On Writing and Wrangling

Sarah Ellis received the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence at the BC Book Prizes on May 4th. Her acceptance speech was funny, gracious, and inspiring, and we’ve asked Sarah’s permission to reprint it here: 

When I received the phone call from her honour the Lieutenant Governor telling me about this award I was having a challenging writing week.  My problem was guinea pigs.  Fictional guinea pigs. In my current project I had this scene in which three friends are discussing an issue while cleaning out a guinea pig cage.  But, along the way, in the current draft, the issue had disappeared.  Therefore, there was no need for the discussion, no need for the scene and no need for the guinea pigs.  The dilemma was that I had grown fond of them, mostly because they were named after vacuum cleaners.  I just didn’t want to let little Miele, Hoover and Dyson go.  But when I found out that I was going to receive the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence I gave myself a stern talking- to.  Would a writer who demonstrated literary excellence indulge herself in redundant guinea pigs?  She would not.  I excised them from the manuscript.

This kind of recognition can give a writer courage, confidence and backbone when required and I am so grateful to receive it.

I would like to thank the jury in particular for considering a writer for the young for this award.  We’re not always invited to sit at the grown-ups table and you have only to read the books short-listed for this year’s Sheila A Egoff and Christie Harris awards to see why we have a place there.  The ten books on those lists demonstrate so rigorously that the stuff of childhood and adolescence is a rich, possibly the richest, mine for narrative, whether in words or pictures.  What do we find in these ten books?  The families we’re dealt and those we make; discovering what makes us unique, crime, secrets, political skullduggery, premature responsibility, quests, the desire for mastery, the challenging gavotte of friendship, what would a clothes dryer say if it could talk, the nature of joy.  It takes every gram of art and craft we have to do this material justice.

Therefore, at the risk of being grandiose, I’d like to accept this award on behalf of all those in this province who write and illustrate for the young.  What will book publishing be like when our current child audience has grown up?  Nobody in this room knows that.  What we do know is that humans, young and old, seem to need narratives.  And, in order for those narratives to exist somebody, somewhere, has to be sitting in front of a screen, wrangling guinea pigs.

Thank you for honouring this particular wrangler.

— Sarah Ellis, 2013

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One Response to On Writing and Wrangling

  1. Darlene says:

    What a wonderful speech! Makes me proud to be a children’s writer.

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