Saturday 10 October 2020

Author Michelle McLean & Illustrator Sophie Arseneau of Bath, NB.


Another first for the Scribbler!


Michelle and I met online through several author friends we follow on Facebook. There is excitement in the air for Michelle and Sophie – a mother and daughter team – with their first collection of children’s poems – When Pigs Fly. The book was launched September 19th in Woodstock, NB.

Michelle is an award-winning poet and her work has been featured in many publications. Sophie is an artist, writer and competitive dancer.

The Scribbler is lucky to have the ladies as our guests this week. A 4Q Interview and an excerpt from the new book.


Michelle McLean is a clinical social worker, educator, poet, and mother of two fabulous, big-hearted daughters. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Quills, Ascent Aspirations, Understorey, Other Voices, Peacock Journal, JONAH, and others. She lives with her family in the village of Bath, New Brunswick.

Sophie Arseneau, now 12, completed the majority of the illustrations for this collection between the ages of 10-11. Sophie is an artist, writer, competitive dancer and grade 8 student at Florenceville Middle School. 


4Q: Michelle – how did this project come about? What inspired you and Sophie to create this work?


MM: The majority of these poems were actually written when Sophie was in utero.  I was thrilled when the unpublished manuscript won second place in the Writer’s Federation of New Brunswick’s annual competition in the “Writing for Children” category (2007).   Despite receiving encouraging feedback about the collection over the next couple of years, I wasn’t able to find a publisher at the time and I basically sentenced the manuscript to life in the back corner of my closet amongst the dust bunnies, my too high/never worn heels, and photo boxes filled with outtakes, snapshots of old boyfriends and regrettable 80s hair.  This is also where I housed my rejection letters – out of sight, but never quite out of mind.  Yet all of those kindly worded (and often personalized) rejection letters invite reconsideration of the previously-scorned-as-platitude “things happen for a reason”, since this deferral allowed the opportunity for my daughter to illustrate the poems and for the two of us to collaborate on this project together.  I was also delighted that we were able to include a gorgeous artistic contribution from my youngest daughter, Lily.  It’s a pretty special project to me – a collaboration that never would have happened had the book been accepted for publication all those years ago.


I’ve long admired Sophie’s artistic talents and how much animation and life she brings to her drawings.   I’ve always loved the humor and joy in her artwork and it would never fail to make me smile and chuckle.   When Sophie was around 9 or 10, I remember thinking “how cool would it be if she wanted to illustrate the poems in When Pigs Fly?”  Luckily, Sophie was on board with this idea, and Chapel Street Editions was willing to take the plunge with us! 




4Q: Sophie – please tell us about your illustrations. Was it difficult to portray the words into a drawing?


SA:  It was a little difficult, but some poems were easier to portray than others.  For instance, some of the shorter poems took less time to draw than some of the longer or more complicated ones.  I completed some of the illustrations at home, and others in my art classes with Brigitte Rivers.  Each illustration usually took between 1-2 classes, but some of the more complicated drawings might take up to 4 classes.  The words in the poems affect a lot of the outcome of the drawing.  Most of the poems in the book are written in a silly or funny style so that drawing would be different than maybe a more serious poem or a love poem.




4Q: Now tell us what to expect when we pick up a copy.


MM:  One of my fondest descriptions of this collection came from my publisher, who called it “delightfully quirky”.   I’m thrilled when I share the poems with folks and they laugh out loud.  That’s my favorite reaction.   I think when people pick up a copy, they can expect to be impressed and delighted by the illustrations (I am admittedly biased, but I still think it holds true), and to have some laughs and to enjoy a little goofy foolishness, whimsy and wordplay, with the occasional dash of something extra.    




4Q: Please share a childhood memory and/or anecdote. Michelle & Sophie.


MM:  Sophie has been writing and illustrating since she was a very little girl.  I can remember her as young as age three, crafting books out of construction and printer paper, carefully hole- punching and binding them with ribbons – titles such as The Canary Merry Christmas, The Yicky Sticky Ick, Tommy the Tow Truck, ABCDE Animals, The Horse and the Flea, The Fuzzy Wuzzie Bear, and her five-volume series, Hey Abby!  Sophie would always include an “About the Author” section on the back, and the whole process and production at that age was pretty adorable, but also just really impressive.   I also fondly reflect on the newsletter Sophie created years ago to share around town, entitled “Chit Chat and all That”.  Staff at our local convenience store, Mark’s the Spot allowed Sophie to display them on their newsstand for folks to take home with them.


Over the years, I have rescued various pieces of writing and artwork from the trash – pieces which didn’t meet Sophie’s standards in some way.  I just couldn’t bear to see them thrown out.  I know I’m biased, but I think everything she creates is pretty special.  Who knows – maybe she’ll publish the “outtakes” someday!


SA:  Like my mom has said, when I was quite young, I was often writing my own little books and stories.  I threw a lot of my writing away, but mom ended up rescuing half of my art pieces and books from when I was little.  I’m glad she did, because now I can see them again and remember when I wrote them.  




4Q: Please tell us about your other writing Michelle and especially your award(s).


MM: I continue to search out a home for my unpublished manuscript, Tesserae, but have published a number of individual poems from this collection.  Tesserae was awarded an honourable mention for the Alfred G. Bailey Prize (2017).    I was twice awarded honourable mentions for the Dawn Watson Memorial prize (2015), (2018). 

As an unpublished manuscript, When Pigs Fly was awarded second place in WFNB’s annual contest in the “Writing for Children” category (2007).   I was also a grateful award recipient in the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg poetry competition for “young writers of unusual promise” (2007).

I have received a number of other honourable mentions, as well as second and third place awards in various contests from Ascent Aspirations, Open Minds Quarterly, Toward the Light, and the Ontario Poetry Society.

While part of me feels a little obnoxious listing these recognitions, I have to say that these awards have been quite helpful in buoying my faith and optimism in the midst of the inevitable swamp of rejection letters one often finds themselves slogging through as a writer.




4Q: Sophie – When did you start drawing and when did you start competitive dancing. Tell us a bit about both.


SA: I have been drawing for my entire life because it was always something I really enjoyed doing.  I started competitive dance three years ago but I have been dancing recreationally since I was three.  What I love most about drawing is that there is no “right way”. You can just do whatever you want and there’s no rules.   What I love most about dance is everything, honestly, – the costumes, the music, being on stage – I love everything about it!




4Q: Favorite authors, novels or artist?


SA: I don’t exactly have a favorite author because I usually pick out any book and if I like it, I read it. I don’t usually pick out books by a specific author.




4Q: What’s next for you ladies? Another project to work on together?


MM: I would absolutely love to work on another collaboration with Sophie at some point, but I suspect she would enjoy a little break to move on to other things in her life right now.   My youngest daughter Lily has expressed interest in working on a project together, so perhaps that will be something to look for in the future.


SA:  Although I did enjoy this project a lot, I agree that mom and my sister Lily should work on the next project together and that way we would both get a chance.




An Excerpt from When Pigs Fly.

(Compliments of Chapel Street Editions. Copyright is held by the author(s). Used with permission)



Thank you both, Michell and Sophie, for being our guests this week. Wishing you much success with your future endeavors.


For all you fantastic visitors wanting to know more about Michelle and Sophie, please follow these links:

 ****Please note that when you visit Amazon, you may see that the book is "temporarily out of stock". This is not so if you are ordering a paperback. Because it is print-on-demand, you can order your copy.  

Purchasing links:



Other links and contacts:


Michelle’s email contact:


Sophie would also like to invite you to follow “Gruffy the Puppy” on Instagram:



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