Talking Tales: Beginnings (Episode 6.5)

interview image

A “talking tales” episode — all interviews – about how to begin a story. With guest authors Frieda WishinskySarah RaughleyDon CummerDavid McArthur; and Wendy McLeod MacKnight, speaking about their favourite first lines, their advice to young writers on how to begin, and how they began to write professionally. 45 minutes. All ages.

Listen right here. Or through your favourite streaming platform.

Author Interviews about Beginnings (Cabin Tales Episode 6.5)

Read the full episode transcript:

Show Notes

[0:00] Intro

[1:15] Commentary on Finding the Beginning of your story

Beginnings are important. They’re like a first impression: the opening of your story will colour the reader’s experience of everything that comes after. But the beginning of your story is always a made-up moment.

[3:45] Interviews on what makes a good beginning

[4:30] Frieda Wishinsky on letting the reader know what they’re getting into

[6:40] Sarah Raughley on the delicate balance between too early and too late

[8:35] Don Cummer on the revising a beginning

[10:45] David McArthur on setting a scene

[13:20] Wendy McLeod MacKnight’s favourite first line

[15:20] Commentary on first lines

One thing most people agree on: a reader should have some sense of what type of book they’re in for from the opening.

[18:35] Guest author recommendations to young writers

[18:55] Sarah Raughley knows how hard it is to begin

[20:30] David McArthur knows that beginnings can change

[22:00] Frieda Wishinsky likes to stick to the point

[23:20] Wendy McLeod MacKnight wants to be hooked

[24:45] Don Cummer suggests you just dig in

[26:30] Commentary on motivation

There’s the technical sense of where and how to open your story. But there’s also the motivational sense of how to make yourself write when you’re not sure what your story is.

[28:05] Guest Authors’ beginnings as writers

[28:15] Wendy McLeod MacKnight was a Deputy Minister

[29:40] Don Cummer was a speechwriter

[31:30] David McArthur read and wrote through dyslexia

[34:25] Frieda Wishinsky loves being part of the human story

[36:15] Sarah Raughley learned to believe in herself

[39:35] Thanks and Coming up on the Podcast

Tune in next week for Episode 7: “Just Get it Over With,” all about the endings of stories. That’s a “telling tales” format, so you’ll hear stories, excerpts, and prompts, and guest authors Marty Chan, Jeff Szpirglas, and Frieda Wishinsky.

Thanks for listening.


Music on the podcast is from “Stories of the Old Mansion” by Akashic Records, provided by Jamendo (Standard license for online use).

Host: Catherine Austen writes books for children, short stories for adults, and reports for corporate clients. Visit her at

Art: The B&W illustration on this page is a cropped version of a wood engraving by Paul Gavarni from Oeuvres choisies de Gavarni, volume 4, 1848.

Guest Authors
Don Cummer

Don Cummer is the author of the “Jake and Eli” stories published by Scholastic – a series about two best friends growing up during the War of 1812. The first book, Brothers at War, was short-listed for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young Readers. Don was born in Calgary and grew up on a ranch. He moved to Ottawa, where he wrote speeches for a living, and now spends his time between Canada and Ireland – where he’s finding many more stories to tell. Find him online at and on YouTube:

David McArthur

David McArthur is a graphic designer and creative writer based in Victoria, BC. He struggled with reading and writing as a child, and those struggles are part of the reason he created a series of books which give children confidence to read. The “What Does…” series started as a simple game that David played with his son as they were driving to daycare. Seeing the way his son joyfully reacted to the story was so wonderful that David turned the story into a book. The rest, as they say, is history! Find him online at

Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Wendy McLeod MacKnight grew up in a small town with a library card as her most prized possession. She worked for the Government of New Brunswick for twenty-five years until the siren call of writing became impossible to ignore. She is the author of three middle grade novels: It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! (Sky Pony Press), The Frame-Up and The Copycat (both from Greenwillow Books). In her spare time, she gardens, hangs with her family and friends, and feeds raccoons. Visit Wendy online at or on Twitter @wendymacknight or Instagram @wendymcleodmacknight.

Sarah Raughley

Dr. Sarah Raughley grew up in Southern Ontario. She is the author of five YA fantasy novels, including the bestselling Effigies series and the forthcoming Bones of Ruin series. Her books have been nominated for the Aurora Award for Best Young Adult novel. Her academic research concerns representations of race and gender in popular media culture, youth culture, and postcolonialism. Sarah is a fangirl of manga and sci-fi TV. Find her online at and on Twitter at ‎@s_raughley

Frieda Wishinsky

Frieda Wishinsky has written over 70 picture books, chapter books, novels and non-fiction books. Picture book biographies are one of her favourite genres. She’s written biographies about Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Frederick Law Olmsted and most recently, Emily Roebling (How Emily Saved the Bridge). Frieda loves sharing the writing process. Find her online at

Published by Catherine Austen

I am an award-winning Canadian author of books for all ages, including Walking Backward (Orca), My Cat Isis (Kids Can Press), 26 Tips for Surviving Grade 6 and 28 Tricks for a Fearless Grade 6 (Lorimer) and All Good Children (Orca). I live with my family in Gatineau, Quebec.

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