Barbara Greenwood - Author
Barbara Greenwood is the author of 14 books for children and is working on more. She was born in Toronto, Ontario, where she completed a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Toronto and taught elementary school. Later, while she was at home raising four children, she decided to pursue an interest in writing historical fiction.
This award-winning author has always been fascinated by history. As a child, Greenwood searched her local library for any historical fiction, enthralled by English history in particular. However, she was struck, even then, by the fact that there were so few novels set in Canada's past. “I felt as if the place in which I lived didn't exist,” she says. Greenwood is trying to rectify this situation for today's children.
In 2007 Kids Can Press re-released Greenwood's acclaimed The Kids Book of Canada in paperback with updated facts from the 2006 census. This title introduces kids to our nation with maps, timelines, fact boxes and information about each province and territory --- including regional landscapes, wildlife, profiles of famous Canadians, important events, provincial and territorial coats of arms and much more. The Kids Book of Canada continues to be an important resource that will enrich everyone's knowledge and appreciation of Canada.
Where do you live now?
Don Mills, a suburb of Toronto, Ontario.
When did you start writing?
I started writing when I was around 10 and realized that I had stories in my head that were just as exciting as the stories I loved in books. We weren't encouraged to write stories in school, so all my writing until I was in high school was done at home and in secret. I didn't want to be laughed at for doing something no one else seemed to be doing! However, in Grade 11, I had a wonderful English teacher who encouraged us to write and encouraged me, even more, by reading my stories out to the class. At some point, most aspiring writers need a mentor to encourage them and make them feel that writing is an important and worthwhile activity.
Do you have favorite book?
I'm an omnivorous reader so I have many favorites. The two books that turned me on to reading historical fiction when I was in my teens are still good reads and still available in libraries: Cue for Treason by Geoffrey Trease and Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw.
What was your training or schooling?
I had almost no formal training in creative writing until after I graduated from university, but one very useful thing I learned in English class was how to precis. In Grade 12 we spent one term taking a page from a story and reducing it to a paragraph. This taught me to present the gist of a story clearly and concisely on paper --- an invaluable skill for a writer.
How did you get involved with children's books?
As an elementary school teacher I was interested in finding books I could read to my grade three class, so this started me exploring the books that had been published since I was a child. A wonderful golden age of children's literature started in England and the United States in the 1960s, with Canada starting to catch up by the late 1970s. I discovered wonderful books by Rosemary Sutcliffe, J.R.R. Tolkien, Katherine Paterson and many others. By the 1970s I was raising my own children and looking for good books for them as well. I was so immersed in children's literature, it seemed sensible to write for that group. I had, for many years, wanted to write stories set in 19th-century Canada, so I put those two desires together and started to write Canadian historical fiction for children.
Do you have any tips for young creators?
Writers learn to write by reading. The more you read, the more you become familiar with the shape of a story and the larger and more interesting your vocabulary becomes. So reading is certainly the place to start. Once you sit down at the computer or take up a freshly sharpened pencil to create your own story, remember that the verb is the strongest word in a sentence. Instead of characters who run down the street, have them dash or fly or gallop. Characters can talk, but they can also murmur or mutter, scream or shriek. At dramatic moments in your story, make sure the verb describes not only the action but also the emotion the character is feeling.
What is the thing you like the most about creating kids' books?
Writing is, of itself, a satisfying activity, especially when a character surprises me, or a story takes a turn I hadn't planned.
Where do you work?
I have an office of my own, one of our upstairs bedrooms, where I can have all my research books on shelves around my computer. When I turn sideways from my computer I look out the window into the top branches of a large tree, which helps focus my thoughts when I'm trying to sort out the next scene in a story. But when I first started writing and we had four children living at home, the only space to write was the dining room table. Each day when it was time for the children to come home from school, my typewriter and research books and manuscript papers had to be tidied into a box and tucked under the china cabinet. Having a room of my own to work in is wonderful.
Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas are everywhere. Writers are good at keeping their eyes and ears open, taking note of the odd, interesting and sometimes funny things people do and say and storing these observations away for later use.