Award-winning Canadian children’s author Sylvia McNicoll, BA 78, has written more than 30 books for young people, including her latest, The Diamond Mistake Mystery.
In addition to writing, McNicoll also edited Today’s Parent Toronto magazine and served on the board of directors of the Access Copyright Board to protect the careers of young writers.
McNicoll’s books are published in several languages in countries around the world, including Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Korea, Australia, Canada and the United States.
Her 2014 historical novel Revenge on the Fly “sold maybe 900 copies in Canada, but sold 15,000 copies in Colombia,” McNicoll says. “And I just sold my Mistake Mystery series to a publisher in Russia. Generally children’s book sales in Canada aren’t great unless you get on the Forest of Reading lists. In my case, I really rely on foreign sales.”
When she isn’t writing, McNicoll visits classrooms and libraries to teach and motivate writers, whatever their age.
Why did you start writing?
Sylvia McNicoll: I wanted to write ever since I was in Grade 4. My dad used to bring me to the library. Reading was a very comfortable thing, a luxury we were able to enjoy no matter where we went. Libraries are places of comfort.
Why is reading important?
SM: Because you get to live so many other lives. It’s a way to understand other people, not just from other countries, but with other afflictions. It takes you into another world.
What do you think of comics and graphic novels?
To me it is image-based literacy. Kids like looking at pictures and get very good at analyzing them. My grandson can read backwards because he reads Manga. That’s a Japanese form of comic where you have to read from the right-hand corner, around from the last page forward. That’s incredible because it trains the brain in different ways.
But when we are concerned with literacy, I think we are more concerned with word literacy because, for example, if you go to law school, you are not going to get your cases in pictures.
How do your mysteries engage children?
What I think mystery does for the writer is it gives you a strong plot and then you can fool around with your characters. In my The Best Mistake Mystery Series, the appeal of my mysteries is they are humourous, there are dogs in them, and the mistake counting vehicle – the main character anxiously keeps track of errors. drives the plot forward. The over-arching theme for me is to find ways for kids to relax so that they can reach and stretch creatively.
You have won many awards, such as the Burlington Creative Artist award in Burlington, Ontario, where you live.
Burlington has been very good to me, I’m even on their Walk of Fame! Awards do help sell books and look good on your resume if you want to be a writer-in-residence somewhere. I’d like to see Canada’s Governor-General awards for children’s books promoted more. I also think lists help sell books.
How did your time at Concordia help shape you and your career?
I went to work in the daytime and to school in the evening. My professors were very supportive. I felt as a writer if you didn’t have a degree on your CV, it was kind of strange. I also met my husband at Concordia, and I still love visiting Loyola campus.