Jane Drake - Author
Jane was born at the Toronto General Hospital in 1954, the third child of four. She attended the University of Western Ontario and switched from English to History when, in primitive computer days, she was dealt a blank timetable. She worked as a research assistant for a history professor, honing her library skills while ferreting out obscure information and storing it on a database --- great groundwork for a future non-fiction writer. Her first published work was a travel piece for the Whitehorse Star in 1972, written while visiting Ann in the Yukon.
Early married life took Jane to Ireland, London and Kingston, Ontario, and Paris, France, before they settled in Toronto. Jane was a founding director of her local public school child care center and organized the extended kindergarten enrichment programs. She ran school wide interest groups and coordinated the library volunteers for many years. Her three children are now grown. Nellie, a ginger cat, and Angus, a bouncy young Labrador, crowd Jane's office while she writes.
Jane gave up a promising career in theater to write full time. Among many roles, she has played Mary in Mary Poppins, a hula dancer, Janice Joplin, the Queen of Hearts and Lady Macbeth!
Jane and Ann volunteered as the CANSCAIP monthly meeting coordinators from 2005-2007. Now Jane is Treasurer of CANSCAIP. She also volunteers with and serves on the board of the Canadian Children's Book Bank in Toronto.
Starting in the late 1980s, Ann teamed up with her sister Jane Drake and, together, they have published nearly 30 books. Their works mostly have an environmental focus based on their shared upbringing and travels, with a preference for the remoter parts of Canada.
I was born at the Toronto General Hospital in Toronto, Ontario.
My birthday often coincides with spring holidays --- April 19th.
Where do you live now?
I live on the old shoreline of Lake Ontario, overlooking the heart of Toronto, Ontario.
When did you start writing?
I was the last child in my grade three class to turn in my pencil for a pen. Despite early struggles with penmanship (and spelling ...), my writing skills improved with age. I was first published in the Whitehorse Star at the age of 19.
You co-write your books with your sister, Ann. What's it like working with your sibling? Have you always collaborated like this? What kind of relationship did you two have when you were growing up?
Ann left home when I was 14, glad to leave behind a pesky little sister. We developed a strong friendship over my teenaged years, based partly on shared interests. Now, after 11 years of co-authoring children's books, we attribute our success to patience, humor and the mutual satisfaction that comes from producing a fine manuscript.
Do you have any pets?
I have a very devoted and vile-smelling Labrador named Jesse. We have two budgies, but are currently without a rodent.
What is your favorite food?
What are your hobbies?
When not writing, reading, gardening, filling the bird feeder or driving to hockey games, I enjoy a rousing game of tennis. I am an intermediate player, likened to a slowly ripening tomato --- still green in many spots.
What was your training or schooling?
While studying History and English at the University of Western Ontario, I worked as a research assistant for one of my history professors. In the Social Science Computing Laboratory and the D.B. Weldon Library, I learned to track down the most obscure information --- a good skill for a future non-fiction writer.
How did you get involved with children's books?
When my older kids were very young, I took night courses in writing. Several good teachers gave me the “bug” to write for kids.
Do you have any tips for young creators?
Never go anywhere without keeping your eyes open and ears alert for details. On the bus, in a restaurant, walking down the street, you'll pass real people and things that you can later describe so vividly, your readers will know you were there. And, of course, gobble up as many books as you can.
What is the thing you like the most about creating kids' books?
I like brainstorming and working with a creative team of interesting people, including my sister, Ann, our editors, designers, illustrators and publisher.
Where do you work?
I work at home in a small room at the top of the stairs. Outside my window is an enormous Linden tree that is always full of life, winter and summer.
How do you research or create your stories?
To research non-fiction, I put my sponge-like paws into the library system and suck out all related information. I believe in contacting experts to get the true facts. When writing about whooping cranes, I phoned Mr. Whooping Crane himself, Ernie Kuyt. This can be hard on the phone bill, but now I use e-mail, too!
Where do you get your ideas?
My sister and I have a deep well of shared experience that we are still drilling for ideas. We share an interest in the natural world, which seems to be the bedrock or launching pad for what we write.
What's your greatest childhood memory?
When I was five, our parents bought a property in the country and built a cabin. We spent most weekends and holidays there. As we drove home on Sunday nights, our father would always ask us what we had enjoyed the most --- skating on the pond, watching a pair of foxes cavort with their pups, hiking in the woods to find the first spring flowers. When we all stopped talking, he would say, “Well, I declare that a successful weekend.”
What is your favorite animal?
I currently favor flying squirrels.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Don't laugh. I wanted to be a folk singer.
Do you have any special secrets or insights about one of your books or characters?
Writing Kids and Grandparents: An Activity Book was an exercise in re-living my childhood. The crafts, games and cooking sections are a trip down memory lane. I could hear my grandmother's soft, Scottish accent and my grandfather's chuckle. That is where the tone of the book comes from --- warm and friendly.