Wendy McLeod MacKnight is the author of The Frame-Up, a new middle-grade novel for kids. She also has written another middle-grade novel, It's a Mystery, Pig Face!. She worked for the government of New Brunswick for 25 years and served as deputy minister of education. She lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Frame-Up, and for focusing the book around the actual Beaverbrook Art Gallery?
A: I’ve always loved art and art galleries, and was obsessed with movies where the paintings came alive. And then of course, Harry Potter brought it all together for me.
I started thinking of what it would mean if every original piece of art was actually alive, infused with the creative energy of its creator. What would it be like to live for years and years, hanging on a wall, being stared at by total strangers, some of whom are rude. What would it be like to be part of this world, but also not part of it?
It started with me looking at a painting on my own wall, but I didn’t think my own paintings would be as compelling as setting the story at a real art gallery. Luckily for me, I have a world-class art gallery only a few miles away, so I set it at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, and hoped they’d be pleased if I managed to find a publisher – which they were!
Q: Did you need to do much research on the paintings involved in the story, and did you learn anything especially surprising about them?
A: I did a lot of research about the paintings, and about Lord Beaverbrook, who was a larger-than-life figure during his lifetime. I also had to learn about art techniques and art restoration so that those parts of the book sounded well-informed to the art community!
I was surprised by the complexity of acquiring the rights to include images of the paintings in the book, and that was my responsibility as the author, not the publisher’s! And it was also interesting to learn how Lord Beaverbrook strong-armed so many wealthy people to fund or donate artwork to the gallery before it opened.
What also surprised me was how quickly they ceased to be paintings for me and became actual characters! When I visit them in the gallery now, I always chat with them, because it seems rude not to!
Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: The first draft didn’t have the campers, which I cannot even imagine now because I love those kids so much!
As for the ending, it came to me just as I was writing chapter two, so I actually wrote the ending before I even began chapter three. And it always makes me cry. Always.
Q: Which authors have inspired you?
A: So many! I grew up adoring L.M. Montgomery, Madeleine L’engle and C.S. Lewis. And now I am besotted with Neil Gaiman, Kate Milford, Jennifer Longo, Sally Pla, Kristen Gray, Melissa Roske, Jarrett Lerner, Casey Lyall, Laura Shovan, Erin Entrada Kelly, Laurel Snyder, those amazingly talented Beasley sisters, Kate DiCamillo, Lindsay Eagar, Sarah Cannon, Jonathan Auxier, Janet Sumner Johnson, Matt Landis, Rob Vlock, Diane Magras, Lee Gjertsen Malone, Kim Brubaker Bradley. The list is endless and grows daily!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’ve just turned in my latest book, which is a bit of a twist about a young girl trying to copy those around her to fit in.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Oh my gosh! Well, if visit the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, you’ll be able to take a Frame-Up audio tour soon, hosted by Mona herself, which is so cool!!!!
Thank you so much for inviting me and The Frame-Up to your wonderful blog!!!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb