Bio Deb Loughead, a Toronto author, poet and workshop leader, has been writing since she learned how to read. In fact, she’s saved everything she’s ever written, including her very first composition entitled A Narrow Escape for a Mouse which she often reads during her classroom visits! As of 2017, Deb has published over 35 books for children and Young Adults. She completed her B.A. in English at the University of Toronto in 1977, then worked as a copy editor until she decided to stay home to raise her three sons and squeeze in some creative writing on the side. From 1980 – 1995 she was an associate editor for Etobicoke’s Spires magazine, writing short stories, poetry and articles for the children’s pages. She has also written and directed children’s plays which were produced by the drama club at Etobicoke elementary schools, as well as one in Sudbury, and coached children in drama workshops as far away as Goose Bay in Labrador.
Deb has conducted writing workshops and held readings for children and adults at schools, festivals and conferences across the country, such as the Montreal Young Author’s Conference, the Labrador Creative Arts Festival, Sudbury’s Rainbow Schools Authors’ Week, Eastern Townships Language Arts Festival in Lennoxville, Quebec, the POW Poetry Festival in Cobourg, and the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. She has also taught creative writing classes for adults in Toronto.
Her award-winning poetry and adult fiction have appeared in a variety of Canadian publications. Deb’s children’s poetry book, All I Need and Other Poems for Kids, is popular with teachers for classroom curriculum use. She has written extensively for the educational market, and her rhyming stories and plays, as well as a series of middle grade novels, are used in classrooms across the country. Deb’s advice to budding writers is: “Save everything you ever write. You never know when you’ll need it!” She is a Past President of CANSCAIP, The Canadian Society for Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers, as well as a member of the Writers’ Union of Canada, and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre.
***** “I want my animals. I want my animals. I want my animals.” I sat at the kitchen table, repeating the phrase. Staring straight ahead, swinging my legs under the chair, kicking the chrome table leg every now and then, clinking the buckle of my patent leather shoe against the gleaming metal, repeating those words over and over. My mother was working at the counter, and she was ignoring me. Well, not completely. In her mind, she was counting. She wanted to see how many times I’d repeat “I want my animals” before giving up. But I was tenacious. I didn’t give up easily, and she blinked first. She finally had to retrieve that little bag of plastic animals from the cupboard after I’d said it 53 times, so that I’d stop. A stubborn streak, she told me. That’s what I had. And she repeated that “I want my animals” story often when she wanted to remind me about it, when I was getting on her nerves, being stubborn again. Almost like she might change me by stressing how annoying it was. But I didn’t change. I’m an Aries. Of course I have a stubborn streak. Of course I’m tenacious. That’s why I’m still writing after all these years. Every so often these little snapshots of my life pop into my head, as if I’m trying to account for something, to explain how I’ve gotten here, where I come from, why I’m me. Sometimes I think about all the people in the world who have their own stories to tell, and how each one is different, and how it’s this combination of stories that sums up a person and makes each one so distinct. And I wonder if it’s the stories that shape the person, or the person who shapes the stories? Do the stories that we carry around with us make us who we are? If our stories were different, would we be different? Does everyone grow up with stories, like I did? And if they didn’t, is something missing in their lives? If they’re story-deprived, are they capable of creating their own stories, or is it a deficit that they must suffer from for the rest of their lives? I like to think that who I am has been shaped by what I learned from the stories I heard as a child. I like to think that because I heard so many, growing up, it was just natural that I became a writer. Stories were the only way that my mom could keep me quiet, could settle me down, could appease my stubborn, demanding nature. If she said the words “Once upon a time…” or “When I was a little girl…” it was like a magician saying Abracadabra. Instant, blissful silence. I would cease my yapping or squirming, and sit perfectly still, listening for what was coming next. A story. And ever since then I’ve been a dreamer, fixated on stories.
FAQ 1. How long have you been writing? I started writing as soon as I learned to read! I’ve saved everything I’ve ever written too, including my very first composition called “A Narrow Escape for a Mouse.”
2. Did you always want to be a writer? No, not always. At one point, back in elementary school, I wanted to be an astronomer, a zoologist, an archaeologist, a biologist. But I wasn’t very good at math, so all of those career choices were out of the question. I constantly wrote poems, stories and essays in high school English, though, and my teachers always reassured me that I was a talented writer. My university profs kept telling me, too. I guess I listened to them! I started on my very first novel in grade 10, which has never been published, but I’ve saved it, of course. The way I save everything I write! And that was the start of it. From then on I was hooked. I knew that writing was going to be a passion all my life, and with hard work, maybe even a career. Turns out I was right–especially about the hard work part!
3. Where do you get your ideas for your stories and children’s poetry? Ideas are everywhere, so I never have trouble finding one. I had this problem years ago when I was a beginning writer. I’d ask myself “Let’s see, what should I write about?” Sometimes I used the “What if…” method to come up with a story or poem idea, like in my poem “Elephant Walk”. I asked myself what would happen if an elephant went for a walk down my street, and wrote down all the possibilities. Then I turned it into a rhyming poem. Nowadays I seem to have too many ideas and not enough time. I have idea folders in a drawer, and I keep on adding to them. Whenever I see an article in a newspaper or magazine that sounds like it might be a puzzle piece for a good story, I clip it out and tuck it away. I probably have ideas for about six more books stashed in my desk drawer, all based on something I read that triggered an idea. Reading is a great way to stimulate your imagination!
4. When and where do you do your writing? I try to write for at least a couple of hours every weekday, but when I’m deep into a novel, I’ll spend at least three to four hours a day on it, sometimes even more. My mind stays with my story constantly though. I carry that character and his/her problem around with me everywhere I go. Sometimes I even talk to myself. I write in an office off the kitchen that’s filled with all my favourite things, talismans and mementos of objects that have surfaced in my stories, and cool stuff that I’ve picked up here and there. Usually my tuxedo cat Gypsy tiptoes in for a visit or parks on my desk to keep me company. And my Pug / Jack Russell, Cleo, hangs out in there too, trying her best to convince me that I should take her for a walk by squeaking a toy at my feet! There is a wall of shelves lined with books, of course. I have a bad habit of collecting books, and even have some early editions of classics like “The Secret Garden” and “Peter Pan”. I’m addicted to books! I have pictures on my walls of some of the illustrated pages of my poetry that have appeared in Chirp Magazine. And I’m proud of the original artwork from my rhyming play, Hey Diddle Diddle, which I was able to purchase from the artist. The room is painted a nice warm pumpkin colour. It’s an extremely cosy writing spot!
5. What happens when you have writer’s block? My solution for writer’s block is to do something completely unrelated to writing. I’ll go for a long walk or do some ironing (boring!). Sometimes I’ll go out and work in the garden or go for a swim or a bike ride. It’s surprising how ideas suddenly burst into your brain when you haven’t got a pencil and paper to jot them down. I think that if you distance yourself from the writing project for a while, your mind is set free and ideas begin to flow again. Works for me, anyway! Might work for you, too!
6. Are you working on anything new right now? I’m ALWAYS working on something new! (I always work on a few at once so that if I get stuck with one of them, I can slide over to another.) I’m happy to announce that a book I completed in March 2015 will be published in Fall 2017 by Orca Books. It’s called Payback, and it’s the fourth novel revolving around Dylan O’Connor and his friends. This time Dylan is in his worst trouble yet, and being stalked by a couple of sketchy fellows in Bridgewood who may or may not be up to no good. The first three in the series were The Snowball Effect, Caught in the Act, and Rise of the Zombie Scarecrows. Last summer, 2016, I wrote the fifth in this series, called Wildfire, revolving around dangerous fires in town during an extremely dry summer, and which I’m hoping might be published in the near future. And right now I’m working on a novel that I like to call a ‘semi-autobiographical wishful-thinking fantasy’. There are lots of trees and birds in it, as well as some extremely strange people. I’m also putting together a collection of my adult poems, along with my mentor and writing ‘a’muse’er’ Jack Livesley. It will be called Crackerjack Debutante, and we hope to have it in print this fall, 2017. So stay tuned!
This is a photo of Jack Livesley and me at a book launch we attended at Ben McNally Books a few years ago 🙂 I wrote my very first novel, The Twisting Road Tea Room, in his writing night class at Etobicoke Collegiate way back in 1996 / 97, and it was published by Ragweed Press in 2000.
7. Do you have any personal appearances coming up in the near future? On the evening of Wednesday December 14th, 2016, my latest novel, a YA mystery called The Secrets We Keep was launched at a Toronto Lit Up event, sponsored by the International Festival of Authors, at Harbourfront Centre.
In 2017: On Sunday January 29th, I will be launching The Secrets We Keep at A Different Drummer Bookstore in Burlington, along with my friend Sylvia McNicoll and The Great Mistake Mystery. On Friday February 3rd, I’ll be appearing at the OLA, Metro Convention Centre, signing copies of The Secrets We Keep at the Dundurn Press booth at 1:00. On Saturday April 29 at 11:00, I will be on hand to speak with readers at Book City, Bloor West Village, ‘Authors for Indies’ day. On Saturday May 6th, at 11:00, I will be sitting in on a ‘Relationship Drama’ panel at the Young Adult Stratford Writers Festival. On Sunday September 10th, I will be presenting The Secrets We Keep at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. Hope to meet you somewhere soon!
8. Where can I read an interview with you?
Launching The Secrets We Keep along with Sylvia McNicoll and The Best Mistake Mystery, from Dundurn Press, Sunday January 29th, 2017 at A Different Drummer Bookstore, Burlington, Ontario. (sorry about the black frames! I’m a writing geek, not a tech geek! And why are these photos so HUGE??) Photo below: Me, along with my good pal Sylvia McNicoll, her sweet granddaughter disguised as a dog, and our lovely Dundurn Press publicist, Jaclyn Hodsdon 🙂
This is me along with Rebecca Upjohn at the launch of The Snowball Effect and The Last Loon, from Orca Books, Fall 2010, Swansea Town Hall, Toronto, Ontario.