Author Interviews about Beginnings (Episode 6.5)

A “talking tales” episode — all interviews – about how to begin a story. With guest authors Frieda Wishinsky; Sarah Raughley; Don Cummer; David McArthur; and Wendy McLeod MacKnight, speaking about their favourite first lines, their advice to young writers on how to begin, and how they began to write professionally. 45 minutes. All ages.

A full transcript of this episode is available at

Show Notes

[0:00] Intro

[1:15] Commentary on Finding the Beginning of your story

Beginnings are important. They’re like a first impression: the opening of your story will colour the reader’s experience of everything that comes after. But the beginning of your story is always a made-up moment.


[3:45] Interviews on what makes a good beginning

[4:30] Frieda Wishinsky on letting the reader know what they’re getting into

[6:40] Sarah Raughley on the delicate balance between too early and too late

[8:35] Don Cummer on the revising a beginning

[10:45] David McArthur on setting a scene

[13:20] Wendy McLeod MacKnight’s favourite first line


[15:20] Commentary on first lines

One thing most people agree on: a reader should have some sense of what type of book they’re in for from the opening.


[18:35] Guest author recommendations to young writers

[18:55] Sarah Raughley knows how hard it is to begin

[20:30] David McArthur knows that beginnings can change

[22:00] Frieda Wishinsky likes to stick to the point

[23:20] Wendy McLeod MacKnight wants to be hooked

[24:45] Don Cummer suggests you just dig in


[26:30] Commentary on motivation

There’s the technical sense of where and how to open your story. But there’s also the motivational sense of how to make yourself write when you’re not sure what your story is.


[28:05] Guest Authors’ beginnings as writers

[28:15] Wendy McLeod MacKnight was a Deputy Minister

[29:40] Don Cummer was a speechwriter

[31:30] David McArthur read and wrote through dyslexia

[34:25] Frieda Wishinsky loves being part of the human story

[36:15] Sarah Raughley learned to believe in herself


[39:35] Thanks and Coming up on the Podcast

Tune in next week for Episode 7: “Just Get it Over With,” all about the endings of stories. That’s a “telling tales” format, so you’ll hear stories, excerpts, and prompts, and guest authors Marty Chan, Jeff Szpirglas, and Frieda Wishinsky.

Thanks for listening.


Music on the podcast is from “Stories of the Old Mansion” by Akashic Records, provided by Jamendo (Standard license for online use).

Host: Catherine Austen writes books for children, short stories for adults, and reports for corporate clients. Visit her at

Art: The B&W image for this episode is from a wood engraving by Amédée Forestier from Wilkie Collin’s Blind Love, 1890.

Guest Authors


Don Cummer is the author of the “Jake and Eli” stories published by Scholastic – a series about two best friends growing up during the War of 1812. The first book, Brothers at War, was short-listed for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young Readers. Don was born in Calgary and grew up on a ranch. He moved to Ottawa, where he wrote speeches for a living, and now spends his time between Canada and Ireland – where he’s finding many more stories to tell. Find him online at and on YouTube:


David McArthur is a graphic designer and creative writer based in Victoria, BC. He struggled with reading and writing as a child, and those struggles are part of the reason he created a series of books which give children confidence to read. The “What Does…” series started as a simple game that David played with his son as they were driving to daycare. Seeing the way his son joyfully reacted to the story was so wonderful that David turned the story into a book. The rest, as they say, is history! Find him online at


Wendy McLeod MacKnight grew up in a small town with a library card as her most prized possession. She worked for the Government of New Brunswick for twenty-five years until the siren call of writing became impossible to ignore. She is the author of three middle grade novels: It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! (Sky Pony Press), The Frame-Up and The Copycat (both from Greenwillow Books). In her spare time, she gardens, hangs with her family and friends, and feeds raccoons. Visit Wendy online at or on Twitter @wendymacknight or Instagram @wendymcleodmacknight.


Dr. Sarah Raughley grew up in Southern Ontario. She is the author of five YA fantasy novels, including the bestselling Effigies series and the forthcoming Bones of Ruin series. Her books have been nominated for the Aurora Award for Best Young Adult novel. Her academic research concerns representations of race and gender in popular media culture, youth culture, and postcolonialism. Sarah is a fangirl of manga and sci-fi TV. Find her online at and on Twitter at ‎@s_raughley


Frieda Wishinsky has written over 70 picture books, chapter books, novels and non-fiction books. Picture book biographies are one of her favourite genres. She’s written biographies about Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Frederick Law Olmsted and most recently, Emily Roebling (How Emily Saved the Bridge). Frieda loves sharing the writing process. Find her online at

Begin in the Darkness (Episode 6)

An episode about how to begin a story, with guest authors Karen Bass, Kate Inglis, and Chris Jones. Featuring an original story, great first lines from classic fiction, and suggested writing exercises. PG.

A full transcript is available at

Show Notes

[0:00] Intro

[1:15] Story Intro

If a Labrador Retriever showed up on your porch barking, you’d think, “This dog is trying to tell me something.” You would never think, “This dog is trying to lure me to my death.” (If you want to share with very young listeners, download the “fright-free” version available at


[2:35] “The Barking Dog” by Manny


[12:20] Opening Stories you tell vs. write

A listener at the campfire doesn’t hear the first few lines, then say, ‘You know what? I’m actually going to go to that other campfire and check out that story.’ But a reader has a thousand other books to choose from. That’s why most advice on how to begin a story will tell you to plant a question in the reader’s mind. Here are some gripping first lines that plant questions.

[13:25] Excerpt from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

“‘Where’s Papa going with that ax?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”

[14:05] Excerpt from Feed by M.T. Anderson

We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.

[14:40] Excerpt from The Ritual by Adam Nevill

And on the second day things did not get better.

[15:35] Excerpt from The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

They murdered him.

[16:25] Copy the technique: Opening Lines

Write three opening lines: one in dialogue, like Charlotte’s Web; one that begins in media res, like The Ritual; and one that suggests an unusual setting, like Feed.


[17:50] Openings that introduce a narrator

You can open your story by directly introducing yourself to your reader, just as you might open any conversation.

Excerpt from Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield.

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.

Excerpt from The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

Excerpt from Mosquitoland by David Arnold.

I am Mary Iris Malone, and I am not okay.

[18:45] Copy the technique: Introduce yourself

Write an opening that directly addresses the reader, acknowledging that they are about to read your story.


[19:30] Openings that make us care        

One of my favourites is Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis. It begins:

It was Sunday after church and all my chores were done.

That’s not especially riveting. But if you can make me enjoy spending time with your characters, I’ll go a long way with them.

[20:20] Copy the technique: Engage the reader

If you’re not sure how to begin, just give us a glimpse of your main character, what makes them unique and likeable. Like a scene of your heroine babysitting for the first time and changing a diaper. If it makes us like her and laugh with her, we’ll follow her to the next scene.


[20:50] Interviews with Authors for kids and teens

[21:10] Karen Bass on beginning with action

[23:00] Kate Inglis on beginning with disorientation

[25:05] Chris Jones on beginning with problems


[27:05] Authors’ Advice for young writers on how to begin

[27:20] Chris Jones on beginning with emotion

[28:35] Kate Inglis on hopping around a book

[30:50] Karen Bass on setting a tone


[32:10] How my guests began to write and illustrate

[32:25] Kate Inglis on getting her 10,000 hours early

[34:05] Karen Bass on making a great late entrance

[35:20] Chris Jones on starting young and returning later


[43:35] Story Prompt: “Flowers in the Graveyard”

Today I was walking my dog when I saw this girl, maybe 18 or so, cut through the cemetery. She walked right up to a headstone and took the flowers that were resting against it….


[39:35] Scary Movie Quote

Try out various beginnings out on a trusted listener, like your mom. As a famous Hollywood character once said, “A boy’s best friend is his mother.”


[40:05] Thanks and coming up on the podcast

Next week I’ll talk with five more great Canadian authors about their beginnings: Frieda Wishinsky; Sarah Raughley; Don Cummer; David McArthur; and Wendy McLeod MacKnight.

Thanks for listening.


Music on the podcast is from “Stories of the Old Mansion” by Akashic Records, provided by Jamendo (Standard license for online use).

(The 80s music moment at 16:30 is from Yaz’s “In my Room.”)

Host: Catherine Austen writes books for children, short stories for adults, and reports for corporate clients. Visit her at

Art: The B&W image for this episode is from a wood engraving by Amédée Forestier from Wilkie Collin’s Blind Love, 1890.


Guest Authors


Karen Bass loves writing action and adventure, and she likes to slide in some history when she can to make the past come alive for young readers. She has twice won the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction and has received numerous other nominations and accolades for her stories, including one being named as a USBBY Outstanding International Book. Aside from finishing her degree in Victoria, BC, Karen lived most of her life in rural Alberta. When her husband retired, they decided to strike out on their own adventure, and now call southern Ontario home. Aside from writing, Karen works occasionally in a library, and so has a constantly growing pile of books waiting to be read. She loves having a whole new part of Canada to explore and use as inspiration for new stories. Find her online at; on Facebook @karenbassYA on Twitter @karenbassYA and on Instagram @karenbassYA.


Kate Inglis is an award-winning author for adults and children. She writes about pirates and giants and mermaids and all the ways we love each other. Kate’s novels, non-fiction, and poetic picture books are infused with the salt, woodsmoke, and fresh air of the North Atlantic coast. Kate is also a photographer and a corporate writer. Find her online at; on Instagram @kate_inglis, on Twitter @kate_inglis; and on Facebook @kateinglisbooks.


Chris Jones is an illustrator with a passion for visual storytelling. He illustrates for picture books, graphic novels, magazines and educational materials. Chris has illustrated over 20 books for young readers, including Scholastic’s Take Me Out to The Ice Rink, and This is The Rink Where Jack Plays. When not illustrating for clients, Chris spends his time writing and illustrating his own comic and picture book projects. Find Chris online at:; Instagram @mrjonesey; Twitter @mrJonesey



More Spooky Student Stories (Post-Halloween Special Episode)

The Post-Halloween Special Episode, featuring four student stories about: a monster that demands sacrifice; a historic Halloween; teens in the deep woods; and a supernatural Air B&B. From young writers Aleina Wang, Olivia Beauchamp, Lexi-Jade McCowan, and Olivia Li. PG.

A transcript of this episode is available at



[0:00] Intro

[1:15] Story One Intro

Have you ever needed to get away for a while, maybe head to the coast and spend the night in an old Victorian mansion on a clifftop and finish your novel?

[2:15] “Air B&B” by Olivia Li

Michelle needed to get away. When she saw the photo of an old Victorian home in the country by the sea, and the price of just $50 a night, she transferred the money and headed straight over. …

[10:50] About the Author

Olivia Li doesn’t want to believe in ghosts, but she does and they scare her. She likes ghost stories and goofy comedies, especially when they’re combined.


[12:00] Story Two Intro

Have you ever dared someone to do something unusual? Maybe it seemed bold but not really dangerous? You didn’t think anyone could actually get hurt doing it.

[12:45] “The Duskmire Forest” by Olivia Beauchamp

“He went into the cavern and—Boo!—there in front of him stood a ten-foot—”

“Caleb, don’t scare the children!” said Lisa. Lisa didn’t like scary stories….

[22:05] About the Author

Olivia Beauchamp is a grade 7 student at Symmes Junior High School in Gatineau, Quebec. Her advice to other young writers is: “Keep a youthful imagination.”


[23:10] Story Three Intro

Have you ever gone to a cottage in the deep woods with a few friends, and things just didn’t feel right?

[23:50] “Minutes to Sunrise” by Lexi-Jade McCowan

Me and my friends, Jordan, Lucas, and Hayden, were all staying at my parents’ old cottage for a week….

[31:25] About the Author

Lexi-Jade McCowan is a 12-year-old student doesn’t usually like writing. Her advice to other young writers is: “Keep working hard. Don’t give up.”

Special thanks also to the English Language Arts teachers at Symmes Junior High School in Gatineau — teachers Sarah Legge and Alex Peach – who’ve been sharing this podcast with their students.


[32:50] Story Four Intro

Have you ever heard of a monster that demanded a sacrifice?

[33:30] “The Monster of Feyre” by Aleina Wang

Feyre was a beautiful and tidy land. Sure, it was cold. You only saw the sun for one month a year. But the Fey were well-bred. They wore elegant furs, made interesting conversation, and were good businessmen and women. They were also good secret-keepers….

[40:45] About the Author

“The Monster of Feyre” won an Honourable Mention in the Ottawa Public Library’s Awesome Authors youth writing contest in 2019, in the 9-12 age category, and it was published in Pot-pourri 2019. Aleina says this is one of her weirder stories. She has lots of advice to young writers, like combining random words as a prompt to get you started, and writing an outline to keep you motivated. You can read all of Aleina’s advice on

Special thanks to the Friends of the Ottawa Public Library Association, which publishes Pot-pourri, for permission to read the story on the podcast. 

Pot-pourri is an annual anthology that features all the winning and honoured stories, poems, and graphic narratives from the Awesome Authors contest.

This year’s contest opens in December; check out the OPL website for more information. I will be a judge this year in the 9-12 age category. And I want to read your stories. (They don’t have to be spooky.)


[43:05] Time to write your own tale

Now that you’ve heard all these great student stories, it’s time to write your own.

Next week, I’m back to the regular format for Cabin Tales with Episode 6: “Begin in the Darkness.” You’ll hear an original story from a fictional student, plus excerpts from David Copperfield, The Chocolate War, and Charlotte’s Web, and interviews with guest authors Karen Bass, Kate Inglis, and Chris Jones.

Thanks for listening.


Music on the podcast is from “Stories of the Old Mansion” by Akashic Records, provided by Jamendo (Standard license for online use).

Host: Catherine Austen writes books for children, short stories for adults, and reports for corporate clients. Visit her at

Art: The B&W image for this episode is from a wood engraving by Gustave Doré from Milton’s Paradise Lost, 1880.


Spooky Student Stories (Halloween Special Episode)

A special Halloween episode featuring 5 spooky stories written by students aged 11-17, including a terrifying musical awakening, a horrifying futuristic drug, a demonic yoga class, a pizza you don’t want to order, and a phone call you don’t want to answer. PG. Let the kids listen in. Read More

Picture a Story: Interviews with Illustrators

Featuring interviews with five Canadian illustrators about creating narratives in words and pictures. Featuring guest author-illustrators Peggy Collins, Katherine Battersby, Farida Zaman, Christine Tripp, and Chris Jones. 45 minute. All ages.

To listen to this special episode of my Cabin Tales Podcast, visit or the podcast host Podbean.

Read More

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