The Bully Book Storyteller – interview with Rita Toews (13 May 2009)

ritatoewsIntroduction

After I completed the interview with Nadine Laman, she suggested I contact Rita. Her exact comments were as follows: She writes a number of genre, but what really got my attention was her series for children and parents (and teachers) about bullying. With that in mind, I visited Rita’s site and was impressed with her work. I have really enjoyed reading about Rita’s books and I’m sure, you will too. So, without further ado, I have great pleasure in introducing you to Rita Toews …


Aneeta: Rita, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

Rita:  My pleasure!  It’s always fun to do an interview.  As I answered your questions I found myself discovering new ways to look at my work.

Aneeta: As usual, let me start by asking you to tell me a little about yourself – where were you born? Where did you grow up? What do you do for a living and where do you live now?

Rita:  I was born in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada.  My father worked in the oil fields so during my school years we traveled the country.  I had 6 grade one teachers!  Since we moved so often books became my best friends.  As a child I read all the Bobbsey Twins books, the Nancy Drew and even the Hardy Boys.

As an adult I worked in a law firm for many years so I got to see the darker side of human nature.  I’ve used some of the observations I made during those years in my books.

I’ve been retired for several years and live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, with my husband and two cats.  It seems most writers have cats.

Aneeta: When did you first start storytelling and writing? And, why?

Rita:  Our family moved a lot when I was young so I didn’t have many friends.  To amuse my two younger brothers and myself I would spin “yarns” but never wrote them down.  Then in my early twenties I decided I wanted to be a writer.  That ambition died after the first chapter was written, but I did follow through with my dream later in life.

Aneeta: You are clearly and author of quite a few books and ebooks. I’d like to ask you to pick three of your favourites and describe them to me, please.

Rita:  Wow!  That’s hard to do –  I’ve written books in so many genres and for so many age groups.

In my young children’s books my favorite would be The Bully:  A Discussion and Activity Story.  I like this book because it incorporates so many reasons for placing words on paper: storytelling, increasing knowledge, and the passing of information to others.  Although it’s a book that tackles a serious issue, it also offers entertainment for the child by giving him or her the option of coloring the pictures.

In the books meant for adults that are available electronically, my favorite would be The Centurion.  As the name suggests it takes place during the time of the Roman Empire.  Mr. Domokos, my co-author, spent many months in Rome doing research for the book so everything about Rome during that period is factual.  It’s a fascinating glimpse into the city and the people who populated both Rome and Jerusalem during that time.  The Centurion won the highest award for e-books in the historical fiction genre.

For books in print, my favorite is Body Traffic.  This book is set in my hometown so it didn’t take much research although I did tour Canada’s virology lab so I could accurately write the scenes that were set inside the facility.  My years as a legal secretary came in handy for this book since many of the characters are from the underbelly of society.  Body Traffic was short-listed for a very prestigious Canadian writing award.

Aneeta: Congratulations! One of the things which fascinated me about your work is this emphasis on bullying. Indeed, you even have a whole website dedicated to the book you wrote about it: http://www.thebullybook.com . Please explain a little more about this.

Rita: Bullying is a serious problem that can destroy a person for their entire lifetime.  It has probably been around since the dawn of man and will continue long after I am gone, but I hope my book can make a difference for those children who read it.  To date the book is used in schools throughout Canada and in many of the States in the U.S.  It has been shipped to Australia, Tasmania and England.


What makes The Bully so unique is that it engages all three areas that generally converge during a bullying situation:  the children involved in the event, the school and the children’s parents or caregivers.   The book is meant to start in the classroom with the teacher doing a unit on bullying.  The book can then go home with the children for “homework” where the message about bullying reaches the caregiver.

Many parents do not understand what bullying is and, more importantly, what it isn’t.  A one time event, as unpleasant as it is for the child on the receiving end, is not bullying.  Bullying is a systematic aggressive action repeated several times with the intent to scare or shame a child.  I strongly encourage parents to work with the school to resolve a bullying issue.  Personally confronting the bully or the bully’s parents generally escalates the problem, or the bully becomes sneakier in the attacks.

whymeMy electronic book – Why Me? – addresses bullying issues for teen girls.

Aneeta: Which element of storytelling is most important in your work?

Rita: What a good question!  After thinking about it, I realize my answer depends on which age level the work addresses, and the genre of the novel.

For the children’s books the most important element is probably be the characters.  Children relate more to the characters of a story then to the setting or the backstory.

When it comes to the novels – again the elements of storytelling vary with the genre.  For our historical fiction, The Centurion, the setting of the story essentially becomes one of the minor characters!  I hadn’t really thought of it that way before.

Our novel, Prometheus, has a social message to share.  The setting is Nepal – exotic yes – but the crucial element is the plot.  It has to be very strong to carry the message.

When I considered Body Traffic I realized the characters carried the burden of the storytelling.  They had to be firmly drawn and believable to make the story enjoyable.

Of course all elements of storytelling are important, but each genre or age level will relate more fully to specific elements as they read.

Aneeta: As you know, this website caters for storytellers. What advice would you give those who would like to venture into storytelling?

Rita:  I think we all know how to do storytelling since it comes into play as we interact with each other – even in conversation.  For those who want to become more proficient in the art, I would suggest that they read, read, read.   Even a bad book can teach you something about storytelling.  What made the book a chore to read?  The plot?  The setting?  The characters?  If you study the composition of the book you will learn what NOT to do when you set out to tell a story.  Each of use will approach our storytelling from our own strengths, but we can build on our strengths with reading.

Aneeta: Rita, this is all I have to ask. Is there anything you’d like to add?

Rita: I don’t think so.  You’ve asked excellent questions.

Aneeta: Thank you.

Rita:  You are very welcome.  Thank you for asking for the interview.


This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.

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