I enjoy speaking with students about the books I’ve written and/or published but also about the importance of reading and writing to learn, grow intellectually, and make the world a better place. I also enjoy answering questions posed by students during and after my talks. Sometimes I have an answer readily available, sometimes things go slightly awry.
I was honoured to recently talk with students at Robert Southey and Viscount Central schools. I speak about how I started writing at age eight and it grew into a lifetime of loving the written word and working as a journalist, author, editor, and book publisher. I give them some tips for reading and writing and encourage them to try to make a positive impact in the world because of what they learn while reading.
|Mrs. Carnegie-Meere with author-publisher Deana Driver at Robert Southey School
I tell students that there is no such thing as a dumb question, because if they don't know the answer, it's a perfect time to find out. I'd rather they ask than assume something that is incorrect.
These are some of the students' questions (and my answers) from that day:
These are some of the students' questions (and my answers) from that day:
- “What’s your favourite animal?” (I replied that I have allergies, but I guess dogs are okay. The younger kids often ask me personal questions instead of questions related to the books I’m discussing. Or sometimes they will simply state a fact based on something they heard. After telling them of my book The Sailor and the Christmas Trees about a man named John, two or three younger students will inevitably tell me they know someone named John – which is nice, but it's not a question and I encourage them to instead ask a question starting with Who, What, When, Where, Why or How.)
- “What’s your favourite food?” (Chicken. I’d eat chicken for every meal every day.)
"What is your favourite book that you’ve written?” (I like all of them for different reasons. They’re all like my babies and you should never choose a favourite baby, but I guess I'll choose Never Leave Your Wingman because it's an inspiring true story that can be enjoyed by almost anyone in any family. Almost everyone is affected by cancer. And The Sailor and the Christmas Trees is great for children and adults too. My other three books are out of print.)
- “Is that coat book true?” (Yes, The Little Coat, written by Alan Buick, is a true story about a Canadian soldier and a Dutch girl who met during the war. They gave her a coat made from an army blanket.)
- “Did you see that coat?” (Yes, my husband and I saw the little coat in 2015 when it was on display at the Military Museum in Calgary. It was on loan from the Canadian War Museum. It’s really beautiful.)
- “Aren’t you going to ask us what our favourite animal is?” (Um… no, not today.)
- “Who's your role model?” (My mom. She was a teacher before she had children and she encouraged me at a young age to be creative with my writing. I learned my love of the English language and writing from her.)
- “Can you read something from the Fun on the Farm book?” (I read Mary Harelkin Bishop’s short story called ‘A Snack For Mom’. At another reading that day, I read Keith Foster’s poem ‘Thanksgiving Memory’.)
- “What would you change about one of your books?” (That’s a question I’ve never been asked, but most writers I know are unhappy with some part of what they’ve written. We always want our writing to be better. Even though it's won an award and been praised endlessly by readers, I’d go back and tighten up the text of the Never Leave Your Wingman book. I wrote the book and published it quickly, within a year, because I was concerned that Dionne Warner, the seven-time cancer survivor I wrote about, might die while I was writing that book. She is still very much alive and living her life to the fullest while fighting her ninth cancer diagnosis. The day I met Dionne and decided to write and publish her story, I asked her what would happen to the book project if she died while I was in the process of writing. It was a tough question but I needed to ask it. We agreed that if we could help one person by sharing her inspiring story, my book would go ahead. After the book was published, Dionne told me that if she’d known me better, she would have answered, “What happens if you die?” It was an excellent point that is typical of what her outlook on life can teach us about how to live our lives. Live life to the fullest. No regrets.)
- “Are you writing anything right now?” (I’m working on two new books. Author Alan Buick, who wrote The Little Coat, and I are writing short stories of Canadian war veterans who could have died had they made a different decision or been in a different place during the war. I also want to write some true stories about Prairie pilots and their adventures. So if you know anyone who has a story of a Canadian war veteran or a fascinating pilot adventure, please let me know.)
- “I want to do freelance writing? How do you recommend I get started?” (This was a one-on-one question posed after one of my presentations. I told the student to be persistent, to keep track of everything they have ever had published, even if there was no pay for their work. You must build a resumé. When I began freelancing in September 1983, I visited the public library twice a week and looked at every magazine on the racks to see which ones matched my skill set and my interests as a writer. I mailed writing samples from my journalism career to many of these magazines and made several long-distance phone calls, which were expensive in those days, but I received no responses. In early 1984, I attended a burn symposium on my own, listened to the morning’s speakers, then phoned The Medical Post in Toronto and talked to their editor about the physician speakers and their topics. I asked if the magazine wanted stories from this first-on-the-Prairies conference and they agreed to accept four or five articles. This began a 30-year freelance career with that and other publications. Be persistent, be passionate about your writing, work hard, be good at what you do.)
- “Can you read us some of that book about horses?” (This was not my finest moment as a speaker. I have never read excerpts from Bryce Burnett’s humorous cowboy poetry to a group of students, so I picked up Bryce’s latest book, Horses, Dogs and Wives, and skimmed the pages to find a suitable poem. I saw one that ended with “farted” and decided to keep looking. I landed on the ‘Rover’ poem instead, but I should have looked more closely at the last couple lines first. I'd temporarily forgotten that cowboy poetry usually has a surprise ending. As I finished reading that poem, the entire group of Southey students gasped and then laughed, while I sheepishly grinned. I later apologized to the teachers for reading what some might have considered an inappropriate poem for the students, but the teachers insisted it was fine. See the poem below for yourself. Would you have read it to kids in Grades 6 to 9?)
Thank you to both schools for the invitations to speak and to Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild for subsidizing the Viscount reading. Thank you to the students of both schools for their attention and their questions.
Mrs. Elaine Jantz, librarian at Viscount Central School, wrote about my presentation at Viscount school:
“Deana Driver came to our school for a presentation and spoke to our students about her books, writing and publishing. She is an awesome presenter, she kept them all engaged and hearing the stories about how the books came to be was so enlightening and made them even more interesting to get and read. The story about a shy, farm girl going on to be a journalist, then writer, editor and publisher, really inspired some of our students as to how far you can go and what you can do if you try. She gave them great insight into how to start writing and keep going. We very much enjoyed her visit!”
(Read about a Robert Munsch question I was quickly able to answer.)