what they feel, and do what they do because they have individual pasts that have made them the way they are.
To be true to the individual characters in my books, I must sometimes allow them to think or act in a politically incorrect way. This is not me, Welwyn, thinking that way, or a statement that all people should think in that way. It is just the thoughts or action of one character who is to me a real person, and who must therefore be honoured by truthful representation, warts and all.
I have found it very painful over the last decade when people try to reduce some of my books into mere political statements. In her article, Cornelia Hoogland quotes a graduate student, Kara Smith, as saying "I don't feel that everyone Tom would have come across on the First Nation's [actually Six Nations'] Reserve would have been that way." In fact, Tom encountered only two people. These two people were individuals with their own way of behaving. One of them was a child who'd lost interest in Tom after he moved away (children do often do that). The other was an elder. Even elders are individuals. To imply that I use his comments as the voice of an entire people is unfair, both to me and to False Face.
Smith goes on to express another opinion: "Tom was left with the following impression then: I don't belong here because my mother is White, and therefore I belong in the White world (whatever that is). I doubt this is the message a First Nations' Reserve would convey, speaking from a person's point of view whose husband is Mohawk." (Hoogland 33). Does Kara Smith's marriage to a Mohawk make her an authority on all Mohawks? I wonder what she would have to say about the news story run on television on March 12, 1998, about the black man, adopted and raised by Mohawks in Quebec, and married to a Mohawk woman, with whom he has had children, who has spent his whole life on the reserve, and now cannot be part of the community because, the tribal authority dictates, he is not Mohawk by blood?
I do not try to make a blanket statement about all Reserves or all native people using just one news story. Individuals are all different. It is not the novelist's job to make sweeping statements about political things, but to write stories about events that could have happened to people who could have been real individuals. I really disagree with those postmodernists who think that any book can or should be broken down (deconstructed) into elements taken out of context. Catherine Madsen in the Winter 1996/7 issue of Cross Currents writes that we have found over the last few decades, "with a mixture of elation, anxiety, and plain irritation, that any theory of the world we construct can be deconstructed." Should the post-post-modernist's task then be to deconstruct the deconstructionists?
MM: I think it's important for people to understand the nature of writing fiction, the emotions involved in it. You are not doing a politically correct social study -- you are writing a novel. It contains feeling, and sometimes the feelings of flawed individuals. It is unfortunate when readers and critics do not realize that.
I think that you do portray convincingly how an adolescent's mind works. Of course, Tom would be confused about his identity, based on his heritage and on the society he's now living in. of course, Ben will have trouble adjusting to a different culture and place. Do you really feel that you are in your character's mind at the time, thinking as he would think?
I think that you do portray convincingly how an adolescent's mind works. Of course, Tom would be confused about his identity, based on his heritage and on the society he's now living in. of course, Ben will have trouble adjusting to a different culture and place. Do you really feel that you are in your character's mind at the time, thinking as he would think?
WWK: Yes, I do think so. But it is more complicated than that. I'm also being the author. I'll talk more about this later if you like. But, yes, I generally enter the mind(s) and heart(s) of the adolescent protagonists to a very deep level, as deep as I can go in my imagination. And I have very rigid rules about point-of-view in my own writing. What I consistently try to do is to allow my main character(s) to be in the place they want or need to be, while at the same time allowing myself to use that desire of theirs to let me enter one of their minds so that I can observe and narrate the entire scene through that particular character's viewpoint.
I try to keep to one point of view per scene if I have more than one protagonist. For instance, in Whalesinger there are three main characters: the mother whale, Marty, and Nick; and even if more than one of them are in a particular scene together, I try to choose only one of the main characters to be the eyes, ears, brain, and heart for the plot elements and reactive moments of the scene. I then transcribe all this by writing it all down for the reader. Because this requires that a main character be present in each significant scene, I do occasionally break this rule (usually because it would be horribly complicated to have the main character(s) present and might require pages and pages of artificial scenes). In The Third Magic, for instance, in one scene I allow the bad guy to be a point-of-view character. The plot required the reader to know what happened at a certain point, and I simply couldn't place Morgan or Arddu in the scene where the thing happened because each had chosen to be somewhere else at the time. And, of course, I sometimes make mistakes. I've recently found a point-of-view inconsistency in a scene between Laney and Tom in the school cafeteria, since the publication of False Face. Darn.
So, I believe I am in my character's head. I absolutely loathe it when characters are so obviously made to do exactly what the writer wanted. I think a writer should never manipulate characters, turning them into puppets. Characters should be real enough to have their own reasons for everything they do or say. And sometimes these things are not politically correct.
MM: Can you explain, then, how you are conscious of being the author, even while entering the mind of a character?
WWK: I'm not entirely within the character at any time in the book, because I have already decided on the external structure of the book and so am also generally keeping an eye on that structure. I think that I become a bit schizophrenic when I write. I am both me, the tactician and writer, and whichever main character I have chosen to be the point-of-view character for the scene. The characters tell me what they are doing and why. I listen and try to see how that fits into the external structure I'm trying to work with. If it doesn't, I go back to the character and offer him/her alternative reasons why they might do something different. If they accept that, then they will do what they want to do, and I am benefiting because I don't need to change my external structure of the book.
Sometimes, however, it becomes impossible to rationalize what the character wants and needs to do at a particular point in time with my own external structure. I have notes of my plotting for False Face, for instance, where I wrote down a question: Why would Laney go to her father's place after the scene in the store? I wanted her to do that, because I wanted him to be in the climactic scene, and I could think of no reason for him to come into the house of the woman he loathes except to confront her morally. That required him to know that she was trying to sell artifacts. But I knew Laney would never tell him that important fact about her mother. And so I changed the external structure to put the police in the scene, giving Laney every reason to choose to give them her father's address rather than her mother's. That got her there. I remember asking myself if Laney's dad was the kind of person who would go through her backpack and saying, no, no, he wouldn't, not unless he had a good reason. That was why he decided to look for a sweater or something else warm that she might have in there. So this is how it works, me entering the character's mind and asking them why they might want to do something, and if they don't, I have to re-plan my plot so that it will allow the character's wants and needs to take priority. I honestly can't explain it further.
Perhaps there is a part of me that has always been the adolescent I once was. But even that doesn't explain it, because I think my main adolescent characters are all different from each other and quite often extremely different from the adolescent I once was. At bottom, I suppose it all comes down to how an individual writer's imagination works.
Oh, yes, and one other thing. Have you noticed how most adults think that kids or adolescents are virtually another species? In stores, for instance, they always wait on the adult first, even if the kid has been there for ages. I hate that! I think that adolescents have the same kinds of minds and hearts as adults do, the same reasoning skills, the same rights, and the same basic needs. The big difference between adults and kids is that all kids are on a journey to adulthood, and the really interesting kids turn it into a quest. By contrast, most adults have reached their goal (hah! okay, they think they've reached their goal, and wonder why they aren't happier!) and so are no longer questing. That pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is still there for the really interesting kids, though to the vast majority of adults it has long been given up for lost.
I think kids are human beings. And so I listen to them, really listen. I ask them about important things. Maybe that's why I understand so well how adolescents think and feel. I'm known as "Ikuko-mama" to the sixteen or so fourteen-to-eighteen-year-olds in the Japanese Anime Club my daughter belongs to. These are kids who love Japanese animation. They joke that I am, in alter ego, the only mother figure in one of their favourite animation series. In a way, then, I'm one of them. They still will keep secrets from me, as all kids do from all adults, but they trust me to understand them if they do tell me things.
MM: What is it like to look at the world through Ben's, Laney's, Tom's, Marty's, Kinny's (etc.) eyes?
WWK: Well, it depends on the eyes. The eyes of my characters see what hurts them, and look for what they need and want. Sometimes they get to see what they need and want, and then I am happy for them. Sometimes they are only able to see what hurts them. Then I, too, am hurt. When they reach a moment of epiphany, as Morgan does at the end of The Third Magic when she realizes that she must nurture, love, and raise to adulthood a baby who will kill her only friend, I weep with her -- and with her, I'm proud of the honour she has that will make her do it. When I wrote the final line of the book (before the epilogue), I jumped up and down and laughed and cried for the rightness of it all, the blending within Morgan of circle and line. She and I both celebrated her moment of truth and we both wept at it. I am not Welwyn at times like these, I am somebody else altogether, a blending of Morgan and Welwyn, perhaps, neither one thing nor the other, but both in one.
Yes, I think that's the best way to describe it. I am the union of the writer and the character, in control of my words (though lines like that last one in The Third Magic come to me from "above", not through any conscious effort of my own), and controlled by the character's feelings. Yes, it's complicated.
MM: Could you tell us something about the point of view in Out of the Dark -- so totally within the boy's mind?
WWK: Out of the Dark is, of all the books I've written, the dearest to my heart. It is also, I think, my best book. I thought long and hard about point-of-view in this book. For a while I tried writing it in the first person. But it didn't work for me. Though I had thought that a first-person viewpoint would not be much different from that of a third-person one, it turned out I was wrong. First-person can be so whiney. Anyway, I decided to use third-person, and so to narrate only the scenes in which Ben participates. It was very difficult to do this, partly because I had to link the narrative so tightly to Ben and Ben only, and partly because it was emotionally horrible for me to be only in Ben's head all the time, when he is so screwed up, so sad, so lonely, so devastated by guilt.
When I use two points-of-view (that is, when I have two protagonists between whose heads I can leap, so allowing the story to be told through two sets of eyes and ears, two minds, and two hearts) the job of story-telling is much easier. But I simply couldn't allow myself that luxury in Out of the Dark. If I had, I would have not been able to make Ben's aloneness so complete for the reader. Had there been a second protagonist, each reader would have "become" Ben, and then, in relief, (s)he would be allowed to leave him and "become" that other point-of-view character, and so (s)he would not be the same kind of lonely that Ben is. I want the reader to be Ben. And so I deliberately decided that his loneliness would be the reader's, that his way of looking at the world would be the only one I would allow the reader to have. It gave me some hard moments, let me tell you. But I thought it extremely important to do it this way. It was also, though I see that only in retrospect, an incredible intellectual challenge, to weave three sets of stories together with only one person's mind and heart to make it all intelligible -- or rather, I suppose, two people's -- Ben's and the reader's!
MM: It is perplexing, then, when an adult academic, reading against the intended reader, reads the book so differently, as a sociological map. I think we have to find a better way of bringing literature for young readers into fields of academic studies, a way that doesn't lose the emotion and pleasure one can derive from the story.
WWK: Your comment is, I think, a very important one. The academic way of tearing a book apart can be exactly that: destruction. Academics can be guilty of reading a book through a particular lens, or theory, and thus destroying the part of that book that had once been alive. No one should study children's books academically who doesn't, first and foremost, love and honour the stories they have to tell.
This is not to say that academics cannot criticize a book. I've analysed many kids' books myself. But when I am critical of a book it is because I think the novelist hasn't been true to the characters, or the plot is unbelievable, or the setting is false, or there is something seriously wrong with the point-of-view, or any of those things that remove me from the world of the story and make me think like a critical writer. When many academics criticize a book, however, it is because they are bringing to it the ammunition that goes with their own agenda. They have so much riding on getting academic papers published and having their own trendy theories accepted, they simply look at books as meat to be torn to pieces and devoured.
Now, I'm probably going to get into trouble about saying that, but I don't really care any more. There comes a point when you simply have to fight against the gag of political correctness and say something. As you must see, Marianne, it is not only books that can be criticized from being politically incorrect. In fact, I will go further. I will come right out and say that when a book is labelled "politically incorrect", then the author will be branded with the same words in the public eye.
MM: It is true that some of these critics who read books as if they are sociological documents forget that they are works of fiction with a great deal of literary tradition behind them. How would you classify your books?
WWK: I don't classify my books at all. Some people have said my books are in the genre of "magic realism" similar to that Robertson Davies used. All I know for sure is that to satisfy me, my books must be realistic enough to allow any willing reader to enter the story, while still containing the sense of "other" that is not "realistic" at all. You could call the one common element in my books magic, I suppose, but then there is Whalesinger which contains no "real magic", only the magic of a mother whale whose singing can change history -- or so she thinks. I like to think of my books as "edgy", or "pushing the boundaries", something like that.
I absolutely agree with your statement that some critics read books as if they are sociological documents. Get a life, guys! That's what fiction is about -- people with lives that are not necessarily consistent with particular societies and whose behaviour does not always follow the rules.
MM: Regarding your mention of "real magic", I always ask the students, in relation to False Face, if it is fantasy or realism. I don't want them just to say, it's a mixture. I want them to realize that what's fantasy for one culture is reality to another, that Natives would be insulted by the white world calling the "magic" of the mask just a fantasy. So, for some of us, the book is totally realistic and possible.
WWK: Yet again you've got me thinking! False Face is certainly realism to Laney, Tom, Alicia and Ian! As for readers, I don't know. Some native people have responded to it with such outrage (that I, a white person, should dare to tell "their" stories; that I, a white person, should use the sacred symbol of the false face in stories at all) that I guess it must hold the authority of realism for them, too (though of course that may not be the reason). By the way, in case you want to know how I answer their objections: First, this is not a native story, and it is not one that any of them have tried to tell; so how can I be accused of taking their stories away from them? Second, I believe that all stories worth thinking about are at the bottom about important things like faith, love/hate, prejudice, etc., and there is no way to let such issues into a book if you leave out everything that is sacred to somebody! In any case, not all natives have responded this way, and not even all Iroquois. I bought my own set of masks from a store called Min's on the Six Nations Reserve. Surely if they can accept their craftsmen selling such masks to tourists, they have no right to object to seeing them written about in books! Yes, indeed, some natives would indeed be insulted by the thought that some white people would imagine the power of Gaguwara to be mere fantasy.
MM: I wonder if you can say more about "binary opposition"? The criticism is that Tom only sees himself vs. one other -- Native vs. White -- and that the book implies that only those two exist.
WWK: Gosh. Binary opposition. If I understand that concept correctly, it has something to do with a polarization of representations within a book, that somehow the really intelligent reader can reduce my books to two opposing statements or theories. In False Face, for instance, does it mean that Hoogland has reduced my book to the issue of white vs. native? I had a hard time understanding what she had to say about this. She says that "the novel does not suggest how Tom can deal with these submerged tensions or how they might co-exist with other aspects of life".
Well, here she is both right and wrong. Where she is right is that I do not, and Tom does not, and Laney does not (etc.) solve all of Tom's problems for him. I do not believe in a book ending with everybody riding off happily into the sunset. Such would be too simplistic and utterly unrealistic. What I hope happens to my characters is that by dealing with each individual event throughout the story they gain new tools for dealing with life, so that at the end there is hope for them but no promises. They are human, after all. They will continue to make mistakes, and continue to learn from them or not, depending on their individual internals. How can I or anybody else promise anything else for anyone? Promises for salvation are within God's domain, not the author's.
However, Hoogland is wrong because all my protagonists in all my books do a lot of growing and changing (otherwise they could not, at the end of the book, confront the problems that beset them throughout the book). I think it is made amply clear at the climax that Tom had a real insight into his own character that enables him to understand Alicia sufficiently to prevent her from doing what she might, so easily, have done to Laney. I think this has to do entirely with his coming to understand that he has been doing with his mother and with the other kids in school (Laney excepted) exactly what Alicia does to Laney: looking at things in a prejudging (prejudiced!) way by choosing as preferable exactly one external characteristic over another. Tom is prejudiced against his own mother and what he has inherited from her -- even prejudiced therefore against parts of himself -- simply because he perceives his mother as "only white". Alicia is prejudiced against Laney simply because she perceives Laney as "only an alter ego for Ian", because of her external likeness to him. By linking himself to Alicia -- by seeing their common error -- Tom is able to say the right thing to stop her.
And what is that right thing? "There's somebody in there behind those looks!" he cried, to Mrs. McIntyre, to all of them, to himself. "You don't know who, you never even tried to find out. You just looked and decided, and the real person never had a chance!" Is this the voice of someone who still looks on the world as divided into two opposing parts, white and native? How, then, can Hoogland think that I leave the book with Tom having acquired no grace to deal with his "submerged tensions"? And when she breaks False Face into only a "White" vs. "Native" issue, she merely repeats the errors that Tom and Alicia both make until they realize the truth: that the world cannot be broken down into two opposing halves. Neither can a book, unless it is a very bad book, and I do not believe False Face is that.
I believe that the great evils of the world have often come about by people or nations concentrating on the differences they find in themselves from other people or nations. I believe that there is a necessity for people to concentrate on their common humanity rather than to separate themselves into opposing and perhaps even hostile groups. When I say that Tom's tears are universal, I mean it. We all cry. We all are the same in that human way (among many others). Yes, of course, I believe we are all different, too. Isn't that obvious to anyone who reads my work? What my characters come to believe is that their differences are not great enough to be used to support statements like "natives are better than whites" or "whites are better than natives".
Now for Out of the Dark. Hoogland suggests that this is a simplistic book that can be reduced to two issues. Other people besides Hoogland have been upset by False Face, and so I was willing to take the time and the effort here to show my side of things. But I refuse to defend Out of the Dark against Hoogland's accusations. No one else has ever said anything negative in public (or in private, as far as I know) about this book since it was first published in 1995. Anyone without a prior agenda who reads Out of the Dark will know that Hoogland's statement that it "deals with identity and belonging in an unsatisfactory way" is simply nonsense.
MM: Would you comment on the article about your portrayal of mothers which appeared in CCL a few years ago?
WWK: Regarding that article, where "my" mothers were indeed presented as harmful or useless by their absence, or mad or bad by their presence in my books: I found I couldn't even finish reading the article the first time I saw it, it seemed so nonsensical to me. Since then I have reread it and found that the writer wasn't entirely off the mark in the specific points, though I think her overall thesis was all wrong. For example, while I agree that the mother whale is a loving example of "motherhood" to both her calfling and Marty, I don't see that I have had to leave the world of humanity in my books to portray decent, kind, loving mothers. For example, Jenny in Sun God, Moon Witch is a really god mother to Patrick, and a loving mother-substitute to Thorny, telling her the truth about why Thorny's real mother is absent in her life (and that she hadn't abandoned her at all.). The Moon Witch in that book is not a mother-figure to Thorny and doesn't pretend to be. She is, however, the mother of Belman (Bel = Baal) and their behaviour to each other is not that of the victim-son and victimizing mother, but equally vicious in their attempts to destroy each other (which happens to be well-researched mythology). Marty's mother in Whalesinger, though absent from the book, is not a bad mother; indeed, she is shown in Marty's flashback discussing her daughter's problems with the psychologist, something that a mother who didn't care would never do; nor would she have given permission for the tests if she wasn't worried about Marty's learning disability. As well, Ben's mother in Out of the Dark is incredibly present, though dead. And she is not harmful by her physical absence in the book. Frankly, I don't think I've seen a mother anywhere in literature more loving, more kind, more supportive of her children. What is harmful about her absence is that Ben feels that he is responsible for it, not that she isn't there for him now.
Out of the Dark shows that when you take responsibility for things that are not your responsibility you can make yourself sick. It is through Ben's own actions, in a sense rebuilding his mother as something alive to him forever, that Ben is freed and made whole again. There is also in that book, by the way, Gudrid, whose wisdom exceeds all other Vikings' put together, and who loves her son Snorri heartily and healthily. I know that this book came out after the article on "the mothers in my books" but it was not written in response to the article; in fact, Out of the Dark was at the publisher's before the article was even published, I believe.
I don't think strong mothers are either non-existent or omnipresent in society. Nor do I think the other kinds of mothers must be "absent" for their children. I think there are plenty of weak, loving mothers in society, such as Mrs. Aubry in my first book The Prophecy of Tau Ridoo. I think there are also mothers struggling to do their best in alternating custody situations for their children, such as Mike's mother in Witchery Hill. I think that there are rather stupid mothers who believe that they know best for their children, and try to stop those children from doing whatever they want, only to find out that their interference causes more damage than good: such as Kinny's mother in Come Like Shadows. I think there are some mad, bad mothers, such as Mrs. McIntyre in False Face, whose madness and badness comes out fully only in the right circumstances. And then I think there are some mad, evil mothers in real life who torture their little two-year-olds, or starve them to death, or imprison them. I have never portrayed such a mother because such a situation would be too odious for me to bear writing about. But Jill Paton Walshe did, in Chance Child. Let's face it, Mrs. McIntyre is not a loving mother, and she favours her older daughter, but if you were to ask her how she felt about her children before the masks entered her life, I think she would say she loves and treats both her children equally, and she keeps their life running efficiently and well. Of course she doesn't, but she thinks she does. I think, frankly, that I have portrayed mothers in my books in most of the ways they can be in life -- as a varied group of specific individuals.
MM: What role does research play in your creation of these stories and characters?
WWK: I do enormous amounts of research for most of my books. With regard to setting, I try to make a research trip to all of the place(s) where the book will take place (the North Pole was, unfortunately, beyond my resources, though I read a lot about it when I decided to set Time Ghost there.) For Out of the Dark I certainly went to L'Anse Aux Meadows and Ship Cove and walked the bog so often I can see and feel it now. For Whalesinger, besides living in the area for a year, I went back for a week-long research trip to make sure the setting was exact. I also did a lot of research on whales, and on Francis Drake and his circumnavigation of the globe, including the controversy over the location of Nova Albion and the six weeks or so he stayed there. Nothing that I said in the book about him was made up by me. There really was a coastal frigate that had to be left behind when Drake set off across the Pacific. Drake really did abandon several crewmen. There really were two Doughty brothers. Drake really did execute one and keep the other near him in the way I described. I learned about these things from the journal kept by the ship's priest as well as accounts from the Spanish Inquisition of what sea-captains had to say about meeting Drake after he'd robbed their ships.
Although Whalesinger runs a close second on the amount of research I did, probably Come Like Shadows was my most research-intensive book. Overall it took just about a year to plan the plot and research the history of Macbeth the man and Macbeth the character in Shakespeare's play, to follow the real Macbeth's footsteps from his birthplace in Dingwall (where they don't even know about him!) to the place of his death in a stone circle near Lumphanan, to learn as much as possible about the Festival Theatre in Stratford, Ontario, to find a perfect place for the staging of the play in Edinburgh, and to learn how professional acting companies put on a play, from its first day read-through till opening night and beyond. Lots of work, but tremendously fun as well.
MM: Would you comment on your use of language and imagery? It's your writing ability that makes the books what they are. And let's not forget story. My student was right -- in the end it's the fact that something is a "damn good story" that counts.
WWK:I love language. I love the way words sound in my mind and on my lips. I think about how each sentence sounds, both by itself and in juxtaposition with its neighbours. I am absolutely rigid about how a section ends, or a chapter. It must be right. And the best sentence in the book should be, I think, the last one. It should make me want to laugh and cry at the same time. I don't always succeed in this, of course. But there have been whole books I've rewritten (Come Like Shadows is one) simply because I had written the perfect last sentence and it didn't work with the rest of the novel as it was.
Given all this, however, I feel I have a long way to go. I look at writers like Cormac McCarthy (Suttree) or Claire Mackay and feel incredibly humbled at their immense and appropriate vocabularies. Sometimes what I think I ought to do to increase my facility with language is tread with a dictionary and notebook in hand, but then I think that would take me too far away from the story and the reader wouldn't like that, so I don't.
I took a workshop last summer with Tim O'Brien (In the Lake of the Woods, The Things They Carried, etc.) and learned a lot about the value of simplicity. He would throw away every adjective and adverb in the dictionary, and he tells his workshop participants that above all things one should simply let the story tell itself. But in fact what he is really doing in his own work is telling you the story himself. You can see this in In the Lake of the Woods when he tells you at the beginning of the book what the story is going to be, what the ending is certain to be, and then he tells the story (and somehow manages still to keep you in suspense about what's going to happen). I think this is successful because he makes his characters so fascinating and enigmatic (and obviously, therefore, never goes into their heads at all), rather than because his stories are intricate or even particularly "grabby".
Well, Tim liked my characters, loved my dialogue, and hated my narrative style. I think he hated it for two reasons. First, my style is not identically structured sentences one after the other, very clear, very "up front", coming right out and telling the reader the story. Rather, my style is complex with layering that reminds one of previous scenes or that foreshadows scenes to come, like voices drifting in from outside (as occurs in Out of the Dark). The second reason Tim hated my style, I think, is that he feels most comfortable with third person fly-on-the-wall narration, and I try very hard to let the story come to the reader from the eyes and ears of the main characters. Doing this introduces the characters' own uncertainties into the logic of the plot, and so makes the plot less simple to delineate, but it brings the reader much closer to the characters (they become them, rather than observing them). The way I write, the reader must deduce the story; the way Tim writes, the reader is handed the story as if it were something already complete, existing before he wrote it. I have to say I really liked his style. So maybe future stories from me will be plainer. Who knows?
MM: What part does feminism play, or not play, in your writing?
WWK: Feminism has no place in my writing, except that I don't see males and females as unequal in potential (I think that feminism is supposed to promote equality of the sexes, rather than female superiority.) I suppose that feminists who see my portrayal of some female characters as stronger than some male characters might find a political message. But I have also portrayed some male characters as stronger than some female ones (e.g., Lucas, though enthralled by the man he sees in the ancient mirror, is stronger in fighting the three weird sisters than Kinny, who knows she is in peril yet thinks there is nothing she can do about it.) So, let the feminism issue rest. I just write my characters to be what they have to be, given their initial problems and their need to sort these problems out. I abhor the idea that female protagonists should represent the whole of female homo sapiens; or that male protagonists represent the whole of male homo sapiens. It is irresponsible writing to do such a thing. Characters are individuals not universal types!
MM: Is there a kind of censorship in a critic's response to a text? What role might a critic or academic play in silencing a writer's voice?
WWK: This is the most important question you have asked. I believe that it is worse for the work of dead writers, who cannot come to their own defence in interviews such as this one. But it has an important effect on living writers also -- for example, myself.
The critics do not affect what I write, or even how I write it. They have never once made me be untrue to the book I am writing. What they do do is make me not want to write.
Imagine, if you will, that the conception of a baby takes perhaps five months, instead of the usual short but pleasant interval. Imagine then, that instead of nine months of being pregnant, gestating this new life within yourself, you need only, say, another five or six (or maybe, two or three years). Imagine then that labour lasts a year or two or three instead of eight to thirty hours. Imagine the intense love, bonding, and devotion you would feel for the child that is finally born after such an interval -- from sheer cognitive dissonance if for no other reason! Now imagine putting enormous loving energy into that newborn child, feeding it, taking it to the doctor, guiding it, comforting its sorrows and sharing its delights, until the child is grown to full independence and can leave you and go into the world with all your gifts to it intact and sufficient to help this new young adult live its life with as much happiness and success as possible. Imagine that process taking, say, a year or so instead of the usual 18 to 20. Now imagine that your child is defamed in the public press, attacked for invalid or poorly understood reasons; imagine that a whisper campaign is started against this child of yours that he/she is "politically incorrect" or a representative of some political group. Imagine being the mother of that child, standing by helplessly while slowly, inevitably, your child loses his/her lovely and hard-won freedom, strength, independence, and personal power. Would you want to create more such children, only to see them personally attacked and perhaps destroyed?
When I wrote False Face I had never heard of the "appropriation of voice" issue. It took almost a year before the whisper and letter campaign against that book reached me. I was never given a chance like this to tell of my feelings, my research, my point-of-view as an author. Now it is eleven years later, and though I have been nominated for four Governor-General's Awards (and actually won one), won the International Fiction Contest (for False Face), the Vicky Metcalf Award for a body of work, the Ruth Schwartz Award for Out of the Dark, and the Max and Greta Ebel Award for False Face (for a book that fosters understanding between peoples!) as well as garnering numerous other honours in this country and the United States, librarians in small public libraries are still told by certain powerful other librarians that I am a controversial writer, and some teachers are even told they should not teach my books. One librarian I met in a small town in the BC interior told me he had taught False Face in a largish city in Alberta until he was told by his superiors that he couldn't do it any more.
"Oh, yes, buy her books if you want to, but don't display them; keep them behind your desk in case any child asks to read them." (the last is an exact quote from a librarian I met at a school where I was doing a reading.) I hear about these things only in passing. Imagine what I'm not hearing!
My books are my children. I love them dearly, warts an all. Some of them I love with an even greater passion than others, but all of them are very special to me. I have done my best to give my characters skills and a sense of self-confidence to help them to thrive. I have sent them out into the world with hope and love. And when they are unfairly attacked or treated with disdain -- or worse, when they are torn to pieces and bits of them are taken to build another person's theory about me -- well, I just don't want to write any more. I just don't want to do it.
That's where I am right now. In more than two years I have been incapable of creating characters and letting them make books for me. I have written a new version of Beowulf for kids aged nine and up, but I haven't been able to do anything truly original. I have lost my will to take on the hard, hard mother's role for any new novel. That's what the whisper campaigns and academic dissections have done to me, the mother of these books. I no longer feel good about making a new life, only to see its brightness grow tarnished and fail, simply to serve other people's purposes.
MM: Why do you think your books are singled out, picked on?
WWK: If it is true that they are singled out for criticism, it could be because over the last eleven years I have defended my books both in writing and in public addresses, defended my own writer's view, defended the right of all writers to an imagination, and spoken out against political correctness as a noose around the artistic neck. No doubt that has made some supposedly objective people who disagree with my views more or less hostile to my books.
Another reason why I think my books are singled out is because they may be threatening to some readers for reasons other than political correctness and academic theories contrary to the spirit of my books. (Political activists and people whose livelihood depends on grimly-held academic theories must respond to my books because the books are too well-reviewed by other individuals and receive too many awards for them to be ignored.) When I talk about my books possibly being "threatening" to some people, I mean that there are evil, mad mothers out there in the real world, and people are threatened when a novelist acknowledges this in a book (such as False Face). There are frightened people who are hanging on with their fingernails to the "real world" and the possibilities of their being other worlds beside this one (The Third Magic) or inexplicable strangenesses in this one (whales that can change history in Whalesinger; real magical powers in Come Like Shadows and many others; gods bringing their battles to the earth and using humans like pawns in Sun God, Moon Witch) terrifies them.
In fact, however, I generally don't think that my books are singled out for criticism in the majority of cases. I think what happens is that there are so few critics and academics taking children's literature seriously in this country that the opinions of the very few of them that are critical of my books are given far more weight than the ought to carry. I do wish that there were more people in Canada taking children's literature as seriously as they ought. We need more reviewers, more review journals, and much more public education. Too many adults think children's literature is only for children. One of my daughter's friends was not allowed to do a Grade 12 Independent Study Project on Children's Literature because the teacher said it wasn't literature. Imagine!
MM: It is very painful for a writer to have her children attacked. It is also sad that there are some academic writers who have lost the pleasure of reading. It is my hope that more and more critics will learn again to enjoy the books they read and that PhD studies will not forsake literary appreciation and sympathy for authorial intent. My biggest wish, Welwyn, is that you will write more novels! They have given me, my students, and my children great pleasure.
-- Marianne Micros, Canadian Children's Literature, no. 90, vol 24:2
'On June 12, 1987, I talked with Welwyn Wilton Katz in her home in London, Ontario, amidst preparations for her daughter's birthday party. We discussed black magic, witchcraft, pure evil, jealousy, greed, and manipulation -- all common elements in her novels. These elements have aroused mixed feelings in some of her readers, Katz told me. She was indeed surprised to be called a "pervert" by an irate bookstore patron who did not think anyone, especially writers of children's books, should write about evil, magic, and violence.
'This is a familiar argument: children's books should not contain evil or violence, for the readers may be influenced to become violent themselves. Another argument is that because fantasies are "unrealistic", they are escapist literature and may cause children to hope for dream worlds or unrealistic solutions, instead of learning to cope with real problems. Both of these viewpoints are based on a consideration of fantasy and reality as separate entities.
'It is difficult, however, to pin-point the dividing line between fantasy and reality, or -- more to the point -- to define what is "real". Katz and I discussed the nature of reality, its evasiveness and elusiveness, and the fact that people have different perceptions of reality. Katz believes, as is becoming more and more evident in her work, that fantasy and reality are not separate entities, but constantly blend or interact. "I like the interplay of fantasy and reality," Katz said, and readers delight in her subtle interweaving of the natural and the supernatural. In all of Katz's books real children struggle with very human problems, some of these problems existing in the "real" world of adolescent awkwardness and difficult family relationships and other arising from a confrontation with unseen and/or supernatural forces.
'Indeed, even in "real life", it is not a simple matter to isolate fantasy from reality, extraordinary from ordinary. For instance, in Katz's real life, it was a missing Indian mask that led to her writing False Face, the book which would win the first International Children's Fiction Contest and hence a prize of 13,000, publication in six countries, and a trip to the International Children's Book Fair in Bologna, Italy. This mask had been withdrawn from exhibition at the Museum of Indian Archaeology in London, Ontario, because the family that owned it feared that its public display would distort or destroy its religious significance and healing power. When Katz saw the empty display case, she imagined a dangerous mask discovered by a vulnerable young girl, and her book False Face was conceived. To Katz the story of the real mask is as magical as the fantasy in a children's book. Likewise, her experience visiting various groups of standing stones in Britain and the sensations she experienced of a supernatural power emanating from those stones were as miraculous to her as the events in her book Sun God, Moon Witch. Katz and I agreed that supernatural elements pervade our real lives. We have both met, here in Ontario, people claiming to be witches and have heard of observations of the Black Mass.
'If there is an interplay of fantasy with reality in ordinary life, it is just as likely that fantasy will be mixed with reality in the world of books. It is strange, then, that fantasy should be called a perversion. Since the beginnings of literature we know, from fairy tales through the works of E. Nesbit, C. S. Lewis, Alan Garner, Madeleine L'Engle, Susan Cooper, and many others, fantasy has never been merely escapist literature, nor has it included senseless violence or meaningless depictions of evil. In Katz's books the young protagonists are learning to make moral choices, to recognize the reality of evil and human weakness so that they may become mature enough to cope with, and perhaps even change, their world. The supernatural elements guide the children to a recognition of realities that are invisible in the everyday, material world, realities that are universal, timeless, and spiritual. What might be called "fantasy" in Katz's books is actually an expression of a higher level of reality, one that is best grasped through intuition and perhaps best grasped through use of the supernatural. In Sun God, Moon Witch, for example, the god and the witch represent aspects of human nature, as well as cosmic energies. Katz's depiction of them as human-like is a way of making them visible and therefore comprehensible to readers. The fantasy elements in each book are real, as well as symbolical, and affect -- sometimes even explain -- the "real" events and relationships.
'Still, fantasy books and children's books in general, are not always taken seriously by adult readers. According to Katz, Janet Lunn was once asked, "When are you going to write a real book?" Are children's books not real? "When is a book not a book?", a riddle the protagonists of Witchery Hill must solve, is in some ways an unanswerable paradox: a book is more than a physical object, can exist without maintaining a physical presence, and always points beyond itself. Fiction and real life, like fantasy and reality, are inseparably intertwined.
'As a writer, Katz has been growing increasingly more skillful at showing the inseparability of fantasy and reality, the interrelationships of the two levels as they play with and against each other. With each book her writing style and her development of structure have become more technically sophisticated and her themes more subtly presented. Recently, she has begun to focus more fully on the realistic aspects of the stories, while, paradoxically, developing more successfully the fantasy elements and their linkage with the real world. She is becoming more and more adept at combining the two lessons she learned as a public-school mathematics teacher: to listen to children (a lesson which helped her with the realism of her novels, especially in the creation of characters and the writing of dialogue); and to structure (a lesson she learned from planning her teaching day and from thinking about her discipline, mathematics, which she said "is magical... you can start with nothing and create a whole world.").
'Katz began creating worlds by writing a very long adult fantasy novel, then a very short children's book. Her first book, The Prophecy of Tau Ridoo (1982) was the first book of a trilogy, of which the other two were completed and contracted, but never published because of the publisher's financial difficulties. In this book Katz created a world that she referred to as "pure fantasy": the children, like the children in C. S. Lewis's Narnia series, enter another world through a passage in a house and undertake a journey to save the world from darkness and authoritarianism. The children are "real", but never three-dimensional, while Tau Ridoo is an obvious fantasy world replete with a witch-helper, a prince, and toys which have come to life. It is an allegorical world, in which light has been held captive in a hall of mirrors. The children, of course, triumph and return to their shadowy real world, in which their sick mother has now recovered. This book is certainly less realistic and less serious than Katz's later books, but the dialogue is lively and amusing and the relationships among the children playfully and colourfully described.
'The next book Katz wrote was Sun God, Moon Witch (1986). This book did not at once find a publisher. It was set aside until after Witchery Hill came out; Katz then revised it, but in the end the early version was the one published. In Sun God, Moon Witch, the protagonists do not need to enter a fantasy world; rather, the supernatural level enters their world and affects their lives. Except for certain crossovers, however, the two worlds remain separate, even though the main character, Thorny McCall, must confront moral issues that bridge the gap between the two levels of reality. Thorny, in the realistic realm, is a young girl abandoned by her mother and raised by her manipulative, egotistical father. She is sent to stay with her Aunt Jenny and cousin Patrick in an English village near some ancient standing stones while her father and his new bride are on their honeymoon. On the supernatural level, Belman (who is really the sun god in human form)has come to the village to destroy the standing stones which are under the influence of his mother, the moon goddess, in order that he may overpower his mother and control the earth. The two worlds come together in Thorny's moral dilemma: in order to save the world from destruction, she must recognize Belman's similarity to her father and perceive and reject the manipulative charm both men hold over her.
'Katz tackled some difficult technical problems in this book in her attempt to maintain the otherworldly quality of the supernatural level and introduce the moon goddess figure, who appears to Thorny in supernatural form. The fantasy-reality issue is further complicated by references to folklore about standing stones, scientific theories about earth forces, the magical effects of dowsing and charms, and the yin and the yang. Katz binds these elements together into an uneasy alliance in which the reality of a person's psychological make-up and the presence of such emotions as jealousy, possessiveness, and blind love have a direct effect on a human being's ability to bring under control the supernatural threats to the world. Patrick's jealousy of Thorny's attraction to Belman, and Thorny's need for security and unselfish parents almost prevent Thorny from saving the Stones, and thus the Earth, from destruction.
'The book ends with a successful and spellbinding interplay between human and supernatural forces, as we, and the protagonists, realize that the sun god and moon witch, the yin and the yang, the male and female principles, do not constitute a simple opposition between good and evil: either has the potential for bad and good, death and life -- it is the balance of those opposites that brings peace and harmony: "Each is worth nothing without the other, yet together they are everything. Let the halves struggle how they will, it is the union that triumphs." If that balance is achieved, the power of evil is neutralized, and life continues.
'Witchery Hill (1984), published before but written after Sun God, Moon Witch, is also set in an English village and contains some similar themes and motifs -- adolescent relationships, divorced parents, stepparents, confrontations with magic and evil, and the necessity of making moral choices. However, the fantasy world is not separate from the real world in this book, but has become an integral part of that world, existing even inside family members and villagers. For instance, when Mike and his divorced father visit family friends in England -- Tony, his daughter Lisa, and his second wife Janine -- Mike and Lisa discover the existence of a coven and witness black rites and violent power struggles. The children learn that the evil that exists within some human beings can harm, even kill others: Janine, a "real" wicked stepmother, will use violence and magic to gain control of the coven and to possess the secret book of magic, Le vieux Albert. To find Le vieux Albert, this key to a dangerous magic, the children must solve the riddle, "When is a book not a book?" Katz does not hold back in Witchery Hill: There is violence (the sacrifice of a puppy, the death of Lisa's father, an attempt at human sacrifice, a terrifying duel between witches) -- and there are realistic problems (Lisa's diabetes, Mike's father's inability to believe the truth, and the problems resulting from divorce). The events in Witchery Hill seem more horrifying than do those of Sun God, Moon Witch because in Witchery Hill the evil is hidden inside the real world. Le vieux Albert is not a book that is safely behind covers, but is a book that lives inside human minds and controls human lives. Although Witchery Hill ends with the triumph of good over evil and reconciliation of father and son, boy and girl, Katz has left the final outcome open to various possibilities. The potential for evil and violence is always present. The future for Lisa and Mike is uncertain. The reader does not close this book with a feeling that the story has ended, for the unfinished story enters our world and our lives, leaving us to wonder.
'In writing her next book Katz says that she "took a giant leap". Her style becomes poetic and her structure complex, as she abandons traditional plot structure for an adventurous jumping about in time and in levels of reality. Though she makes use of the Arthurian material favoured by so many writer's of children's books, including Rosemary Sutcliffe, T. H. White, and Susan Cooper, her treatment of the material is not traditional. In The Third Magic (1988), the complex patterns of worlds and times shift and play with each other when a young girl is caught in the wrong time, having been accidentally transferred to another world in another century.
'False Face, the most recently completed novel, and the winner of the International Children's Fiction Contest, contains another innovation for Katz: it is set in her hometown of London, Ontario, a place she thought too boring to write about until she explored the underlayers of myth and human relationships revealed through the Indian mask mentioned earlier. Katz thinks she has "gone far" in this book, but in this case she means "gone far" in her depiction of the difficulties and cruelties in human interactions. This is a book in which the realism is more frightening than the fantasy, in which 13-year-old Laney's discovery of an evil Indian mask may be less frightening than are her interactions with her divorced parents. The powers unleashed affect the real world of the characters, in whom the potential for evil, hatred, and power are present.
'It seems that the more Katz enhances the realism in her books, the stronger and more believable is the fantasy -- and perhaps that is the paradox of the fantasy-reality relationship. The principle of magic "As above... so below", referring to the correspondence of everything on earth to its cosmic or heavenly counterpart (planet, star, angel, etc.), is an important principle in all of these novels, with their intimations of such relationships (e.g., sun and moon to stones and human interactions). To this we may add, "As out there... so in here": in Katz's novels objects, such as the mask and the stones, often symbolize human emotions, strengths, and weaknesses. In ancient times magic was not separated from human life (or from human psychology, as we would call it now). The two worlds were and are one. With each novel, Katz is getting closer to showing the truth of that ancient view.
'If there is not a clear dividing line between reality and fantasy, or between fiction and life, then how can we answer the question she poses in Witchery Hill: "When is a book not a book?" In Witchery Hill the "book" in question exists not as an external object but as a mental construct. Katz's books, too, live on in the minds of the readers, who carry with them these blends of fantasy and reality, violence and love, until they coalesce into a richer, new world.
'Katz and I did not try to find answers to these perhaps unanswerable questions: we concluded our conversation of June 12th when we heard the sound of children arriving downstairs for a birthday party, oblivious to those dark forces unleashed in the fantasy worlds created in the upstairs study.'
--M. Micros, "Canadian Children's Literature", Vol. 47, 1987
'"In the process of my writing, setting began as a way of generating ideas, but it has become gradually more and more central to my writing, so that now it's really the core of the whole book and not just the idea for the book. It wasn't until I wrote Whalesinger that I realized how settings are the heart of my writing. There are certain places that just 'speak' out to you. Point Reyes, California, was like that. I researched it and found Point Reyes was a spot where Sir Francis Drake was believed to have stopped. That 'fact' sort of 'jiggled' a little. It wasn't enough for a book, but, when I love a place and when there's something neat about its history, and, if I can make that historical fact resonate with something modern, then I know I have a book. I just have to figure it out.
'"I started researching Whalesinger seriously in August of 1988 and didn't write a word until January, 1989, which, for me, is a frighteningly long period. And then I started writing, and I was writing well. I had good solid characters and everything, but for some reason, something in me was not ready to go past chapter six. I kept rewriting the first six, getting them perfect. Because I couldn't get beyond chapter six, I was afraid that there wasn't a book there. I had a plot but didn't have that gut understanding of what the book was, and it addresses issues I've never addressed in my life before. At the end of July, I had figured out what the book was about and just sat down and poured it out. In two months, I wrote 158 manuscript pages."
'In Whalesinger, a summer job with an ocean conservation project takes Vancouverite Nick Young, 17, to Point Reyes, where he meets Marty Griffiths, 16, and Dr. Ray Pembroke. Though Nick finds himself romantically attracted to Marty, he targets Pembroke for revenge, believing him responsible for his elder brother's death. Had Welwyn limited Whalesinger to just these two elements, the book would have remained just another competent adventure/romance; however, by intertwining three seemingly disparate facts about the book's setting -- Sir Francis Drake landed at Point Reyes, gray whales pass the Point on their northward migration; and the Sand Andreas Fault runs next to the Point -- Welwyn has created a multilayered novel wherein the present repeats the past, and the "songs" of land and ocean mammals intermingle.
'"In writing The Third Magic, the book prior to Whalesinger,, the setting was very important but in a more intellectual way. I constructed the fantasy world setting to mirror certain myths and legends from our own world. That was a more analytical process than the 'heart' process for Whalesinger. But the real world setting was there for me too. I had been to England several times and to Tintagel twice and to all of the places that were Arthurian. The other setting, Nwm, was invented, but I felt as if it were real.
'"Of all my books, The Third Magic was the hardest book to write: the hardest structurally and the hardest, in a sense, emotionally, because I had something I was really happy with, but the editors thought it too complex. It was a tremendously difficult process of revision. If I hadn't been certain it was the best writing I had ever done, I might have ended up hating it. I end up hating a lot of my books for quite a period of time after I've finished writing them, simply because of the effort that was put into them and the number of times they were rewritten. Hate is perhaps not the right word; sheer, utter boredom is better. I never hated The Third Magic, even when I struggled with it, and I don't hate it now. I even sat down and read it about a month after it was published; an unheard-of act, for I have not reread any of my books after publication."
'Winner of the 1988 Governor General's Literary Award in the juvenile fiction category, The Third Magic sees Morgan Lefevre, 15, being mistaken for one of her own ancestors and being summoned through time to the alien world of Nwm. With only the boy Arddu as her companion, Morgan is caught between the opposing cruelties of the Circle and the Line, the two magics of Nwm. When Morgan and Arddu gain possession of an ancient weapon of the mysterious Third Magic, the Earth of King Arthur is drawn into the struggle as well.
'Welwyn's being copublished in the United States and Canada posed some difficulties, in that she experienced a surfeit of editors. For example, with The Third Magic, there were four editors, two from each publishing house, "all apparently working independently with me. They all seemed to want different things. I determined I could never go through that again, even though the editing of my earlier published book, False Face, was relatively easy under similar circumstances. It has two different editions, even so. The American edition is quite different; the same plot and same characters, but scenes are different. The American edition, which came out after the Canadian, was more like my original manuscript. Things I liked in the Canadian edition I put in the American, and things I agreed to reluctantly in the Canadian edition, I cut out of the American edition.
'"I'd just finished the first draft of The Third Magic the day before I found out about the International Fiction Contest. I decided to shelve revisions for The Third Magic and try to write a book for that contest. False Face was a very deliberate book because I was writing to deadline." The idea for the book came "when I went to the Museum of Indian Archaeology in London, Ontario. There was an empty space in a display case with a sign saying the mask that had occupied that spot had been removed at the request of the Indian community due to its sensitive nature."
'False Face won the first International Fiction Contest and the prize was $13,000, publication in six countries, plus a trip for Welwyn to the International Children's Book Fair in Bologna, Italy. In the book, Laney McIntyre, 13, discovers an Iroquois false face mask in a marsh near her home. When her mother, an antique dealer, takes the mask from Laney, she unleashes the mask's malevolent powers. With the help of another 13 year old, Tom Walsh, whose mother and father are white and Mohawk respectively, Laney struggles to contain the mask's potency for evil.
'The book's contents did evoke some complaints from the native community. "There was no formal approach to me, but a letter was sent to the Canada Council protesting my Governor General's Award nomination. Rather than being prejudiced against me for being white, I believe it was more a sense of 'How can I understand a culture that isn't my own?' There's some validity to that question, and that's why I made Tom half, not fully, native. You can't step into somebody else's culture and presume to speak for them, but the details of the false face ceremonies are recorded in scholarly sources of information. I thought I was making a fascinating culture a little more accessible to non-natives. And I was writing a book about prejudice. I thought that showing prejudice as harmful would be something everyone who had experienced prejudice could applaud.
'"No matter what I do, I seem to write something that offends somebody. I don't do it to be controversial. I write what interests me, and I take stands. Unfortunately, that gets me into trouble. Just the fact that my books are fantasy disturbs some people because fantasy's not 'real'. I really do truly believe that my books are moral books, they're about good more than they're about evil. Good, of course, can't exist without its counterpart. It's human strengths that I celebrate in my books. I have to present conflict for the children to resolve, and I have to make problems in order for there to be plot. I'm sorry for my 'critics' because they're missing something fundamental about my books, which is that I celebrate the strength of children. A lot of people think children are to be protected and that they haven't got strength. I believe in kids solving their own problems."
'Witchery Hill has offended some individuals simply because the title contains 'witch'. A runner-up for the 1984 Canadian Library Association Book of the Year Award, the book tells of a summer visit by Mike Lewis, 14, from Madison, Wisconsin, to the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, where he and new friend Lisa St. George, 13, dangerously stumble into the middle of a coven of witches struggling over possession of a secret book of magic, "a powerful book that is not a book." A 1986 CLA Book of the Year runner-up, Sun God, Moon Witch finds Hawthorne McCall, 12, being sent to stay with an aunt and uncle in an English village located near a circle of 12 standing stones while her father and his new bride honeymoon. When a local industrialist threatens to destroy the prehistoric circle to build a cement plant, "Thorny" and her cousin Patrick, 13, fight to save the circle whose "power" is much more significant than most recognize.
'"Sun God, Moon Witch came out of a lot of different things, including the story my father told me of how his father's well had been dowsed, and my one love affair with standing stones and stone circles. I'd read some fascinating stuff by Arthur Watkins about ley lines too. The challenge was to take these different ideas and make a single structure out of it and still use the white goddess lore."
'Unlike many fantasy writers, Welwyn makes much use of the real contemporary world. "'Other-wold' fantasies are hard to invent, but they can be made relatively easily believable by the author with some small amount of care. However, trying to make two worlds believable is hard. With a contemporary, 'real' setting, people don't put aside their disbelief in the same way they do when they're suddenly thrust into a new world. The Third Magic is as close as I've come to writing an 'other world' fantasy. I'm very interested in the way the past and the magic of the past brush up against the present and the reality of the present. Any time I deal with fantasy, it's always that, the old magic brushing up against the new modern life. It has tremendous potential for interesting conflict and can also reveal a lot about the real world. To do an entire book in the other world without having some link to what we are as a people can reduce its applicability and its thematic importance."
'The idea for Come Like Shadows, Welwyn's most recent book, didn't come out of a particular setting. "After Whalesinger, there was a period of time where I couldn't write. My marriage had broken up and I was going though that crazy emotional stuff. What I needed was a really strong idea, something that would grab my attention and my imagination. When Doug, my second husband and a theatre critic, mentioned that the 'Scottish play', Macbeth, was cursed and had been cursed for centuries, that attracted me. I started doing research on the play's background. The bad luck that has happened in the last three centuries to people who tried to put on this play was an eye-opener! It goes beyond coincidence and the usual superstition stuff. None of what I put in the book was invented, though I wrote an alternative history for the real Macbeth's last two days.
'"The real Macbeth and the one Shakespeare wrote about are not the same at all. Shakespeare's was invented to suit the story he wanted to write. I felt sorry for the real Macbeth because he's been treated badly by history. It fascinated me how an artist like Shakespeare could manipulate history to make something work better for him and how then it becomes true, insofar as what most people believe. That's how I got the idea for Jeneva, the director of a modern production of the play in Stratford, who decides to say something with the play that Shakespeare never intended. She chooses to make a political statement with her production. That led me to the political situation in my own country. There are plenty of parallels between Scotland within Great Britain and Quebec within Canada, so the French-Canadian link to the 'Scottish play' was a reasonable option. That's basically how the theme of the book developed, by deciding Jeneva would put on a French vs. English production and then trying to figure out how that might have universal implications.
'"The research on play production was also extensive. I spent a lot of time at Stratford wandering around backstage, doing the 'map' route and figuring out where everybody could go. What was most beneficial to me was observing artistic director Martha Henry and her cast and crew working on the play she was staging. It was enormously helpful seeing how it's really done. It isn't just the details that end up in a book that matter to me. I get stymied if I feel I can't write something because I don't know the way people think. I don't feel free to use my own imagination for the things that are 'real' in this world. I feel I have to portray them accurately because I'm doing things that aren't real as well. If people are going to catch me out on the real stuff, they'll never believe the imaginary.
'"The actual plot for Come Like Shadows was something that came to me over a long period of time. Months of just thinking and trying not to think. I remember where I got the fundamental concept of how the three sisters of Shakespeare's play were going to be the three sisters of the earlier goddess worship and were going to take part in my contemporary story and be the unifiers. I was on tour, having a grilled cheese sandwich in a greasy spoon. I don't know why, but all of a sudden, I just said aloud -- 'Three weird sisters.' After that, I combed Shakespeare's play for something to connect them to the contemporary world. That's when I found the mirror." The magical mirror becomes the object that enslaves 17 year old Kincardine "Kinny" O'Neil, who has joined the Stratford Festival Company as a summer assistant to the director, and Lucas, a young actor fascinated by the true historical Macbeth.
'"I'm already working on another book, but it's totally different for me. Instead of doing tons of research, as I've done with the last five books, it came about when I was driving my daughter to school one day, and she said, 'Mom, if all the time zones in the world meet at the North Pole, what time is it there?' I drove on about three blocks before answering, 'I suppose, it's no time, or all time,' and that was it. I'm almost finished the second draft of that book. I knew the beginning and the ending before I started, but I didn't have a clue about the middle. Because I was discovering things as I wrote, I had a ball with it. I've called it Time Ghost.
'"I'm also writing a play about how people lose their belief in life. I see it as a family play. As well, I've been writing some short stories, but for adults. In them, I tried a bunch of new things I've never done before, like writing in the first person present tense. I've had some success with them and won the Grain short fiction contest (1993) with a story called You Can Take Them Back. I think it's really helped me with my kids' writing because, for a while, all my books were veering toward the adult. I think I was trying to write for adults without actually doing it. Now I feel free to go back to the age group I started with, the 11 to 14 year olds. Time Ghost is for that age group, as is the one I've planned for next, which is going to take place in Newfoundland. I went to Newfoundland this summer to do the setting research for that book. I loved the way the place melded perfectly with my ideas for the plot. Now all I have to do is write the book!"'
--Dave Jenkinson, "Emergency Librarian", Vol. 21, No. 2, 1993
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