Deborah Dunleavy - Author
Deborah Dunleavy loves the magic of words --- the way they sing, dance and play together. As a child her favorite book was a musty, second-hand, dog-eared collection of fairy tales. It's no surprise that Deborah now spends most of her time telling stories.
At school Deborah sang in the choirs, acted in the high school musicals and played the violin to the plaintive howls of her cocker spaniel, Toby. Even when she was supposed to be listening to Mr. Scott's history lesson, she was busy writing poetry. Her heart beat to the drum of the artist.
In the 1970s Deborah took up the guitar and sang her way to higher learning at the coffeehouses and pubs at York University. With a BA in English she packed up that guitar and became a traveling folk singer for a few years. Eventually she traded in her threadbare jeans for a polyester pant suit and returned to the University of Toronto where she aced her way to a Bachelor of Education degree. But Deborah couldn't stop her heart from beating to the drum of the artist.
So in 1980 she embraced a career as a children's musician and recording artist. That took her all over North America, and to China and back. She crawled through the log on Fred Penner's Place, danced with Mr. Dressup and wrote songs for Jim Henson's Muppets. It was a great time.
In 1997 Deborah returned to her hometown, Brockville, Ontario. Since then she has penned two award-winning books, written the libretto for an opera, produced six storytelling festivals and toured Ireland and Scotland as a storyteller. In 2008 Brockville acknowledged Deborah's great contribution to the arts by inducting her into the Performing Arts and Music Hall of Fame.
Deborah's life is a living fairytale. She recently married a friend she has known for over forty years. Howard Alexander is a musician and teacher whose heart also beats to the sound of his own drum. His youngest children, Charlotte and Abraham, love to play music with their father and step-mother, and many nights are spent swapping stories by the glow of candlelight.
Brockville, Ontario --- a beautiful, small city at the eastern end of the Thousand Islands on the St. Lawrence River.
August 8th. I am a Leo.
Where do you live now?
I lived in Toronto, Ontario, for almost 30 years. Now I live back home in Brockville, Ontario.
When did you start writing?
I have always written things: songs, poems, stories. I guess writing helps me understand the way that the world works. My teachers understood my need to write and encouraged it. I made a living as a songwriter for many years before writing a book for teachers in 1992.
When did you start making music?
As soon as I could talk, I was singing, I think! We always had music at home. My grandmother played all sorts of folk instruments: guitar, banjo, mandolin, violin. We had great singalongs around the campfire. I was a folk singer in my youth and became a professional children's performer in 1980.
Do you have any tips for young creators?
Listen to your muse --- the little voice inside you that makes you want to dance, sing or act things out. When it says, “Go ahead-do it your own way,” pay attention and don't let anyone stop you from being who you are. It is the same thing with writing. Write from the heart.
What is your favorite food?
Unfortunately, I like all food. I like variety and enjoy food from around the world --- especially Thai.
What was your training or schooling?
I have a Bachelor of Arts from York University and a Bachelor of Education from the University of Toronto. I actually taught drama for a few years. I have studied with many private teachers of mime, voice, dance and, my favorite, clowning.
How did you get involved with children's books?
I have worked in children's culture for over 20 years. I specialized in performing music and making recordings. Writing a book for children was something I always wanted to do. One day I met a great person, Linda, who was an editor at Kids Can Press. She was looking for someone to write a music book, and the rest is history!
Do you have a favorite book?
Today? Harry Potter! Yesterday? Stories by Arnold Lobel! Tomorrow --- who knows?
What is your favorite musical instrument?
The guitar --- because I play one. And I am very curious about the lute, a kind of guitar from the 12th century.
What is your favorite song?
Of all of my own songs that I have composed, I would say that “One for All” is my favorite. It is on the Kidstreet recording. But I just love all kinds of songs: jazz, blues, country, swing, funk.
What is the thing you like the most about creating kids' books?
When I write books for kids, I write from the memory of what it was like to be a kid, and this keeps me forever young.
Where do you work?
When I write a book, I work out of my home office. I used my workshop in the basement to build the instruments for the Jumbo Book of Music. I also work in schools doing music and drama workshops, and I tour my concerts nationally and internationally. The furthest I have gone to perform is The People's Republic of China.
How do you research or create your stories?
I use different libraries to start with, and I talk to people. Sometimes the ideas are already inside me. Sometimes things happen quite by chance. When I was researching yodeling for the Book of Music, I accidentally found a program on the television about yodeling. You just never know.
Where do you get your ideas?
From dreams, from things that happen in my life, from within, from books, from conversations, from the news, from the air.
What's your greatest childhood memory?
So many to choose from. Fishing with my mother.
What is your favorite animal?
I am not sure that I like this idea of favorites, because I can like different animals for different reasons, and I can like different people for different reasons. The wolf is important to me.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
What is the weirdest or most interesting job you've ever had?
Not working at the snack bar at the bowling alley. The neatest job was writing and producing songs for the Muppets of Jim Henson Productions.
Do you have any special secrets or insights about one of your books or characters?
Less is more.