Halifax-based Jessica Scott Kerrin is the best-selling author of sixteen books—but she didn’t always want to be a writer. She wanted to be an astronaut. Then she had to get glasses in grade two, putting an end to her starry dreams. So, she started writing stories, and when she grew up, an astronaut signed her book about rockets! Still fascinated by outer space, Jessica’s latest novel, Clear Skies, takes place during the 1960s Space Race to the Moon. Jessica’s mentored many writers, she’s toured hundreds of schools and libraries across Canada and the United States and her books have been translated into six languages.
How long have you been writing? What drew you to writing in general, and children’s literature in particular?
I’ve been making up stories since I was little, but my first book came out in 2005. My son and his friends served as inspiration for some of my earlier themes.
What do you do when you have writer’s block?
I’m lucky that I’ve never experienced it. I wish I could say that about bad first drafts.
How has living in Nova Scotia influenced your writing?
I’ve lived in Halifax for all of my adult life, having moved here from Alberta to enroll in NSCAD (a painting major, then later, for a Master’s in Public Administration at Dalhousie). Nova Scotia has greatly influenced the characters, settings and weather for my novels.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I treat writing like a day job with deadlines that must be met. This is because I had a long career in arts administration, and I always enjoyed working with artists, dancers and curators who were both creative as well as dependable. That said, I do have some wonderful tools that I love to use: Scrivener (a writing software), post-its, my red-inked fountain pen, my desk that can be raised and lowered (lately, it’s mostly lowered) and most recently, due to necessity because my favorite libraries and bookstores are closed, my Kobo reader.
What has your experience with the Writers in the Schools program been like?
I’ve presented to well over 150 schools across Canada and in the US. Each presentation is important to me because there are always a handful of future authors in the crowd. Earlier in my writing career, I presented to Grades 3-4, and eventually moved up to the Grade 6s when the content of my novels suited that age. The Grade 6s are taller than me and they ask some pretty sophisticated questions, so they keep me on my toes. My newest group is the kindergarten and primaries crowd, due to my picture book that came out in the past year. I thought it would be a challenge to hold and keep the attention of these little ones, but I’ve learned how by following advice from their fabulous teachers. You never know what these young students will ask, which is half the fun.
Where has been the most interesting place you have presented to children?
I’ve read to children aboard Theodore Tugboat as it crossed the Halifax harbour.
What was the last great book you read?
I’m going to go with the beautifully illustrated and written picture book called Small in the City by another NSCAD grad, Sydney Smith.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
I bought a keyboard specifically because it is very noisy and sounds exactly like a typewriter. I literally pound out my words. It makes me feel powerful. I also keep buying toys for my dog, Ivy, from my local pet store. Her job is to distribute them evenly throughout the house, and my job is to gather and return them to her basket, only to be redistributed. This cycle is never ending.
When you are not writing, how do you like to spend your time?
Lately, because of the pandemic, I’ve been doing a lot of knitting, sewing, reading and enrolling in digital workshops. I try to keep up with technology. It’s a losing battle, equal to Ivy’s toy basket (see question 8).
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a middle reader manuscript in which my main character has parents who are obsessed with birdwatching, which is a problem because he is not.
– Questions by Linda Hudson, WFNS Arts Education Officer