On Standing Up and Speaking Out About Injustice: Interview with Heather Camlot about THE PRISONER AND THE WRITER
Heather Camlot is an award-winning children’s author, journalist, editor and translator. Her two middle-grade novels, Clutch and The Other Side, received Skipping Stones Honor Awards and nominations for Forest of Reading, among other honors. Clutch was also named a 2017 Best Book from Kirkus Reviews and a finalist for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People. Heather has also written four non-fiction books, with another on the way in April. You can find out more info about Heather and her work at HeatherCamlot.com, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Post.
The Prisoner And The Writer
Written by Heather Camlot
Illustrated by Sophie Casson
Publisher: Groundwood Books
English edition published Oct/2022
French edition, Le prisonnier et l’écrivain, published Mar 2023
Synopsis: When a Jewish army captain is falsely accused of treason and sent to prison, a writer uses his pen to fight for justice. This powerful middle-grade story written in verse with full-page illustrations is told from the perspectives of both Alfred Dreyfus and Emile Zola, two men whose courage changed the world. The true story of the Dreyfus Affair acts as a reminder that a person committed to truth, justice and equality must stand up and speak out against prejudice for themselves — and for others. Includes an author’s note and further historical context.
Q&A With Author Heather Camlot
Q. How was The Prisoner and the Writer created?
I’ve long admired the shared story of Captain Alfred Dreyfus and Emile Zola. I first learned about the Dreyfus Affair, when French Army Captain Dreyfus was sent to Devil’s Island for treason without a single piece of evidence, when I was a teenager. As a Jewish kid growing up in Montreal, I was shocked that Captain Dreyfus was blamed for and convicted of sharing secret documents with the Germans simply because he was Jewish. There was a media circus around the Affair both local and global, with antisemitic press publishing stories with unnamed sources and unconfirmed facts, and author Emile Zola standing up and speaking out on behalf of Captain Dreyfus. He penned the famous letter “J’Accuse…!” in a French newspaper, which divided the country but also brought the real story to the world.
I brought a manuscript about the Affair to editor/publisher Karen Li and we worked on various drafts. Then she invited Sophie Casson to do the illustrations, which are incredible. I’m thrilled with how The Prisoner and the Writer came together.
Note from Debbie: Here’s a great video from Groundwood giving insights into how Sophie Casson illustrated The Prisoner And The Writer:
Q for Heather: What do you hope young readers will take away from your book with Sophie Casson?
The Dreyfus Affair, unfortunately, still resonates today: it’s a true story about antisemitism, discrimination, hate, intolerance, media bias and fake news. So first I would love young readers to stand up and speak out when they see injustice – towards themselves or towards others. Our world is so full of hate right now, so prepared to tear the “other” down, to arrest without cause, but why? We should be lifting each other up and learning about what we have in common rather than what divides us. Second, I hope young readers take away how easily the media can sway our opinions, whether they are learning about the news via social media, the internet, television, newspapers, radio, etc. There are ways to judge whether what they’re hearing is objective, biased or completely false, which I discuss in the book.
Q. What advice do you have for young writers?
Writing prompts are an amazing way to compel your imagination to work. Here’s one to try: Pick a mysterious object in your home and describe it with all your senses. Give it a beginning, middle and end – guess what it is, what it’s for, why it’s in your home. Up to you if you want to check with your parents or guardians as to what the mysterious object actually is and where it came from after you’re done!
Q. How did you get involved with CANSCAIP’s Packaging Your Imagination? What is your role in the event?
In 2015 I answered a call for volunteers at CANSCAIP. At first it was suggested I take on communications because of my journalism background, but I wanted to try something new. So when the opportunity to become the Speaker Coordinator arose, I jumped at it and I’m so glad I did. The PYI Planning Committee meets early each year to determine the sessions and speakers and to map out the overall conference day. I’m responsible for direct communications with the speakers, which includes a variety of duties, from being a sounding board for session write-ups to overseeing technology rehearsals to coordinating the shadows, who introduce the sessions and lead the Q&A portion. I’m on hand throughout the conference to assist or step in as needed. It’s incredibly fulfilling, at times challenging, but always fun. I’ve met so many wonderful creators and publishing people through this volunteer role.
Q. What are you excited about now?
That’s a tough question. I’ve been trying my hand at picture-book writing. I don’t know whether it will go anywhere, but I’m enjoying it. I started my first verse novel last spring. It wasn’t really an intentional style choice, it’s just the way the words came out – much like The Prisoner and the Writer. Maybe that’s what writing verse it all about! Anyway, I haven’t worked on it in a while. I’d really like to get back to it. It’s an important topic that’s close to my heart and mind, and I need to do it right.
Q. You had three books out last fall and another on the way this spring. How did you manage that?
I’m not sure! Interestingly the timing worked out so that I wasn’t writing more than one at a time. I Can’t Do What? Strange Laws and Rules from Around the World (Red Deer Press) was the first to be accepted. It was written and off to illustrator Mike Deas by the time I started Secret Schools: True Stories of the Determination to Learn (Owlkids Books). When I wrote Becoming Bionic and Other Ways Science is Making Us Super (Owlkids Books), which will be published in the spring, the others were being copyedited and/or illustrated. That said, the Covid years were definitely busy between the four books.
Interview with Heather Camlot, Author Of The Prisoner and The Writer – by Erika Harlitz-Kern on ForewordReviews.com
“Suddenly All The Stories In My Head Made Sense”: Heather Camlot On The Books That Guide Her Life And Her Writing – on Open-Book.ca
What Exactly Is A Secret School? – On BookFlap.ca
Also see other Interviews with Book Creators and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators.