As a little boy, author Marty Chan didn’t like reading.
“My parents didn’t instill that love of reading and the ability to read. I was behind the eight-ball in reading when I was in school,” Chan said. “When I was a kid I was pretty reluctant, because I didn’t know how to read.”
But that all changed when a very astute group of teachers and a librarian at Notre Dame Elementry in Morinville, Alta., began teaching Chan how to read.
“The teachers had identified that I was having problems and the school librarian sat me down with an old Illustrated Classics comic book series and she taught me to read,” Chan said. “From there I couldn’t get enough of it.”
Since his discovery, Chan has gone on to become an award-winning author, playwright, radio writer, television story editor and actor.
On May 3, the Gemini-nominated author will be in Nanaimo sharing his love for reading as part of the 28th annual Vancouver Island Children’s Book Festival, also known as BookFest.
Prior to the event, Chan will be reading to students at various schools throughout Nanaimo.
“One of the great things about this festival is I get to visit some of the school’s in the area. So I get to see the kids sort of in their home turf, at their school. It all leads up to the festival so it’s a great way to connect with the people reading my books.”
Over the years Chan has produced a handful of books for young adults and children, including True Story, a colourful 32-page book about a boy who makes a mess in his bedroom and kitchen and blames it on his two cats. The book was inspired by Chan’s two tuxedo cats, Buddy and Max.
“My wife and I adopted these two cats [Buddy and Max] from the human society. They were these two cute tuxedo cats and of course when we brought them home they revealed their true personalities,” Chan explained.
The Morinville, Alta., native said he strives to make kids laugh through his work.
“In laughing, I am hoping they can see themselves in the character of the book so they can recognize that some of the problems that the characters face are their problems as well,” Chan said.
Before embarking on a writing career, Chan was enrolled in the engineering program at the University of Alberta, but left after a year. He eventually returned to the university and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1989.
Chan recalled that his parent’s were originally not very supportive of his decision to pursue a career in writing and when he was working as a freelance writer he would often receive regular phone calls from his mother.
“As a freelance writer I was working out of my apartment and my mom had this notion that if you’re working your hours are 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.,” Chan said. “She would call every day at 1 p.m. and I would foolishly answer the phone and she would say ‘Are you working?’ and I would say ‘Of course I am working’ and of course she would reply with it ‘How can you be working when you’re at home answering the phone?’ Once I figured that out I stopped answering the phone during the day.”
Prior to writing for children, Chan spent his time writing plays tailored towards adults and also spent time writing for television. His play ‘Mom, Dad, I’m Living with a White Girl’ made its debut in 1995 and appeared Off-Broadway in 2004, a moment that Chan is extremely proud of.
“There was a company in New York that produced the show [Mom, Dad, I’m Living with a White Girl] Off-Broadway and they brought me out for rehearsal and opening and it was the best way to visit New York,” Chan recalled. “I had been there once before but only for a few days, but to be there for three weeks and take it all and to know that I had a show going up was probably one of the best memories of my career.”
Despite his mother’s doubts, Chan has gone to have an extremely successful career. Chan has received numerous awards and nominations, including a Gemini nomination in 1998.
“It’s always nice to be recognized but at the same time one of the reasons I write is because I like making the connection with audience members,” Chan said. “As nice as the awards are, I am much happier when a kid walks up to me and tells me that he loved reading my books.”
Marty Chan live at Book Fest on May 3. Diana Krall Plaza. Free event. For more information visit www.martychan.com or follow @Marty_Chan on Twitter.