One of my early journalism assignments was to write a profile on a professional communicator. I thought, how crazy would it be to interview Canadian author (and one of my favourite writers of all time) Kit Pearson? After all, she lives in Victoria, a mere ferry ride away. Piece of cake! I’ve loved Pearson’s books since childhood and can honestly recite entire passages from heart.
I didn’t think she’d be okay with it at first, but I gave it a shot and sent her an email. A couple days later, I was on the ferry to Victoria, saving a table at a cafe and sipping Jasmine chai with one of my favourite childhood authors. Amazing, right? Pearson is incredibly sweet and kind, and I’m so grateful she agreed to chat with me for almost an hour! Here is my profile of her.
Afternoon Tea with Kit Pearson
Like many authors, Kit Pearson’s life has been filled with stories and adventures. She has loved reading since childhood, and has spent much of her younger years buried in books or creating imaginary worlds. These worlds would eventually become the incredible stories adored by children everywhere. Pearson has written many books for children including Awake and Dreaming, the Guests of War trilogy, The Daring Game, and A Handful of Time.
I traveled to Victoria to interview Pearson. We had arranged to meet at Murchie’s Tea on Government Street, beside Munro’s Books. The prospect of having tea with one of my favorite authors left me feeling both nervous and excited, and I wondered how our meeting would go. I reach Murchie’s early and save a table. When Pearson finally arrives, my nervousness quickly disappears as we introduce ourselves.
“I’m sorry you had to come all the way out here!” she says, “I hope it wasn’t too much trouble!” We get some tea and settle in to our quiet table by the window. Pearson is kind and gracious, and seems eager to answer my questions and share her professional journey.
Pearson was born in Edmonton and lived there for eight years. She began to read as early as age six, and devoured as many books as she could. Among her favorites was L.M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon. “That book actually got me into writing in the first place!” she says. At this point, I can’t help but share that her books were my whole childhood. Her face lights up as admit I’ve read Awake and Dreaming at least five times since elementary school.
Pearson and her family later moved to Vancouver, where she made new friends and spent her time enjoying the city’s beauty and nature. Much of her imaginary worlds were created here, no doubt inspired by Vancouver’s stunning scenery. Pearson spent her high school years at Crofton House boarding school, where she says she discovered her passion for English Literature.
Crofton House was a welcome escape from the more solitary life she had back in Edmonton. Pearson majored in English and completed her postsecondary education at both UBC and the University of Alberta. Though she found her time in Edmonton difficult, she says her English and Creative Writing classes were a bright spot. While back in Edmonton, Pearson kept a journal and continued to jot her ideas down, but says she never completed a full novel.
“I toyed with the idea of becoming a librarian,” says Pearson, “So I returned to UBC to complete my Library degree.” Her first official job was at North York Public Library in St. Catherine’s, Ontario. Pearson worked here for the next four years, surrounded by the books she loved. Being a librarian reignited her desire to write a book of her own, but her busy schedule made it difficult to find time. After taking a year off to take some writing classes, Pearson returned to Vancouver and began writing her first book, The Daring Game.
I was curious to learn about her journey to publication. Pearson says she didn’t do as much research about the publishing industry as one should. “I just knew I wanted my first book to be a hardcover copy,” she says, “so I sent it out to Clarke Irwin, one of the few publishers who did hard copies. But they ended up going bankrupt, so that didn’t work out.”
As with many authors, Pearson’s road to publication was not without rejection. After Clarke Irwin, she sent The Daring Game to Groundwood Books but they turned it down, saying it “wasn’t their kind of book”. Finally, Pearson learned that Penguin Canada was actively looking for children’s books. After a year-and-a-half long process, her first book was finally going to be published. I ask her what that moment was like.
“I was holding a friend’s baby in my hand when I got the call, and I was so shocked I almost dropped the baby!” she laughs, “I told my editor, I’m carrying a baby, I’ve got to put him down.” Pearson’s books eventually became so popular that she was able to write for a living. Her books have since won many awards and she frequently gives talks at schools, teaches writing classes, attends conferences and writes as much as she can.
I ask her if you need a certain degree to become a successful author and if creative writing classes are useful. She says everyone is different. “For some people, creative writing classes can be really inspiring,” she says, “but for others, reading is more than enough training. Reading is extremely useful when it comes to honing your craft.”
Pearson’s work schedule has been the same for many years. She only writes on weekdays, never on weekends. Typically, she will write from nine in the morning to noon, and then stop for the day. She says while three hours may not seem like a long time, she never takes a break during that time and her work is very concentrated.
When asked about the level of research she does for her books, Pearson explains that it varies depending on the book. For the Guests of War trilogy, which takes place during World War II, Pearson traveled to England, went to war museums and learned more about children who were sent away during the war. The whole trilogy took her about six years to complete. She also shares that her work as a librarian has helped her research better.
“In those days the internet wasn’t as developed,” she says, “so being a librarian helped a lot. I loved to do research, and spent about a year researching for The Sky Is Falling, the first book in the Guests of War trilogy.”
So what is the most challenging part of being a writer? According to Pearson, it’s learning to have faith in yourself. Despite having published so many books, she says there is always that shred of self-doubt when you write something new. Even an experienced author worries that their book won’t be good enough. In that situation, her strategy has always been to do the best she can and have faith that it will all work out.
As for the best part of writing, Pearson says the perks are plentiful.”I love creating imaginary worlds and immersing myself in them. I like being in control of these worlds and how they function. I also love meeting readers who have liked my work, like yourself!” she smiles at me, “It really moves me to hear that my books have connected with people and it’s such a wonderful feeling.”
We finish our tea and Pearson tells me about her upcoming book called A Day of Signs and Wonders, based on artist Emily Carr. We end the interview by discussing our favourite books, and she graciously signs my copy of Awake and Dreaming. We finally say our goodbyes and Pearson wishes me luck on my future writing endeavours. After she leaves, I return to my seat by the window and open my newly signed copy of Awake and Dreaming. I decide to read it again, for the sixth time.