Marilyn Helmer - Author
St. John's, Newfoundland.
Where do you live now?
When did you start writing?
My interest in writing began when, as a child, I discovered that everyday occurrences could be dull or interesting depending on the way I related to them.
Do you have a favorite book?
Wow! This is like trying to decide which chocolate out of the whole box is my favorite. Books that I have read over and over again are the Mary Poppins series by P.L. Travers, Enid Blyton's Adventure series and the Anne books by L.M. Montgomery. A single book that stands out on my list of most-loved is The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden.
Do you have any pets?
Yes --- a lovely, year-old, gray striped cat. We adopted her last year after our twenty-year-old cat, Star, died. One day, my daughter Sandra brought home a tiny, gray orphaned bundle, all pathetic little meows and purrs, who looked just like the kitten in Fog Cat. Needless to say, she won our hearts. We quickly went from fostering to owning and, of course, we named her Misty.
What was your training or schooling?
I finished high school and completed two years of university in Montreal. Since then I have taken numerous courses on writing, storytelling, puppetry and children's literature.
Do you have any tips for young creators?
Writing is hard work, but it is also fun and the pleasure of seeing your writing in print makes it well worth the effort involved. Set aside a specific amount of time to write each week. You could call it “Time Out to Write.” It may only be one hour a week, but try to stick to it and use that time for writing. In the meantime, start a journal and jot down any ideas or inspirations that come to you. This way you'll always have something to work on during your “Time Out to Write.”
What is the thing you like the most about creating kids' books?
The thought that what I have to say may bring pleasure, reassurance, inspiration or dreams to a child as he/she reads my words. This is what books have done for me.
Where do you work?
There is a room in my house that has two computers in it; mine and my husband's. On the walls at my end of the room are two large bulletin boards. These are decorated with pages from magazines containing some of my published stories, poems and articles. Around the bulletin boards are pictures and paintings that children have done of the characters in my books. These visuals are my inspiration as I work.
How do you research or create your stories?
To avoid the dreaded writers' block, I keep a journal and files of ideas so that I am never at a loss for something to write about. My four-drawer file cabinet is overflowing with articles clipped from newspapers and magazines on things I might like to write about.
Where do you get your ideas?
I have trained myself to constantly be on “story alert.” When I read a newspaper or magazine, I keep my eyes open for things to write about. Some of my best ideas have come from my own experiences and from my children's experiences. Research itself is another excellent source of ideas. As I'm researching one article or story, I often come across something that leads to another one. And I read, read, read!
What's your greatest childhood memory?
When I was six years old, my parents took me to the Santa Claus parade in Montreal. It had snowed heavily the night before so that the downtown area was literally a winter wonderland. The street itself was “paved” in white with high banks of snow on either side. To my diminutive size, the snowbanks seemed to stretch to the sky. I remember looking up the street and seeing this enormous, bright red sleigh coming toward me, with Santa on top surrounded by his green-clad elves. The air was filled with music, the crowd was cheering and everyone's breath was forming little, puffy clouds. It was the kind of magical Christmas scene that dreams are made of. I still believe that there is magic in the world, which is one of the many reasons I love writing for children.
Do you have any special secrets or insights about one of your books or characters?
Ornery, the cat in Mr. McGratt and the Ornery Cat was based on my own cat, Star.