This Is Not The Shakespeare Stage: Author chat with Catherine Austen

This Is Not The Shakespeare Stage is new to The Word On the Street in 2011! This new stage features hourly, genre-based, interactive programming sessions showcasing great Canadian young-adult books, authors, and artists plus the all-new Open Mic Hour. To celebrate, we have asked teens to interview some of the authors appearing on the stage! This questionnaire was created for Catherine Austen, author of All Good Children, by teen blogger Saambavi Mano.


What got you into writing novels?

I always liked to make up stories in my head, and sometimes I wrote them down to figure out what they were about. When I was in university in the late 1980s, I wrote a short story for an English course. My professor suggested that I send it to a magazine. I did, and it was published (in Quarry Magazine, which no longer exists). “That was easy,” I thought. Little did I know…  I wrote and published about a dozen more short stories way back then, but it was twenty years before my first novel, Walking Backward, was released by Orca Book Publishers in 2009.
How did you come up with the idea for your new book, All Good Children?

Several things prompted me to write this book. First, I read about a legal case in the USA where a school board took a family to court to try to force the parents to medicate their unruly child. (The judge ruled against the school in that case but the whole thing was quite creepy to me.)

Not long after, I took a night class on child development. When one of the students admitted that she sometimes spanked her children to correct their behaviour, the other students were outraged. But no one expressed any kind of outrage when the topic came round to correcting children’s behaviour with medication. Everyone found that to be clearly for a child’s own good, and not an issue of control. (A sign of modern times and, again, quite creepy.)

Finally, my oldest son reached the teen years. I’ve wrestled with my own feelings of wanting him to be “good,” and I’ve dealt with several authority figures who want him to be “good,” and I’ve found that the “solution” of medication rises almost immediately in a lot of minds. Creepy indeed.

Is your main character, Maxwell Connors, based off of someone you know in real life?

No. He started out as a 12-year-old white kid who loved to skateboard and goof around, and at first he was loosely based on my next-door-neighbour. But as I wrote the story, he changed completely and became a 16-year-old black artist who is deeply serious as well as playful. As Max aged, the focus of his story changed from being about family to being about friendship. I have no idea how a character comes to life like that; it’s not like inventing someone, it’s like meeting them. Weird. But wonderful.

What or who is your inspiration when it comes to writing?

This is a very difficult question. Anything in the world can inspire my writing. For me, stories start with a feeling, than an image of the character experiencing that feeling, then the things that happened to cause the character to experience that feeling. That is probably a backwards way of writing, but that’s how it is for me. Almost anything can inspire a story – something from nature, family, friends, books, memories, desires. My kids inspire me a lot.

Why do you choose to write novels for children and young adults?

I used to write stories for adults. But once I had kids, I read so many great books for children and young adults, and I saw how stories come alive for the child listening or reading them, and I wanted to write for young people. My youngest son once exclaimed, when I closed the book we were reading for the night, “But I can’t survive if I don’t know what happens next!” I’d like to make someone feel like that.


Catherine Austen is appearing on the This Is Not The Shakespeare Stage in the “Reading and Writing Dystopian Fiction” segment at 4:45 p.m.

One thought on “This Is Not The Shakespeare Stage: Author chat with Catherine Austen

  1. Pingback: The Word on the Street « Catherine Austen's Blog

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