*Thank you to Salma Hussain for conducting this interview
Hi SUZANNE! Congratulations on your historical fiction, MG novel, A Terrible Tide, which came out Sep 2021 from Second Story Press. What is the “elevator pitch” about your book that you would give a young reader to convince them to read it?
In two hours, everything 12 year old Celia knows is washed away. An earthquake, followed by the rising waters of a tsunami, devastates Celia’s small village in Newfoundland. Facing cold, hunger, injuries, and other dangers, will the villagers survive until help can arrive?
You credit your “Nana” for inspiring you to write about Newfoundland. Could you tell us more about what made you focus your novel on the tsunami that occurred in Newfoundland in 1929?
My father’s family is from Newfoundland, and Nana was my last living grandparent. After she died, I wanted to write a book set in Newfoundland so I started doing some research and learned about the tsunami. Right away it struck a chord. I knew there were stories to be told about what happened, so I dug deeper and ended up with the story that became A Terrible Tide.
This is your first MG book. Can you tell us about the journey of this book from idea to publication?
I’ve been amazed by how quick the journey was. After my initial research about big events in Newfoundland where I learned about the tsunami, I started researching more about what happened and what life was like in the fishing villages during that time period. It took a while to find the right voice for Celia, but once I did everything clicked. I wrote the first draft in about 6 months, then took another 6 months to make some changes I knew needed to be done. I shared the draft with writer friends and got some feedback from them as well. Two years after I finished the first draft, I sent the manuscript to some publishers. Second Story was the first publisher I heard back from and they’re the ones who ended up publishing the novel. Then there were some more edits to do before the final version. Overall, it took about 3 years from starting the first draft to getting the contract.
Can you tell us a bit about your research process. Where did the most helpful sources of information come from? And some unexpected sources of information?
One place that I found really useful is a website called “Newfoundland’s Grand Banks”. It’s a genealogy and historical records collection that I’ve used for researching my family tree, but I found some wonderful first-person accounts of the tsunami that helped me shape the story. I also searched for photos of the aftermath of the disaster to help me picture what the characters would see. Some of those photos were included in the published book.
I love your cover. Can you tell us a bit about your illustrator and your thoughts on the cover?
I was so grateful to have some input into the cover. Second Story Press asked me for ideas on the design when I first signed the contract, so I went looking through some of their titles to find things that I liked. I sent my suggestions and a while later they sent me three sketches for feedback. I loved them all! The one thing that I said had to be on the cover was Celia’s dog, Boomer, because he’s such a big part of her story. I think the illustrator, Hayden Maynard, captured the feeling of the story very clearly.
You work as an elementary school French teacher. Can you tell us some of the ways teaching impacts and/or influences your writing and vice versa?
When I’m writing for middle graders, I think about what I know about that age group. What are they interested in? How easily will they understand the vocabulary that I’m choosing? How can I inject a bit of humour into the story? Some of my current students have read A Terrible Tide and they all seem to be enjoying it. It’s amazing to get that kind of direct feedback from the kids.
I try not to “write down”, or simplify the language too much, but it helps to be aware of it so that I can make sure the writing isn’t too complex. I want the story to be accessible but also something that adults can enjoy.
I really enjoyed your book and without giving away any spoilers, will we follow this set of characters through their upcoming adventures in another book? Or are you working on a new story completely? Can you tell us a bit about your next project.
I have several things I’m working on. One of them does involve the Matthews family! I am also interested in writing about characters who survive other disasters, so I have notes and ideas for a few different stories in that vein. There’s also my long-term passion project – an adult novel that I define as “historical fantasy”. All of these projects are either in development or partially drafted. I hope to have something finished soon.
Where can we find out more about you and your writing?
Suzanne Meade is a Canadian author specializing in historical fiction. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, she is passionate about telling stories that connect with girls, women, and other marginalized communities. In her spare time, she enjoys genealogy, yoga, reading, watching sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero movies, and playing video games. She currently teaches elementary school French and lives with her family and pets in Hamilton.