This week we have a guest blog post from Eileen Holland, author of Sophie Trophy.
This past January, I found the scrap of paper I was looking for in my bedside table. As it was only four inches square, I had feared that it was lost. To the unknowing eye, the crumpled and dog-eared paper was ready for the recycling bag and well beyond being worthy of the question “Does it spark joy?”
But the scrap of paper does, in fact, spark joy for me. It represents a pivotal moment in my writing: the first notes I’d made on my debut children’s book, Sophie Trophy. I had kept it for nostalgic reasons, like I kept the lucky acorn I carried in my coat pocket through five years of university. More than that, I kept it because I believed I would need it someday. I believed in Sophie Trophy that much.
I reember the night I scrawled down those thoughts about my little character. I was drifting off to sleep when Sophie called to me from a window in her school. She was hanging quite far out of that window, seemingly unaware of any danger. I could have resisted listening and gone to sleep, but Sophie was persistent. That’s one of her failings … or perhaps, one of her attributes?
Flipping on the light, I had rummaged through the drawers of my bedside table for a writing pad. The only blank paper I could find had an address scrawled in one corner. It was a page from my then-teenaged son’s NHL day calendar.
I was stuck with that paper scrap unless I got out of bed and found paper in a distant room. I worried —and any writer who comes up with ideas just as sleep embraces body and mind will understand this—if I raced off in search of a notepad, I might not get my ideas down at all. I might forget dreamy, imaginative, impulsive Sophie, who was sometimes in trouble at school. I might also forget Sophie’s big heart, her faithfulness to her beloved friends and teacher, and her desire to make things right even if it meant people misunderstanding her actions.
So I wrote my ideas in a three-millimetre high scrawl, the most important line being: “Spider lowering itself onto teacher’s head, [Sophie is] scared to bring it to [the] teacher’s attention just as it’s about to step from her hair onto her face.”
It would be several weeks before I determined that the window she was hanging out of was in the principal’s office.
The thing was, I had gone to bed thinking I should write about what I know. I had been teaching since 1976. The year was 2004. I knew kids.
Some of the most interesting children face choppy waters getting through school. For me it was a dreamy imagination that caused me to miss chunks of each school day’s lessons. I’d notice a boy across the aisle, his pant leg hitched up on the rim of his boot, and wonder how he couldn’t feel the irregularity of the taut material against the skin of his leg. I’d gaze outside, marvelling at the fluid movement of wind in the trees. My teacher would speak of Marco Polo, and I’d imagine myself climbing the riggings, my hands red and sea spray-wetted, the sails flapping around me as the ship leaned at a treacherous angle. Luckily for me, in Grade 3, I started learning how to cut those dreamy moments off when they threatened to sabotage my education.
That night in 2004 as I went to bed, I realized that I didn’t want to write about perfect children. Every class is a mishmash of personalities and talents and weaknesses. I wanted to write about somebody with a quirky but warm-hearted nature, a bit of a disability, and a feeling that right should prevail over wrong.
I woke up out of my almost-sleep to start telling Sophie Trophy’s story. I didn’t know then that she’d steal my heart.
Sophie Trophy will be available on March 14, 2019. Order your copy now with promo code SPIDER and get a 30% discount.