Jul 12

Meet Jacquie Pearce, BC author

I met Jacquie Pearce at my first CWILL (Children’s Writers and Illustrators of BC) meeting in 2007.  My book was in the hands of Gumboot Books Publishing and Crystal Stranaghan, Founder, happened to be the president of CWILL.  After the meeting I got to know Jacquie as we shared experiences about Japan. We continue to have a personal and professional relationship which I value very much. 

Jacquie by the Fraser River

As you will soon learn, Jacquie is a multi-faceted artist, combining her writing with a love for research, photography, and telling stories with Canadian content.  Her most recent launch, FLOOD WARNING, couldn’t have been more timely as the Fraser River rose to record highs just as the book launched.  I know you’ll enjoy getting to know more about Jacquie!








Q:   First off, “young woman”,  I note that you were born in 1962, the year yours truly graduated from high school, but I won’t let that bother me!  Let’s move on.

A:  It was a good year!

Q:  As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A:  I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I don’t think I admitted it to anyone until much later (I was a bit of a tomboy as a kid, and my love of writing was part of my secret self. I guess I didn’t want to risk exposing it to public scrutiny). I was also interested in art, and sometimes I felt torn between wanting to be a writer and wanting to be an artist.

Q:  Have you always written stories?  When did you first start writing, and when did you finish your first book?  Was it published?  Sorry, that’s a long question.

A:  I’ve been writing pretty much as far back as I can remember. I actually sold a poem to my local newspaper when I was about 12 (I think I got paid $2.50, but I had to wait many years before I got paid for another piece of writing). Although I’ve always wanted to write novels for kids, I never actually finished one until a publisher expressed an interest in a picture book story I sent them and asked me to expand it into a novel. The result was my first book, The Reunion (published by Orca in 2002).

Q:  Does your day always include writing, drawing or taking pictures? Now that you mention it, it probably does. I’ve had a lot of interruptions and distractions from productive story writing over the past few years, so it feels like I haven’t gotten a lot of writing done, but I have had two short chapter books published, and I’ve accumulated a lot of story notes, as well as written side things, like blog posts. Right now I seem to be writing a lot of haiku. Every time I go for a walk, I end up stopping to jot down a haiku. I also take a small camera with me everywhere I go, and I’m always taking photos of things that interest me or things I want to remember.  Drawing, on the other hand, is one thing I haven’t done in awhile. I keep promising myself that I’ll block out some days to focus on creating art, but so far, my art supplies are sitting neglected.

Q:  What genre do you write in, and why? 

A:  I’ve written both contemporary and historical fiction, and I’m also interested in writing fantasy and science fiction, but the next few projects on my list are all historical fiction. I’ve always been intrigued by the history of places I’ve lived or visited (not by the names and dates of important people and events, but by the experiences of ordinary people, particularly kids, and the little-known stories that are waiting to be told).

Q:  Have you written a book you really love that you haven’t been able to get published?

A:  I’ve written a couple picture book stories that are close to my heart, and which haven’t found a publisher. I had a book contract for one, about the origin of the Japanese lucky cat statue,  but unfortunately, the book was cancelled. I received an unofficial contract offer from another publisher, but before we could get going on the project, two books on the same topic came out with different publishers, so mine was dropped. I don’t have any unpublished novels gathering dust, but perhaps I would if I got all the writing on my to-do list done.

Q:  Could you tell the readers how you chose Japan as a destination?

A:  Actually, my interest in Japan developed in a round-about way. A good friend of mine moved there over twenty years ago, and after hearing so much about Japan through him (and being partly seduced by all the intriguing Japanese candy, toys and anime he sent my daughter over the years), I finally took advantage of his invitation to visit.

Q:  What experiences stand out as unforgettable?

A:  Coming from Canada, almost everything I experienced in Japan was new and interesting. Tokyo was the most exciting place I visited, but my favourite places were the more remote, tranquil spots like the island of Miyajima, with its “floating” shrine, and the coast of the Kii Peninsula (south-west of Nagoya), where I hiked to the base of a mountain waterfall shrine and relaxed in a river hotspring. The most moving place I visited was the Hiroshima Peace Museum (I was particularly struck by the artifacts left behind by children killed when the bomb fell). And as someone interested in history, I soaked it up in places like Kyoto, Nara, and Seki-cho, a town on the Old Hokaido Road. And then there’s the food… (but I’ll stop, or I could go on and on).


Q:  Do you maintain an on-going association with the people, the country and the culture?  What is it about Japan that you embrace?

A:  Well, I’m in regular contact with my friend, who continues to live there and shares my interest in Japanese culture, history and folklore (for example, we both contribute to a blog and Facebook site dedicated to Maneki Neko, the Japanese cat statue that has one paw raised to beckon good luck).  Also, through him, I met several Japanese women friends, who kindly showed me around on two visits to Japan, and who came out to Canada for a visit last year. Their English is very good, and we continue to keep in touch. They are always happy when I send them copies of my newest books.

Q:  Several of your books have a multi-cultural theme. Specifically, The Reunion (Orca 2002), Manga Touch (Orca 2007), and The Mystery of the Missing Luck (Orca 2011) all have a connection to Japan. Was this something you planned? And why is this theme important to you?

A:  I didn’t necessarily start out to write multicultural stories, or to write about Japan, but I’ve always had an interest in different cultures and in the potential of sharing personal stories as a way to build bridges and expand empathy between cultures. When I was a university student, I had a summer job at a multicultural daycamp hosted by the Cowichan Valley Intercultural and Immigrant Aid Society. The other students working with me came from different cultural backgrounds, and we had many opportunities to sit around talking and sharing our personal stories. It seemed to me that, if other people had the same kind of opportunity to talk and share stories, there would be more understanding and tolerance between people of different cultures. The following year (1985) was International Year of Youth, and I applied for a grant to put together a book of young people’s writings from across Canada, hoping that it would give youth from diverse cultural, economic and regional backgrounds, an opportunity to share personal stories the way I had shared with my work-mates the previous summer. The result was an anthology called Voices, which included stories, essays, poetry, artwork, and photography contributed by young people from various parts of the country. My then boyfriend (now husband) and I did writing, editing, typing, design, illustration, layout, publishing, distribution –pretty much every part of the book creation you could imagine. I’m not sure how successful the final result was in terms of my original high goals, but it was a great experience, and we may even have been the first to publish the writing of a few authors who are now quite well known (the poet/novelist Evelyn Lau was one).  The Intercultural Society sponsored the book project, and while I was working in their office space, there was a Japanese woman there doing an oral history project about the experiences of people who had lived in the nearby sawmill town of Paldi when the Japanese-Canadians were taken from their homes and interned during WW II. That was how I first found out about the internment, and I was shocked. I was also surprised to learn that people from many different cultures had lived and worked together in Paldi, formed friendships and shared cultural celebrations, at a time when the larger town down the road (and other cities of Canada as well) had racially segregated theatre seating, etc. When I looked at some old photos from Paldi school (the ones taken at the start of WW II included Japanese kids, the ones taken at the end of the war did not), I noticed an East Indian girl who looked just like a friend of mine (she turned out to be my friend’s mother), and I wondered what it would have felt like for two friends (one of Sikh background and one of Japanese) to be suddenly separated when one girl’s family was taken away. Almost twenty years later, that thought became the basis for my first book, The Reunion.

Manga Touch

Manga Touch was inspired by my first visit to Japan, and Mystery of the Missing Luck, which takes place in Vancouver, was inspired by Maneki Neko, the Japanese lucky cat, and by Japanese bakeries (specifically the bun known as an-pan and the cartoon hero, Anpan Man, although he doesn’t actually make it into the story).  I’ve written other multicultural stories as well, partly because I live in a multicultural community, and it seems only natural to include children from more than one cultural background. Partly, it goes back to my idea that sharing stories from different cultures and different experiences, helps expand understanding and empathy between people.

Q:  Do you have a day job?

A:  At the moment, writing is my day job (and often my night job), but a lot of the time I don’t get paid for my work.

Q:  Did you grow up with animals?  They seem to have made their way into a few of your books. A:  I don’t think of myself as having grown up with animals, but I have had various pets over the years, and they’ve been more of a constant in my life over the past fifteen years –especially with my husband working for the BC SPCA.  My novel Dog House Blues was inspired by various dogs I’ve known, and my novel The Truth about Rats (and Dogs) deals with issues around the way people tend to stereotype animals and also people.

Q: Have you always been interested in photography? You shoot some stunning nature photographs, especially birds.  Where does the fascination with birds come from?

A:  Thanks, Rebecca!  But to be honest, the better bird photos I’ve posted on my blog or Facebook were probably taken by my husband (the little camera I carry with me isn’t good for those kinds of shots). However, I’ve been interested in photography since I was a kid, and the first thing I saved up for when I started working as a teenager, was a good SLR camera. Most of the photographs I take now, though, are with a compact digital camera that’s easy to carry, and they’re mostly snap shots and documentary sort of photos that I take for my own interest (and sometimes for story research or to illustrate my blog posts).

Ueno Park Crow, Tokyo

I’ve been drawn to birds and nature as far back as I can remember.  My dad’s always worked outdoors and knows a lot about plants, trees, birds and other wildlife, so maybe I get some of my interest from him. I actually have a master’s degree in environmental studies, but I’ll never know as much as my dad’s learned through experience and observation. The appreciation of nature through poetry and art is probably something I get from my mother. I also have some good memories of watching lightning storms with my grandparents.

 Q: What are you working on now?

A:  My newest book, Flood Warning, about the Fraser River flood of 1948, just came out, and I’m working on another story set in about the same time period in a floating logging camp on Vancouver Island. I also have several stories waiting on the back burner, including a historical story set in 19th c. Japan.

Q:  I read somewhere that you write in your basement.  Readers will want to know if you prefer wool or tube sox?  A hoodie?  Track pants?  What kind of writing gear do you wear?

A:  At the house I live in now, I have an office on the main floor, so I’m no longer relegated to the dark, cold basement. I don’t have any special writing gear (comfy jeans and a warm hoodie is my normal wear), but I will admit I have a few lucky cat statues on my desk, hoping they’ll beckon in some inspiration and some good writing luck.

Jacquie with Maneki-neko


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