Sharon E. McKay

Sharon E. McKay was born in Montreal, Quebec. She says, “I haven’t lived in Quebec for 22 years, but if I am asked where I live, I often blurt out Montreal.” She now makes her home in P.E.I., but travels monthly to Ontario to do school visits.

Early childhood summers were spent at Lake MacDonald in the Laurentians. To a child’s eye, the house was magnificent and sat on acres of rolling hills that ran down to a private beach. Enid Blyton books were her constant companions during these perfect summers.

The house was sold when she was 13 and her summers were then spent in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Never mind “The Troubles” or an ongoing war; Sharon was surrounded by a warm and wacky family: “One day I will tell the story of how my uncle set his pants on fire, and how I accidently left my other uncle’s leg on the road. It was made of tin. Then there was the time I purposely sold a bogus story to a reporter, and saw a dead guy in a coffin in his front window. Great times. I return to visit my cousins in Belfast regularly.”

In 2009 Sharon was named as a Canadian War Artist, the first young adult writer to hold the title. This venerable institution that hearkens back to WWI includes Alex Sorrell, George Plante, A.R. Thompson, Arthur Lismer, and Alex Colville. War artists may or may not support the action, but historically they support the soldier.

Sharon’s trip to Afghanistan in 2009 (KAF and Bazaar-E-Panjwayi, Kandahar Province, on the Pakistan border) inspired her to write Thunder over Kandahar (2010). She writes outside her level of comfort, and often chooses areas of the world that are hard to reach. War Brothers: The Graphic Novel (2013) is the harrowing story of child soldiers in northern Uganda. To do her research, she went to Gulu, Uganda, and interviewed child soldiers. The striking art by Daniel Lafrance brings the story to vivid life. The original novel has been reissued and is available for sale in the United States only.

Sharon also loves historical fiction. Esther is the story of the first Jew to live in New France at a time when Jews and Protestants were not allowed. The Whispers series, stories from the Holocaust, was written with the author Kathy Kacer, herself the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Enemy Territory (2012), addresses the Mideast conflict through the eyes of two teenage boys who learn to trust each other despite coming from opposite sides of the struggle. Once again, Sharon lived with families in Israel and in the West Bank as part of her research. Her latest book, The End of the Line (2014), is a novel for middle-grade readers about a young Jewish girl who is saved from certain death by kindly strangers during the Nazi occupation of Holland in World War II.

With her latest book, Prison Boy (Spring 2015), Sharon tackles the difficult issue of child torture. In an unnamed country, two young boys are left to fend for themselves after the orphanage where they were living, is shut down. The older boy unwittingly sets off a bomb, killing many people. What follows is the harrowing story of his ordeal and his fierce determination to protect the younger boy. 

For Sharon, school visits are the best part of being a young adult author, though at first she was a little confused about them: “Here’s my ‘how dumb can you be?’ story. I have written dozens of non-fiction books, but my first historical fiction was Charlie Wilcox. At that time, I really did not understand the world of author visits. A teacher phoned and asked me if I would come to her school. I was thrilled. She said, ‘Is $500 OK?’ I was shocked and told her that I would get back to her. I called my husband and said, ‘Can we afford to pay the school $500?’ He said sure, but making a habit of it was not a plan. I turned up at the school with a $500 check in my pocket. Imagine my amazement when the teacher handed ME a check!”

Here are some of her best lines ever from school visits:
“Are those your real teeth?” Northern Ireland (Yes)
“Is that your real hair?” Shangdong Province, China (Yes)
“Do you write your own books or does someone do it for you?” Saskatoon, Canada (I wish)

Podcasts

Thunder Over Kandahar