Wendy Kitts is a freelance writer who’s penned stories for magazines and been a regular reviewer of middle school and young adult literature for several years. As you’ll discover in this interview, she’s learned a lot about going out on a limb and saying “yes” to the Universe.
Wendy lives in Moncton, NB. She’s also the author of Sable Island: The Wandering Sandbar (Nimbus 2011). With its singing sands, wandering dunes and wild horses, Sable Island is one of the most magical places in the world. Yet very few people are ever allowed to visit the vulnerable island recently designated as a Canadian National Park Reserve. Full of photographs, science, and history, Sable Island is an exciting look at a truly untamed part of the world and brings young readers up close to this beautiful, fragile place.
Now, on with the interview!
Where did the idea of doing this book come from?
This book was 50 years in the making. Seriously. I wanted to go to Sable Island ever since I saw a news story on CBC TV when I was six (in the mid-sixties). The horses were starving at the time, and the government was doing a hay drop. I’ll never forget that grainy black and white image of emaciated horses running through the sand dunes. One paused and looked up at the camera.
Lots of people dream of going to Sable Island. How did you pull that off?
Sable Island is protected; the government currently allows 50-100 visitors per year with written permission from the Coast Guard (although that may change with the recent announcement that the island is becoming a national park reserve). In 2009, I heard about a week-long artist’s retreat to Sable led by Richard Rudnicki and Susan Tooke (book illustrators). They were looking for 8 other artists to join them and it was sort of a test project to see how “regular” people could respect the island’s fragile ecosystem.
I responded immediately but it cost a small fortune – $5500 – with most of the money going towards the chartered flight. I managed to get the $1000 deposit but had no idea where I would get the rest. Most of my family, especially my mother, said the money could be better spent on food or rent. As a single freelance writer, I didn’t disagree, but there was something about fulfilling a life-long dream that I couldn’t ignore. Just before the cut-off date to pay for the trip I received an unexpected tax refund. Still gives me chills. I was expecting only $600 that year but received $3500! To me that was a sign from the Universe to go.
My family started their campaign about better uses for the money but a writer friend [Wes] told me the trip would be an investment in my soul. That still makes me tear up because not only was it an investment in my soul, it gave me my first children’s book—another lifelong dream.
But I didn’t go to Sable Island with the idea of writing a book. The book came to me the night before I left the island. I sat up in bed with the idea that I would write about Sable in an ABC format, especially as I had the perfect words for X and Z – letters traditionally a challenge to fit such endeavours. X was for “xerophyte” the type of plant that holds the island together and Z was for “Zoe” the naturalist who has lived on Sable Island for almost 30 years. I quickly scribbled notes for the rest of the letters and went to sleep.
How did you go about finding a publisher?
I knew from my children’s book review days, that Nimbus publishes books on regional subjects, especially books about Nova Scotia. I also knew they did beautifully illustrated ABC books for older children on Nova Scotia locations so I thought they would be a great match for this; luckily they thought so too.
Tell us a bit about what was involved from signing the contract to getting the book published.
Although Nimbus was immediately interested, they asked me to consider a format change and if I could write in a similar style to another book on their list, The Children of Africville. So I checked that book out of the library, studied it, did a formal non-fiction proposal with sample chapters and suggested images and sent it back. It was accepted right away.
Of course, writing it took much longer than anticipated once it became a non-fiction chapter book for 7-9 year olds. But everyone at Nimbus was great to work with. Not much changed as far as the text (although if I had known I was going to be a writer, I would have paid better attention in English class!)
Nimbus used a lot of my own photographs but I had to get images to fill in gaps for subjects I didn’t have pictures of, as well as obtain historical photographs. I was very pleased with how the book turned out and extremely excited when I saw they had chosen one of my photographs for the cover shot.
Advice for folks who have a book roaming around in their heads?
To quote Nike,” Just do it.” It’s roaming around there for a reason – it needs, it wants, to be expressed. Get it out of your head and on paper and let it have a life of its own. As my friend Wes said, say “yes!” Just say yes and see where it takes you.
Questions or comments? Fire away!