True Story

KEEPING A GRIP ON THE STORY
How childhood dreams of design turn to tales that entertain

by Iris Winston

Two unrelated events launched Tim Wynne-Jones’ writing career. His long-held dream of being an architect came to a sudden end. A few years later, home alone for six weeks one summer, he had enough time on his hands to write a thriller.
“I wanted to be an architect from the time I was about 11 years old, so there really wasn’t anything else on my mind at all,” says the award-winning author of more than 30 books. “But, at the University of Waterloo, they decided that were I to design buildings, people might die, so I failed out of architecture and had to find a Plan B.”
But, says Tim, there was no Plan B in his mind in 1969 and, if there had been, it would not have been writing at that time. (“I’d never really thought about writing as a career, then.”)
“I ended up going to Toronto and singing in a band,” he says. In describing the band, Boogie Dick, in his online autobiography, he notes, “We were hippies, outrageous, irreverent. We burned things on stage.”
After the stint with Boogie Dick, Tim and “another school dropout formed a folk-singing duo.” The pair, Raffi and Tim, “started playing coffee houses and writing pretentious folk songs together,” says Tim.
“Neither of us had anything to do with writing for children at that time, but coincidentally, we ended up following that path.”
There were a few more stops along the way before Tim came to that fork in the woods, however. Being a successful “folkie” enabled him to save enough money to go back to university and complete a master’s degree in visual arts. He also met and married Amanda Lewis, then working backstage at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival and currently head of the nOttawa School of Speech and Drama. The summer Tim completed his MFA Amanda was away.
“I was all alone,” notes Tim in his autobiography. “I had no responsibilities, no deadlines, no one to have to be nice to or to feed. I wrote a mystery thriller called Odd’s End.”
Odd’s End, written in six weeks, won the Bantam Books/ McClelland & Stewart Seal First Novel Competition. The $50,000 prize included a three-publisher book contract for Canada, the U.S. and Great Britain. It was a high-profile launch for the writing career of the aspiring architect, musician and folksinger. Odd’s End was later released as a made-for-television movie, The House that Mary Bought. (“Don’t go out of your way trying to find it,” says Tim. “Maybe it’s better in French than it is in English.”)
Tim wrote two more adult novels, but, says the father of three, “I eventually came to my senses” and focused on writing for young people.
The winner of two Governor General’s awards for children’s literature and three Canadian Library Association Children’s Book of the Year awards, he has just been awarded the Order of Canada for his contribution to children’s literature. Tim says he is drawn to writing for the young because “story is the most important part in writing for children. In a lot of contemporary fiction (for adults), story is not as important as other things. I love a book to have a beginning, a middle and an end. The other difference is that most children’s books are about getting a grip and most adult books are about letting go.”
A theme followed in his latest work, Blink and Caution, it brings two street kids together in a crime story for teens. Because of who they are, their language has raised the occasional comment, although the book has generally been positively received.
“I have to decide whether verisimilitude or a buttoned-up gatekeeper is more important,” says Tim. “I understand that in the world of children’s
literature, the gatekeepers feel they have to be careful, but two street kids are not going to say ‘oh dear.’ If they do, the kid reading the book is going to slam it shut.”
As well as maintaining believability, Tim’s advice to aspiring writers is “just get on with it. Stop thinking about it and start. Make the time. There are so many true stories of people who have absolutely no time, but have a much more pressing need to write than excuses not to.”
Currently, he is working on the last of his popular Rex Zero books (stories loosely based on his childhood in Ottawa) and has just started another work that he is not ready to discuss yet. In addition to a highly successful career as a writer of works for young people, peppered with awards, Tim has written a musical, an opera libretto and radio dramas and continues to teach at colleges in Canada and the U.S. But next year, he says, it is time to take a breath.
“My wife and I are going to Europe for a year —just running away to think about stuff.”
The plan is to spend most of the time in England, where he was born, “to be somewhere rather than travel.” It will also be convenient to be on that
side of the Atlantic in 2012 as he was recently named the Canadian nominee for the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award—the Nobel Prize of
children’s literature.
Photo courtesy of Tim Wynne-Jones.

Hans Christian Andersen Award
• The Canadian nominees for the 2012 Hans Christian Andersen Awards are Tim Wynne-Jones and illustrator Stéphane Jorisch.
• The Hans Christian Andersen Award is internationally recognized as the highest honour for children’s authors and illustrators.
• Known as the “little Nobel,” the award was established in 1956 to recognize authors and illustrators around the world who have made a lasting and significant contribution to literature for children and young people.
• Each national section of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) may nominate candidates for the Hans Christian Andersen Awards.
• IBBY Canada is one of over 70 national sections of the board.
• An international jury, comprising 10 children’s literature experts around the world, considers each nominee’s body of work.
• The Andersen Awards are presented every second year.
• The Awards will be presented at the IBBY Congress in London, England, in August 2012.

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