“A dream come true.”
That’s the expression St. Peter’s, Richmond County based writer Hope Dalvay used to capture the feeling of having her first novel published.
Welcome to Camp Fill-in-the-Blank was released in June by Acorn Press.
It’s the story of 14-year-old Page who is sent from her very “organized” life in Saudi Arabia, where her parents work, back to P.E.I. to babysit her younger cousins for the summer.
She quickly realizes that Crusoe and Danger actually wanted to go to camp but couldn’t because of Crusoe’s food allergies. Her solution is to create a ‘camp’ at their home with a new theme each week. Unfortunately for Page however, despite her well-laid plans, she finds her cousins aren’t exactly on-board with her camp creation.
“Although my book is definitely a work of fiction, I drew inspiration from real events in my life,” Dalvay, originally from P.E.I., said.
“The book begins with Page’s life in Saudi Arabia and then traces her adjustment to life on P.E.I. and the many misadventures she has while taking care of her younger cousins during the summer of 2003. In real life, my husband and I lived in Saudi Arabia for five years, from 1998 to 2003, and while living there, we met kids like Page who were Canadian, but spent only a few weeks each year in Canada.”
Dalvay said it was enjoyable to write from Page’s perspective and include the observations a youngster, who has grown accustom to life in one country, might make about another.
“For example, Page is surprised that the houses on P.E.I. aren’t surrounded by walls; in Saudi Arabia, houses are surrounded by walls for security and privacy reasons,” Dalvay noted.
“She is also surprised to learn the little huts at the end of long driveways are shelters for kids waiting for the school bus on cold winter mornings; Page mistakenly thought the huts must be for security guards.”
Dalvay and her husband made the move to Cape Breton recently, which is where he is from.
“We've been enjoying our summer boating on the Bras d’Or Lake and exploring the area,” she said. “My husband jokes that since we live in Cape Breton now, I need to set a future book of mine here.”
Dalvay said while it’s still early days as far as reaction to the book, she has heard from some of its targeted audience – middle-school aged youth – who were complimentary.
“They said they ‘devoured’ it,” she said. “One comment was; ‘usually books are, kind of, boring in the middle,’ but that she didn’t find it boring in the middle at all, and kept going.”
Dalvay did have a book launch in Charlottetown which she described as “a lot of fun.”
“I was able to sign some books and it was nice to talk to young people who bought it,” she said.
She has another planned for Indigospirit at Mayflower Mall in Sydney, this Saturday (Sept. 7) at 1 p.m.
Started in 2015
Dalvay said she started writing the book as a way to deal with a particularly cold winter in 2015.
“I would work on it between my work assignments; sometimes weeks would go by and sometimes months would go by, then I would have some time, so I would work on it … it did take a while,” she said.
“Whenever I went back to it, I was worried that, maybe, I would find it hard to jump back into. But, in some ways, the length of time was helpful because I was able to think about it. I would be doing other work and thinking about it; how to set-up the next chapter. So, in some ways, the length of time helped because I had more time to think and then the writing part came easier.”
Dalvay said, once it was accepted by Acorn last October, the process went pretty quickly.
“The editing process started in January,” she said, noting a lot of the editing happened in the first two months.
“They have freelance editors so whenever she was available. In January and February, there was a lot of back and forth; she would give some instructions to me and then I would follow them.”
Dalvay said she is already halfway through a sequel about Page, which she expects to be sending to Acorn before the New Year.