Saturday, May 12, 2012

Day 12 - Q&A with Jocelyn Shipley

Day 12. You know, I hope these reviews and posts with authors have gotten some of you to check out authors from other countries and not just Canada. It can be a bit tricky to get them if they're not published in your country, though. Hmmm.

Today's Q&A features a new to me author, but her upcoming book sounds rather interesting if you're a fan of contemporary YA. Jocelyn Shipley is co-editor of the anthology Cleavage: Breakaway Fiction for Real Girls and is the author of Getting a Life, Cross My Heart and Seraphina’s Circle. Born and raised in London, Ontario, Jocelyn graduated from York University and has studied writing at St. Lawrence College and the Humber School for Writers. She now lives in Toronto and on Vancouver Island. You can visit her at her website and check out her new book, How to Tend a Grave, on Goodreads. :)

Q: Where did the idea for How to Tend a Grave come from?

A: I started writing the book in 2005, when I was living in Kingston, Ontario, and had read in the local paper about teens vandalizing a historic cemetery. The vandalism wasn’t an isolated event – it had happened several times. I did some research and learned that vandalism in cemeteries is a problem in many places. I couldn’t help wondering what would make a kid do something like that? Sure, teens vandalize things, but gravestones?

Q: Were there any drastic changes from when you first started writing it to the finished book?

A: At first the book was only about Liam, but it didn’t have enough plot or depth for a novel – it was just some scenes with him and a gang partying in a cemetery. But I didn’t know how to develop it, so put the ms aside to work on other things. When I went back to it a couple years later, I figured out that Liam needed something or someone to help him heal, and so added a female character who was in as much pain as he was, for him to fall in love with. Another newspaper article, this time about the unacknowledged grief women carry after a miscarriage, triggered Harmony’s story.

Q: The book itself sounds rather emotional, with Liam's mother's death and Harmony's miscarriage. Did you intend to write about those issues, about teenagers and grief and healing, or did it just happen over the course of writing the book?

A: No, I didn’t set out to write about teens and grief, although I always knew that most of the story would take place in a cemetery. When I began the book I was more interested in how a fifteen-year-old guy copes with the fact that his mom worked as an escort. At first, Liam’s mom’s death was just a way to get him out of his familiar setting and to the town where he’d meet up with the gang. I soon realized there was so much more to it than that, especially after adding Harmony's story.

Q: Did any real-life inspiration or events sneak their way into the book as you wrote it?

A: Not so much for Liam’s story, but definitely for Harmony’s. I had a miscarriage when I was in my early twenties – I was four months pregnant when it happened. It  was so sad and upsetting, but nobody talked about miscarriage back then. I was just supposed to get over it and get on with my life. It wasn’t a conscious decision to use that experience I’d kept hidden away for so many years, but I’m sure that’s where Harmony’s story came from. 

Q: What do you hope readers, especially teen readers, will take away from this book?

A: My editor has said that more than anything the book is about finding a way through, and I agree completely. How to Tend a Grave isn’t so much about death as it is about life. You just never know what will happen next, or who you might meet. So no matter how bleak the future looks, there is always hope. And hope is what I’d like readers to take away from this book.

Thanks so much to Jocelyn for answering my questions. :)


  1. Great interview! I've heard a lot of good things about 'How To Tend A Grave'. It's definitely on my TBR list!

    I just found your blog through a Great Plains twitter post and I'm glad I popped by. :)

  2. Jocelyn, this sounds like a truly wonderful story! I love your answer to the last question.