Jodie Callaghan is from the Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation in Gespe’gewa’gi (Quebec). She started writing stories when she was 8 years old and has always been drawn to story-telling. She has found writing to be the best way to connect to her history and her culture. Jodie currently resides in Northern New Brunswick with her husband, child, and pets. When she’s not teaching, you can find Jodie dreaming up stories she will one day write.
Your debut book The Train, which recently made the 2022 Ann Connor Brimer Award for Atlantic Canadian Children’s Literature shortlist, centres around a conversation between the young protagonist Ashley and her great-uncle, a residential school survivor. What inspired you to write this story?
I wrote The Train for my community’s local writing contest. I was working as a video journalist for the Aboriginal People’s Television Network at the time and was interviewing a lot of survivors of the Shubenacadie Residential School. I think The Train was my way of processing all of the difficult conversations I was partaking in. I remember sitting down to write something to enter into the contest and The Train just poured out of me. I was able to draw a lot of inspiration from conversations I had with my grandmother about her time in Indian Day School. The character Uncle is heavily influenced by her experiences and Ashley is a reflection of how I felt at the time.
As an adult educator and former journalist, there are a number of ways you could have approached this important topic in your writing. What drew you towards a picture book in particular?
The Train was originally written as a short story, however, upon seeing other residential school picture books coming out, I thought The Train could find a home among the rest of the books out there. It was amazing to see it come to life with Georgia Lesley’s illustrations.
How did it feel to see your original story transformed into a dual-language edition translated by Joe Wilmot?
It was honestly a dream come true for me. I have always wanted to publish a book, so seeing it realized was so special. Having the dual-language edition come out was extra special too because it was something I asked my publisher about early on and they were immediately on board. I love that we were able to get someone from Listuguj to translate it, as it was important to have it done in the writing system we use in our school. It was important to me to create a community resource too.
The Train was published by Second Story Press after winning their 2018 Indigenous Writing Contest. What was it like to return to their 2021 contest as a judge?
I was very flattered to have been asked to participate as a judge. I was also incredibly blown away by the number of entries we had to read. I don’t know what I expected going into it, but it was very cool to have the opportunity to read all of the manuscripts that were submitted. I also just enjoyed the whole deliberation process. I love talking about books and representation and now I am so excited to see the winning books out in the world soon. The stories that won are so great and I look forward to adding them to my children’s bookshelves.
Have you always been a storyteller? Who encouraged you to keep writing over the years?
Yes, I have always been drawn to storytelling and specifically writing. I started playing around with writing fiction when I was in the third grade and luckily had a very encouraging teacher who spoke to my parents about encouraging my writing and reading. I have had so many wonderful English teachers over the years who continued to encourage my writing. As I grew older, I definitely got a lot more self-conscious about my writing and have been much more hesitant to share. This is something I am working on moving past. I really want to write and publish more books, so I am ready to throw caution to the wind and put myself out there!
What are some other children’s books by Indigenous writers you’d recommend to young (and young at heart!) readers?
Some of my favourites at the moment are Little You by Richard Van Camp; Swift Fox All Along by Rebecca Thomas; Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard; and Giju’s Gift by Brandon Mitchell. I also love any book illustrated by Julie Flett – her illustrations are so beautiful.
Are you working on any new stories at the moment?
I am! I am currently plotting out a YA horror novel with a young Mi’gmaq protagonist. I grew up reading and loving R.L. Stine novels, and so, I’m hoping this book has the same vibes as his work. I love creepy stories and I really just want to write the book I would have loved reading as a kid.
—Questions by K.R. Byggdin