Transcript of podcast episode 47
Geneviève Morin (GM): Welcome to "Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage." I'm your host, Geneviève Morin. Join us as we showcase treasures from our vaults; guide you through our many services; and introduce you to the people who acquire, safeguard and make known Canada's documentary heritage.
The TD Summer Reading Club is Canada's biggest, bilingual summer reading program. Developed by the Toronto Public Library, in partnership with Library and Archives Canada, this free program highlights Canadian authors, illustrators and stories. The goal of the program is to foster literacy by encouraging kids aged 12 and under to read during the summer months.
Our staff at LAC are instrumental in creating the French content for the TD Summer Reading Club, moderating annual library awards, and distributing program materials across the country each spring.
In the second part of this two-part episode, we talk with the TD Summer Reading Club French author for 2018, Camille Bouchard. Camille has been a children's author since the 1980s, and has written over 100 books! He has also won multiple awards, including a 2005 Governor General's Award for his book,
Le Ricanement des hyènes. We also talk with a special surprise guest during this episode: a famous Canadian writer who was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, and once served as Canada's National Librarian.
[Sound of phone dialing]
Speaking to Camille today about his writing and involvement with the TD Summer Reading Club is Martine Plouffe. Martine is a librarian with the City of Gatineau and works at the Guy-Sanche branch, which happens to be right across the street from LAC's Place de la Cité location. Martine is also a member of the TD Summer Reading Club's Francophone committee.
Camille Bouchard (CB): Yes, hello?
Martine Plouffe (MP): Hello, my name is Martine Plouffe; I am a member of the Francophone TD Committee and a librarian in the City of Gatineau. Can you hear me all right?
CB: Yes, I hear you very well, Martine. Hello.
MP: Hi, it's a real pleasure to talk to you today. You are a fairly nomadic person. These days you travel all over the Americas in your RV. Where are you currently?
CB: Right now, I'm in the same time zone as you, because I came back east earlier this week as I have to travel to Quebec City next week. I am in Tallahassee, Florida, right now. I arrived two days ago. This year we spent the winter in Yuma, Arizona, and as I told you, we are on the way back.
MP: What special or interesting things did you see on your travels, and what, if anything, stood out for you?
CB: The Yuma region was not an area where I was doing research. It was really a place where I wanted to spend the winter to write, which was what I did. On the way back, however, I visited a few museums for research for novels that I will be writing in the coming months. In the last few days I was gathering information [00:02:00], buying books, locating documents here and there, and also, as I said, visiting a few museums and some historic places that will be part of my next books.
MP: You seem really passionate.
CB: Definitely. In fact, I find myself combining a little bit of my trade with my lifestyle. So I take advantage of it because I have a career that basically allows me to work where I want; I take the opportunity to adjust my destinations to the places where I have research to do for the stories I would like to create. At the same time, what's nice is that sometimes I arrive in places where I didn't have any particular purpose or intent, and then—voilà—it triggers an idea and I take advantage of the fact that I'm there to gather all the necessary information around me so that I can then write the novel I was inspired to write.
GM: We asked Camille what some of his favourite books were when he was a kid.
CB: When I was young—keep in mind that when I was a child, it was more than half a century ago—there was not much literature for youth at that time. It's not like today. So I really didn't have favourite books—there is a series of books, the Tintin books. I read them and re-read them and re-re-read them, I don't know how many times throughout my childhood. Those were my favourite books. Otherwise, I read everything. I didn't read many novels like I just said, because there wasn't much choice when I was young, so sometimes I read novels written for adults, Jules Verne, for example, or Alexandre Dumas. These are the writers I read when I was quite young, but I can't really say that I appreciated them, because they really weren't juvenile novels. However, I was still a good reader. I read a lot of science books. I thought I would become a scientist one day, so I certainly read many books on science. I read many magazines. I really liked scientific magazines. And—I mentioned Tintin earlier—I also read a lot of comic books.
MP: What do you like about Tintin?
CB: [laughter] Initially, I think it was the adventure, of course. I was like any little boy, I wanted to experience moments a little out of the ordinary, so Tintin offered us that aspect. And in hindsight, I believe that Tintin is a big part of the interest I developed in travelling.
MP: And did you go to the library often when you were a kid?
CB: In the small town I came from, the municipal library was actually the school library. I was a good client of the school library, but I don't remember spending entire weekends in a library reading. No, it wasn't really my thing. I was more an outdoors boy. I was always on the go. It influenced my adventurous side.
So, that was the library when I was young. It was the school library, so I didn't read a lot outside school hours.
GM: LAC is the national program coordinator for the TD Summer Reading Club; its primary responsibilities include developing the program's French content, managing the network of over 2,000 participating libraries, collecting orders, and distributing the 3 million program materials across Canada. LAC heads the team of Francophone librarians and children's literature specialists who curate thematic booklists and create appealing and relevant content for activities targeting different age groups of children. LAC staff are also responsible for the annual evaluation and report on program statistics, as well as managing the annual TD Summer Reading Club Library Awards. The TD Summer Reading Club is funded by TD Bank Group and is a pivotal part of their early literacy initiatives.
In 2001, Camille's hometown of Forestville, Quebec, decided to name its new library after him, the Bibliothèque Camille-Bouchard. We asked him how it felt to have his name associated with the library of his childhood.
CB: Yes, that's special. Right?
MP: Yes it is.
CB: Usually institutions are named after people who have died. At first, I thought, maybe someone wanted me "up there." [laughter] But no, the Bibliothèque Camille-Bouchard is a library that was built in 2001, so very, very recent. And there was a kind of competition in the town because the city's new sports and cultural institutions needed to be named, and for this new library, the question was what name could be given to it? So why not an author from here, someone who was born here in Forestville, who has stood out in his field. So my name came up and, I considered it a very, very great honour. I'm proud of it, that's for sure.
MP: You have written more than 100 books. What led you to choose writing as a career?
CB: It was a series of coincidences. Unlike all my friends, all my colleagues who dreamed of being authors since they were young, for me, it became an ambition and it was really a matter of learning by doing. I was 31 years old when I wrote my first novel and I was in my 40s when, with my sixth novel, I finally realized that literature is very exciting. It was something that met a need I had as a person, as an artist, to tell stories, and as a human being also, to talk about things that affect me, that I connect with, that revolt me or that I like. That's how I started writing. It came much later. It was not an ambition I had from when I was young.
MP: And why do you write for children, and not only for adults?
CB: I should explain a little about why I decided to become a writer. In fact, I started writing as a personal challenge at one point. Then, afterwards, with the first five novels, I was very inspired by the experience. It was fun to be published, but I did not consider myself a writer. First of all, I did not think I was very good. And then, it's true that it takes a lot of courage to write. I felt that writing was easy. Just take a pencil and some paper, then later a typewriter, in those days. But, ultimately, writing, is not just that. It's very difficult. It requires a lot of work, re-work, revision, correction and everything.
In short, it took six novels before I discovered that it suited my personality. Why? Because I was travelling at the time, and I witnessed things that revolted me. I was in Asia, in a small village, and that's how, writing my sixth novel it was in fact the first novel I wrote where I was talking about my travels, where I talked about my experiences as an adventurer. And I loved it. That's when I found out how well literature served me: me, as an artist and as a human being. That's how I started writing, and that's why I started writing more and more, and how years later, I have written so many works. I should point out that I write full time. Since my life is devoted exclusively to writing, it is normal that I've written many more titles in recent years.
Now, why have I chosen to write for children and for teenagers in particular? Most of my production is really for teenagers. Why them? That's a good question—I don't know, it's a personal preference, first of all. But second, I discovered, at one point when I was writing mostly for adults, how much more I felt like an artist when writing for young people than for adults. If you allow me, I'll give you a somewhat longer explanation.
MP: Of course.
CB: When I write for adults, I write for myself, basically, because I write the book I would like to read as an adult, so I don't feel like I am making the same effort as when I write for young people. I write the sentences that come as they come to me in my head. The sentence I would like to read, the rhythm I would like to read, so that is the rhythm I use in my writing. The scenes I describe are the scenes I would like to see as a reader. So I don't think of the readers I'm talking to, I think of myself—what would I want to receive as a reader? When I write for young people, I can't do that. Obviously writing for youth is not the same as writing for adults.
So every time I write a scene, I am forced to become my reader and think about how my reader wants me to describe the scene for him., How would my 12- or 14-year-old reader like to receive this information? How does he want me to introduce the characters? Which characters are interesting to him? How does he want them to evolve so that he feels part of the story? When I do that, I'm no longer writing for myself. I have to think of my reader all the time. I write and rewrite to ensure that they are adapted to the taste, needs and maturity of the reader who will encounter this story.
When I do that, I feel like an artist, because my perception of an artist is someone who is trying to communicate something to others. It can simply be entertainment. Take a musician, for example. I could easily see a musician sitting down, performing a short two-minute tune, during which time he's created a moment of communication with his audience. For example, he's created a time for them to relax. In movies, in literature, it's the same thing. What you are looking for is to try to communicate or connect with an audience, with a reader.
When I write for young people, I feel that I can build that bridge, whereas when I write for adults, I feel like I am writing for myself. I don't feel like I have created a bridge. I don't feel like I am as much an artist as I am with young people. And contrary to certain beliefs, it is much more difficult to write for young people than to write for adults because of precisely what I just explained.
GM: The illustrator for the 2018 TD Summer Reading Club is Anne Villeneuve. Anne's vivid and cheerful illustrations can be seen throughout the program's website, and on all the program material. Anne is also the author and illustrator of the popular
Loula series of books, along with many other titles in her long and accomplished career.
MP: Many of your novels are situated in exotic places you have visited such as Thailand, Egypt and Ethiopia. Your stories tell us about the splendour of these countries, but you also cover more serious topics such as human trafficking, drugs, poverty and violence. How do you write about these topics for young readers?
CB: In fact, as I just explained, you have to be able to adapt to the age of the readership you are addressing. In my case, I personally and very sincerely believe that we can talk about anything with young people, really about anything. You just have to know how you want to approach the topic with them.
I had a great experience with my editor at Dominique et Compagnie, Agnès Huguet, when we were creating the series
Les voyages de Nicolas. We made a point in each book to talk in such a way that the series would be aimed at young people who are 8, 9, 10 years old. But we're talking to them about subjects that are very difficult. We talk about organ trafficking, for example, modern slavery, etc. But we ensured that these serious problems were adapted to our audience. That our readership, which is 8-, 9- or 10-year-olds, can learn about these issues that exist elsewhere in the world, but not be traumatized by them.
MP: You are the French author for the 2018 TD Summer Reading Club. What was your first reaction when you learned about it?
CB: Quite an honor. It's the possibility of being able to address all of my French-speaking readers in Canada. I am a lover of the French language. In my most recent novels where I talk a lot about Louisiana, I talk a lot about the history of Francophones in America, the first expeditions by Francophones here in America. I really like to feel that my work makes the Francophonie more alive within Canada. So the TD Summer Reading Club, I think it's a great window to be able to spread French across our country.
MP: And you are now writing a 12-chapter mini-series for the Club.
MP: If you compare it to writing your own books, what is different?
CB: I am doing science fiction in this work; it is an area I haven't worked in a great deal in recent years. I focus more on adventure novels and more realistic stories. So maybe that's what's different, me writing science fiction. But you'll see that I talk a lot about science. I touch on earth science, I talk a bit about quantum physics. Of course, it is an adventure novel. It makes me happy. I have been told that the five chapters are "punchy." Readers should want to read the next chapters. So I'm happy right now, and I'm novel that's full of action, and it is all wrapped up in a big, good scientific cocoon, just as I like it.
MP: We can't wait to read it. As an author, do deadlines make you nervous?
CB: Generally, no. I am quite disciplined about that. I am able to meet deadlines. And indeed, I must say, I am usually the one pushing my editors to go a little faster. It's never fast enough for me. [laughter] In that regard, I have no problems.
In fact, I don't have many problems with writing. I like to write. I think I'm lucky because I've never experienced "writer's block", knock on wood. I hope it never happens. I have always had lots of ideas. So, in that regard, as I've said, I am a fairly disciplined person. I am able to prepare work schedules so I can easily meet deadlines. I always give myself lots of time to be sure not to be late. So no, I would think it is the opposite. It is my editors who are stressed because I push them.
MP: Because you like action too [laughter]?
CB: [laughter] Yes, obviously, because as a reader, I like a lot of action. When I read, things need to move a bit, it has to move. But I also like it when things are a bit quieter. To be sure, in my stories, there's also a lot of action. I like it when my readers—in creating chapters that leave the reader in anticipation—want to continue reading. I love doing that. Basically, the themes that I generally love allow me to do that.
GM: Next, Camille gave us a sneak peak of the story he's writing for the TD Summer Reading Club, entitled
Les dieux de I'Infierno.
CB: I can tell you a little bit more, I can tell you it is the story of a young boy whose father is a volcanologist, who decides to spend his spring break at the foot of a volcano collecting cooled lava samples for university work, and while the father and son are in the small village at the foot of the volcano, there is a volcanic eruption. It's not a huge eruption, it's not going to destroy the whole village, but there are lava flows and that makes the father very, very happy. He says, "Not only will I have cooled lava, but I will have very recent lava, which will allow me to do the necessary research to better understand the evolution of this volcano, and we can even study lava samples if we can have a bigger eruption in the coming weeks and months."
So our friends—the father; the boy, my hero, who is a 12-year-old boy, his friend from the village and a friend of his father—the four of them leave for the mountain to collect samples. But while they are on the mountain, there is a fireball, which is actually a meteor that by amazing chance falls near the erupting volcano, at the same time. There is a one-in-I-don't-know-how-many-hundreds-of-million chances that this would happen, but in their case, it happens. And it produces a quantum physics reaction—I won't tell you what—which means that we end up with not only an eruption and a falling meteor, but with a physical phenomenon that really causes them many, many problems.
MP: We can't wait to read the story.
CB: I hope I haven't said too much.
MP: Just enough, I think.
MP: Finally, what advice would you give to a child or young person who wants to become an author?
CB: There is no secret recipe for becoming a writer. Read. Just read. I don't think there's anything other than reading. The more you read, the more you learn how to write. And when I say that, it's because there are a lot of people who think that to become a writer you just have to be able to write without spelling mistakes. But that has nothing to do with it. It's as if you told me that you can be a good mechanic because you know how to drive a car. It has nothing to do with it.
To become a good writer, I think you first have to have things to say and then you have to read—read a lot. Because to write—we no longer write today, for example, as we wrote in the 18th or 19th century. Writing is an art that also evolves with time. Reading the modern novel, shows us how to do things, explains how we have to tell the story we have in our heads. At the same time, it gives us potential clues on how to deal with the story. It is not just a matter of writing without spelling mistakes, it is also the ability to write in a style that is going to be modern and that will be of interest to our reader, that will give him or her the desire to read right to the end.
MP: Thank you for this interview, you were very generous and it was very interesting. And I wish you safe travels back.
CB: Thank you very much. It was my pleasure!
MP: Thank you!
[Sound of a phone dialing]
Roch Carrier (RC): Hello?
GM: In 2004, LAC joined the TD Summer Reading Club as a program partner. One of the people responsible for creating this partnership was the then National Librarian of Canada, and our special surprise guest, Roch Carrier. Poet, novelist and playwright, Mr. Carrier has produced many books for children, most notably
The Hockey Sweater, which remains a timeless classic. We asked Mr. Carrier how LAC got involved in the program.
RC: That is a question that I have a little difficulty answering and I will tell you why. When I arrived at the National Library in 1999, I had no experience working in a library. In several countries, I had visited libraries, but in terms of profession, I am not a librarian. The Minister who invited me to take up this challenge was Sheila Copps. I told her that I was not a librarian, but I was interested in the challenge and the job offer. I was not qualified. She said, "But that's exactly why we want you." [laughter]
So I understood what was expected from me, and I'm also thinking about the archives side—they were expecting something like a new vision. In all my ignorance, I agreed to take on the responsibility. But I had an idea in mind, and I had seen in different libraries that there were activity programs.
It was a bit by chance that I learned, before my arrival, that there was already a reading program at the Toronto Public Library. And that interested me a great deal because I didn't want to see the library as a warehouse for old books. I wanted—as I had learned to do in the theatre—to present a play and also to sell tickets.
So my approach was—we have services, we have riches, volumes, we have competent staff—we need our books to be read. An appetite for reading should be developed because it's important. And so I learned that there was this reading program in Toronto for the branches there. I think it was from there that, during a conversation with the person who was in charge of the children's literature section, Josiane Polidori. She agreed with me and even more than agreed, she was more qualified in this area than I was. I think something was born, an interest was created to develop a reading program.
It was from there that the links were made. Slowly we gathered information, slowly we tried to connect, and if I did something, I tried to never get in Josiane Polidori's way. She was always—in my view—on the right track. Her efforts were always interesting and I think she should be given all the credit now for our participation—the bookstore and the library and the archives and our participation in this program.
GM: We wanted to know what books Mr. Carrier read as a child.
RC: I'll talk a bit about my experience. I am from a very, very modest background. We didn't have books at home, and the first books I read, the first books I saw, maybe I was 10 years old, and that's when my dad arrived from his business trips with a series of 12 hardcover books, bound books. I had never seen that.
My reading was limited to comic strips in newspapers. One of my great heroes—I had two great heroes. One of them was detective Dick Tracy, who wore a watch on his wrist that he would talk into. So that memory has never left me. I was so impressed. And I think if I had had any engineering talent as a teenager, I would have started making this watch you could talk into.
I also had another hero, Jacques le Matamore, or Brick Bradford in English. And he was a man in a kind of vehicle that travelled through time. He could travel to the Middle Ages. He could go to an unknown planet and discover more about it. That was exciting for me as a little boy, and I must confess that I even built a sort of interplanetary rocket with four boards and some nails. And if you think I was never able to travel with that, you're wrong—I took wonderful trips. These are memories we have, which open our minds to unknown worlds. It's so important.
GM: We next asked Mr. Carrier at what point in his life he realized that he wanted to become a writer.
RC: Knowledge of my own writing happened very, very early. I read comic strips, and when I read the stories, I discovered I wanted to tell stories. So how do we tell stories? As I said, I didn't know the world of books, I just knew newspapers, but I knew there were movies. There was a movie theatre in my village, a movie theatre that children could not go to. The movies were reserved for people aged 16 and older, and there was no television either.
But I understood what a film was. A film is something that rolls with images. I started cutting pictures out of newspapers, and glued them onto strips of paper and tried to build a story with the images that I had cut out in my newspaper. There was this instinct to tell a story and certainly to share that story. Because when my story—when my film was finished, I invited my two or three friends, and we watched this film, which was shown in a small box, and we watched the film through a small opening I had made. Eventually, of course, I had the opportunity to make a real film, but that was later.
In the meantime, I started writing poetry because, in a literature course, we had started reading poets and I had discovered verse and was interested in it. I started writing verse, poems on all the little things that happened to me. I wrote a lot of poems because, when I was 16, I decided that my poems deserved to be published, and I published my first book when I was 16 years old. The poems—I won't tell you they were masterpieces—but I did publish some. I remember I couldn't ask my parents for money to print the book. My father would have said, "What's that?" And I would have replied, "It's poetry." "What is that?" It would never have worked. So I got work over the summer vacation to pay for the cost of printing. That is how I started my career. [laughter]
GM: We asked Mr. Carrier one final question. Why does he think the TD Summer Reading Club program is important, and why, in his opinion, should kids continue to read during the summer months?
RC: Because reading is so important. I can tell you that because I have experienced the importance of reading as a young person, its importance for awareness, for training our intelligence, building judgment. It's essential; it's nourishment that children should not be deprived of. They need good food and good books to read, because it makes an absolutely incredible impression on you.
Reading, it's like—how do you say it? Children need to run, to play, to climb. As you know, there is a large percentage of today's children who have never climbed a tree. So you have to move, you have to make your body work, you have to leave your computer, maybe, and then run, exert yourself, do push ups, dance, jump, climb and—voilà. You have to do that.
Reading is exercise for the mind. It really is exercise. It develops imagination, memory, intelligence, and exposes us to situations that are foreign to us. It happens to everyone who is exposed to a situation that is not completely comfortable. If we read, we will have participated; we will have lived through other characters in these uncomfortable situations, and we will know how to get through it. It's a memory exercise. Memory has to be developed. If we read, we build our memory easily because we remember interesting stories.
GM: To learn more about the TD Summer Reading Club, please visit us online at bac-lac.gc.ca. Also, contact your local library to find out what exciting events and activities they have scheduled for this year's program.
Thank you for being with us. I'm Geneviève Morin, your host. You've been listening to "Discover Library and Archives Canada—where Canadian history, literature and culture await you." A special thank you to our guests today, Camille Bouchard and Roch Carrier, as well as our guest host, Martine Plouffe. Also, thanks to Théo Martin, Jospeh Trivers, Lianne Fortin and Ashley-Ann Brooks for their contributions to this episode.
This episode was produced and engineered by David Knox with assistance from Paula Kielstra.
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