Wolfville author Jan Coates is celebrating the publication of her newest children’s book, Dancing with Daisy, with a book launch at the Wolfville library on July 27.
Although Coates literally grew up surrounded by books in her mother’s bookstore in Truro, she never saw herself becoming an author.
“I’ve always loved reading and visiting the library, and as a kid, it was consistently a highlight of my week,” she says. “But I never saw being an author as a viable career.”
Instead, Coates earned her a bachelor’s degree in high school education, but ended up only teaching sporadically.
“When my kids were young, I decided I had to stay home with them, so I ended up making toddlers’ clothing, cuddle duds, for 15 years,” she says.
It wasn’t until after that, when her children were grown, that she started to write seriously. And her results have been noteworthy.
Coates currently has five trade picture books published for ages three to seven; five middle-grade novels published for the eight to 12-year-old range; and 18 leveled chapter books for emergent readers.
“I always have a few dozen manuscripts at various stages in my laptop writing folder,” says Coates. “I’m constantly tweaking stories I may have started as long as 15 years ago.”
The inspiration for Coates’ soon-to-be published novel, Say What You Mean (Mean What You Say), began about 35 years ago with a man she saw sleeping in a bus shelter every day as she travelled to work by streetcar in Toronto.
“He stayed in my mind all those years and is now a character in the novel,” she says.
Another source of inspiration for Coates comes from her book visits to elementary schools, where she says she always leaves with some little tidbit or character tucked away in her mind.
Coates’ newest book, Dancing with Daisy, is no different. Like most of her books, she says this story took a long and winding path from initial idea to print.
“I think I had the idea during one of the hurricanes that raged up the Atlantic coast, thinking about what it would be like if a hurricane asked you to dance,” she says. “No doubt my own growing collection of wrinkles and some of the other perks of growing older got me thinking.”
From there, Coates built a story around a grandfather and his grandson, Liam, discussing an old photograph.
“On a fall day in 1962,” says the book jacket, “the grandfather tells Liam, he had a run in with a nasty girl in search of a dance partner: Daisy was her name. What follows is a tall tale about Grampy's tango with a hurricane and all those signs of aging - the wrinkles, the stooped back, the croaky voice, the false teeth - can be chalked up to Daisy's persistence and Grampy's refusal to dance. Of course, it takes a talking to from Nana to get that Daisy to blow off elsewhere.”
The book is written by Coates and illustrated by Josée Bisaillon, who Coates says won the TD Illustrator’s Award last year.
“She did a brilliant job of personifying Daisy and showing us her energy,” she says, noting that she’s never actually met Bisaillon in person, as she was selected by the editor, but hopes to one day.
And one day, Coates hopes to illustrate her own children’s books. Over the past couple of years, she’s been working on learning to illustrate and selling illustrated greeting cards, which she calls cuddle cards.
“I was one of those kids who gave up on art in elementary school, so this has been a treat for me to have a new creative outlet,” says Coates.
ADVICE FOR AUTHORS
For any inspiring writers, Coates has a few pieces of advice. First, if you are writing fiction, she says it’s essential for authors to make sure they understand what the protagonist wants and what their ultimate goal may be. It’s that knowledge that will shape the story.
“My other advice is simple,” she says. “Write every day, even if it’s for ten minutes; make it a priority.”
When you have a completed manuscript, patience is a necessity, she adds.
“I still get rejections all the time, but it has to be the right manuscript crossing the right editor’s desk on the right day for a connection to be made,” she says.
Most Canadian publishers publish five to 30 books a year, and they get hundreds, even thousands, of submissions every year, explains Coates.
“You must really want it for your work to find a home, but it’s possible,” she says.
IF YOU GO: To celebrate her newest publication, Dancing with Daisy, Coates is hosting a book launch at the Wolfville Library from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on July 27. Coates will be reading her book, serving Daisy and Cloud cookies, and will have a fun craft for kids. The event is free, family-friendly and all are welcome. Copies of the book will be on hand for sale.
GO ONLINE: Learn more at https://jancoates.ca/