Working with friends

I met Paul Toffanello in Timmins about 10 years ago. Timmins is a bustling mining town in northeastern Ontario and I was there partly at his behest. He was director of education of the large regional Catholic school board and one of his literacy specialists had invited me to be the guest of honour at her annual young writers workshops. the cover of Popchuck's GhostI spent a day giving workshops to groups of teachers and novice authors, as well as an illustrated talk to all the attendees. It was all similar to the talks I give across Canada (and occasionally beyond), except for one detail. The education director sat in on nearly every session and then took me out for dinner that evening. Usually principals are too busy to pay much attention to a visiting author so I took note when the biggest cheese on the school board was following me around. (And a dinner invitation from anyone is even rarer — most wandering authors find themselves eating alone when they’re on the road.) I discovered a few interesting facts about Paul over dinner. We had both studied at Ottawa’s Carleton University about the same time. He was an educator who had promoted reading and writing throughout his career as both an elementary and secondary teacher, as well as a senior administrator. And he loved to write… Now, even though I’m an author some of the time, I don’t enjoy writing and get suspicious of anyone who claims to enjoy the process. (I like thinking of ideas and I like editing but writing tires me out.) But Paul loved to write and he pulled out two book manuscripts and a sheaf of poetry to prove it. It was all fun stuff and, after a few glasses of wine, looked pretty good. He was especially into ghost stories — and he liked to make his evil characters teachers and principals. I took the first draft of Popchuck’s Ghost home with me (titled at the time Poopchuck’s Revenge I think) for a closer look and found lots that needed fixing. But it was a really good story for preteen readers. There were ghosts, tunnels, strange occurrences and a lot of late night shenanigans. Over the past decade, I had Paul write about half a dozen different drafts and this winter it was finally in good enough shape to publish. Copy editor Charlotte Duchene groomed my final edit and my daughter Hayley photographed a suitably spooky ghost for cover designer Janice Maclean (who also did the cover for Everest: High Expectations). Since we first started working on Popchuck’s Ghost, Paul has retired from education and I’ve switched from print books to ebooks. It’s been a fun project and I think Paul has the makings of an author who knows what kids like.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *