Dominique Demers on The Mysterious Librarian
Dominique Demers is a French-Canadian, award-winning and best-selling author who has published over 50 books for children and adults alike. She is perhaps best known in her native Montreal for her children’s books, and especially the Miss Charlotte series, which chronicles the adventures of an eccentric lady who brings her own twist to various occupations. The Mysterious Librarian is the exciting second instalment in the series, and sees Miss Charlotte arriving in a tiny village, where she decides to become a librarian. Alma Books had the pleasure of speaking with the author about all things libraries and books.
If you had to describe the book’s title in three words, what would they be?
Love of reading.
How would you describe the book in a short sentence?
Miss Charlotte becomes a librarian in a town where the mayor hates books and children ask for “dirty” books (des livres cochons in French).
Who or what inspired you as you were growing up?
When I was little, the only book we had at home was an encyclopaedia, and our town’s library was located in an old attic. It was awfully small and filled with dusty books. I would have loved to have Miss Charlotte in charge of our library! One day, I started imagining what Miss Charlotte might have done to transform such a sad library into a really fun place.
Who is your favourite character in this book?
Gertrude. Definitely! Of course, one could argue she is only a pebble – but she is not just any pebble.
Had you always known how the book would end?
I always think I know the end of the book I am writing, but most of the time, just when I get to the end, I suddenly discover that my main character – in this case, Miss Charlotte – has decided to do something else without even telling me. Sometimes it is almost annoying, but most of the time I love being surprised. In this second book of the Miss Charlotte series, she played a trick on me! I really did not expect the story would end this way.
How did you get the big break?
Miss Charlotte came into my life as I was writing the longest and most difficult homework I’ve ever had to do. It’s called a PhD and it is five hundred pages long. As I got to page 234, I suddenly became very restless and tired. I could not concentrate on my work any more, and I started daydreaming. This is when Miss Charlotte came into my life. She appeared in my thoughts and decided to do some camping in my HEAD! After trying to force her out so I could continue working on this homework, I found that the only way to get rid of her was to write her story. I wrote The New Teacher and was able to get back to my homework. But she came back, so I had to write The Mysterious Librarian. And yet she came back again and again…
I was surprised when the Miss Charlotte series became extremely popular and a producer wanted to make a film – and then a second one – with the books. I never thought that Gertrude would become a movie star!
What is your favourite place to write?
My very favourite place to write is in a little lake-front house. I call it ‘my little pig’s house’, just like in the story of the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf. My house is cute but old and shabby, and when the wind blows very hard I get scared that the house might fall over.
Have you ever wanted to do anything but write?
I would have given anything to be a singer, a dancer or a painter. But I sing like a crow, dance like an elephant and paint like a kid who would flunk a junior school painting lesson. I guess I was born to write. This is what I do best and it now makes me very happy.
Give us your three books for life.
Secret Letters From 0 to 10 by Susie Morgenstein, Oh Boy! by Marie-Aude Murail, and A Solitary Blue by Cynthia Voigt.
Do you visit your local library?
I love riding my bike to the closest library to pick a new book. I sometimes invite along my little Yorkshire terrier, Timothée. Timothée is not allowed inside, but seeing as he only weighs four pounds, I smuggle him in in my handbag. Only his little head sticks out, so nobody ever complains.
What is your favourite childhood memory about books?
Since we did not have books to read in my house, I was very excited when my grandmother visited. She used to tell us stories that she had heard from her own grandmother: The Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast. I remember closing my eyes while grand-maman Flavi did her storytelling. She would change her voice and make all kinds of sounds, so I really felt I was IN the story. I thought for a very long time that my grandmother was the one and only true author of these amazing tales.
Name a book you wish you had written.
Definitely Pippi Longstocking!
What are you working on right now?
I just had a new idea yesterday about a funny encyclopaedia that answers weird questions. My working title is Why Do Witches Have Green Teeth? And I am presently writing the eighth adventure of Miss Charlotte, in which she becomes a nurse in a children’s hospital.
What are your words of advice to young authors?
I have two words: faith and humility. Have faith in your project, in your story, in your characters – but always remain humble, working long and hard to find the right words, the true music of the book you want to write. This requires time and effort, and some kind of courage too, but there are magical moments. What amazes me the most is that when we write, everything becomes possible. It truly does.
When the mysterious and eccentric Miss Charlotte arrives in the village of Saint-Anatole to take over the tiny library, the locals are surprised to find out that she does things differently. Wearing a long blue dress and a giant hat, she takes her books out for a walk in a wheelbarrow and shows the children that reading can be fun and useful. Sometimes she is so caught up in the magic of the stories she shares with her audience that she forgets all sense of reality – so much so that one day she loses consciousness and the children must find a way to bring her back.
The second in Dominique Demers’s popular Adventures of Miss Charlotte series, The Mysterious Librarian, brilliantly illustrated by Tony Ross, is a wonderful story about the magical and inspiring power of books.