When Regina author Alison Lohans was four, she spent hours pretending to read to her little sister. At five, she discovered that just because you stop dreaming when you wake up, the dreams don’t have to end: she’d lie awake continuing the dreams in her head.
When she was seven, her father let her use the typewriter, and she began putting the stories that were in her head on paper. At eight, she started writing a book. And when she was nine, she began to think, “Wouldn’t it be neat to be a writer?”
Today, Alison continues to spin out her dreams and put them on paper, sharing them with readers of all ages. To date, 12 of her books have been published, most recently Skateboard Kids, released by Roussan Publishers last fall.
Alison came by her interest in storytelling honestly. “My parents were always telling us stories,” she says. “My mom would tell stories about when she was a little girl, and my father had a very exciting story about a fire engine, complete with sound effects.”
Her mother had her own dreams of writing for children, and Alison remembers her sending off manuscripts and being quiet and depressed when the mansucripts came back–an experience all-too-familiar to most beginning writers.
It was Alison’s mom who suggested she try to sell some of her stories. When Alison was 10, her mom took her to the library. They checked out Writer’s Market, a guide to magazine and book publishers. Alison studied it carefully and sent out her stories, and began collecting rejection slips (also a familiar experience for most writers!).
Her first published story appeared in the magazine Wee Wisdom when she was 13. Not long after that, she received her first cheque for a story: $10. “I’ve still got the pay stub but not the magazine the story appeared in!” Alison says.
At the age of 12, Alison began writing stories specifically aimed at young adults, because she found that most of the young adult books being published presented girls with no possible roles in life other than the traditional ones of wife and mother (or maybe nurse or secretary).
Though Alison knew she wanted to write young adult books, she also knew that she couldn’t count on making a living doing so, so in university she studied music education. She taught band (another childhood dream) for three years in Regina. In 1979, when she and her first husband decided to adopt a child, she chose to stay home and be a full-time mother–and a full-time writer.
Over the years her writing has expanded from young adult books to middle-reader and picture books–and, in the case of her book Don’t Think Twice, published by Thistledown in 1997 and short-listed for Book of the Year in the 1997 Saskatchewan Book Awards, possibly into the realm of adult books, too. “I was getting new readers who hadn’t read my stuff before,” Alison says. “One older man said he was just fascinated, he couldn’t put it down, and asked me when I was going to write another adult book!”
But for Alison, a book is just a book: the story determines the age level. Ideas for books, she says, come to her as an interesting question and a character. The age level “has to do with the energy that comes with the question”–different questions are appropriate to different age groups.
Alison does find that recently she’s moved away from young adult fiction. “I’m not feeling as attuned to that adolescent angst,” she says.
, intended for middle readers, was originally written in the late 1980s as the second book in a series she hoped to develop for Scholastic based on her 1987 book Mystery of the Lunch Box Criminal. Scholastic “kept hemming and hawing,” Alison says. Eventually they bought a third book, but not the second. Luckily, the “mini-rage” in skateboards in the 1980s returned, so her decade-old book is still current.
Alison’s next book, a picture book she wrote, tentatively titled Waiting for the Sun, should be out next year from Red Deer Press.
Alison feels good children’s literature serves an invaluable function. She wants kids, who are immersed in a culture dominated by mass media and computer games, to explore beyond the boundaries pop culture puts around them, to take a good look at the world that surrounds them “and see what’s really there.”
Says Alison, “I hope that people who read my work will take another look at the world around them, that they will look more deeply and feel more deeply, and just open themselves a little bit more to the world”–to learn, as she did at the age of five, that dreams can be pursued in the waking world, as well as when you’re asleep.