In their personal lives, Julie Sutton and Daniel Tigner interact with each other as niece and uncle. If we focus on Sam and the Sea Monsters, however, the really good pre-teen/early-teen novel that they wrote together, then they could become known to the wider public as a talented literary duo.
For Sutton, who is a painter, this is her first published work, although she did do some creative writing in university. Her uncle, on the other hand, is currently working on his sixth book, which is about an American spiritual philosopher.
This combination of first-time author and experienced wordsmith worked really well, as Sam and the Sea Monsters is a fun novel. Aimed at readers between the ages of 9 to 14, but which can be enjoyed by an older audience including adults, the story revolves around 12-year-old Samantha Dubinsky — or Sam, as she insists that everyone call her.
On a whim, Sam decides to tryout for the Sea Monsters, a 12 to 15-year-old girls water polo team in Ottawa. In just under 100 pages, the book gives a glimpse into Sam’s hopes, fears and determination, while offering an interesting look into Ottawa’s water polo community.
With increasing confidence and personal strength, Sam sets out to become a successful member of the team. As well, she wants to prove herself to her family, who spend a lot of time cheering on her older brother who is the quarterback of his football team.
“I played (water polo) for many years when I was younger,” says Sutton, when asked about the inspiration for the book. “A few of my friends played and they were always absent after school, so to see them more I tried it out. . . . I distinctly recall thinking I was going to drown (in the tradition of my melodramatic ways as a child). There’s nothing on the English market about capturing those experiences: the struggles, the teamwork and friendships, the dedication of time and effort, the respect you learn for your coach.”
After reading the novel, I can say that Sutton was able to bring these experiences to life, as the story clearly describes the difficult work involved in water polo, as well as the joy and camaraderie of succeeding as a team member.
Truth be told, I know very little of water polo before reading this book. However, after flipping through the pages (the book is a quick read), I became intrigued about the sport, which is actually quite difficult.
“Water polo gives you so much more than incredible amounts of exercise and I have found not all that many people know what it is,” says Sutton, who lives in Ottawa. “Some people imagine that you float around in the pool leisurely passing a ball back and forth; can’t have that image when water polo is such a vibrant rush of a sport.”
But putting water polo aside, why did the niece-uncle duo decide to write a book together?
“I’ve always enjoyed partnering in business, teaching and writing,” replies Tigner, who lives in Aylmer. “[I]f you put egos aside, the interaction can be inspiring and the results in many ways better than what happens on one’s own, unless you’re a great writer like Tolkien or Hemingway.
“In this case, Julie and I flowed together and had fun, sometimes jousting and sometime concurring. We had a rule, we had to both be happy with whatever the final result was, so we wrote until we both were. . . . Everything was written together.”
For her part, Sutton found inspiration from her established author relative.
“I grew up listening to my uncle tell ridiculous and silly stories and thought he would be the perfect co-author,” she says. “The intention was to write a book for a relatively young audience and when I was looking for ideas I saw that there was nothing on water polo.”
Looking forward, the literary duo is considering writing more stories together.
“We see Sam and the Sea Monsters as the beginning of a potential series,” says Sutton. who is also exploring her ideas through her painting.
“We have had really positive and warm feedback from young readers so far and hope for more. We have already discussed ideas for a second novel with our central character, Sam, (who is) a little bit older and facing new life challenges and fiercer competition. Beyond water polo we’ve looked at ideas for silly stories for younger kids that are fun for the parents and child to read together.”
As a reader who really enjoyed their first book, I really do hope they publish more works together.