Margaret Carney - Author
Nature and writing have always been part of Margaret Carney's life, magical keys that open doors to fascinating worlds. She had a poem about spring published in a magazine when she was in primary school and a whole collection about spring migration, Waiting for Whimbrels, published 30 years later.
“I always loved language and knew I could write, so decided not to take the obvious route, majoring in English lit in university,” she says with a laugh. Instead she studied French in Paris, Anglo-Irish literature in Dublin, and hitchhiked across Europe to Crete, “while it was still safe to do so.” She finally worked her way, waitressing, to a degree at University of Toronto, majoring in anthropology.
Of the many editing jobs she's held in Toronto publishing companies since then, she says putting out Magook, a children's magazine at McClelland and Stewart, was the most fun. Most fun now, working freelance, is writing her weekly nature column for newspapers. In 19 years she's never run out of story ideas, for nature is a bottomless well.
Margaret started writing for children when her husband, Dennis, a primary school librarian, brought home a book he thought she'd enjoy --- Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen. “I loved it, and was instantly enthralled with the idea of bringing nature alive, through stories, for little kids who never have a chance to get out of the city.” She wrote her first picture book, At Grandpa's Sugar Bush, in one afternoon. Three months later it was accepted for publication.
Margaret loves dragonflies, butterflies, and especially birds, her “life list” of which to date includes more than 2,600 species, seen in farflung corners of the world. She and Dennis live on the shore of Lake Ontario, in Whitby, where she watches for flocks of whimbrels, loons and other migrating birds each spring, welcoming them home.
In Rochelle, a small town in northern Illinois, set in the middle of rich, black farmland. Before settlers came two centuries ago, herds of buffalo roamed through waving, tall-grass prairies there. Even covered with cornfields and soybeans today, it's beautiful country, so flat and endless you can see a tree or a barn on the horizon three miles away. The sky is a huge, blue dome that turns yellow, then black when a thunderstorm or tornado threatens. At night it's filled with stars.
July 17th. I'm a Thursday's child and have far to go!
Where do you live now?
I live in Whitby, Ontario, on the north shore of Lake Ontario. During maple syrup season, in spring, I live on a farm in Haliburton County, Ontario.
When did you start writing?
When I was seven I wrote a book of poems for my parents when they went on a trip to Mexico --- one poem for every day they were away, so they'd remember me.
What is your favorite book?
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen --- about a little girl who goes out owling with her dad one cold, quiet winter night.
Do you have any pets?
My husband and I keep feeders outside our window and watch birds all winter --- chickadees, cardinals, juncos, tree sparrows, nuthatches, woodpeckers and finches. In summer we hang up nectar feeders and watch ruby-throated hummingbirds --- and if we're very lucky, Baltimore orioles. We plant lots of flowers for butterflies in our garden and have had many beautiful visitors --- even a giant swallowtail and a pipevine swallowtail, both very rare where we live.
What was your training or schooling?
To become a writer, I went to university in the United States, France, Ireland and Canada. But to be a nature writer, I got my training from two special people. My mother kept a bird feeder outside our dining room window when I was little, and taught me the names of all the birds that came to eat the cracked corn and sunflower seeds we put out there. She also took me looking for wildflowers and trees and stars and planets, and taught me their names. When I grew up I wanted to know even more about nature, so I joined nature clubs and went on outings to be with people who knew more than I did. I met my husband on a canoe trip. He could recognize every bird we passed by its song, so I started following him around, asking him questions. Twenty years later, he's still teaching me a lot about nature.
How did you get involved with children's books?
My mom read stories to us every night when we were small, and took our whole family --- six children --- to our local public library to check out books every week. When I got older I worked as a children's librarian there for a while. Years later, my husband, a librarian in an elementary school, brought home a copy of Jane Yolen's book Owl Moon. As soon as I read it, I knew I wanted to write picture books about nature for children.
Do you have any tips for young creators?
Sometimes drawing a picture, writing a poem or a story, or even reading, is more important than doing your homework. If you feel like writing or drawing, do that first!!
What is the thing you like the most about creating kids' books?
The possibility of sharing wild places with children who live in cities and don't get a chance to experience and explore nature's many fascinating worlds.
Where do you work?
I work in the car, in my office, in my house, at the dining table, at my mom's house and at the kitchen table in my mother-in-law's farmhouse. Sometimes I bring my work in plastic bags in a canoe and do it sitting on rocks along a river or lake. That's the great thing about being a writer --- you can work anywhere.
Where do you get your ideas?
From nature. The ideas are endless.
How do you research or create your stories?
Every time you go out in nature, you discover something new and unexpected, whether you're canoeing in a lake or wetland, or walking in the woods. When I get really excited about something --- a wildflower, a wolf, a mushroom, a beetle, a bird --- I figure other people will be excited, too, and may like to read a story about it. To find out more about each new creature or plant, I look in books, on the Internet or ask an expert.