Libby Broadbent writes in Port Medway, Nova Scotia, in between teaching high school and running her small art business, Blissfully Writing Studio. She has self-published five novels under the pen name Mavis Williams, and her writing includes fiction, poetry, plays and illustrated children’s stories for her two granddaughters.
Your winning entry for the 2022 Joyce Barkhouse Young Adult Fiction Prize, Seventh Son, is excerpted from a longer YA fantasy manuscript. How did you approach worldbuilding for this story?
Worldbuilding for Seventh Son came to me as I explored my home community of Port Medway. The Old Port Medway Cemetery and Seely Hall are the imagined home of Button and the long-dead Gracie who guides him on his quest. His journey to discover his destiny takes him to Long Cove, just down the road from Port Medway, and the ocean is the constant soundtrack to his adventures. You can see the teddy bears he encounters in the trees and bushes on the road to Long Cove, and Elinor is the name of a local (now deceased) community member. I have long been fascinated with “life” under the gravestones, and how young people believe in things that adults find impossible. I wanted to capture the wild nature of rural Nova Scotia and the ancient atmosphere of our oldest graveyards, seen through a child’s eyes as he navigates both grief and adventure.
In your entry to Nova Writes you mentioned that this is your first foray into young adult fiction. What led you to try your hand at this genre?
I grew up in Narnia and the Shire. I love fantasy novels, and young adult writing is fun and fascinating. I have written five romance novels (under the pen name Mavis Williams) but the story of Button kept pestering me over the past few years and I felt compelled to try to put it on paper. As a high school teacher I like to pretend that I understand young adults—even though they prove me wrong repeatedly—and I just really love immersing myself in that magical world of young people where there is so much possibility and hope, even when they’re faced with challenges and obstacles requiring great resilience.
Many thanks to WFNS and the team of readers/judges who facilitate the Nova Writes competition. It’s a thrill to be noticed in the ranks of so many wonderful entries.
Who was the character you found most easy to write in this story? And who was the most challenging to capture?
I loved writing both Button and Runa, the twins who don’t know they’re twins. They’re fun and wild and while I didn’t find them easy to write (is anything about writing easy?) I loved discovering their personalities as the story unfolded. The hardest character to write was the antagonist. A bad guy has to be worthy, and his purpose has to be both malevolent and relatable, and I really struggled to discover who my bad guy was and what he wanted. It turns out he’s Button’s Great-great-great Grandfather determined to seize Button’s powers as his own.
Did you read a lot growing up? What was your favourite book as a child?
Oh, I read ravenously as a child and still do. Favourite book? Gaaaaa… ALL the books! The Fairy Caravan, Narnia, The Hobbit. Fairy tales, epic fantasy, Moby Dick. I love Dickens and Shakespeare just as much as Ursula McGuin and Philip Pullman.
Do you have a favourite writing spot or setup?
I write in my living room, facing the Medway River, with my wiener dog by my side and a coffee at hand. I am mostly a 5am writer, before work, before sunrise! I strongly encourage anyone with an urge to embrace the madness of a writing life to check out Nanowrimo as an inspiration and a motivation to get the words on the page. I do National Novel Writing Month every year, and it has honed my practice to the point that getting 1600 words on the page in one sitting isn’t at all daunting anymore. Not all of those words are good words, mind you, and I have been known to write “I don’t know what the &%$%$% to write next!” but I don’t stop until I’ve hit that number. I don’t believe you need a specific place or time to write but finding your personal motivation that gets you to the page is essential. I belong to a small writing group of lovely ladies who support each other relentlessly, and I try to set myself the goal of 50k words in a month when I’m working on a novel. The coffee helps, as does the wiener.
For more about the Joyce Barkhouse Young Adult Fiction Prize, which alternates year-to-year with the Joyce Barkhouse Writing for Children Prize, see our Nova Writes Competition for Unpublished Manuscripts.