Bev Brenna lives in a tall yellow house in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where she listens for stories. Some of the stories come from her own imagination but others come from the newspaper, her own experiences, and conversations with animals and other people. Instead of keeping a journal she translates things that happen to her into fiction, and so from time to time readers of her books might encounter a skydiving teen, an English traveller, a hunter of wild orchids, a yoyo enthusiast, kids who eat bugs, a tarantula owner, a boogie boarder, and someone whose foot is stuck in a vacuum cleaner.
Bev spent many years as a classroom and special education teacher and she has a PhD in curriculum, focusing on literacy and children’s literature. She recently retired from working with undergraduate and graduate students at the College of Education, University of Saskatchewan www.usask.ca/education/profiles/brenna.php.
In terms of writing, Bev started making poetry when she was seven, following her mom who also wrote poetry. Bev later went on to write short stories and then novels.
And washes the windowpanes.
The robins, the wrens,
And Grandfather’s hens,
Bev, age 7
When she was young, Bev had good teachers who read aloud amazing books, developing a passion for reading that has lasted since childhood.
Bev’s hobbies include feasting with friends and family, nature study (especially bugs and insects), and travel. She has been lucky enough to visit the following places: England, Scotland, Australia, Spain, Greece, Switzerland, France, Norway, Portugal, Hawaii, and other parts of the United States. One of her favorite places is Prince Albert National Park (Waskesiu) in Saskatchewan.
How do you develop your fictional characters?
I have an acting background and I often “stand up” my characters in my own head, speaking like them and thinking about the world through their eyes. I also ask myself the question, “What does this character want?” as that helps me develop even minor characters into people as real as possible.
One technique in my early writing, which I still sometimes use, is to try and consider what animal characteristics a person might have, and then use those to shape the character. In Spider Summer, Elvira, the babysitter, is based on an insect while her son, Thomas, is based on a Piranha (because he tries to bite people’s legs). In The Keeper of the Trees, Aunt Julia is rather like an ant, and in The Moon Children, Mrs. Schmidt has a number of pig-like traits (and I really like pigs). These are just a few examples and I’ll let readers discover the rest for themselves.
What was the hardest thing you’ve written?
Although it is the shortest, my picture book Daddy Longlegs at Birch Lane required the most number of edits—every single word has been changed from my original version, and I presented 4 completely different drafts of the story to my incredibly patient editor before the book was even accepted. Because picture books rely on economy of language, and a balance between what text and illustration, each detail of the writing must be considered very carefully. In addition, a picture book must sound great aloud—and so part of the process is to spend a lot of time talking through each draft.
One difficult task was to create a character who tells jokes. Luke, in Spider Summer, wants to be a professional comedian when he grows up, and so he practices telling jokes all the time. Making up these jokes was hard because in real life I don’t tell jokes at all. At first these jokes were about vampires as I had nicknamed Thomas “The Vampire” (because he is teething and goes around biting people on the legs). When my editor wanted “vampire” changed to “piranha”, all the jokes had to be changed!
Which of your books is your personal favorite?
I usually like the newest book I am writing because it is unfinished and therefore has so many exciting possibilities! After I complete something, after a while I begin to see places where I could have made it better, but I try not to think about that when it’s too late. Instead I tell myself to start something new again!
Taylor Jane Simon, in the “Wild Orchid” series, is one of the characters who taught me the most because of the amount of time spent sustaining her story through three books. Because she has autism, trying to see the world through her eyes was really interesting and I think she has made me a more understanding teacher.