Children’s writer Mimi Thebo shares her secrets to literary success

Most writers say you should write about what you know. Despite disagreeing with this idea, American born author Mimi Thebo has done just that in her new upcoming children’s book.

“I always write about what I don’t know, writing a novel is a form of an investigation,” Mimi explains. “And a good fiction novel – for children as well as adults – is usually an intellectual exercise where you’re trying to figure something out.”

Her new children’s novel, Dreaming the Bear, is roughly based on her own meeting with a brown bear, long before she moved to her home in the UK in 1992.

“It was through stupidity, mainly, that I encountered the bear in the first place. I lived in Yellowstone for eight years, and there are grizzly bears around. If you’re really careful you will never see one,” Mimi recalls. “But I wasn’t. I saw one particular bear a lot. I almost stepped on her head while we ate from the same wild strawberry patch. I shouldn’t have been there, it was closed off due to bear activity – but I really wanted the strawberries.”

Mimi greets me with a raspy voice when we sit down to chat about her new book, and her life. Not because of a cold, but following an incident from her childhood, which shaped her writing.

At 14, Mimi was involved in a car crash. It should have taken her life. Instead, she was left with a crushed larynx and respiratory problems: “It’s a rare injury, hardly anyone survives the initial trauma,” she points out. Due to the accident, Mimi spent much of her high school years in recovery and in hospital.

“I was dead for eight minutes, and I was in hospital for three years after that,” she explains. “On the same day as I was brought into hospital, another girl, a 15-year-old, had her larynx crushed. She was out riding a horse and she hit her throat on a branch. She was brought in, and she was so much fitter than me. I was anorexic, I was an outsider, I had a really horrible attitude about life. She was a barrel racer in the rodeo, and she had a great attitude. Her injury wasn’t nearly as severe as mine, but she died. There was absolutely no reason why I, being so scrawny and unhappy, should live and she shouldn’t.”

Figure it out

The question about what makes people survive and pull through is a central theme in Mimi’s work. “Most of my books have the same kind of ‘figure it out’ theme.”

Mimi lauds reading and spending time with your children, likening it to her experience with her own daughter: “You’ve got these ten years, maybe 15, where she’s going to want to be with you. When I look back, that was the most precious time of my entire life. My daughter is 13, and she’s pulling away now.”

Dreaming the Bear, aimed at age 10+, is due for release in February 2016 by the Oxford Press.