QB author taps into young adult scene

Warning — irony ahead. Having grown up in Vancouver and lived in Victoria for most of her adult life, writer Laura Langston finds the thing that she notices most often, still, a year after she and her husband moved to Qualicum Beach, is the quality of the air here. Every morning, she is struck by how delightful it is to breathe in “the unique air, the smell of the trees and the ocean.” Then she laughs and says, “… as I sit here with smoke drifting in the air.” [Our interview took place the day that smoke began to seep into our skies from wildfires in the United States.]

Langston also noticed something else about Qualicum Beach. “Living in Victoria, we had traveled up and down the Island every year on holidays with our children,” often visiting QB. Friends and family back in the “sophisticated” big cities wondered aloud about the couple’s move to a “quiet retirement community,” a polite reference to the town’s dominant demographics. Langston disagrees with that characterization. “Over the years, I’ve seen a change in Qualicum, and I feel that there is a younger demographic here now than in years past.” Langston says that she finds QB offers her “the best of both worlds, a small town with a richness of culture.”

An award-winning author of over two dozen books of fiction and non-fiction, Laura Langston began writing books for children and now, most notably, writes for teens and young adults.

Her latest novel, No Right Thing, was published in April 2020. Set in the heart of Qualicum Beach, the story begins when fame and homelessness collide with the good intentions of Cate and Noah, two high school students. Elements of today’s media scene add a twist to the plot, and local landmarks pop up like supporting cast members.

Langston respects her audience. “Kids are pretty sophisticated creatures. They deal with a lot of real-life issues, obviously — they’re living their lives.” Many readers seem to agree that Langston has a special touch. Of Mile High Apple Pie, or as it is titled in the U.S., Remember, Grandma?, a book written for children adjusting to having a family member with Alzheimer’s, one reviewer wrote, “… perfectly picked words and pace present the first-person thoughts of a young girl as her once spunky grandmother slips into forgetfulness in this sweet, sad tale of coping and compassion.

An aficionado of language from her earliest memory, Langston says her “first word was cookie and her second was book, and her priorities haven’t changed since.” As a writer, while she “can spend an hour working on [the wording of] a paragraph,” she says, “for me, it’s the love of the story that grabs me.” An avid reader, she says, “when I read a book that resonates with me, I’m left thinking about the characters, the plot, the story element, not the language necessarily. Having said that, whenever I speak to school children or in an adult writing workshop I will spend time talking about getting that first line right. I love to get a first line that is just perfect.”

“Publishers, especially in Canada, are much more willing to tackle difficult subjects for kids.

That being said, there’s a certain amount of political correctness that will go along with that.”

A reviewer of Langston’s 2017 book, The Art of Getting Stared At, wrote, “The plot and character development are superb! I’m a huge fantasy/sci-fi reader, so on the rare occasion I do read contemporary it has to really stand out. I usually love contemporary reads selected for the Forest of Reading awards and I’m glad Langston’s novel lives up to that [standard].

When asked what she likes least about writing, she doesn’t hesitate, “the lag time. It can take a year for a book to come out” [after it’s been written]. Langston says she has also noticed a tendency in the last several years for children’s books to be too politically correct. “Publishers, especially in Canada, are much more willing to tackle difficult subjects for kids. That being said, there’s a certain amount of political correctness that will go along with that. There are times when they [publishers] may want you to change language because it might offend teachers and librarians. [But] by making those changes in order to have the book go forward, it may not be entirely representative of how kids interact with each other.”

While her novels are “written in isolation,” Langston says, “they are never published in isolation.” Her novels usually go through three to five revisions before she and her editor are satisfied with the results. “I’m extremely lucky,” she says, “to work with BC publishers like Crwth Press and Orca Book Publishers.” She enjoys the often-intense collaboration with the publishers, and their editors and illustrators, and appreciates their willingness to collaborate with writers on their books and on other aspects of publishing.

Langston is particularly pleased that Crwth Press publisher Melanie Jeffs launched a book sales promotion that benefits a favourite charity of each of their writers. Langston chose Manna Homeless Society which operates a mobile unit that provides resources and services for local people currently without homes.

Until October 15, 2020 when you buy a copy of No Right Thing through their website, Crwth Press will donate $6 to the Manna Homeless Society.

So what gets Langston away from her desk and out of the house? On a daily basis, hands down it’s Team Sheltie, the couple’s two Shetland sheepdogs. “Someone asked me in an interview what my secret power was,” she says laughing, “and I answered, ‘I speak dog.’ ” A less frequent, but perhaps more powerful draw, is a new grandson. This past year, Langston and her husband became grandparents for the first time but, with the pandemic, their visits have been fewer and farther between than they’d like.

Langston writes every day, and says she has “more ideas than time.” She also enjoys speaking with students about the art and craft of writing. She often “adopts” classes at local schools, encouraging students to explore and develop their burgeoning writing talents and desires, knowing that they too may harbour ambitions to become a writer, just like a young Laura Langston did when she was their age.