Get Inspired: Jocelyn Shipley

Picture of Jocelyn Shipley

Jocelyn Shipley's books for teens include Getting a Life, Cross My Heart and Seraphina's Circle. She is also co-editor of Cleavage: Breakaway Fiction for Real Girls. 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. Her new young adult novel, How to Tend a Grave, will be published by Great Plains Teen Fiction in Spring 2012.

Visit Jocelyn online at

1. What's exciting about being an author? What are the not-so-exciting parts of being an author?

It's very exciting to see my name on book covers, and to see my books in stores and libraries. I love to read aloud from my work, give presentations about writing, and do interviews like this one. The downside of being a writer is that to produce a book you have to do the work, day after day after day. You might spend years on a project, and do several rewrites, with no guarantee of publication. And you probably won't make much money. Almost anything pays better than being a writer.

2. Did your education prepare you to become an author? Were there experiences you felt were helpful in preparing you for a writing career?

My high school and university education introduced me to great books and authors, and taught me the importance of clear language and good grammar for writing strong prose. Then I took some writing courses as an adult through The Humber School for Writers that were very helpful for learning how to develop characters and build stories. But reading is probably the most important experience of all to prepare for a writing career. You can learn so much about style, voice, plot and pacing without even realizing it while you're reading a good book.

Cover of Getting a Life

3. Some young adults feel they are forced to read "classics" – Shakespeare, Dickens, Jane Austen, – that may not speak to them. Is it important for young adults to read "classics"? What would you say to young people who find those books boring or not relevant to their lifestyle?

So much of current culture comes from the classics. A lot of movies are based on fairy tales, Shakespeare plays and Jane Austen books. Just because a book is set in a different time doesn't mean it has no relevance for today – the music, fashions and customs may be different, but the struggle to belong, have friends and get along with your family remains the same.

4. Do you feel there's something special about Canadian literature for young adults?

I find it hard to define Canadian literature. Are we talking about books set in Canada, or books by writers who live in Canada? There are many wonderful Canadian writers who have set their books for teens in other countries, or who write fantasy set in other worlds altogether. But that said, I love reading books with settings I recognize, and situations that feel familiar and validate my world and identity. So yes, I'd say that Canadian literature, however you define it, is special. There's a sense of caring about the whole world in Canadian books that I don't feel when reading American books.

5. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Yes, I do. Here are my top three tips:

Read, read, read: I'm always surprised when people say they want to write, but never bother to read anything. Read the kind of books you'd like to write.

Write, write, write: Just begin, and then continue. A book is written word by word. Join a few together and you've got a sentence, then a paragraph, then a chapter. That's it. The real secret of writing is simply writing.

Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite: My first drafts aren't pretty. They're not perfect. And they're never publishable. Yours probably won't be either. So put your work away for awhile, then go back and revise. Then revise again.

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