25th Trillium Award

At the Desk: Cheryl Cooper

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In Second Summer of War (Dundurn ), Cheryl Cooper takes readers back to 1813 to follow the fate of Princess Emeline "Emily" Louisa. A sequel to Cheryl's Come Looking for Me, Second Summer of War will delight fans of historical fiction. From dangerous ocean passage and battles at sea to Emily's determination not to be married off for family gain, Cheryl mines the turmoil and tension of the period for page-turning storytelling.

Today we hear from Cheryl for our At the Desk series, where readers get a sneak peek into the writing spaces and processes of Canadian authors.

Cheryl talks with Open Book about the miniature ship she keeps close to her writing space, the literary necessity of flavoured coffee and how long she'd like to go on writing.

For the past ten years, the majority of my days have been spent glued to my desk, hunched over my laptop, creating characters and their adventures. I write about the men and women who lived, worked and fought for their country on the Atlantic during the years of the War of 1812. My office door is closed upon the present, and for a time I dwell in the world of two hundred years ago. Though it is a solitary existence, I am never alone. My characters, Emily and Leander Braden and Fly Austen and Magpie and Biscuit and Prosper Burgo, keep me company, encouraging me to continue their story, warning me in silent conversations whenever I am veering off-track, whenever I have put words into their mouths that they would never say, or have them do things that they would never do.

My work space is overrun with old maps, dictionaries and sundry research materials which can only be scrutinized with the aid of my spectacles. Behind me, groaning on the cushions of a couch that was initially moved into my office for the purpose of napping, is a library of books on naval history and old sailing ships. Nearby is a model of HMS Surprise, a miniature replica of the ship upon which the movie Master and Commander was filmed. I keep her close, for her decks and masts and gunnery inspire me to add colour and detail to the various scenes on my own imaginary ships.

In addition to my home office, I have a summer desk at my circa 1915 cottage on Browning Island. It sits in the front windows, overlooking Lake Muskoka?s ever-changing vistas and a stand of old pine trees. But regardless of the seasons ? my routine is the same. By 8:00 a.m. I am ready to begin work, having dispensed with the necessary e-mails, perused Facebook and checked out the latest offerings on eBay. In my right hand there is always a steaming mug of Snicker Doodle coffee. The literary mood cannot be attained without my flavoured coffee. And if I am feeling decadent and not paying attention to my diet, then I may include the luxury of almonds or red licorice or jujubes in my morning ritual. To achieve maximum comfort, I prop pillows behind my back, rest my feet upon a wooden box, and place a warmed-up "hug" around my neck to keep my shoulders from going into spasms. Then into my ears go my iPod earplugs. I always listen to my playlist of writing music, mainly scores from movies such as Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Wuthering Heights and Master and Commander ? all of which give me the feel and cadence of the exciting era in which I write.

I work in the mornings. If I have squandered my morning then I have squandered my day, for, unless I am editing, I am never productive in the afternoon or evening. After too many hours of sitting in creativity, my brain wearies and certain muscles begin to gripe, telling me it?s time to leave my chair, get down upon the floor and stretch, or go for a walk!

It takes years to pen a novel of historical fiction. If I were a younger author, in the time it took me to research and write Come Looking for Me and Second Summer of War, I could have given birth to six children! But you will not hear this author complain. This is what I always wanted to do, from the time I was nine-years-old and began scribbling stories in my school notebooks. It?s what I hope to do until I stop breathing ? so long as my back and failing eyesight are willing to co-operate with me.

— Cheryl Cooper

Cheryl Cooper has a degree in English and Education from Queen's University. A former teacher of hearing-impaired children and a volunteer for the Children's Foundation of Muskoka, she lives in Bracebridge, Ontario.

For more information about Second Summer of War please visit the Dundurn website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the At the Desk interviews in our archives.

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