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Author Interview: Andrea Curtis

July 26, 2018

WOTS is coming up fast…but just not fast enough! So we’re joining the Dufferin Grove Farmers’ Market with The Word On The Street Pop-Up! We sat down with Andrea Curtis, who will be joining us to read at the event.

Be sure to join us there on August 2!


WOTS: Big Water is based on the real tragedy of the SS Asia, a shipwreck with only two survivors: a pair of teenagers. How did you first learn about the SS Asia, and what made you want to write your own version of what happened to Christina Morrison?

Andrea Curtis: I read about the wreck of the Asia when I was researching my first book, Into the Blue: Family Secrets and the Search for a Great Lakes Shipwreck about the loss of another steamboat. The real story of the two Asia survivors was remarkable, and my own children would often ask me over the years to tell and retell it to them. Later, I would spin a similar tale for the kids in the after-school creative writing workshop I run at TYPE on Queen Street West. The many follow-up questions and enthusiastic response made me think I should write a novel for young people with the survivors as the protagonists.  


WOTS: How did you go about filling in the details from your research? Was it difficult to find an authentic voice for your character Christina McBurney?

AC: There is a ton of historical material about the Asia. It was splashed across the front page of every national and regional newspaper at the time, and at least two inquests were held to explore the cause of the wreck. The survivors gave first-person testimony that I was able to use—and I also found interviews with them 10 and even 40 years later. The challenge was not finding the material but in letting go of my research and all the rich historical info to try to create compelling characters that would be timeless. I really wanted Christina to feel of her time but also universal—a girl whose emotional challenges would be familiar to contemporary teenagers.


WOTS: What are your favourite places to write? Any quirky must-haves when it comes to sitting down and building out a story?

AC: I do most of my writing in my small book- and paper-strewn home office. I’m a creature of habit and I like to have my stuff (especially my favourite authors) around me as I work. I recently started plotting my books out more systematically. I use big sheets of bristol board and tape multiple pieces of paper together, then draw and scribble out plot points, add in notes with marker, highlighter and post-its. By the time I’m done, my office resembles something from a master villian’s secret lair, the walls and floors papered with my ambitious (but readily altered!) plan.


WOTS: Tell us a bit more about your process. How did you start writing? Do you have any favourite stories about when you were just starting out?

AC: I was a huge reader as a kid and I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I had teachers who encouraged me and that was pretty much all I needed. One of the first stories I was really proud of was about a princess stolen by a dragon who didn’t need the self-important prince who wants to save her. In fact, she didn’t want to be saved at all. It was a revelation that I could make up a story where the character does something funny and surprising and out of the ordinary (for kidnapped princesses) and nobody told me it wasn’t right. In fact, they liked it. It made the possibilities seem endless!


WOTS: What would you say to a writer who’s just starting out? What one thing do you think it’s crucial to know?

AC: Have a daily word count and stick to it even if the writing is bad or the sitting is hard.   


WOTS: Some reviewers felt that the ending was a little ambiguous. As a writer, why would you leave questions unanswered at the end of a story? What do you think is the purpose of an ambiguous ending?

AC: I don’t like novels or movies or TV shows that end with everything tied neatly in a bow—it feels contrived to me. Real life is never like that. My goal is to have readers satisfied but also wondering about the characters after the book is finished. I think reading is an imaginative act, and I like the idea of readers concocting their own stories about what might happen next.