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Acclaimed Brantford-based author strikes chord with readers

Arts and EntertainmentAcclaimed Brantford-based author strikes chord with readers

Marsha Skrypuch has won many awards and has gained an extensive readership across Canada, the United States, and globally because of her dedication to writing historical fiction that gives voices to regular people doing extraordinary things during times of conflict. “If you take a regular person, life will be boring. But if you take a regular person and put them into an extraordinary circumstance, then that will be compelling by definition. But if you do that to a person who has been a voice…and so I try to give voices to people who have been silenced.”

Skrypuch, who tried her hand at different jobs before becoming a full-time writer in 1996 reminisces about the first time that she truly fell in love with reading despite some obstacles, “Because I’m dyslexic I didn’t actually like reading when I was younger…when you have a learning challenge…they would give you simpler and simpler books, assuming that you were stupid, and I was totally turned off by the whole process. And then the very first book that I read, [it] was Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens when I was nine. And it was transformational. Because it made me realize that I wasn’t stupid [and] that it was really important when you’re writing to write something that people want to read. I wanted to read everything that I could like that…[these] immersive stories, those big fat novels that I could fall into about times that everybody else seemed to ignore.”

Marsha Skrypuch has been writing since 1996 and has written over 20 books. She was born and raised in Brantford–which she still calls home. Photo courtesy Orest Skrypuch.

Because of that experience, Skrypuch has had a deep respect for the reader and kept that in mind during her writing process. “I assumed that the reader was intelligent, no matter what their age and so I didn’t purposely write for young people ever…more than half of my readership is adult, even though my books are marketed as middle grade. A lot of that was published in the past would be called middle grade now, because it’s the sweet spot in publishing.” Skrypuch notes, “I’m still a read-a-holic [and] when I want to read something that I haven’t heard of before, I will read the book. But if I can’t find it, then I will tend to write it.”

Another major reason for Skrypuch’s success is her point of view when writing books that tend to focus on a child’s perspective “If you look at it from a child’s perspective, I think that everyone will be on the same page…[and] so that’s what really appealed to me writing from a young person’s point of view… when I was in school, they never talked about the people who are affected by war, it was all about the strategy and the discipline and the dates…and the treaties, but not about the actual people.”

Skrypuch has won numerous awards for her books including the Saskatchewan Young Readers Choice 2020 Snow Willow Award for Don’t Tell the Nazis. Photo courtesy Marsha Skrypuch/Author’s website.

However, Skrypuch has continued to write books that get the voices out of those that would otherwise get lost especially with the book ‘Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War.’ “When I wrote [that] there hadn’t been a narrative [or a] perspective, from a Vietnamese folk person’s perspective, from someone who was airlifted to safety…And part of the reason was that publishers were reluctant to publish anything about the aftermath of the Vietnam War because [it] was considered a toxic topic. And so, I struggled to get those stories published for a decade.”

As a progressive writer, Skrypuch continues to write on subjects that she believes need to be shared despite some frightening backlash including hate mail and death threats. “One of the big obstacles is I happened to have written a lot of books on Ukrainian historical topics. And up until the war in Ukraine, Ukrainian historical topics were toxic, because [of] Russian disinformation and Soviet disinformation before that had done such a superb job in categorizing anyone who spoke or wrote on Ukrainian topics…So, I’m currently banned by Russia.”

Marsha Skrypuch signed the 3rd edition of Silver Threads for readers at the OLA Superconference 2023. Photo courtesy Marsha Skrypuch/Author’s website.

Along with being a popular writer, Skrypuch has developed into a much-requested speaker across schools in Canada and the United States, however, she had to face a challenge. “I am an intense introvert, which most writers are. I have created this other character known as an extrovert. So, I can go like my heart rate doesn’t even change when I go—even speaking to 1000 kids…[I] talk about difficult topics and find that young people are the most intelligent audience. Because kids are open-minded. They’re also looking for information. And they’re also looking…at instances in history so that they can see their own life [in]. Whereas when you speak to adults, it’s great, but [they] are not as open-minded as kids. I just love speaking with students.”

Skrypuch at one of her in-person school visits. These interactions give a chance for students to ask Skrypuch about the writing process and what it takes to create works that have a deep effect on readers. Photo courtesy Marsha Skrypuch/Author’s website.

Despite Skrypuch’s international success, she remains grounded and advises aspiring writers to be true to themselves and seek constructive criticism. “Aspiring writers need to have the humility and need to realize that when they write their first manuscript draft, it is crap…And that then you have to do something to make it better…One of the things that I recommend [is] find[ing] [a] critique group, and make sure that you’ve got people there, who can mentor you.” Skrypuch continues, “Because writing, like anything else, is a craft as well as a gift. You can have a gift at the beginning, but if you don’t develop it…it’s not going to work, you need practice [and] humility.”

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