Dirk McLean was born in Trinidad and came to Toronto as a teenager. He is the author of a series of sports-themed books geared to children and young adult readers, including Not Out, Team Fugee and Tournament Fugee. Dirk has hosted playwriting workshops in Canada, the Caribbean and South Africa, and he has written radio dramas and stage plays that have toured southern Ontario elementary schools.
Author Q&A with Dirk McLean
Where do you find the inspiration for your books?
I use my imagination while creating a character and I think about what they want. Do they want to learn a new skill? Or join a particular sports team? And why? Having a sense of the “why” further inspires me to develop the story.
I live near Terry Fox Park in north-west Scarborough. That was the inspiration for the neighbourhood and cricket settings in Not Out.
The worldwide subject of refugees from places like Nigeria and Syria was part of the inspiration for Team Fugee and Tournament Fugee respectively. Ozzie from Nigeria. Victor from Syria.
I have also been inspired by situations from my own life. As a teenager I ran cross-country. Thinking back on those years, the joy of running and being part of a team inspired me to create 13-year-old Michaela who decides to try out for her Grade 8 cross-country team in Lone Runner.
What were your favourite books when you were a kid? As a young reader, did you see yourself in the books you read?
My favourite books as a child, read over and over, were The Three Musketeers, Robinson Crusoe, Peter Rabbit, and Oliver Twist.
As a young reader, I did not see myself in the books I read. I grew up in the Caribbean, in Trinidad and Tobago. The books were mainly British and all the authors were dead.
I did connect with D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers, the outsider who leaves his home and becomes the fourth musketeer. It was only as an adult that I learned that the author, Alexandre Dumas, was Black.
Then I came to Canada at age 13. My favourite book in Grade 9 was Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis. Science Fiction.
The first ‘alive’ author I saw and heard read from one of her books was Margaret Atwood. That was in my Grade 13 year, because one of my courses was Canadian Literature.
Today, children have the benefit of engaging with a variety of many ‘alive’ authors in-person or via virtual programs like Zoom and MS Teams, across the country and in real time. And for those recently deceased authors, there are audio and video recordings that are available through our wonderful, still-free, public libraries.
As a child I never imagined seeing or meeting an author.
What’s the most surprising thing you have learned when creating your books?
The most surprising thing I have learned when creating a book is the magic of discovery. Discovery about a character as the story moves along. And sometimes discovery about the plot. I do begin with a Synopsis and a Chapter Outline, and with an overall knowing of what I want to write about. But not everything is fixed. When I get down to fleshing out the details, chapter by chapter, new things surface—from my imagination. And from research. Research. Finding out things I do not know helps to broaden my story, giving it more dimension.
So, having a desire to learn continuously and enjoying the creative process of research fuels my inspiration. There are always surprises.
What is a challenge you have faced as a writer?
Here is a Sample Recipe:
8 cups of characters
4 cups of plot
3 cups of humour
5 cups of conflict
1 tablespoon of zaniness
6 cups of real locations
3 cups of made-up locations
1 cup of hope
10 cups of believability
A handful of herbal/spicy/surprises
As an author I’m like a chef in a kitchen. And I put those ingredients into a large pot as I go along. As I revise the manuscript, through various drafts, I ask myself if there is enough of (blank) or too much (blank), or is something missing?
The challenge—each time, each new creation, even though I know how to cook/write—is to create a dish that will be enjoyed, understood, and make sense to the palate of the diner/reader as they go along the journey.
What advice do you have for kids who are interested in writing?
Read. Enjoy reading. And read a variety of subjects other than those you consider your favourite. If science fiction is your passion, try exploring humorous books and mysteries also.
Read books from all different cultures and see how others view our world. See how other authors use their imagination.
Consider the entire planet your own playground and not just the area surrounding your home.
As you write stories you will discover how you view things. Therefore, the writing will produce your own unique voice that you share with your family, friends, classmates, and the world..