How Did Lizann Become a Writer?

Sleeping Beauty

Once I could read on my own, I loved to borrow books from my school’s library. This fairytale, the Ladybird version of Sleeping Beauty, was one of my most favourite books from elementary school. I found this copy when I was older and I immediately bought it.

Chicken Coop

I loved it when the teacher assigned a writing assignment. Even in my free time I could amuse myself by writing. This is one of my “Chicken Coop” newsletters from 1979. I have no idea why I called it that! I gave them to my neighbours. This one is hand lettered on newsprint.

To make this newsletter I traced illustrations and used carbon paper to make my two copies (it wasn’t a big circulation periodical!). Not sure how I decided who got the original cut-out-of-magazines photos. In a later edition I did use a typewriter. It was a lot of work — there was no such thing as a home computer or personal photocopier for anyone then. I think I only made about three editions. (Thanks go to Tammy for saving her copies all these years and, even better, for giving them back to me.)

owlmarch81I entered a writing contest in Owl magazine when I was about 13. You had to use an illustration the magazine provided as the basis for your story. My story was called “A Tale of Two Hags.” To my surprise, I won! I got to see my own writing in a real, actual magazine. This is the issue my story appeared in: March 1981. The thrill of publication made a huge impression on me.

In high school, a couple of my teachers deserve credit for helping my early interest in writing. In grade 10 Ms Beswick gave me some advice that was invaluable. Her actual comments are below.

gr10commentShe tells me, rightly so, to learn now to stick to length requirements. I even got marks off for being too wordy! In grade 12, Mr Henderson encouraged me to stretch and try different genres and voices. Huge thanks to both of them!

After graduating from high school I decided to study English Language and Literature at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. I entered an arts co-op program where students were helped to find a summer job related to the degree they were studying. I didn’t want to be a newspaper journalist, and I didn’t think teaching in a classroom would be my thing. Maybe, I thought, magazines would be okay…but I wasn’t sure. So we approached Owl to ask if they could use me, a former story contest winner — and they said yes!

chick shoot 1I worked at Owl during the summers of 1987 and 1988. That’s where I realized that a whole world of publishing for kids existed, and that’s when I knew I’d found the field I wanted to work in. This is a proof of me at a photo shoot showing how many bottles of soap it took to get a photo for the magazine. After you make a bunch of bubbles the soap gets too foamy to make more so you have to use another container of soap stuff. It takes a lot of photos to get the perfect published shot.

Once I had my degree I was offered a job at Owl’s sister publication Chickadee. I got to combine my love of writing, editing, making crafts, doing puzzles, and looking at fantastic artwork. It was like a dream job!

Summer ChickadeeI worked at Chickadee in various editorial positions, learning from som wonderful mentors: Catherine Ripley, Marilyn Baillie, Janis Nostbakken. I eventually became editor myself. Putting together issues of the magazine with a team of terrific and talented people was challenging and endlessly interesting.

I always learned so much from researching all sorts of nature topics and I enjoyed passing that knowledge on to our readers. After many years at the magazine, I got married and moved and turned to working as a freelance editor and writer.

Today I live with my husband and three children in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada. I have volunteered as the regional advisor for the Canada East chapter of SCBWI. I taught correspondence courses through the Institute of Children’s Literature. I’m currently a member of SCBWI, and CANSCAIP. I’ve met such wonderful people and lifelong friends in the children’s publishing business.

And, of course, I continue to write as time and inspiration allow.