KidMag’s Interview With Accomplished Writer Susin Nielsen

This week, KidMag had the chance to talk to an accomplished author named Susin Nielsen. You may recognize her name if you have read “No Fixed Address.” She is the author of 5 award-winning and critically acclaimed books and has written for over 20 Canadian TV shows.

She has also written “Optimists Die First”, and “We Are All Made of Molecules.”

This specific interview, however, is about one of her more recent releases, which is “No Fixed Address.”

Before you read this interview, we suggest you read “No Fixed Address”, which is available as an e-book and can be purchased from many bookstores.

Here is a quick summary of “No Fixed Address”:

Twelve-and-three-quarters-year-old Felix Knutsson loves trivia. He is very good at it too. In fact, his favourite TV show is a game show called “Who, What, Where, When.” where contestants are asked to answer challenging trivia questions on the spot. Astrid, who is Felix’s mother, can’t seem to hold a job. She is loving and kind, but the only thing she can manage to do when they get evicted from their apartment is to move into a van. But things start to turn around when Felix is invited to compete in “Who, What, Where, When Jr.” the same game show but for younger contestants. The prize? A large sum of money. It seems like it’ll get better from there until something unexpected happens…

KidMag: What inspired you to write “No Fixed Address”? 

Susin: I first had the idea for this book when I was lying in a hotel room in Kelowna, BC, in February 2015. It was four a.m., and I was in between wake and sleep when the thought came, “I should write about a boy who lives in a van with his mom.” I had the wherewithal to write the line down when I got up a couple hours later, then set it aside for at least another year.

I suspect that the initial idea had sprung from a couple of things:

Anyone who lives in Vancouver – or in any other large, internationally-renowned city – can’t help but be aware of the growing housing crisis. Homes and land are increasingly treated as commodities and investments. Housing prices have skyrocketed. Rental units in Vancouver are scarce and costly, and renters are constantly being evicted as older homes are torn down at a rapid rate, replaced by large homes that – to add insult to injury – often stand empty. More and more citizens are being pushed out of the city or pushed to the brink of poverty and despair.  The lack of political action at every level is disheartening.

I briefly met a couple many years ago who told me that while he was in university, they and their school-aged daughter had lived out of a van. They talked about it like it was a great adventure. But a small (judgmental) part of me thought, “Was it really a great adventure for your kid? Like, in the dead of winter? When she’s older, will she talk about it to her kids like it was a great adventure, or will she talk about it to her therapist? Or both?”

There were elements of this story that I only realized I’d been hungry to delve into once I’d begun writing. First is that gradual awakening kids have, that their parents are far from perfect. Second, I wanted to write a deeply flawed parent. I, too, grew up with a single parent mom. I, too, was an only child. But unlike Astrid, my mom was a stable, steadying force. We were far from wealthy, but we never worried about eviction, or about where our next meal would come from.

Astrid is a strong woman who loves her so deeply. But she has been damaged by her past and doesn’t always make the best choices.  As one of my young readers said, “She’s a let-down mom.”

And, I don’t know why, but I’ve always wanted to have a game show in one of my books!

This was finally my chance to do it.

KidMag: Do you have any advice for kids who want to be writers?

Yes. Write. And Read. It sounds trite, but I really mean it. You can’t be a writer without reading, and you can’t be a writer without writing! It takes a long time to find your own voice, and it only comes with practice. Don’t worry if you don’t finish everything you start;  it doesn’t matter. It’s the act of writing that counts.

KidMag: When did you start writing?

I started writing when I was very young. My first “published” book was written when I was about ten. It was a picture book, and we bound it with red duct tape and the school even put it in the library. Four kids took it out. 🙂

KidMag: What was your favourite thing to write about in “No Fixed Address?”

There were a lot of things I enjoyed, but maybe one of my favourite things was when I added Dylan’s family’s poltergeist into the second draft.

KidMag: Do you have a favourite author you look up to? If so, who?

I look up to many authors, but one of my favourites is Christopher Paul Curtis. He writes about tough subjects with a lot of humour, and he has a really unique writing style. I feel I’ve learned a lot from him. His stories are amazing.

KidMag: What is your favourite book?

I have a lot of favourite books, but one of my recent favourites is “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles.

KidMag: If you could change one thing about No Fixed Address, what would it be?

Nothing. I and my editors work diligently on all of my books, so I feel good about them when they are eventually published. It doesn’t mean everyone will like them, but that will always be the case. I see no point in looking backward, or second-guessing.

KidMag: There are many characters in your book, “No Fixed Address”, all with different personalities. Who do you think would be your best friend?

Great question! Well, it wouldn’t be Astrid … 🙂 I love Astrid and have great sympathy for her, but she demonstrates that she is not great friend material. Felix would be an obvious choice, as I love him. But if we set aside Felix, perhaps I would pick Dylan – he’s just such a great kid.

KidMag: If you were given $100,000 dollars to do anything with, what would it be?

Well, of course, I would give some of it to charity. Then I would definitely use some of it to travel.

KidMag: What lesson did you intend for readers to learn from “No Fixed Address”?

I don’t set out to teach lessons, per se, I set out to write a good story. However, I think all of my books have a strong moral core and have messages about compassion and understanding. I wanted Felix to be a real “every man,” so that the reader understands that homelessness is something that could happen to anyone.

Thanks so much for your detailed answers Susin!

We hoped you enjoyed our interview with Susin Nielsen! If you have any questions or comments, make sure to tell us using our comment page.