Sylvia McNicoll is an award-winning young adult novelist whose career began flourishing after taking a Continuing Education writing course at Sheridan. The book that came out of the course, Blueberries and Whipped Cream, was printed and optioned as a film with its rights sold to companies around the world. After publishing her debut novel, McNicoll went on to write more than 30 other successful works including Bringing Up Beauty, which was awarded Ontario’s prestigious Silver Birch Award and translated into four languages. In an interview at Trafalgar Campus in Oakville, she provided insights on writing and reflected on her career.
How did you get started in your writing career and what were you doing before?
Before I started writing, I invested money for an international paper company. It was when I was on maternity leave that I began taking creative writing courses and ultimately the Children’s Writing Class at Sheridan where I wrote my first novel.
What was the most memorable take-away from the Children’s Writing Class at Sheridan?
After reading [the writing instructor’s] novels and writing a description of a room scene in two different viewpoints, I discovered the intimacy and immediacy of writing in first person. In essence, I found my writing voice and have been writing in first person ever since.
What came after the success of Blueberries and Whipped Cream?
The success was not overnight but more a slow growth-of-recognition period. During this time, my goal was always to be working on a new work so that if rejection came in, it wouldn’t feel so discouraging as I would be in love with the next set of characters. Happily, there weren’t too many rejections in those early days.
How did you balance the demands of your everyday life (editing a magazine while finding time to be a writer)?
Cobbling together different sources of income is what most writers need to do. I learned to write on planes, in cars, on treadmills, late at night and early in the morning. Because writing is a passion calling, when it’s going well it can be great fun and therapeutic.
Why do you write and why do you enjoy teaching?
Writing helps me process and understand life. First and foremost, my skill is as an empath, someone who loves and understands people and enjoys transforming them into characters on paper. That same skill and love makes me enjoy leading students to discoveries about their own writing. Also, they teach me new things about writing. The other day I listened to some students’ work in which they had written in second person and realized it made the hair on my arm stand on end. Now I know I must try that with my own writing.
What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring author?
Take as many writing courses as you can with as many different instructors as possible. Find writing peers in those classes and workshops and celebrate your successes together.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Sheridan Continuing and Professional Studies offers several Creative Writing courses every term for writers of all levels.
Pictured above: Author Sylvia McNicoll at Trafalgar Campus in Oakville, Ontario. Photo by Jessica Lee.
Story by: Jessica Lee, Digital Content Specialist, Continuing and Professional Studies (CAPS) at Sheridan.