Please tell me a bit about yourself—your background in writing for children and in other genres.
I am a full-time writer of novels, novellas, plays and children’s books. I specialize in farce.
Tell me about your most recent work......what inspired the premise and how did "Wispy & the Unicorn" come to be? What about your stories is topical right now?
I recently launched a children’s book called, “Wispy & the Unicorn.” The story is inspired by a dear friend of mine who recently passed away. She was the first dramaturge I ever had in University and she used to give me much-appreciated guidance and encouragement while I studied playwriting at York. She used to call me her little playwriting fairy and encourage me to ‘work my magic.’ At the time, I was struggling to find my purpose in the playwriting field. I wrote comedy, which was frowned upon in the Canadian Theatre realm. It was hard to be taken seriously when only morbid, depressing plays were receiving government funding. I tried to write that way, but it felt artificial and weird. All I ever wanted to do was to use my work to make people laugh. I didn’t think I could make it professionally unless I conformed to the way everyone else was writing. However, Lena would secretly encourage me and tell me that my gift was magical because it was unlike anyone else’s talent. That was liberating. Once I drummed up the courage to embrace my gift, I was mind-blown by how well my work was received. As it happens, people crave laughter, and I was giving them something they had never really seen before at the theatre. Lena was right.
I also wrote a quarantine novel called "Lovesick Lake". It’s a little darker than some of my other comedies because I wrote it during a time that was pretty depressing for the whole world. I was reluctant to write something while I was languishing from isolation, but my readers begged me for a quarantine novel. So I thought I’d be festive and write a story about the effects of social isolation on the human mind. If you like dark comedy, I think you’ll really enjoy this weird, little book.
What do you hope young readers, and perhaps even parents take away from "Wispy & the Unicorn"?
In “Wispy & the Unicorn,” a little fairy has a rare gift of spreading laughter and joy, but the other fairies whose magic conjures mischief, misunderstand her unique talent. Embarrassed, the fairy hides her magic in a jar where nobody will find it. But a magnificent unicorn implores the little fairy to open the jar and set the magic free. This is a deeply personal book to me, but I think the theme is universal. Embracing your uniqueness can be scary in a world that tries to force us to conform to arbitrary social constructs. Children should be free to be themselves, and to realize this as early as they can. It’s a similar theme to my book, “Freddie the Rock & Roll Cat,” but you know. With unicorns.
What are your fav scenes (from both books)?
I think my favourite scene from “Wispy & the Unicorn” is when the little fairy opens the jar to set her magic free. The illustrator (Nick Dempsey) is amazingly talented at capturing emotion in the character’s faces. The look on Wispy’s face will give you all the feels.
My favourite scene from “Lovesick Lake” would probably be when the socially awkward protagonist (Lydia) meets the love interest (Granger). She has no idea how to navigate through social situations during the best of times, so meeting a swoony stranger after faring alone in rural Quebec for a while, she fumbles around hilariously. It was fun to write.
Where do your ideas for stories generally come from?
I get my ideas mostly from people who have had some kind of profound impact on me – even if I only had a brief encounter with them. An example of this would be the main character in my novel, “Pardon My French: A Romantic Farce.” This protagonist is based on an intriguingly rhapsodic Parisian taxi driver with whom I only spent about fifteen minutes. I also get my ideas from places that are special to me, such as Paris, Manhattan, Algonquin Park and rural Quebec. I like to make the setting a literal character in the story, whether that is a geographical place or even a building. For my children’s books, I get my ideas from things that my own children are passionate about, for example, Freddie Mercury, wildlife conservation, sharks, dinosaurs, and ridiculously cute animals.
For the other children’s writers out there in my audience, could you share a little advice on either writing or marketing children’s picture books?
Advice? Oh gosh, just be yourself. Write about what you love and in a way that feels natural. Ignore trends and industry rules. Nobody likes reading a story that’s been told a hundred times and in a predictable way. If you have a weird style, just go with it. Storytelling is the only thing that can solve the world’s problems because it brings people together and provides a forum in which everyone’s voice can be heard. Your voice matters and it is different for a reason. Write characters that people care about. Be unique. Be fresh. Be bold. Embrace it.
How has the current pandemic changed or shaped how you write your books?
The pandemic has slowed my writing process down significantly because I need to be in an upbeat mindset to write comedy and children’s books. At the moment, most of my writing is coming out darker than what I’m used to. It’s frustrating because I feel like more than ever people need to laugh and to experience something uplifting. I mean, my material is still very funny, but the tone has changed. This may inadvertently expand my fan base to include fans of dark comedy. But I’m really looking forward to the time when I can write in my signature, feel-good style again. The good news is, I’m extremely angry about the baseness of human nature right now because of the hateful way that global citizens are treating each other. The pandemic has already dragged me through the stages of shock, denial and grief and now I’ve moved on to anger. And I’ve been told that I write my most hilarious material when I’m mad. So my next novel should be explosively, pee-your-pants funny.
Tell me about some of your other books and projects!
I’ve written my first novella which will hopefully be launched before Christmas. It is called, “Holly & Ivy: A DysFUNctional Christmas Comedy.” It is about a posh, NYC perfume exec whose life is turned upside-down when her wayward, estranged sister shows up unexpectedly for Christmas. I had so much fun writing it.
This past summer I also released “Huggins the Hippo,” an adorable children’s book about the joy of travelling, as well as embracing new experiences, people and cultures. This is the current favourite of my little Rosie who keeps telling me that she wishes that she wrote it. That’s the best compliment ever!
And don’t forget my most popular novel so far, “Logged In: A Laugh-out-Loud Romantic Comedy.” It’s a refreshing read that will help you escape from all this lingering, pandemic weirdness. Anyone who loves Algonquin Park and quirky, rural characters needs to grab their copy immediately.
I’m also really pumped about a new anthology that is painfully close to being released! It is a collection of fairy tale parodies. I came up with this idea because my kids love fairy tales but are also understandably freaked out by the dark and gruesome undertones. So I decided to rewrite a bunch of popular fairy tales, replacing the scary parts with sardonic comedy and concepts that are hilariously relevant to both children and adults. It’s ridiculous how excited I am about this one.
What's next for you?
Next up, I’m writing a rollicking, dystopian comedy that takes place mostly in a freaky, Brutalist residential tower block, filled with an eccentric array of characters. I have 18+ months of pent-up sarcasm that I’m eager to unleash. So that should be fun.
And tell us something people might not know about you.
People might not know that I am a direct descendent of King Charles the Ninth of France.
Thanks so much for chatting with me, Allison, you talented little writing fairy!