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15 Questions & Answers with Author Deborah Hopkinson

September 10, 2012

Today we are delighted to have Deborah Hopkinson stopping by Random Acts of Reading on her blog tour, talking about her latest picture book ANNIE AND HELEN, the  story of Helen Keller’s early years with her teacher Annie Sullivan. ANNIE AND HELEN will be in bookstores and libraries tomorrow, but right now you can read on to find out what inspired this book, where Deborah writes and what she’s working on now!


What book made the strongest impression on you as a child?

I’d have to say The Secret Garden. Although I’ve since seen several film versions, I still carry a vivid mental picture of the garden and the house from that first reading. There’s something wonderful about reading a book first, before seeing it adapted as a movie.

What is one thing about you that would surprise your readers?

Well, readers might be surprised by how much time I spend at the gym! I love to work out doing strength conditioning with weights, as well as cardio and core classes. It helps keep me in training for long trips when I often have to spend a lot of time in airplanes.

What has your favorite event experience been so far?

Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to present at the Dallas Museum of Art. I got to read in a museum gallery, hear other authors, and present about another new book from Schwartz and Wade, A Boy Called Dickens. Since in my day job I raise money for both an art college (Pacific Northwest College of Art) and a museum (the Museum of Contemporary Craft here in Portland, Oregon) I loved being in a museum all day and seeing how many families were able to enjoy books, authors, and art.

What was your favorite genre to read as a teenager?

I loved reading historical fiction as a teen – anything from adventure and war stories to long historic epic novels. Nowadays I listen to a lot of mysteries set in the past (my favorite: Victorian London).

What’s your favorite snack food when you’re writing?

Well, I try not to snack when I’m writing (I don’t like to get greasy fingers on my research books!), but I’m a big fan of Greek yoghurt so I’ll often have that for breakfast or even lunch while I’m writing.

Do you have a favorite place to write?

I have two places I usually write: at the kitchen table where I can look out on the back yard, and sitting on my bed using a portable ironing board as a desk for my laptop. Usually wherever I go, my dogs follow.

Do you have favorite music to listen to when you write?

No, I actually never listen to music when I write. I do have an MP3 player, but it is filled, not surprisingly, with audiobooks! Of course, I listen to music at the gym during workout classes. Unfortunately, though, that means I may recognize songs but don’t always know the artists.

What inspired you to write ANNIE AND HELEN?

My two children were fascinated with Helen Keller. But it wasn’t until I read a newspaper story in the Spring of 2008 about the re-discovery of a rare photo of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller taken in 1888 that I began the research that led to this book. I discovered that Annie Sullivan lived for a time in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, my first home when I was a baby.

Was there a special teacher in your life?

I had high school English teacher, Helen Shea, who, on the one hand, was soft spoken and quiet. At the same time, she was a task master. She made us write – a lot – in class. She was one of the first people to tell me that I had a certain “style,” something I couldn’t even imagine at the time. I think I began to think of myself as a writer in her class.

Do you read Braille or know American Sign Language?

No, I don’t, but I always appreciate going to plays or lectures which are interpreted in American Sign Language. I love that the back cover of Annie and Helen has the Braille alphabet on it. It helps me to appreciate the incredible skill that is involved.

Do you plan to continue writing for children, or do you think you might write for adults down the road?

I don’t see myself writing only for adults. And while my books are, hopefully, enjoyed by children I love to read children’s literature. So I feel in a way that I am writing for all ages.

What is one piece of advice you would like to give to aspiring authors?

Read, write, and don’t give up. Maybe that’s three things! But I think they are all important. When I visit schools, I always tell students that “readers make writers,” and I think that’s absolutely true. It’s also important to keep at it, even if you can’t write every day (I never have had a regular writing schedule, for instance).

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

Not really. Since I have a full time job, I do almost all my writing on weekends. That means I’m usually on a deadline, so I can’t afford to have writer’s block!

What are you working on now?

Right now I am finishing a middle grade novel for Knopf entitled The Great Trouble, A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel. It’s historical fiction about a cholera epidemic in 1854 and a boy who helps Dr. John Snow prove that the source of the disease is the water from one well. The book is based on real life events and was really fascinating to research and write.

Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?

That’s easy: Keep Reading!

If you’d like to know more about Annie & Helen and author Deborah Hopkinson, check out the other stops she’s made on her blog tour:

Annie and Helen – Blog Tour

September 1stWatch. Connect. Read

September 1st: SharpRead

September 2nd: Nerdy Book Club

September 3rd: Bakers and Astronauts

September 4th: Two Writing Teachers

September 5th: Cracking the Cover

September 6th: Teach Mentor Texts

September 7th: Nonfiction Detectives

September 8th: Booking Mama

September 9th: Children’s Book Review

September 10th: Random Acts of Reading

September 11th: 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Many Thanks to Deborah Hopkinson for joining us at Random Acts of Reading! And thanks to our readers for stopping by the blog today.

Please share your thoughts in our comments section.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 10, 2012 5:11 pm

    Great questions! I loved reading through all of Deborah’s answers to them too. Great advice, “Keep reading!”

  2. September 11, 2012 3:00 pm

    This sounds really interesting – I was always fascinated by Helen Keller’s and Annie Sullivan’s story too.
    Ooh, for Victorian London, check out Kristen Callihan’s latest releases Firelight and Moonglow!

  3. September 12, 2012 7:46 pm

    Fascinating interview.

    Yay for this book (which I just saw in the bookstore yesterday)! And for Deborah Hopkinson. So glad your high school English teacher encouraged you to write.

    The Secret Garden made a huge impression on me too as a child.

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