Another unique post for the Scribbler. Mother and daughter team collaborate on Pamela’s debut novel.
Valerie Sherrard is no stranger to our readers. This is her third visit and this time she is participating in a 4Q interview with her daughter Pamela. They are sharing an excerpt from Finding Avalon. As an added extra, Valerie will share an update on her newest work, The Rise and Fall of Derek Cowell.
Finding Avalon is an association best described by their publishers, Chocolate River and Nimbus Publishing.
Pamela authored the voice of Avalon, who is the primary character in this story. Valerie contributed the minor voice of Avalon’s mother.
Pamela MacDonald was born and raised in New Brunswick, and returned to those roots after completing her education in other parts of Canada. She shared these thoughts with the South Branch Scribbler:
“I grew up in Miramichi, NB, in a loving home, with my mother, father and brother (as well as foster siblings). My parents divorced when I was in elementary school, and I gained two loving step parents and three more siblings. After I graduated high school, I did my undergrad in psychology in Ontario and my masters in counselling in Alberta. I became a registered psychologist, moved back to New Brunswick and opened a practice. I now live in Miramichi, NB, with my wonderful, supportive husband and 2 amazing boys, age 3 and 4. “
Valerie shared a few details about herself in an earlier SBS visit here.
***Take Note: Book launchSaturday, November 7 at Mill Cove Coffee in Miramichi. It will run from 1:00 - 3:00 pm. (Social distancing and masks required.)
4Q: Congratulations Pamela on your novel. Please tell our readers what to expect when they pick up their copy of Finding Avalon.
PM: This story is a journey with the main character, Avalon, who is flawed, but has good qualities too, as she navigates some unique situations.
4Q: What inspired the story?
PM: My mom brought up the idea years ago of us writing a story that included letters back and forth between mother and daughter. We developed it from there.
4Q: Please share a childhood memory and/or anecdote.
PM: Rather than one memory, I will share a collection of memories. A pattern. I was a fairly free child when with my parents, a dreamer, often lost in imagination. I wasn't good at everything, in school or otherwise. I was strong at math and poor at French. I was often praised for efforts and accomplishments, but my failures were not dramatized. I was allowed to be me. My parents didn't make me feel like it was a big deal if I did poorly on a test or assignment. I suppose it was that pattern that made me not fear failure. If I wanted to accomplish or try something, I was never afraid to give it my best shot, even if the risk of failure was reasonably high. That has opened many doors for me, including writing.
VS: I’m not sure how old I was when this happened, but definitely under 10. My family used to go for drives now and then, and on one such drive we encountered a man—he seemed elderly to me as a child but thinking back I realize he was probably in his mid to late 40’s. He was wearing socks, but no shoes, and we picked him up to give him a drive. The details are unclear, but I know shoes were provided for him somehow. And despite the haziness of the memory, I know the lesson was a powerful one and helped shape my world view.
4Q: How did it feel Valerie, to work closely with Pamela on this story?
VS: More than anything else it was interesting. When Pamela was younger, she wouldn’t share any creative writing with me, and so this was actually the very first time I had the opportunity to see her writing style. She sometimes discussed the storyline with me and while she was open to considering the occasional suggestion, she had a definite vision for the novel, and she stayed true to that. My contributions in providing a distinctive voice for the mother’s letters were guided by her concept.
4Q: What is the most difficult aspect of working as a team on a singular venture?
PM: Editing was more complicated, I imagine, than with one author, as we had to discuss and send back and forth with track changes. Although, for me this was also part of the learning experience, so even though it took more time it was very beneficial.
VS: Finding time was always a challenge. Pamela is busy with her practice and with two small boys at home, so opportunities to collaborate on storyline and so forth weren’t easy to manage. In fact, the story was begun several years ago and sometimes months went by without any progress. But we persevered, albeit slowly, and finally there was a draft that was ready to submit.
4Q: How did Valerie’s extensive experience with manuscripts, covers and publishing assist you in the development of Finding Avalon?
PM: That part was a huge benefit to me. She was able to say approximately how many chapters we would be looking at, how many pages/words per chapter, so we were able to write something that was appropriate for the publishing world, for this age group.
4Q: Are there more joint projects planned for the future?
PM: Yes. We do have an idea for another joint project. I also plan on doing some solo books.
VS: We’ve definitely talked about that, and have briefly discussed a story we might like to work on together, but there’s nothing planned for the immediate future. I think it’s likely Pamela will take on a solo project or two before we move forward with another collaboration.
4Q: Anything else you’d like to share with us?
PM: I would like to say, to anyone who wants to write books, do it. It may be a big learning curve to become the writer you can be, and most probably won't write a masterpiece their first draft, but edit, and edit again. Join a writing group (we joined kidcrit early on to assist in my learning). If your first story isn't published, do it again. Each time is a learning opportunity.
VS: I was pleased when Pamela first expressed interest in writing a novel, and I was happy to be part of the project as she worked on Finding Avalon. IT was particularly gratifying for me because it so happens that she played a pivotal role when I was writing my first young adult story. That story is called Kate, and, never having written a novel before, I experienced many doubts partway through. What made me think I knew how to write a book for teens? I was probably wasting my time. And so on.
Then, it occurred to me, Pamela is the right age for this story, and she enjoys reading. So one day I asked her to read the first chapter—and let me know if she found it even a little bit interesting. I can’t say she looked excited about it, but she took the printed pages and disappeared into her room. A while later she returned, put that chapter on the table, and said, “More!”
It was the biggest boost anyone could have given me, and the exact prompt I needed to finish writing that story, which was published in the fall of 2003. (While it was my first novel for young people, it ended up being the third one published.)
An Excerpt from Finding Avalon.
(Copyright is owned by the author. Used with permission)
By 8:30, the place is vibrating with music and movement. Best turnout ever. Pip and I have been trying to talk but it’s difficult over the noise. I’m pretty sure he’s been flirting with me, and when he suggests we find a spot where we can talk without yelling, my pulse quickens. Upstairs is off-limits, but we go halfway up the steps and sit side-by-side.
The conversation starts out on a promising note.
“Have you noticed we’ve been introducing each other to family members?” he asks.
“Sure. You’ve sort of met my mom, and I’ve met your dog,” he says.
“Has Winston mentioned whether or not he approves of me?”
“I haven’t had a chance to ask him,” I say.
“Once you get the go ahead from Winston, I should probably meet your mom and dad too,” Pip says.
His voice is light and teasing but it’s easy to see where this is going. It makes me slightly giddy, but I manage to match his tone.
“Of course. Although, actually, it’s just me and Dad.”
I give him the story I’ve been telling anyone who doesn’t know the truth.
“My mother has been pretty much out of my life since she moved to California with her boyfriend a few years ago.”
“Oh. Sorry.” His voice is soft and kind.
“That’s okay. I'm used to it,” I say, hoping he will drop it. I don’t want sympathy that comes out of a lie.
“I get that,” he says, and I remember about his father being gone from his life. Only, his story is true. Then he speaks again.
“Having something like that in common might be one of the reasons we kind of click, if you know what I mean.”
I’m about to respond when more guests arrive. I recognize the guy from a group picture I’ve seen on Lana’s phone. He has a girl on his arm, but not just any girl.
It’s Sherry Rudder.
My stomach clenches in panic. Before Sherry has a chance to see me, I jump up, dart up the rest of the stairs and race around the corner. All without a word to Pip.
I stand there in the hall, trying frantically to figure a way out of this, but the wild thudding of my heart is drowning out everything else.
Of all people. Not only does Sherry know the truth about my past—the one I’ve just now lied to Pip about—but I know, without the slightest doubt, that she’ll blab it as soon as she sees me.
The strange thing is, we used to be friends at my old school. Close friends, in fact. I could never have predicted that she would turn on me. She wasn’t the only one who did, but her betrayal hurt the most. I didn’t understand it at all. I still don’t.
I remember, with a fresh burst of panic, that she’d worked at Party Portal just before I did, which means she must know Pip. What if she sees him and tells him anyway, without even seeing me?
No, that doesn’t make sense. She’d have no reason to mention me to him unless she saw us together. As long as I stay hidden, there should be no danger of that.
Forcing myself to calm down, I try to figure out the best plan of action. I can stay up here until the party is over, or try to sneak out without Sherry seeing me. If I stay here, there’s a risk I’ll be exposed. Also, Pip will think I’m a nut-job if I never come back down. Which only leaves one option.
I go back to the top of the stairs and peek around the corner. Pip has to be puzzled about my sudden disappearance, but at least he’s still sitting there.
He looks up and as he sees me, his face goes into a “what-the-heck?” scrunch.
“Come here,” I whisper, waving him upstairs.
He joins me. “I thought no one was supposed to be up here.”
“I know, but listen. I’m really sorry about this, but I have to go home.”
“Seriously? How come?”
“I feel sick all of a sudden. Maybe I ate too much junk.”
“That’s too bad.” His face is instantly sympathetic. “At least let me give you a drive.”
“That would be great. Thanks.”
I grab my jacket from Lana’s room, and we head downstairs. The Katy Perry hair is coming in handy. I use it to cover as much of my face as possible and make sure Pip is ahead of me in case I need to duck behind him. As we get near the main floor, I scan the living room. No sign of Sherry, so I move past Pip and hurry toward the door. I’m almost close enough to grab the handle when Pip says, “Avalon, is this you?”
I swing around to find him holding a framed picture of me and Lana when we were about six, dressed for Halloween in identical Cinderella costumes. (Back then, we thought dressing alike was cool!) She had dug it out earlier and perched it on a table in the entrance for tonight’s party. Naturally, it caught Pip’s eye at the worst possible moment.
“Did I hear someone say Avalon?”
And there, of course, is Sherry. Coming straight at us from the kitchen.
(End of excerpt)
Valerie is also happy to announce the recent release of her humourous new middle grade novel, The Rise and Fall of Derek Cowell. From the back cover:
Hi, my name is Derek Cowell.
You might remember me from when I was popular.
Before that, I was invisible. And after … well, that’s a long story.
I never expected to become popular. It just sort of happened. An accidental photobomb, a chance encounter with a real live celebrity, and suddenly, I was somebody.
These things never last, though, unless you help them along.
That’s where I ran into trouble.
(From Lisa Doucet’s review in ABT: Sherrard has created another captivating tale of family life and middle-school angst, filled with humour and heart.)
Read the first chapter
Thanks to you both, Valerie and Pamela for being our special guests this week. Wishing you each continued success with your writing.
For all you devoted readers wishing to discover more about Pamela and Valerie, as well as their writing, please follow these links: