An interview with Lisa Dalrymple, author of 11 books for young readers, picture books, novels, and non-fiction, most recently Fierce: Women who Shaped Canada. Hear her advice on creating tension, her attraction to wilderness settings, and her lifelong fear of dark water. 20 minutes.
Read the full transcript:
[1:10] Interview with Lisa Dalrymple
CA: …How do you feel about tormenting characters?
LD: It’s fun. … I can best torment my character by knowing why I’m terrified of and putting my character in a situation that I would find incredibly difficult. So I’m so terrified of dark water … So I took my character and I put him in the middle of the Amazon jungle, swimming in a creek, a tributary off the Amazon…and I had him have to rescue someone. …
[2:15] CA: When you’re drafting, do you start at the beginning of the story?
LD: I do. And I like to begin my story with action. I like there to be something like a pinnacle moment that is happening, so when the reader opens the book, they are right there in the moment with the character.
[2:35] CA: Do you have any advice for young writers on how to begin their stories?
LD: I do. … Spend some time with your character. And then when this plot element happens to them, your readers are like, Whoa… Like the situation that I was talking about. Swimming in the Amazon would be terrifying to anyone, but you take a kid who can’t even enter swimming pools if he can’t see the bottom, and all of a sudden your reader knows this kid, your reader has been his friend because you set it up and you develop your character to that point and your reader understands just how terrified he really is. …
[3:40] CA: Do you tend to edit yourself as you draft? …
LD: I over-edit as I’m writing. … So do as I say, not as I do. …Deadlines come in helpful…
[4:55] CA: You revise as you draft and then do you revise at the end as well, in a separate process from drafting?
LD: I do, but there’s much less that needs to be done because I’ve already kind of gone and tweaked every sentence far too much. So at the end, normally what I do at that point is, even now, I give it to a peer. ….
[5:30] CA: Do you ever read your work out loud as you revise?
LD: Always…. I don’t know if this comes from having started as a picture book writer, and a lot of my picture books rhyme … I would read out loud in order to get not just the rhyme scheme down but that cadence and that meter and to make sure that it felt very natural and not forced. And I find that I can’t lose that even when I’m writing prose. …
[6:25] CA: Do you have a favorite POV to write from?
LD: I very much like writing from first person present tense. … The last book I wrote … I couldn’t write it that way at all because to be nonfiction I had to say “her” not “me,” and of course it was all past tense. So that was an adjustment for me. But … my favourite is definitely first-person, present tense.
[7:10] CA: And do you have a favorite setting from either from your own work or from a favorite piece of fiction?
LD: …When you say that I immediately end up in the wilderness, in the woods. … Maybe because of the potential and the mystery that’s out there in the woods and that anything can happen. I really like that.
[7:40] CA: And do you do any setting exercises yourself? …
LD: …Absolutely. And especially with the work I was doing with the ten women in Fierce, every single one of them, and they were all different time periods …. So I would have to research what was going on in each time period… And I would have maps of where they traveled to the best of our knowledge …
[8:45] CA: And do you have any exercises that you would recommend to young writers for building either setting or character?
LD: I do but I’ve stolen them from other writers… I have them fill out their application for summer camp … it’s amazing how much you can learn from a character just by answering those basic questions. … But … once you’ve got this filled in, you need to know that you don’t have to get every detail that came out of that into your book…especially not on the first page or two.
[10:40] CA: And do you keep a journal or sketchbook?
LD: I don’t. Unless I’m traveling. … So it’s something that I definitely should do more of. …
[11:10] CA: And where would you say you get some of your best ideas?
LD: … definitely my kids. …. Just the different insights that they have into the world and the different things that they’re confronting and dealing with. They definitely inspire probably everything I’ve done, really.
[11:40] CA: And do you have any advice to young writers on getting ideas or organizing ideas into stories?
LD: I find that whenever I’m called on to write something, … I never have an idea. … But when I’m doing something else … I will have all these ideas … but I never have a chance to write them down. So what I do is I have this little portfolio, filofax kind of thing. And whenever I have an idea, I take a moment and I write it down. … And it’s in the box and it means that next time I’m like, “What should I write about? I should start something new,” then I can open the portfolio…
[13:25] CA: …. And do you have a regular writing practice? …
LD: Once I come into the world for the morning, I tend to lose whatever creative spark that I might have had. So I make my coffee while the house is getting ready and … I kind of tiptoe out, still in my pyjamas, to my shed. And I sit out here and I write, usually for a couple of hours. Those are my best hours of the morning. …
[14:20] CA: And what were some of the books that influenced you or made you want to write?
LD: I grew up in England. I lived there till I was eight. Enid Blyton was a big one for me… I loved her books. And that probably had a big impact on me because a lot of my books were – like when I was ten – were adventure books. You know, kids getting lost in the forest or the wilderness….
[15:20] CA: And did you as a kid have an off-the-cuff storytelling experience, either around the fire or any sort where you made up stories on the fly and told them?
LD: I was involved in Girl Guides until I was in my early 20s to be honest. … So we spent a lot of time around the campfire telling stories and singing songs and jokes. …
[15:50] CA: So do you have any favorite scary stories?
LD: … I find that I’ve tried to tell them to my kids when we’ve been camping. We’ll be sitting around the campfire. And I can remember with such clarity the stories that we would hear…. But I cannot for the life of me remember how the story began or ended. So I kind of fail as a campfire storyteller actually…
[16:40] CA: And do you collect anything?
LD: I’ve always been a collector. …. I think the things that I collect these days are very different than when we used to be younger and collect like scratch-and-sniff stickers and friendship bracelets and things like that. I still put together photo albums and I get 4x6s printed of every moment in our lives. … it sounds really cheesy to say that I’m collecting memories.
[17:25] CA: Lovely. Well, this has been very fruitful…. thank you again so much for your time.
LD: Okay. …Bye.
[18:05] Lisa Dalrymple introduces herself
LD: I’m Lisa Dalrymple. I’m a Canadian writer. And it’s kind of difficult to pin me down because I’ve written picture books and I’ve written middle-grade novels for older students; I’ve written nonfiction and I’ve written fiction. I think I was probably writing as soon as I could hold a pencil. And right now, because there’s very little like I can do given Covid, I’ve actually gone back to high school – even though I have two degrees in English – because I love math and science as well, just to sort of further differentiate. So yeah.
[18:45] Find out more about Lisa Dalrymple
You can hear more creative writing advice from Lisa Dalrymple on Cabin Tales Episode 5.5, “Author Interviews about Tension,” on Episode 7.5: “Author Interviews about Endings;” and on Episode 8, “The Never-ending Story,” about revision. You can find out more about Lisa Dalrymple and her books from her website at LisaDalrymple.com.
[19:40] Thanks and coming up on the podcast
I’ll be back next week with leftovers from my interview with the spooky story author Jeff Szpirglas, who joins me from Hamilton, Ontario.
Thanks for listening.
Host: Catherine Austen writes books for children, short stories for adults, and reports for corporate clients. Visit her at www.catherineausten.com.
Visit the Cabin Tales home page.
Lisa Dalrymple has written 11 books for young readers, including Fierce: Women who Shaped Canada, and Skink on the Brink. She now lives in Fergus, Ontario with her husband and their 3 highly-energetic children. Find her online at lisadalrymple.com.