Six Questions with Susan Hughes
Susan Hughes is a Canadian author of many traditionally published children's books, fiction and non-fiction, from picture books to YA. Her recent picture books are Hooray for Trucks (Owlkids Books, 2022) and Walking for Water: How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality (Kids Can, 2021). She’s also a freelance writer, editor, and story coach, specializing in working with children's book writers. A member of SCBWI, Canscaip, and Inked Voices, she lives in a tall house with a red door. Visit Susan's website to learn more about her and her work.
1. How did you begin your journey as an author?
I’ve been reading and writing as long as I can remember! I devoured books when I was a child, a teen, and … well, I still do. When I was in elementary school, some friends and I had a writing club. We’d meet and share our stories and poems. Later, for several summers, while a uni student studying English lit, I was fortunate to work for a small children’s book publisher, creating social studies books—researching, writing, editing … After graduation, I became a freelance editor, working on children’s books, and I began writing for kids. In1992, my first book was published—the YA novel Anything Can Happen. I’ve never looked back!
2. What was your favorite book when you were a child? Why?
There’s no way I can choose just one!
I was crazy about dogs and horses and I read every book I could find about them! My favorites were books by Christine, Josephine, and Diana Pullein-Thompson, including Six Ponies, One-Day Event, and Plenty of Ponies; any horse books by American Margeurite Henry, including Misty of Chincoteague and Born to Trot; the very touching Beautiful Joe by Canadian Margaret Marshall Saunders, and, oh my, the classic trilogy by Mary O’Hara, beginning with My Friend Flicka (which was for teen and adult readers) plus all the dog books by Jim Kjelgaard, such as Big Red and Irish Red.
And I must mention the Pulitzer-winning classic The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.
3. Do you work on multiple projects at the same time?
Absolutely! I usually have a nonfiction manuscript that I’m developing in some way—either researching, outlining, or writing. Meanwhile, I’ll have two or three other fiction projects simmering along at various stages. I do lots of freelancing work—I offer critiques and developmental edits, and also story coaching—to a variety of wonderful clients. I also do commissioned writing for various clients, as well. But I find it super stimulating and exciting to shift between these different opportunities for creativity, each with their own demands on scope of thinking, imagining, and craft. I learn so much. I love it!
4. Where did you get the idea for Hooray for Trucks? What was your inspiration?
This project was quite unique because with this one, I set out with only one goal—to write a really fun story for very young children. I asked myself what most little kids enjoy seeing in real life or playing with.
Easy, peasey. Trucks! Real-life trucks, toy trucks—most kids love them because trucks do things, Dig, flatten, lift, haul … Toy trucks are simple early tools for kids. When they play with them, they’re making things happen!
Oh, and I’d recently heard about an annual truck parade in Victoria, BC. Strung with lights, the trucks drive in a parade through the city. It’s a celebration of trucks!
I decided to combine these ideas into a rhyming story.
5. How was the editorial process? Did you do any revisions?
The editorial process was wonderful! It’s one of my favorite parts of creating a picture book, actually. I did several revisions—mostly to shorten up the story and allow more room for fantastic illustrations that included several trucks of different types, all in action and with big personalities!
6. Was this always the title for this project? If not, what other titles did you consider and how did you land on this one?
The original title was Truck Parade but as soon as the story was contracted and we began working on revisions, the editor pointed out to me something very obvious: if the story was titled Truck Parade, it would spoil the surprise at the end of the story, which is all about the trucks getting ready for an undisclosed event.
So, we agreed a different title would be better. I searched within the text for a phrase that would work well—would highlight the main focus of the story without giving much away—and came up with the fun and enthusiastic cry of “Hooray for trucks!”