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An excerpt from Shatterproof

17 Oct


I’m so happy to share an excerpt from Chapter 3 of my new book Shatterproof, published by Orca Book Publishers in their Currents Series for reluctant readers aged 10 – 14. Hope you like it!

Copyright © 2016 Jocelyn Shipley. All rights reserved. 

“She blushes and can’t speak. Her friends urge her on. “Okay,” she finally says. “Here goes. Are you, um, are you Bo Blaketon?”


“Are you Bo Blaketon? You know, from Shatterproof?”

Whoa. How I wish I was.

I glance over at Lug. His eyebrows have shot way up and his mouth hangs wide open. He’s probably thinking what I am. This is too weird. Dakota said the same thing in the car.

“Yeah, I know that show,” I say. “But no, sorry. I’m not him.”

The girl tilts her head and squints at me. “Are you sure?”

I snort. “Last time I checked.”

“Oh come on,” she says. “You’re him. But don’t worry, we won’t invade your privacy.”

“No really, I’m not.”

She gives me a flirty smile and fluffs her hair. “I heard that Shatterproof is filming in North Van next week.”


“So that’s why you’re in town. And you’re from here, so it all makes perfect sense.”

“Well, it would if I was Bo Blaketon. But I’m not.”

The girl touches my arm gently. It feels like an electric shock. “It’s okay,” she says. “We won’t announce it to the whole world. But can you get me on your show?”

“No way!”

“So you are him!”

“No, I meant I can’t get you on that show. Because I’m not Bo Blaketon”

“Oh please?” She actually flutters her eyelashes and pouts her lips. “Just as an extra?”

“Hey,” Lug butts in. “He might be able to make that happen.”

I frown and shake my head at him. “What are you doing?”

“He-he,” Lug says. “Can’t blame these pretty things for trying.”

“But I’m not Bo Blaketon!”

They all stare at me like I’m lying.

Even Lug.

“Let’s go.” I stride away. “This is ridiculous.”

The girl follows, her friends behind her. “Look, I’m sorry,” she says. “I should have respected your privacy. But can you please just sign my arm?” She pulls a purple marker out of her purse. “Then I promise I’ll leave you alone.”

She’s wearing a flowery shirt, open over a tank top. She slips one sleeve off. Thrusts her shoulder at me. Points at her bicep. “Here,” she says. “Please?” She hands me the marker.

I can’t not take it. And then I’m scrawling on her smooth skin: Bo B. It kind of looks like BoB, which makes me laugh. It’s a nervous laugh though. What was I thinking?

“Ohmigod!” She actually starts to cry. “Thank you so much!”

Her friends gather close to take pictures. Lug steps in and shields my face with his hand. “Ladies, please! Privacy!”

The girl wipes her tears and grabs her marker back. “If you change your mind about me being an extra, here’s my number.” She writes it on my hand.

“Sorry, but we have to go.” I pull Lug away with me.

The other girls call after us, “Hey Bo, come back! Sign us, too!”

I break into a run.”

          Shatterproof is available from Orca or online bookstores.

Writing Process Blog Tour

15 Sep

Joanne Levy nominated me to do the Writing Process Blog Tour, and I said yes right away. Joanne is someone I’m always happy to see, and her blog posts always make me laugh. Oh, and if I could afford to hire a virtual assistant, it would be her. Joanne Levy Author Photo

I met Joanne back in 2012 through #Torkidlit, a group of Toronto area writers of middle grade and young adult books. When I heard the title of her then forthcoming first novel, Small Medium at Large, I knew I liked her sense of humour and wanted to read her book. I bought two copies at her launch and gave one to my favourite Grade 5 girl, and wasn’t surprised that we both loved it. Small Medium at Large is quirky, funny, and much praised. It was nominated for the 2014 Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading in the Red Maple category (grades 7 & 8), was chosen as a 2013 Sydney Taylor Notable Book, and is a nominee for the 2014 Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Awards and the 2015 Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice Awards.

You’ll definitely want to check out Small Medium at Large, and read about Joanne’s writing process in her postSmallMediumAtLarge_cvr

The Writing Process Blog Tour is a weekly blog post where authors answer four supplied questions about their writing process, then nominate another author to do it the following week. It’s been going on for several years now. Here are my answers to the four questions:

1. What are you working on?

At the moment I’m revising a historical YA novel I started seven years ago. Lots of writers have a book they say took them ten years to write, and this is going to be mine. I started with a snippet of family history, but without a clear idea of what the story was and how to write historical fiction, and got lost in the process of figuring that out. Putting the ms. away for a few years has given me insight into what’s not working, and I hope I’ll soon have it ready to submit.

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?

This is such a hard question. When I thought about it I was overcome with dread. Maybe because it would feel like bragging if I could think of something, or maybe because I know I should work harder at making my work fresh and original. So I’ll just avoid the issue and say that I write in a different genres – YA novels and short stories, tween novels, adult short stories, women’s fiction (writing as Elizabeth Sage), and I’ve even published children’s poetry.

3. Why do you write what you do? 

I prefer reading contemporary fiction, both YA and adult, so that’s what I write. I like to feature strong female protagonists, probably because I grew up at a time when many doors were closed to girls and women. Four of my early books were published by a small literary feminist press, and Stabenfeldt has published several of my books in many languages for their GIRL:IT bookclubs. But I’m interested in issues facing boys and men too, and don’t want to exclude them, so sometimes write from a male point of view. There’s Liam in my most recent YA novel, How to Tend a Grave, and Darcy in my anthologized short story, “Holding Harley”. I’m always trying to grow as I writer though, so plan to attempt an adult psychological thriller in the future.

4. How does your writing process work?

I used to get an idea and then just start writing. The first draft was all about finding the story, and then I’d have to do about nineteen drafts to make the book work. But I’ve recently changed my approach, and now plan the story first. I work out the hook, inciting incident, major plot points and character motivation before I start writing. The weeks or months when I’m doing this are misery, because it’s mostly thinking and making a lot of timelines and charts and handwritten notes. It’s frustrating because I feel like I’m getting nowhere and just wasting writing time. But the payoff is that once I figure things out, the writing goes very quickly, with way fewer drafts, and although the story can still develop and grow organically, there are no major structural changes. I’m pretty sure I’ll stick with this method, as for me it’s resulted in producing a better book faster.

I don’t worry about writing every day no matter what – that just doesn’t work for me.  And I don’t worry about reaching a daily word count either. I do what I can, and sometimes that’s three chapters and sometimes more like three paragraphs. I don’t edit much until I’ve got a first draft finished, which means letting go of trying to make it perfect and just getting it done. Then I let the ms. rest awhile before editing and revising.

Okay, enough about me.

Karen KrossingI’ve nominated Karen Krossing to do the Writing Process Blog Tour next week. I got to know Karen when we chose her story “Profanity” for Cleavage: Breakaway Fiction for Real Girls, a YA anthology I co-edited.  A talented, dedicated writer whose engaging work receives starred reviews and many award nominations, Karen is Past President of CANSCAIP, the Canadian Association of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers. She’s also a freelance copywriter and editor and runs workshops for emerging writers. She has written many books for kids and teens, my favourites being The Yo-Yo Prophet and her latest, Bog.

Watch for Karen’s answers to the writing process questions on her blog on Thursday, October 2. And read her books, too!

Thanks so much to Joanne for nominating me, and I’m looking forward to Karen’s post next week.

Meanwhile, what’s your writing process? Please feel free to comment below.

Telling Tales Festival

12 Sep

Looking for a fun family event in the GTA this Sunday, September 15? Come to Telling Tales, a FREE festival of stories and music at Westfield Historic Village in Rockton.

Organizers have been working on this Fifth Anniversary of the Telling Tales Festival for months now. They’re booked an impressive line up of presenters for kids from newborn right up to age 16.

I’m so excited to be reading from my award-winning YA novel, How to Tend a Grave, for ages 13 & up, at 1:30 pm on the Summer Stage.

It’s going to be a fabulous day! And best of all, the event is a fundraiser for literacy. Hope to see you there.




How to play “Pianoball”

6 Nov

Not everything I write is as dark as my YA novel, How to Tend a Grave. Sometimes I produce amusing poetry for kids. And that can lead to other exciting things, like inventing a new sport.

Here’s how it happened. I got my start in poetry at an early age, when I entered three poems in the local Hobby Fair, and won first, second and third prizes. Okay, I’m not sure there were any other entries. But still.

As a teenager, I wrote a lot of poetry, now gone and best forgotten. But then when I had kids, I sold two poems to Chickadee magazine. That encouraged me to produce more poems for the children’s market, and although those were never published as a book as I’d hoped, one was accepted for Canadian Poems for Canadian Kids.

Now I’ve had another published in the terrific new anthology for Grades 3 – 6, And the Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems. The book is edited by Carol-Ann Hoyte and Heidi Bee Roemer, illustrated by Kevin Sylvester, and winner of the 2012 Bronze Moonbeam Award for Children’s Poetry.

When I saw the call for submissions for this anthology, I revised and submitted four of my in-the-drawer poems, and was thrilled when Heidi said they were interested in the one about a girl practicing piano while her friends are playing softball – if I’d make just a few tweaks.

Of course I would! Turns out she actually meant weeks. Heidi is one brilliant but very demanding editor. We tossed that poem back and forth for a full nine innings. She pushed me to throw harder, hit farther, run faster. I started calling her Coach.

Just when I thought practice was over, Coach said my poem needed a new title. I went through lists of sports and musical terms, but couldn’t find anything that worked. So I reconsidered where my poem came from.

As a kid I was an avid softball player, but a reluctant piano student. One year my piano exam conflicted with the city softball finals. My teacher forbid me to play ball, lest I not have time to prepare properly and to avoid injuring my fingers. No way was I listening to the “tick, tick, tick” of my metronome when I could be hearing the ump call “batter up!”. I did practice a bit though, and managed to get 73. But she wasn’t impressed – she considered anything less than 90 a bad reflection on her. She didn’t care at all when my team won the championship.

I didn’t care at all about anything but the joy of playing on that championship team with my friends.

And then, as these things go, once I stopped searching for a title for my poem and lost myself in the glory of my softball days, an idea came flying through the air. “Pianoball” felt pitch perfect. Coach declared it a winner and a new sport was born.

“Pianoball” is for all those kids who’d really rather be on the field.

Good game!








I’ll be reading “Pianoball” at the Toronto launch for And the Crowd Goes Wild!

Friday, November 9th @ 5:30 p.m. Northern District Branch – Toronto Public Library 40 Orchard View Blvd. (Second Floor), Toronto

Please come cheer me on!

Happy Halloween!

31 Oct

It’s the time of year to visit a cemetery if you want a good scare. Cemeteries are haunted with all kinds of spooky stuff like ghosts, zombies, demons and vampires.

But otherwise, stay away from the land of the dead, right?

Wrong. Cemeteries are actually full of life – or let’s say insights about life. Besides being places to remember the departed, they remind us of our own mortality, help us focus on what’s important and get our priorities straight. Maybe that’s why I’ve always wanted to use a cemetery as a setting for a novel, as I finally did in How to Tend a Grave:

The grounds of Mount Hope and Glory Cemetery look like a huge and welcoming park. Winding pathways lead through tall, leafy trees. The ornate gates in the black iron fence stand wide open. Liam starts to feel better as soon as he passes through them. It’s so peaceful here in the cemetery. Like he’s stepped into another world. Which of course he has. He’s entered a place where time stands still. Where everyday things don’t matter.”

I love cemeteries, especially historic ones. But I understand why some people feel creeped out by them. They’re somewhat dystopian places, after all. Things in cemetery society have gone terribly wrong. The quest for everlasting life has failed and everybody is dead. The citizens are buried underground, in wooden boxes and cement vaults, in neat, straight rows. The grassy, park-like place where they’re imprisoned might look like paradise, but no one can escape. Ever.

So yeah, no. These aren’t things we like to think about. Another good reason to use a cemetery as a setting for a novel. Well, guess what? We’re all going to die someday. Fear of cemeteries isn’t going to change that.

But while we’re waiting to find out what comes next, cemeteries are great places to remember the past, contemplate the present and imagine the future. Even when we’re suffering the deepest grief, a cemetery can help us feel alive. As the character Harmony says in How to Tend a Grave:

I like going barefoot in the cemetery. The caretaker keeps the lawns so green and lush that I feel like I’m walking into a storybook. The velvety grass underfoot makes me want to dance around the mossy, old gravestones. And sometimes I do. I know that might sound freaky, but when I’m dancing in the cemetery I feel better, more connected to life, than I do at home or at school or any other time really.”

Trust me, when you want more than a Halloween scare and need some perspective on life, visit a cemetery.

Happy Canada Day!

1 Jul

O, Canada! I am so grateful for this country and feel incredibly lucky to live here. And in celebration of Canada Day, I’d like to show you some of my favourite places on Vancouver Island, BC, where I spend half the year.

Little Qualicum River Falls is always scenic, but especially so in winter and spring when the water is high. From the lower bridge to the middle and upper bridges, there’s a great trail through the rainforest, bordering the steep river gorge.

Here I am on Mount Washington, renowned for alpine and nordic skiing in winter and mountain biking in summer. The photo on the left is looking over the Salish Sea and coastal mountains, and the one on the right is looking over the island. Yes, there was still snow up there last August, when these pictures were taken. Oh, and by the way, although I love hiking, I did ride the chairlift to the top.

Rathtrevor Park, on the calm eastern side of Vancouver Island, is a place where the tide goes way, way out, leaving a lovely expanse of beach dotted with tidal pools and sand dollars. You can hike the flats or a seaside forest trail, have a picnic or read a book here at any time of year, and it’s just as beautiful when the water’s up.

In Ucluelet, on the spectacular wind-swept west side of Vancouver Island, you’ll find the Wild Pacific Trail, an astounding place to watch waves crashing on rugged rocks as the tide comes in. This fairly accessible trail also passes through magical ancient spruce and cedar rainforest, before offering more breathtaking views of the coastline.







So you can see why I love Vancouver Island. I hope you get a chance to visit this very special part of the country sometime. Until then, Happy Canada Day!



For Father’s Day

17 Jun

Papilio glaucus Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (male) 8.9.2009.jpgMy father is a yellow butterfly. No, really. As out there as it seems, I totally believe that my late father appears every summer as an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Why would I admit this? Probably something to do with missing him on Father’s Day. But how do I know it’s him?

Well. The first sighting was the day after his sudden death from a heart attack. My mother and siblings and I were gathered on the balcony of our family home, which overlooks a forested hillside and river, trying to stop crying long enough to organize his funeral. He’d been in good health as far as anyone knew, so we were in extreme shock. As we sat in stunned sorrow, a yellow butterfly darted right into our midst.

We all stared at it flitting about in the breeze. Then we looked at each other. “That’s him,” one of us said. “Don’t be ridiculous,” was the reply. But we all knew that if our father, a gentle soul who loved nature, especially gardens and flowers, had any say in what he might come back as, a butterfly was exactly what he’d choose.

The next day, as we were sitting on the limestone wall admiring our father’s perennial garden in all its July glory, we saw a yellow butterfly again. Hmm. Maybe it was raw grief that made us suspend rational thinking – we wanted it to be him, we needed it to be him. And while we did often see butterflies around the property, it was rare to see an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, especially two days in a row. So this time when one of us said, “It’s him,” we all agreed.

That was over twenty years ago. Since then, I often see a yellow butterfly when I’m somewhere my father would have loved – in a park, a garden, on a hiking trail. And whenever I’m with my siblings in St. Marys – walking by the river, picnicking by the little falls, sitting out on that same garden wall – a yellow butterfly almost always appears.

Honestly, I am not making this up. There is something so consistent about where and when we see him. “There’s Father,” one of us will say, and everyone laughs. It’s become a bit of a joke, but it remains a great comfort. And even if our butterfly theory sounds crazy, we all wonder if maybe, just maybe, he’s showing up to tell us something about the other side.

My father was a spiritual man, and certainly believed in an afterlife. One of the many important things he taught me was a sense of wonder about the unknown. So who’s to say he’s not a yellow butterfly now? I find that more probable that imagining him with a halo and angel’s wings, and more appealing than the dust to dust option.

But whatever and wherever he is, I’m blessed to have had such a marvelous father. To all the yellow butterflies and fathers in our mysterious universe, Happy Father’s Day.




Cover reveal!

27 Mar

Presenting the fabulous cover of my new YA novel, How to Tend a Grave, coming soon from Great Plains Teen Fiction!

I absolutely love this cover! I wasn’t sure what the design team would come up with, since the story features both a guy and a girl, but I think they got the feeling of the book just right.

How to Tend a Grave is contemporary, realistic fiction for readers 14 & up. Here’s the catologue copy:

He always figured he might be thirty or something before he could even talk to a girl. Before he met the right one. One who could make him forget that his mom had sex for money. Liam’s mom has been killed in a hit-and-run, forcing him to live with a grandfather he’s never known in a small town with a big youth crime problem. At the cemetery he meets and falls for Harmony, a gorgeous but mysterious girl who records the names of all the babies buried there long ago.

Harmony is afraid that Liam will join the local gang of vandals and ruin his life. As a result of her painful history with the gang leader her best friend dumped her and she was shunned at school. In her journal she writes to the unplanned baby she recently miscarried, and examines her growing feelings for Liam. But as she says, “He’s a grieving teen and I’m a loony nutbar. Does that sound like a good combination?”

The very different stories of these two fifteen-year-olds interweave brilliantly in this fast-paced, engaging and unforgettable book about family, love and healing.

The proofs are finished and the book is at the printer (it will also be released as an ebook). Launch in late May, when I’m back in Toronto. Details TBA. But for those who just can’t wait, How to Tend a Grave is now available for pre-order at online bookstores.

With grateful remembrance, 11/11/11

11 Nov

I’m so proud that my parents and father-in-law served in the Canadian Armed Forces during WWII. Here’s my thank you and tribute to them in honour of Remembrance Day 2011.

When my father enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in July, 1942, my parents decided to marry immediately, before he went into basic training. They’d been engaged for over a year, but had postponed their wedding because of the war, and also because my mother would have to resign from teaching once she married. But now they couldn’t wait any longer. As my mother told me, “The future was so uncertain. Nobody knew if there’d even be a tomorrow.”

My parents married on a Saturday at my grandparents’ farm. On Monday morning my mother accompanied my father to Toronto’s Union Station to see him off. Along with hundreds of others in the bedlam that was Union Station that day, they wept as they parted, knowing they might never see each other again. 

After my father’s train left, my mother wandered around the city, lost and bereft, unsure what to do. Then she marched to a recruiting office and signed up for the RCAF (Women’s Division). She too was now in for the duration.

My father was sent overseas, but he couldn’t disclose exactly where. His letters were censored and took weeks to arrive. Meanwhile my mother was posted to Halifax. She worked at Operations Headquarters, plotting ships in the harbour. Directions were given her through earphones, by someone she couldn’t see, who addressed her in code. It was all top secret.

Here’s my mother, second from right, with her RCAFWD friends. And here’s my father, somewhere overseas. In the photo with the bicycles, he’ s on the left and that’s his brother on the right.

As for my father-in-law, he served in the militia from 1932 -1939. He was then on active service with 48th Highlanders of Canada and Canadian infantry Corps, stationed at Camp Borden as an Infantry instructor until 1945. With increasing responsibilites and hard work he rose to the rank of Lieutenant. As a civilian after the war he continued a life of service as President of his Legion. An active participant in school Remembrance Day activities, he also promoted a Legion bursary for graduating high school students. And he wore a kilt again to play in the Legion Pipe Band.

Here’s a memorial to him, part of the Newmarket Veterans Walk of Honour.



My parents and father-in-law were lucky to survive the war when so many thousands didn’t. But because of all who served, whether in the Armed Forces or as civilians working for the war effort on the home front, I’m even luckier. I’ve had the privilege of living in a free and democratic country my whole life, and so far have never experienced war.

I can only hope that my children and their children and their children’s children will be so blessed. I am very grateful to those who served in the past and those who do so today. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

May the whole world someday live in freedom and peace.





Heart of YA Darkness

21 Jun

As soon as I read that now infamous Wall Street Journal article “Darkness too Visible”, which slammed Cheryl Rainfield’s Scars along with much of today’s YA fiction, I rushed to get her book. I’m sure many others did too. 

In my day there were no YA books to give an innocent high-school girl insight into things that parents and teachers didn’t want to talk about. I was stuck with what were then considered scandalous adult books, so dangerous to a person’s morals that the London Public Library didn’t keep them on the open shelves. Instead such books were hidden in a back room and adorned with “restricted” labels, lest they fall into the wrong hands.

You had to be over eighteen to read Fanny Hill, Candy, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Lolita or In Praise of Older Women. You had to fill out a special request form. The librarian had to approve your request, and then you had to endure public shame as she checked out your risqué choice.

But lucky me. As a teen I worked at the library after school and on Saturdays, so had easy access to those evil books. I never told anyone at the time, but I’m ready to admit now that I “borrowed” those books when no one was looking. That’s right. I didn’t ask for permission, since it would have been denied. Instead I sneaked the books home, hidden under my coat.

So as not to incriminate myself, I didn’t even stamp the books’ pocket cards with a due date. Oh, the guilt! I can assure you that to a dedicated library page such as I was, that felt almost as wicked as wanting to read those books.

And read them I did. 

After that I quickly became, to quote that WSJ article, “one who seeks out depravity”. I began to write heartwrenching poetry full of angst, moons and roses. I shortened all my skirts and sometimes went braless. A couple years later I took up with an older man and dropped out of university.

Eventually, I fell even farther from the nice southwestern Ontario United Church girl I’d once been. I became the kind of woman who reads edgy YA books and attempts to write them!

My forthcoming YA novel, How to Tend a Grave, Great Plains Teen Fiction, Spring 2012, is full of unpleasant stuff that might upset some people: prostitution, vandalism, teen pregnancy, miscarriage, death.

So you can totally see why I was excited to read Scars, a book so lurid that The Wall Street Journal had warned the world about it.

Well, what a surprise! Scars is not at all the dark, damaging horror I’d expected. Brave would be a better word. Uplifting would be another. Yes, it’s true that the book deals with difficult subjects, but in a positive, life-affirming way. Plus there’s hardly even any profanity!

All good YA books offer at least a sliver of hope, but Scars beams it out. And at the heart of Cheryl Rainfield’s dark story you’ll find love and light.

Sorry, WSJ, but anyone seeking depravity will have to look elsewhere.

As for my own moral decline brought about by “restricted”  books, just so you know, I reformed, destroyed all my terrible teenage poetry and went back to school. I wear underwear most days now. And I returned those books to the library.

Okay, yes, I returned them in secret. But would a girl who’d been irredeemably corrupted by her inappropriate reading material have bothered at all?