Thanks to an inspiring high school English teacher and a part-time job in the public library, Jocelyn Shipley of Parksville, BC decided as a teen she wanted to write fiction. That’s even though “I wrote a lot of bad poetry as a teenager,” she jokes.
That goal is why she never pursued another career, though she did work as a stay-at-home mom for her three kids. During that time, she co-authored and self-published two craft cook books for families, Making Your Own Traditions – Christmas and Around the Year. They are now out of print but were Canadian bestsellers, and she still gets requests for them.
It was while her kids were teens that she entered a national short story competition sponsored by Thistledown Press, and her story was chosen to be published in the contest anthology, The Blue Jean Collection. This gave her the confidence to write her first YA novel, Getting a Life, which garnered her “an uncountable number of rejections” before being published in 2002 by Sumach Press, a literary feminist press no longer in existence. She has since published 7 more contemporary YA (and the occasional middle grade) novels, as well as co-edited a collection of stories, Cleavage: Breakaway Fiction for Real Girls.
Her novels include Shatterproof, How to Tend a Grave, Seraphina’s Circle, Getting a Life, Cross my Heart, and also the River Boy series, which was never published in Canada but was translated into 5 languages and published by Stabenfeldt in Europe for their GIRL:IT book clubs. Her publishers include Orca Books, Great Plains Teen Fiction, Stabenfeldt and the former Sumach Press.
Jocelyn was the winner of the 2011 Surrey International Writer’s Conference Writing for Young People award. Her novel, How to Tend a Grave, won the 2012 US Gold Medal Moonbeam Award for YA Fiction – Mature Issues. She has won or been shortlisted for over 20 adult story contests.
“I’m very disciplined about writing,” she says. “I don’t believe in waiting for inspiration. I go and sit at my desk and work on something every day. I always have more than one project on the go, and try to work every day during the week.”
Why YA? “I think I’m still a teenager at heart. In the teen years, everything is still possible. Yet it’s so difficult these days to be a teen; it’s a really, really hard time to be growing up.”
At this point, Jocelyn has six grandkids, mostly in Ontario and BC, which has inspired her to live half the year on one side of the country, and half on the other. In fact, with one son being posted to China next year, she hopes to travel there soon. In Parksville, she also owns two cows kept at a dairy and cheese-works farm she likes to visit.
Though there are no CWILL-BC members close enough to visit with regularly, she is impressed with the organization and all the work CWILL-BC does to promote its members. “It’s a close-knit community that proves you can exist as a writer or illustrator outside Toronto and have a very good literary feeling. BC has its own book world and CWILL-BC speaks to that. I really like the way CWILL-BC has built its own presence.”
To new writers, she has this advice: “Challenge yourself. Try to take risks. It’s too easy to keep writing the same thing. I recently started writing reluctant-reader books because they’re short and they challenge me to write a brisk plot. It has made me focus on structure a lot more. I’m really enjoying writing for reluctant readers.”
More advice: “Stick with it, and read a lot. Many people want to write but don’t read anything.”
When she’s not writing or traveling to keep up with family, Jocelyn likes hiking, biking, swimming, and singing in community choirs. In fact, the latter passion kindled the plot of an upcoming novel in Orca’s Limelights series, Raw Talent, about a girl who wants to sing but has stage fright.
Jocelyn is very excited to have a new novel, Impossible, coming out in Orca’s Soundings series in January 2018. This, her 11th book, is a long way from the countless rejections on her first one, making for a sweet sixteen years of publishing. For this CWILL-BCer, it’s all a teen dream come true.
— Pam Withers has written 17 YA adventure novels.