Irish-Canadian author, playwright, and screenwriter Emma Donoghue wades into new literary territory this March with the release of her first middle-grade novel, The Lotterys Plus One (HarperCollins Canada). The book tells of a blended multicultural family consisting of two same-sex couples (one male, one female) with seven children (some biologically linked to one or more of the parents, others not). The story focuses on nine-year-old Sumac as her family deals with the sudden addition to their brood of a bigoted, hard-to-live-with grandfather.
Where did the idea for The Lotterys come from? During a New Year’s Eve dinner, my hostess asked why she couldn’t find books for middle-grade readers that take kids with same-sex parents for granted rather than presenting these families as a problem to be explained. I asked myself the same question about other “issues” such as ethnicity and disability: could they be handled blithely and wittily rather than earnestly? Over the course of the dinner, with help from the other guests, I planned a series about the family I call the Lotterys.
The book features a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-many-things family. Why did you want to write about this kind of scenario? Because this is how our world is, especially in big cities in the western world such as Toronto: wonderfully hybrid, diverse, and unpredictable.
Will each book focus on a different Lottery child? My plan is for Sumac to be the point-of-view for all four books, but many different characters will take turns being in the spotlight.
Did any personal experiences inform the writing of the book? As I constantly tell my kids, I’ve borrowed almost everything in this book from them! We may only be a nuclear-sized family (two mums, two kids) but once you start to pay attention to the controlled chaos of family life, there’s a lot going on.
How did you find writing for children versus writing for adults? Much scarier. Adults are such a broad category, you don’t have to worry about how the “typical” adult might respond to your literary novel. But kids from eight to 12 – that’s a narrow slice, and publishers have strong views about what works and doesn’t. Adult readers often try to give a book a fair chance by reading a certain number of pages, whereas kids follow their pleasure. Also, adult readers are polite and quietly respectful at events, which I can’t assume kids will be. So wish me luck!