In Eliza Martin's Harvey and the Extraordinary (Annick Press, illustrated by Anna Bron), Mimi is determined to become the world's great mime. With her trusty hamster by her side, she practices her act obsessively. Because surely, if she can get good enough, her father will come back and take her with him to the circus he left home to join.
When things don't work out quite like she'd hoped, Mimi has to decide whether her devotion to the extraordinary can still flourish through all the complications of family, friends, and growing up.
A heartfelt, funny, gently thoughtful debut, Harvey and the Extraordinary shows Martin as a talent to watch, with a knack for creating characters that ring true. We're excited to welcome her to Open Book today to talk about Harvey and the Extraordinary as part of our Kids Club series where we speak to writers of books for young readers.
She tells us about the book's origins as a Toronto Fringe Festival show, the importance of writing socks, and why great kids' books offer readers "a place to feel accepted".
Tell us about your new book and how it came to be.
Harvey and the Extraordinary is the story of 11 year-old Mimi, who finds one day that her father has run off to be a trick high diver in the circus. Mimi devises a plan to put on the most extraordinary mime show of all, in order to prove to her to Dad just how much she belongs by his side. Mimi finds help in the form of a new hamster sidekick but meets challenges in the form of ex-best-friends, grunting older brothers, and well-meaning but misguided grownups. With her mime show looming nearer and nearer, Mimi pours her heart and soul into her secret plan...
Harvey and the Extraordinary was based on a play I wrote and performed, of the same title. The one-person show was workshopped in 2017, and performed with tilt/shift theatre in the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival. The play was immersive and site-specific, meaning the audience joined Mimi (played by myself) as her real-life audience in her garage, to attend her mime show. The wonderful Claire Caldwell of Annick Press was one of Mimi’s extraordinary audience members one evening, and the rest is history!
Is there a message you hope kids might take away from reading your book?
I think ultimately the message I hope readers take away is how extraordinary the ordinary can be. We all have different definitions of what is extraordinary, what is ordinary and even extra ordinary... and life will hold all of those moments, but to be able to see the extraordinary in the everyday is an incredible super power that can offer such us such resilience! I hope kids will be able to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, and most of all trust the extraordinary in themselves.
What do you need in order to write – in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?
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I love setting up the ultimate writing space – and I admit I use this as a form of procrastination! I believe strongly in the need for windows, black pens, cue cards, and ideally a tiny collection of treasures around. I love writing with a hot beverage nearby (coffee or tea!) and a friend of mine once introduced me to the power of a “writing candle”, which you keep lit only when writing. I also have a collection of cozy knit socks I wear at home which I refer to as “writing socks”. These are tiny routines and comforts that I enjoy, but I try not to get too, too stuck in my ways. Sometimes it’s good to shake up routines and I certainly like writing and editing outdoors, or little retreats to stay focused.
How do you cope with setbacks or tough points during the writing process? Do you have any strategies that are your go-to responses to difficult points in the process?
Walking helps me a lot, particularly when I feel stuck. I go on a walk every day, and it really helps me to think things through when I’m stressed. I’m also lucky to have many friends and a partner who are happy to talk things through when I need. I rely strongly on them so I can get out of my head!
What defines a great book for young readers, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great kids books, whether you read them as a child or an adult.
I think my answer to this question is always evolving, and I hope it will always evolve! But I think truly great kids books show young people a way to love their differences, and a place to feel accepted. For this reason I think we always, always, need new and different stories. I love magic and quirk in storytelling, as well as humour and heart. I absolutely love Kit Pearson. Awake and Dreaming was my favourite book growing up, but I love the heart in all of her stories. I also grew up as a huge fan of everything L.M. Montgomery. These days I’ve particularly been loving the new releases of Oliver Jeffers, Julie Flett, Heather Smith, and Kyo Maclear.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a few new book ideas these days, and I’m just about to launch into a new project for Bad Hats Theatre in Toronto – a new digital short story as a part of the “Bad Shorts” series. I’ll be working in collaboration with a visual artist and composer along with the Bad Hats team to create a new piece inspired by the theme of The Five Senses. The piece will be filmed and released to the public in early 2022.
Eliza Martin is a writer, theatre artist, and arts educator. She works with children and youth in Toronto, Ontario. Harvey and the Extraordinary, based on her 2018 play, is her debut novel.