It is a very strange feeling to read about oneself. As it brings others into my life story, I find it distances me from myself. I wonder if everyone feels this way when they read about themselves, or if I’m just different. Let me know what your experience has been I’d really love to know. Amber Harvey
TCAC The MayneLiner, July 2011 Art on Mayne
By Bill Maylone
Amber Harvey’s third book in her series of mystery novels for young readers has just been published. Set locally once again, “Mayne Island Skeletons” follows the continuing adventures — and growing up — of her young protagonist, Magda Sommers.”
Besidesbeing fun reads, Amber’s first two novels in the series dealt with the challenges of maturing. “Magda’s Mayne Island Mystery” investigated the feelings that result from the death of a loved one. The second book, “Mayne Island Aliens”, deals with the consequences of rejection.
“Skeletons” is again about internal struggles, concentrating on the issues involved in keeping~ secrets. Kids often protect their peers by not revealing trouble they may be in or when they do something dangerous. In the story, Magda must deal with the aftermath of a friend who ends up getting hurt, and who would have avoided injury if Magda had revealed a secret. Developing stories is a two-part process for Amber. First, she works out much of the “internal landscape”
Magda’s internal struggles as she grapples with ethical and moral questions such as trust and betrayal or compliance with adult demands and independent decision-making. In developing a story, Amber considers what she experienced as a young person and how she viewed the world and responded to it at that time. The plot – the external situation that allows her characters to express their internal struggles, comes later. Amber enjoys the process of looking for real-world situations and events that allow the internal landscapes to play themselves out.
The real world in her stories is also full of the kind of unique fun, adventure and friendship that growing up on a small island offers. It’s an environment that also offers safety. “Kids possess a real sense of freedom, and I try to capture that in Magda’s exploits. She’s a tomboy, and she really engages with the world around her. She likes to have fun.”
Writing is also a lot of fun for Amber. She finds the process of weaving the internal and external together to be an interesting one. “Sometimes the stories write themselves. When I’m working on a story, I’ve got a kind of “perception screen” that alerts me to situations or environments that may be useful in constructing the story. A lot of incubation happens too — somewhere deep in my mind, a part of it is still working on the story even though I’m not consciously thinking about it.”
As with many local artists, Mayne Island provides a lot of the inspiration for her novels. She uses familiar local settings: the ferry terminal, Miners Bay or a particular store or business, but she also uses island locations in a more ambiguous way. “I don’t always specifically ID a particular existing clearing or trail, because I want kids reading the story to make some of the places their own. I’ll write about Magda going down to “the beach”, for example, so that it becomes for the reader, the beach they want it to be. It’s important to give the reader lots of room to put themselves in the story.”
Before she and her husband, retired to Mayne Island six years ago; she had done some writing, but retirement – and a beautiful environment – gave her the time and inspiration to write novels. Previously, she had written a few articles that were published in Parents Magazine or Teachers Magazine. Those articles grew out of her experience as a teacher and counsellor in both conventional and non-conventional school settings.
“My first teaching job was in Montreal in 1966. I walked into a multilingual classroom of forty students. It was so regimented; it was like working in a strict military camp. The kids were allowed little creative freedom, and they could still be strapped if they broke the rules. I said to myself, ‘I can’t be part of this anymore!”, and I walked out.”
She had earned a reputation by then as a promoter of unconventional teaching techniques, and she was subsequently offered a position in an unstructured school. There, she was able to relate to students in a way that could transmit her sense of wonder, community and spirituality.
“By “spirituality”, she explains, I don’t mean religion. It’s something bigger than that. It’s about seeing how beautiful the world is, how important it is to have friends and family, to behave ethically and to cherish life.”
Her novels express that belief, using the fun and the challenging situations of growing up as a framework. However, she has one regret. “It takes me two years to write a Magda story, but I only age her one year in each book. I’ve become really fond of her, and I don’t really want her to grow up. I’ll miss her.”