Friday, August 24, 2012

Author Interview: Sylvia Gunnery

Today on my blog, I'd like to welcome Sylvia Gunnery, the (Canadian) author of Emily for Real, a novel which will be hitting U.S. shelves soon.

A bit about Sylvia (as found on the publisher's website): Sylvia Gunnery is the author of many books for teens and younger readers. Throughout her teaching career, she has been inspired by her students to create authentic and engaging stories. Out of Bounds, the first in her series of sports novels, is a Best Books for Kids and Teens/Our Choice Selection and was nominated for the Hackmatack Children’s Choice Book Award. Sylvia gives writing workshops in her home province of Nova Scotia and across Canada, encouraging young writers to find their own voices and tell their own stories.

You've written books for both kids and teenagers. How do you find writing for kids similar to and different from writing YA?
Writing for teens is a lot different from writing for younger readers because, for teens, everything’s more complex: themes, story structure, characters, language, and more. Teens have had more life experiences, generally, and they’re able to take on more in the fiction they read. This is not to say that writing for children is simple, though many people mistakenly think it is. Less complex does not mean less work. 
Writing for both age groups is a bit like time travel – I have to put my head into a whole different time of life than the one I’m currently living.  It’s fun “being” in those younger worlds. I observe and eavesdrop and daydream about how things are for kids and teens these days, and I remember how it was for me when I was a kid and a teen.  

What was the inspiration behind Emily For Real?
I started thinking about family secrecy a long time ago when a friend revealed to me a secret she was keeping from her children, waiting until they were older and perhaps could more easily understand. For me, the compelling idea was how children would respond and how they’d view their own lives once they were told the secret. So I started Emily’s story, knowing from the start all the details of the secret the Sinclair family was keeping from her. At first I thought they wouldn’t make it through this secrecy, but then their love for each other showed itself to be way deeper than any secret. I was relieved.

How similar is Emily to your teenage self, and what parts of her personality do you see in yourself today?
Now you’re asking me to look in the mirror and be objective at the same time. Not easy. As a teen, I had a few guys who were my friends with no romantic strings attached, just as Emily had her friendship with Leo. Having not had a brother, I really liked those connections. They gave a kind of balance to my life.  Maybe Emily’s also like me in that she notices small details that others might not take time to think about: the little feet of the chickadee being like pencil drawings; recognizing the exact moment Leo fell in love; the significance of the small jade bird in the washroom at Leo’s; Meredith’s hands, cool and pale, with veins like tiny purple rivers. I also find it interesting to take myself apart from everyone and spend time alone, maybe driving my car or travelling by train or plane.  I often walk on the beach or in the park woods by myself, though I haven’t done those middle-of-the-night walks that Emily did.

Over the course of the novel, the reader finds out that Emily's family had some pretty big secrets. What's a secret that your family (or a family member) kept from you that you found out only later in life?
If our family had secrets, they’re still hidden J We were an extended family that sat around our dinner table, long after our meals were eaten, telling stories of what had happened that day and years ago. I don’t remember awkward silences after any questions we asked each other. But when I was in my thirties, I actually did ask Mom and Dad if we had family secrets. They dredged up a few stories that my sister and I had already figured out anyway – nothing that would stir up a scene at a family reunion, for sure. 

Leo knows how to play the guitar and Emily can sing decently. Are you musically talented? If not, what do you consider your special talent (besides writing of course)?
I’m surrounded by musicians – my partner Jim and many, many other musical friends. I do like to sing at our informal gatherings we call “music nights” (especially into a microphone as Emily did in the garage scene). It is through the kindness of my friends that the microphone isn’t yanked out of my hands. 
“Talent” seems a formal word, but I know I work well with student writers – encouraging them to write what they want to write, listening for their voices, and seeming to find the right things to say without interfering in their processes. It’s a big deal for me that every year I meet lots of young writers through writers-in-the-schools visits here in Nova Scotia and across Canada. I learn so much from our conversations.  

A big thanks to Sylvia for taking the time to answer my questions!

For more information about Sylvia or Emily for Real, you can visit the Pajama Press website. Emily for Real can be purchased at Chapters/Indigo,, and Barnes & Noble.

And keep an eye on the  following blogs participating in the Emily for Real Blog Tour running during August: Open Book Toronto, YA Booklover Blog, Pub(lishing) Crawl, Midnight Bloom Reads and Books in the Spotlight


  1. Lovely interview, Zahida and Sylvia! :) I love how we got to know so much about the author. Sylvia's family reunions sound like so much fun. Old stories are always the best ones to tell and listen to. Great post, girls! <3 :)

  2. Only 202 pages? What a short book! I love characters with musical talent. Here in the Philippines, people like to sing, gatherings or not, and it's very much fun indeed when you get to sing not minding your tone deafness. :]

  3. Lovely interview, guys! I haven't heard of Emily for Real before, but I am definitely interested now. I will be sure to check it out further. :)

  4. Anonymous6:07 pm

    I ADORE the interview, ladies! I have to second Sam's comment- although I'm not familiar with Emily for Real, it sounds fantastic! Can't wait to read it now. :) And yay to a fellow Canadian author.. :)

  5. Emily for Real is new-to-me, so this was a nice introduction. I don't think there are any serious secrets that my family has been keeping from me... hmm, at least I hope not! I think that premise has great potential for a riveting book. I'm looking forward to your review for this one, Zahida! Should you be posting one, that is.

  6. It is so wonderful to hear that you encourage your students to share their voice! I think it is so important to support creativity in all forms.

    I've been trying to learn how to play the guitar, but so far, my efforts have been a bit lacking. But in my head, I sound just like Colbie Caillat! :)

    Fun interview!

  7. What a great interview! I met Sylvia back in May when I attended a reading at the Bridgewater library. What a lovely lady, and SO entertaining. I really enjoyed, "Emily for Real."


I love comments and will reply back via either email or stopping by your blog. Please note that this is an award-free zone.