Jael Richardson has presented to audiences of all ages across Canada and is also the author of The Stone Thrower, a book columnist on CBC’s q, and the founder and Executive Director for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD). Her debut novel, Gutter Child, was shortlisted for the Amazon First Novel Award and is a finalist for the Forest of Reading White Pine Award. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph and lives in Brampton, Ontario.
Author Q&A with JAEL RICHARDSON
Where do you find the inspiration for your books?
I’m a big faith person, and I have always gotten my ideas from a kind of inexplicable nudge that I can hardly explain or describe, even as a writer. But the urge starts out quite clear and grows until the characters and the action itself come to me so clearly and so urgently that it almost feels like shouting if I don’t take the time to listen and write down what’s coming to me. The hardest books and stories to write and edit have been the ones that I’ve been asked to write or that I committed to before I had a nudge, so I try to only take on or commit to a project when I have a clear idea.
What were your favourite books when you were a kid? As a young reader, did you see yourself in the books you read?
I read a lot of Christian fiction, and in my middle grade and teen years I specifically loved Christian romance. There was a whole series I loved that was set during the Civil War, which means I did not see myself in these books at all. And when I did, when Black people were a part of the story, it was often in subjugate roles. It took a toll, but I didn’t get to explore this in any real way until I started to read Black writers in university. I realized that I had internalized so many harmful ideas about my community and about love and beauty. I suppose the positive part is that it’s influenced what I write about and who I write for. But that harm is hard to name, and it’s hard to unpack what’s wrong with how you think if you don’t even know what’s wrong.
What’s the most surprising thing you have learned when creating your books?
I think I thought writing was a series of choices that an author made about where their characters go and how the story will end. In my writing, I’ve been surprised by how much my characters and how much a kind of other-worldly inspiration shapes the direction of my stories. I don’t have as much control as I think. It’s not just about what I want or coming to some nice conclusion at the end of a story. Sometimes I just have to really sit back and wait for the story and the characters to reach their own conclusions.
What is a challenge you have faced as a writer?
I hate endings. It doesn’t matter what type of story it is, endings are a nightmare. How do you wrap up a story or bring the characters you’ve spent years with to their conclusion? It’s like the characters just want to keep wandering or unpacking new problems. I just struggle to land the plane, as they say. In Gutter Child, it was fine because I knew I would write a follow-up. But I’m writing the follow-up and the ending is not any easier this time around.
What advice do you have for kids who are interested in writing?
Read a lot and write a lot. But also watch movies and listen to music. Go to musicals. Attend plays. I think the most important thing is to enjoy storytelling in all of its forms.
Can you tell us about your family’s connection to Hamilton, Ontario?
Hamilton was the first city my parents settled in when they arrived in Canada in 1972. My dad, Chuck Ealey, was picked up by the Hamilton Tiger Cats and started playing quarterback for them. He led them to a Grey Cup Championship in his rookie year and he stayed in Hamilton for another few years. My brother was born there but my dad moved to Mississauga by the time I was born. So my first book, The Stone Thrower, features a whole section on Hamilton and my children’s book does as well. We still love going to CFL games, but we’re always torn between the Toronto Argos and the Hamilton Tiger Cats — who are arch rivals — since my dad spent the bulk of his career in both cities.