Meet the mother-daughter duo writing a fun middle grade series set in the summer. Heather and Quinn (or Heather N. Quinn) chat about their middle grade series My Country Cousins, writing as a team, and country living memories.
Interview with Heather N. Quinn
Hi Heather and Quinn! Welcome to Reading Middle Grade. I’m excited to chat about your middle grade series, My Country Cousins. But first: I hear you’re a mother-daughter duo. How’s it working together on a writing project? And how did you realize this was something you wanted to do together?
H: I worked as a professional writer throughout Quinn’s childhood, so she was used to hearing about my work. When I told her about a children’s series I was thinking about, she was enthusiastic. We talked about the story all afternoon, but I never anticipated her writing the first chapter. I found it in my email the next morning. When I read it, I loved it and I suggested to Quinn that we write the series together. We’ve always gotten along well and the idea of working together was irresistible.
Q: Growing up, I always admired Mum for having a career, but I loved that she worked from home, too, and was available to spend time with us kids. I wanted the same setup for my children. When Mum told me about her idea for the book, I wrote a sample chapter to see what she thought. She loved it! We both suggested we try writing a book together – we even created the same pen name independently! It flowed from there.
I love that the books are so summery and capture that feeling of spending time with family. What inspired you to write these books?
H: My birth family is small. I have an older brother and a younger sister, and both my parents are only children. We left Scotland for Canada when I was a baby; it was just the five of us living in rural Ontario. We had a lot of fun and laughed a lot, and we had a lot of animals, but I always felt envious of the extended families who lived around us. All those cousins! I wanted some of my own. Writing the My Country Cousins series means I get to make up stories about the cousins I always imagined I might have, and I get to revisit the summers of my youth. It’s a lot of fun!
Q: Our stories are fictional, but Gemma’s thoughts and feelings are based on my thoughts and feelings when I was a 10-year-old girl and my family moved to Canada from the UK. Overall, I had a positive experience, but I was very self-conscious. I worried a lot about fitting in. I think most kids feel like that, especially when they’re on the cusp of becoming independent. I wanted to write a story that would be fun and entertaining but would also address kids’ fears about growing up. Traditionally, the summer is when kids have more freedom to explore and grow, so it was natural to choose that season for our story. The big free-range family provides us with all sorts of possibilities for funny incidents.
Gemma is a city girl about to discover the charm of the countryside. Which do you prefer: country or city? And why?
H: The city is a fun place to visit, but I love living in the country because it’s quiet and I can have a big garden.
Q: I love things about both. I really enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city, but it’s wonderful to have a calm country environment to relax in, too.
Animals add to the fun of these series. Why was it important for you to include the goats, chickens, and other animals in the stories?
H: I grew up on a hobby farm. My parents couldn’t resist any animal in need, so we kept all sorts of rescue animals, including wild animals we nursed back to health and set free. The only time I recall my mum telling me to get an animal out of the house was when I was showing off to my friends and I brought my horse into the kitchen. My friends thought that was very funny. I love sharing the funny animal stories I remember from childhood.
Q: Gemma learns a lot about herself through her interactions with the animals in our series. They challenge her and help her to become increasingly confident and independent. They also add a lot of comedy to the series, and we think kids like books that make them laugh.
What would you say are the pros and cons of writing with a partner? Would either of you ever consider writing a book solo?
H: I’ve always been open to suggestions from editors and other writers about my work, so I’m comfortable working as a team regardless of the project. I love writing with Quinn because she’s astute and good at getting to the heart of the scene. Her writing is so fresh! I can’t think of anything I don’t like about working with her. I don’t know if I’ll ever write a solo book, but if I do, I’ll ask Quinn to edit it.
Q: We are so comfortable together that we can suggest or nix any idea without worrying about the other taking offense. And we only improve each other’s writing. Mum takes the time to edit my work, so it is not too rushed, and I do not allow her to edit her work too much. I might consider writing a book solo if it was a topic Mum wasn’t interested in, but at this point, I can only imagine writing as a team.
Do you both like reading middle grade books? Which ones are your favorite?
H: While painting my house recently, I listened to some of Kate DiCamillo’s books; they were all excellent. I also listened to a few Enid Blyton mysteries. They’re dated, but I enjoyed them when I was a kid, so it was fun. It’s important to read the genre we want to write, but it’s also important to take regular breaks, so our own stories can percolate.
Q: I still love going back to my old favourites like the Harry Potter series, all the Roald Dahl books, and the Philip Pullman books. I look forward to reading these with my kids and discovering new books as they become middle grade readers.
What do you hope readers gain from reading the My Country Cousins series?
H: I would love to think that kids who read our books find a little bit of themselves in the characters. I’d like them to feel understood and know that, like Gemma and her cousins, they can weather any storm with a sense of humour and a spirit of resilience.
Q: I hope that people finish our books with a smile on their face.
Thank you so much, Heather and Quinn! The next installment of the series, Camping at Coyote Creek, comes out July 26th! In the meantime, you can start with book one!
Buy My Country Cousins: Journey to Juniper Junction Book 1
Meet Heather + Quinn
Heather N. Quinn is the pen name of the mother/daughter writing team of Heather MacDonald and Quinn Slobodin.
Heather was born in Scotland, and shortly after, her parents brought her to Canada, where she grew up on a hobby farm. Always having wanted to be a writer, she chose a career in public relations. In 1990, Heather and her husband moved to England with their young daughter, Quinn. Heather worked as a features writer for national magazines and had three more children. Returning to Canada in 1998, she was a busy mum who wrote fiction and had short stories published in women’s magazines. Today, Heather is still enjoying family life and living in the countryside east of Ottawa. Her writing partnership with Quinn is among her greatest blessings.
Quinn was born in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. At age two, she moved to Cheshire, England, and spent eight years there. When she returned to Canada at age ten, she had to adapt to a new way of life. Quinn’s efforts to feel at home in Ontario inform her understanding of Gemma’s experience moving to Juniper Junction, the fictitious Ontario village in which the My Country Cousins series is set. Growing up in a big family, Quinn remembers many humorous incidents and draws upon them for her storytelling. She now has two young daughters, and their antics also inform her stories. Quinn always said her dream job was to be her mum’s assistant; being her partner is even better. To learn more about Heather & Quinn and their books visit their Website. Facebook and Instagram.
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