Author Interview: Cynthia Huijgens

Tell us something about your book.  

My first children’s picture book is titled Polar Bear and the UFO.  It takes place in the frostiest reaches of the Arctic Circle and in a very playful and subtle way shines a light on problems of climate change and shrinking polar bear habitat.

My first middle grade thriller is titled Boy Between Worlds: The Cabinet of Curiosities.  It begins in England but quickly shifts to Egypt where the heart of the story unfolds.  The cover was illustrated by Iranian-American artist Nazli Tahvili and it’s amazing.  She has also illustrated the cover for the second book in the series, The Novice Collector

Who is the ideal reader for your book?

In the few months the book has been available, I have found that kids between ages of 7 and 9 seem to enjoy it most, although I’ve had parents with infants send me photos of their kids drooling over the illustrations.  Anne Costa, the illustrator, did an amazing job!  It’s a story for everyone.

Boy Between Worlds is written for 9 – 12 year-olds or middle grade, but I’ve had several adults tell me they loved it.  It’s a fast-paced action thriller with a mystery that needs urgent solving and characters that are really unique.

Share the best critique/review of your book.

This is a five star comment from Goodreads for Polar Bear and the UFO: “Cynthia’s debut children’s picture book is creative, beautifully illustrated, and something I’ve never read before. I appreciated the subtle hints of climate change, and the ending made me laugh pretty hard. Very cute, fun to read, and makes me want to read more of the author’s children’s books in the near future.“ – Stacy 

This is a five star review from Goodreads for the other book:

Ellery Alouette wrote, “Wow!!! This is a great action/adventure and thriller fantasy with mystery, twists, incredible characters and a fascinating storyline!! Any middle-grader, Y/A or even adults of any age will love Boy Between Worlds: The Cabinet of Curiosities.“

It’s so heartwarming to read that someone you’ve never met before liked your book enough to write a review about it! 

What inspired you to write it? 

While on a visit to Vancouver in 2017 I came across a painting, by indiginous Canadian artist Linus Woods, of a polar bear walking across the tundra.  In the very top right hand corner was what looked like a spaceship, or UFO.  I immeidately went home and started to scratch out a story about what might happen when a UFO encounters a hungry polar bear. 

And while living in Cairo, Egypt, I had many experiences that pulled me into the rich history, culture, geography and people of the country.  I spent a lot of time exploring tombs and heritage sites when other tourists stayed away because of the political unrest.  I shaped those experiences into this story.  There will be three novels in the Boy Between Worlds series, so stay tuned for more!

What message would you like readers to take away from your book

Polar Bear and the UFO: That the solutions to climate change and repairing our planet can not be found in space.  They will have to come from us, and originate on earth.

Boy Between Worlds:  I’ve taken a very old fashioned approach to character development in that my hero is a twelve-year-old boy and he’s cis.  I made his experiences dealing with family, school and peer pressures, identity, etc. universal, which I hope appeals to a broader audience.  The focus is really the magic found within ancient artefacts and its ability to shape our thinking and understanding of who we are if we take time to connect to it.

Share an excerpt from your book. 

This is how the first book begins: In the frostiest reaches of the Arctic Circle, northern lights are bowing and leaping, and lying next to a hole in the ice is a polar bear not sleeping.

Boy Between Worlds:

Mrs Marjorie appeared out of the corner of Max’s eye. Within a heartbeat, she wrestled the notebook from his hands.  Max was horrified by the way she held the book open so everyone could have a look inside.

“Oh, dear, dear Mr Mead, I’m afraid Saint Valentine’s Day is not for another week,” she said, a hint of something evil in her voice.

Max could feel his orbicularis oris tighten, his temperature rising to a million degrees. “Well, clearly you’ve never been in love, Mrs Marjorie.” The words poured out before he even thought about what he was saying.  He’d never spoken this way to a teacher before.

The entire class burst out laughing. Mrs Marjorie’s face went splotchy red. “That sentiment, Mr Mead, has earned you a special invitation to my classroom for detention. After school. Today.”

“What?” Max gasped in disbelief, “I didn’t mean it.”

Mrs Marjorie handed back the notebook, pressing it open to a clean white page. She leaned in close.  A foul smell, like the breath of a dead person, made Max stop breathing.   

“You’re meant to be making notes for the exam we’re having day after tomorrow. I’ll give you a hint Mr. Mead: mus-cu-lo-ske-let-al sys-tem.”

Did you dare to believe that your book will be published when you started writing? 

I knew Polar Bear would be, it was just a question of when.

As for the other one,  I spent seven years writing it, but somewhere along the mid-point I began to believe that I had a worthy story on my hands and I became determined to see it through.  It was somewhere along the mid-point that I realized I had more than one story, and that’s when I took the decision to make Boy Between Worlds a trilogy.  The Cabinet of Curiosities, book one, came out in 2020 and The Novice Collector, book two, comes out late 2021.

Can you share your writing rituals/habits/process? 

I write everyday but not always in the same location nor with the same pen.  Sometimes I speak into my phone or type into my iPad.  I like music and candles and sunshine, they all seem to cheer me on.  I usually work on two or more projects simultaneously, which allows me to tap creativity when it’s flowing.

Who was your first literary crush?

Dr Seuss, definitely.  Who wouldn’t fall in love with his amazingly clever and funny writing?  

Did you imagine yourself as an author in your teens? 

Never.  I wasn’t even much of a reader until my early twenties.  But I was always a penner of letters and it was through that act of writing to friends and family – trying to make my adventures seem as interesting as possible – that my storytelling developed.

What was the first book that made you fall in love with reading?

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne might be an odd choice for some, but for me it was spot on.  The hero of the story, Hester, is made to wear the letter “A” on her chest to mark her as an adulterer.  I remember being stunned at her determination to transform the meaning of that public act of shaming and take control of its meaning rather than being a victim of it.  I was like, “wow” this woman is not going to let society and its crazy norms define her or her identity.  I thought she was brilliant! 

Did a book ever make you cry? (Which one?) 

I’m sure books have made me cry, I just can’t remember one.

Do you sing in the shower?

I never sing in the shower, but I sing out of the shower quite a lot – to my plants, my dog, anybody who will listen.

Do you like to cook? What is your specialty? 

I cook almost everyday, and always vegan.  I have great recipes for cakes and donuts, and whenever I’m invited to a friend’s house, I bring some sort of baked concoction to eat with coffee or as dessert.

Do you have a pet? 

I have a labradoodle named Luna who is 11.5 years old.  She is helping me to write her lifestory called, The Travel Diaries of Luna the Labradoodle.  Luna has traveled to three continents and visited more than a dozen countries.  She’s amazing company!

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