Funny Stories Selected by Claire Mackay

by Claire Mackay,
196 pages,
ISBN: 0887763936

Post Your Opinion
From Mini-Bikes to Unions
by Frieda Wishinsky

Claire Mackay has always been "mad for words". But it's only in the last thirty years that she's turned that fascination into a prolific, multifaceted writing career.

Her writing has ranged from articles, columns, picture-books, novels for middle and young adult readers, to non-fiction. In her latest book, she wears yet another hat, as a selector. Laughs is a compilation of funny stories, poems, and biographical sketches from writers such as Roch Carrier, W. O. Mitchell, Tim Wynne-Jones, Dennis Lee, Martyn Godfrey, L. M. Montgomery, and Mackay herself. Being funny and irreverent both in conversation and print, she was a perfect choice for selecting humorous pieces. Her criteria? "If it made me laugh, even if it made me smirk, it was in."

Her love of words was shaped early on. When she was eight, she and her brother wrote, published, and distributed a local newspaper called Parkside News. "We spied on all the neighbours," she laughs. By the age of ten, she found less risky and steadier work in the local library for ten cents an hour. In high school, she was associate editor of The Magnate, her school's magazine.

Her passion for politics, which permeates many of her stories and books, was an early influence. Mackay's parents were both involved in worker's rights and politics. "As a kid I used to deliver pamphlets about unions," she says. "I thought everyone lived that way."

In university she developed her interest in political science and writing. But her first job after university was back in a library. Then marriage and the birth of three boys in three-and-a-half years occupied her time. But despite her busy schedule at home, she still continued to write in some form. "I always had a nagging desire to write," she says. "So I wrote diaries, long letters, and a couple of sonnets for the New Democratic Party. My husband was interested in tropical fish, so I even started a magazine, The Blue Water Aquarist, on tropical fish."

A few years later, Mackay returned to school to attend the University of British Columbia's School of Social Work. When she handed in a controversial paper for one of her courses, the professor was so impressed with her work, she not only gave her an A but offered to look at anything Mackay wrote. "I almost burst into tears," she says. "No-one had said anything like that since my grade twelve English teacher. And it got me started. I found that old joy of crafting a sentence."

At first her foray into creative writing was through poetry and short stories but when her youngest son became "obsessed" by mini-bikes, Mackay looked for a story on the subject. There were none so she decided to write one herself and called it Mini-Bike Hero. To her joy, Scholastic published it in 1974 and after twenty-three years it's still in print.

Mini-Bike Hero was followed by two more mini-bike books but Mackay also began exploring other themes.

In 1981, with Marsha Hewitt, she published One Proud Summer (Women's Press). In this historical novel for young adults, Mackay explored themes that had profound resonance in her life: the struggle for equal pay and fair conditions in the workplace. Based on a real event, the 1946 Valleyfield textile workers' strike in Quebec, One Proud Summer describes a young girl's frightening and courageous involvement with the strike and strikers. The book was well-received and won the Ruth Schwartz Award. Mackay followed it with a non-fiction book about unions: Pay Cheques & Picket Lines: All about Unions in Canada (Kids Can Press).

In between these two books about unions and politics, in The Minerva Program (Lorimer), Mackay tackled another absorbing theme, computers. But despite her clear sense of her subject and characters, the first draft of this book didn't flow smoothly:

"For the first three months while I was writing The Minerva Program, I didn't know where I was going. Then one day, I just began typing and suddenly I felt like I was eavesdropping. It was the first fun I had had in writing in three months. I knew then that once you get the tone, you're going to have a story."

Other books soon followed that dealt with other subjects she cared about deeply, such as the history of her own city, Toronto. She researched Toronto's history from the ice age to the present. She used a variety of resources: diaries, historical documents, and lists of facts and figures, to weave a vivid historical tapestry of the city. The result, The Toronto Story (Annick Press), is full of little-known anecdotes, colourful personalities, and dramatic events, and reads like a novel. The whole book is sprinkled with Mackay's delicious wit, story-telling voice and passion for the subject. She believes that passion for a subject or story is a key element in writing, whether it be a work of fiction or non-fiction.

In more recent years, Mackay has written about another favourite subject, baseball. Again, she's explored it both through non-fiction in Touching All The Bases: Baseball for Kids of All Ages (Scholastic) and fiction in Bats about Baseball with Jean Little as co-author (Viking/Penguin).

Although many of her books can be found in the children's section of the library or bookstore, the subjects she writes about often interest adults as well as children. Her crisp, clear writing style and humour also appeal to a wide range of ages. "I never consciously write for children," she explains. "I write the way I hear it in my head." 

Frieda Wishinsky is a freelance writer. Her latest book is Jennifer Jones Won't Leave Me Alone (HarperCollins).


Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us