BookView Interview with Author David McArthur

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we talked with David McArthur about his writing and his recently released children’s picture book, What Does a Caterpillar Do?, written in memory of his friend’s daughters Chloe and Aubrey Berry who died on Christmas Day 2017 at the hands of their father(read the review here).

I am a trained graphic designer and creative writer based in Victoria, BC. I have been imagining stories for as long as I can remember but, as a small child, struggled to read and write due to dyslexia. My early struggles with reading and writing are part of the reason I wanted to create a series of books which give children confidence to read. These days I don’t have the same struggles, but they did leave me with a vivid imagination which I use to ‘live my stories’, even before they are written out on paper. 

The What Does Series started as a simple game that I played with my son as I was driving him to daycare. He enjoyed the game so much that I jotted it down and read it to him again that evening. Seeing the way he joyfully reacted to the story was so wonderful I decided to turn it into a book – just for him. Around a year later a friend saw the book and suggested I write another and get it published.

The inspiration behind the book
‘What Does A Caterpillar Do?’ was written in memory of my friend’s daughters Chloe and Aubrey Berry who died on Christmas Day 2017 at the hands of their father. Chloe loved hearing my stories and, when I visited her school to read to her class, she sat on my knee the entire time laughing at the silly bee and doctor. The story is about them, they are the caterpillar metamorphosing into the butterfly. To honor them the book is dedicated to them and begins with the simple statement:

Every child counts. It is the responsibility of every adult to cherish and protect them.
Nothing. Else. Matters.

What does literary success look like to you?

If you had asked me this question a year ago, I would have said that, for me, literary success would hinge on seeing one of my books in the best sellers list. My latest children’s book – What Does A Caterpillar Do? – achieved that in 2020. As you can imagine I was beyond excited and I felt so proud. But as the warm glow of ‘success’ faded I realized that it did not really mean much beyond the obvious. Today I believe literary successful is more about the feedback you receive. You cannot, of course, please everyone, but receiving videos of children enjoying my book, emails from teachers who use it in class, and letters from parents about how their child has gained confidence in their reading ability from the book is so much more important. It means the book I spent months working on is doing its job – giving children. Ultimately, if one of my books helps a single child to read, then it is a success for me.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I have a bit of a love hate relationship when it comes to research. If I am not careful, I can get so lost in it that I end up losing sight of what I was researching in the first place! Sometimes this can be a good thing, for instance, I was recently researching the causes of the Bubonic Plague for an adult story and discovered some fascinating facts about the construction of houses that helped me date and locate my story. At other times I have started looking into the ancient uses of certain plants but ended up distracted and looking into the lives of different kings and queens of Europe.

When I carry out research, I tend to start with a simple web search. If I find something that is of interest, I will explore deeper with additional web searches before moving onto educational videos, books, discussions with experts and, in some cases, visits to the relevant location.

I do not really give myself a time limit when it comes to research and I tend to continue researching ideas, even as I am writing the first and second drafts of a book.

Do you read your book reviews? Do they please you or annoy you? Do you think you can learn a lot from reading criticism about your work?

For me reading the book reviews I receive is important. When you ask your friends and family what they think about your book it is hard to be 100% sure they are not just telling you what they think you want to hear. Independent book reviewers have no such compunction and will provide you with honest feedback, both good and bad. Having said that, when taking onboard the feedback you receive it is important to see it in a detached way and not get too hung up on every review you receive, especially if you are going to use it to direct your writing in the future. Criticism can be hard to swallow, especially when taken in insolation. If it is, however, something you keep hearing again and again then it is a sure sign that something needs to change.  

What is your favorite childhood book?

Growing up I loved reading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories. The idea of four children and their dog experiencing so many thrilling adventures captured my imagination and made me long for one of my own. Even at a young age I realized that finding gold on an island was sadly, unlikely, but it inspired me to write, to allow me to experience my own adventures. Over time my tastes developed, and I became fascinated by the Sherlock Holmes stories. Even now, Holmes is one of my literacy heroes and picking up a copy of his adventures is like coming home.

Is writer’s block real?

‘I’ve got an idea for a new book’ is so easy to say, just ask my wife! But following through and putting pen to paper daily is tough. Author’s talk about “writer’s block” but my main problem is “writer’s distraction” and not just the everyday things you would expect; family life, work, daily news cycle, books etc. but also new ideas popping into you head and shouting to be written. For much of my life I have let these distractions get the better of me, causing me to abandon longer projects half way through in pursuit of another. Understanding this has allowed me to concentrate fully on the idea at hand, while documenting new ideas for future projects.

Tell us some more about your book.

What Does A Caterpillar Do? was one of the hardest books I have ever written from an emotional point of view. In 2017 a close family friend lost her two beautiful daughters, Chloe, and Aubrey, in truly tragic and heartbreaking circumstances. I had visited Chloe’s school the year before and carried out a book reading to her class. She had been so excited to have me there and to hear the stories being read aloud that it made me feel as if I had my own little fan club – the memory will stay with me forever.

I wrote the book for Chloe and Aubrey in their honour. All profits are being donated to the Victoria Child Abuse Prevention and Counselling Center in their name in the hopes that the money raised helps prevent anything so tragic from happening again.

The book itself is designed to help give children confidence in their reading ability through an interactive learning experience which focuses on humour, stunning illustrations, and a sense of wonder. In the book the main character, the caterpillar, spends her time exploring the amazing characteristics different bugs have, all the time wondering what makes her special.

I have received so many videos from parents sharing their children’s reactions to the book, each as heart warming as the next!

What’s next for you?

I had such a positive experience working with my illustrator, Lucy Rogers, on What Does A Caterpillar Do? that I decided to rewrite, and expanded, one of my older children’s books, What Does A Bee Do? We completed this at the start of December, and I am currently preparing it for submission to agents and publishers. I have also written another children’s book in the same series and I’m around halfway through the first draft of my unnamed adult book, which is really exciting! I’ve also got a box full of ideas which really needs reviewing too…  

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