“I’m an award-winning writer of historical and fantasy fiction for children and young adults. Writing has always been a passion of mine, although when I was young I never thought that I could be a published author. I think I believed that all published writers were either dead or English, probably because, although I was born in Canada, I lived in Argentina until I went back for university. It was only after I was married and had children of my own that I got the idea of writing my own stories. I followed the writer’s usual path of rejection slips until I started selling short stories to magazines and school anthologies. It still took another six years until I finally published my first book. I’ve been writing ever since.” (excerpt from Karleen’s biography on Amazon.com)
I first came across Karleen Bradford during my Christmas holidays. I decided to spend part of my vacation time catching up on reading some great Canadian writers featured at my local library. I picked up Karleen Bradford’s Crusades series and was instantly captivated.
Now I confess I am not the world’s greatest history buff, (I didn’t enjoy History at school—too many names and dates to memorize!) but I appreciate how Mrs. Bradford takes a historical time period and makes it come alive through her characters and her stories.
I did some research on the internet, and to my utter delight, found out that Karleen Bradford had spent some time in Ottawa! I sent Karleen Bradford an e-mail, not really expecting a response. I am sure she is a busy lady, and this is an especially busy time of year. Much to my surprise, I received an immediate response and she graciously agreed to do an interview!!
To give you some background on the Ottawa connection, I learned that Karleen’s husband joined the Foreign Service in 1963, so they spent a year in Ottawa while he was in training. Over the next 34 years, Ottawa was their home posting between postings abroad. After her husband’s last posting in 1992, they returned to Ottawa until 1996.
It turned out to be a great time to do an interview! Karleen Bradford is writing a new book about Ottawa in 1866/1867 at the time of Confederation for her Dear Canada series. She conducts her research at the National Archives and Library. Read more about her new book in the “Ottawa” section of her interview.
Getting to Know Karleen Bradford
I have read on your website that you have travelled over a period of 34 years and lived in 7 countries. How have these places impacted or inspired your writing?
Karleen Bradford: Because of my husband’s job as a Foreign Service Officer with the Canadian Government, we travelled and lived in many different countries during his 34 years of service. Many of these countries inspired my writing. While living in England I learned about Lady Jane Grey, the unfortunate young girl who was forced into being Queen of England for only nine days, before she was beheaded for treason by Henry V’s eldest daughter, the rightful Queen Mary. I felt such sympathy for her, and at the time there was really nothing written about her, so that gave rise to my historical novel, THE NINE DAYS QUEEN.
During our children’s school breaks, my husband and I would pack them and the dog into the car and go exploring. It was while driving through Wales that I saw a dark and gloomy old house, standing in the rain along the top of a cliff, with waves breaking far below, and seals playing amongst the rocks. It was the perfect setting for a ghost story, and THE HAUNTING AT CLIFF HOUSE was born.
A vacation in Cornwall gave me the idea for THE STONE IN THE MEADOW when I was intrigued by a standing stone, an ancient menhir, in the meadow next to the inn where we were staying.
Four years in Germany led me to discovering the Crusades. I began to research and ended up writing five books about them, starting with the first Crusade of all, the People’s Crusade, which became the basis for THERE WILL BE WOLVES.
Back in Canada, a visit to Upper Canada Village with my children gave me the idea for my back in time book, THE OTHER ELIZABETH, and since then I have written two books for the Dear Canada series dealing with aspects of Canadian history. At the moment I’m researching another Dear Canada book about Ottawa in 1866/67, at the time of Confederation.
What age group do you most like to write for and why?
Karleen Bradford: I don’t set out writing a book for any particular age group, with the exception of my picture and chapter books. Usually a character walks into my head and he or she and their circumstances and problems determine what age group the book will be for. I enjoy writing from the point of view of a young person. They are experiencing the major emotions and crises of life for the first time. Although my daughter had her own viewpoint for why I choose to write for young people. When I was asked the question once when she was 12 years old, she broke in before I could answer: “It’s because her own mind never grew up,” she said. Probably very true.
Alot of time and research must go into writing historical fiction. How do you find the balance between fact and fiction? How does history come alive for you?
Karleen Bradford: Finding the balance between fact and fiction is delicate, especially because I write for young people. My books are in schools and libraries, and teachers and librarians have to be certain that the historical facts in the books are accurate. I try to make certain, to the best of my ability, that they are. Where real people come into the stories, I only write what primary and secondary sources have proven to be true. My fictional characters and my plots have to fit into the facts as they really existed. Many people are surprised to find out that I found history extremely dull when I was at school. Nothing but a bunch of dates and dead people. I try to bring history alive for my readers by giving them a story of someone who is actually experiencing the events at the very times of the events. If the situation is important for the character, and the character is important to the reader, then history fades into the background and it just becomes a good story. For me, research is what brings the history alive. Contrary to what many people believe, research is fascinating. It becomes like putting the pieces of a puzzle together, or following the clues in a detective story. And, of course, I never know what I don’t know until I find it out, and this gives me my story.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your writing? Do you “people watch” or use elements of people that you know?
Karleen Bradford: I people watch and yes, eavesdrop, constantly. A constant source of inspiration. I only use bits and pieces of myself or people that I know, all mixed up and mingled with pure imagination. It is inevitable that my values and beliefs that are important to me will come through in my books, but I do not consciously try to incorporate them.
THE WRITING PROCESS
From Karleen’s blog: “I am still waiting for another ‘given’ to fall out of the sky. In the meantime I’m writing the usual way.” Can you describe your “usual way of writing” to our readers?
Karleen Bradford: My usual way of writing is just to sit down at my computer and write, whether I feel like writing or not. The act of putting fingers to keyboard, or pen to paper, usually starts my mind working, even on days when I would much rather be doing something else. That’s the only way books get written, for me, anyway.
What kind of advice would you offer someone who wants to be a successful, published writer?
Karleen Bradford: Write, write, write and read, read, read. I do not know a writer who is not a reader. Take classes and workshops if you can, join writers’ groups if you can, but the main thing is just to write. And rewrite. Nothing is good enough the first time, even if you think it is. Step back and let your work lie for a while, then go back to it and you will see where it needs revision. Don’t be in a hurry to publish. Take the time to learn your craft as well as you can first. Don’t be afraid of rejections. It took me six years to get my first book published and I can’t tell you how many times it was rejected. Each time it came back, I reread it and saw where I could improve it. Finally, it was good enough to be accepted by a major publishing house. In the meantime, I was writing and rewriting and sending out and receiving rejections for four other books, which eventually were also published. A writer’s greatest talent is sheer, pig-headed stubbornness. Write for the joy of it, not for publication. If you work hard enough, and keep at it stubbornly enough, publication will come and your work will be worth it.
Do you write every day?
Karleen Bradford: I don’t write every day, but when I am working on a book it is in my mind every day. And night. Especially at 2 a.m., which is why I always keep a pad of paper and pen by my bedside.
I’ve heard that re-writing and editing is hard for writers… What did you find hard about revisiting and rewriting THE OTHER ELIZABETH, THE STONE IN THE MEADOW, and THE HAUNTING OF CLIFF HOUSE? Did you find that you now had new experiences to draw upon that changed how you originally perceived the story or the characters? What process did you use to decide what to change or what to keep?
Karleen Bradford: Revisiting and rewriting THE OTHER ELIZABETH, THE STONE IN THE MEADOW and HAUNTING AT CLIFF HOUSE was fun. First of all, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I still felt they were good, well-written stories. I didn’t feel that I had to change much. I updated things like typewriters to computers, gave a nod to cell phones, etc. and deleted a gazillion adverbs. Other than that, the books are very much the same as when they were originally published.
What authors / books would you recommend to children and / or teens? With the many modern distractions of TV, video games and internet to compete with, how should parents get their kids interested in reading?
Karleen Bradford: I have many favourite authors. I would recommend that children/teens get to know their school and public libraries and the librarians really well. Read as much and as widely as they can.
The best way for parents to get their kids interested in reading is by reading themselves and having a house where books are an important and essential part of life. Reading to their kids from the time they are babies is fun and so necessary to give the kids a love of reading right from the start.
With the strides in modern technology (blogging, websites, book trailers, e-books, etc.) avenues have opened up to you as a writer. How have changes in technology helped you in your writing?
Karleen Bradford: I love my computer. I wrote my first four books on an old manual typewriter. Graduated, grudgingly, to an electric typewriter and then, even more distrustfully, to a computer. The computer has opened up the ease of writing for me exponentially. For example. When I wrote THE NINE DAYS QUEEN, I spent a month typing the final copy up on expensive #2 bond paper to submit it to a publisher. When I had it all ready to go I discovered that I had called someone Sir who should have been Lord. It took me two weeks to change and retype the manuscript. Now it’s just “Find and Replace”. I loved being able to jot in changes, cut out bits (literally) and change them around, get my hands on the paper physically. I was afraid that the computer would make my writing more impersonal. Quite the contrary. I can get in there and cut and paste, rewrite, and change things around and back again if I wish so much more easily. Love it! And my writing is better because of it.
What gave you the idea to make book trailers? Do you write the “screen plays” for these trailers?
Karleen Bradford: I don’t do my own trailers. My fabulous webmistress, Alice Priestley, did them for me. When I brought out my e-books I realized that I was going to have to promote them online as well. I had watched other writers’ trailers and loved them, so wanted some for my books, too.
Writing is part gift, part craft, part artist, and a large part hard work. It’s not exactly a job that you can “turn off”. What sort of things do you do to maintain balance in your life?
Karleen Bradford: Maintaining balance can be hard. When my children were young they were quite used to Mum not being “quite back yet” from writing all day while they were at school. I would usually have milk and cookies waiting for them and their friends, though, on the kitchen table, and would read what I had written that day to them. They were great (sometimes brutal) critics, and it brought them into my writing world. Having children automatically forced me to attend to daily life rather than retire into an ivory tower. Now that my children are all grown and I am older, I find that I have developed so many interests over the years that I want to pursue them as well as write. And, in the long run, things usually contribute to my writing in one way or another.
Your contact with Ottawa has happened over a number of years. What changes have you noticed about the city? What are some of the things you like about Ottawa? What does Ottawa have to offer to writers and readers?
Karleen Bradford: Ottawa has always been a city that I have loved. There is a vibrant community of artists and writers there. Although I am not living there now, I still have many friends there and maintain contacts with the writing community. I also go back whenever possible. I went back last summer to do new research for my new book, and will go back again this summer.
We’re excited about the book you are writing about historical Ottawa! Can we have a sneak peek at the storyline?
Karleen Bradford: My new book will be another Dear Canada book, published by Scholastic. It should be out in the fall of 2013. It is set in Ottawa in the years 1866/67, at the time of Confederation. The main character is a young Irish girl named Rosie Dunn, who is a servant in the house of one of the civil servant families who very unwillingly moved to Ottawa when Queen Victoria declared that it should be the capital of Canada, and the Parliament buildings were built there.
This interview was conducted in January 2012.
Karleen graciously offered us a sneak peek at the new book and I am excited to include the opening draft here.