Martine Noël-Maw - Saskatchewan-set Young Adult Ghost Story

Martine Noël-Maw - Saskatchewan-set Young Adult Ghost Story

Born and raised in Québec, Martine Noël-Maw has called Saskatchewan home since 1993. A French literature graduate from the Université de Montréal, she has authored sixteen books and a number of plays for both adults and youth. Her work has earned her many honours, including two Saskatchewan Book Awards and a SATAward. She was longlisted for the Prix de la nouvelle Radio-Canada (French CBC Short Story Prize) and shortlisted for the Prix du récit Radio-Canada (French CBC Nonfiction Prize). Martine is also an editor, publisher, and translator. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, The Ghosts of Spiritwood.

Please give us a short introduction to what The Ghosts of Spiritwood is about.

The book is about Ethan and four of his friends who are stranded on a country road near Spiritwood, Saskatchewan. A thunderstorm strikes, and they find refuge in an abandoned country school. Hours later, when the storm is over, the sky is filled with northern lights. “Those lights are produced by the spirits of the departed, ” says Ethan. “It’s a sign that they want to communicate with the living. To establish contact, we just have to whistle.” Then Ethan produces a spirit whistle, and he starts to whistle at the sky. Moments later, weird things begin to happen.

What inspired you to write this story? Was there anything in particular that made you want to tackle this?

This book stems from a series of six workshops I lead in a French immersion school in Regina, in 2010, with 34 grades 7 and 8 students. Over the course of a few weeks, the group came up with a storyline that I found very inspiring (I love ghost stories!). Then I spent the next eight months writing the story.

The book was originally published in French - tell us more about this.

What is there to say other than French is my mother tongue, and I wrote all my books in French.

Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?

I am also an editor, but what is little known about me is that I’m a trained hairdresser and a former professional model. I am also a high school dropout. I have a bachelor’s degree, but no grade 12 diploma. Go figure…

Why was this titled "The Ghosts of Spiritwood"?

With the students, we tried many titles, but this is the one that rallied everybody: it’s a ghost story that takes place near Spiritwood.

Tell us more about Ethan and his friends. What makes them so special?

Ethan is a complex character. He is tall and strong, a star football player, but he’s also very sensitive and self-conscious about his looks ‒ he colors his hair and wears blue contact lenses. He also carries some shame for being labelled as “poor” by the school bully, maybe because he lives alone with his mother. Righting the wrongs and giving a hand to the underdog is something that drives him. Ethan was very close to his grandmother. That may explain why she stuck around after her passing. She became his first ghostly encounter, or should I say “ghostly relationship” since it lasted for a number of years.

What did you have the most fun with when creating this book?

The whole process of discovery was exciting: who are the characters? Who are the ghosts and why are they there? What happened in this country school? An interesting fact is that I found the good spirit whistle mentioned in the book at Wanuskewin while I was starting to write the story, so I wrote it in. And the publisher of the English version included a picture of it in the book. This story is the only one that I wrote at the first person so far. I found it very interesting to put myself in Ethan’s shoes and pretend I was a 17-year-old boy for a few months.

Why Young Adult? What drew you to the genre?

The nature of the project itself directed me to this age group. And I like it because I think that it’s easier for readers from this age group to suspend their disbelief and really get into any kind of weird story.

What is your favorite quote from the book?

“On my way back from Spiritwood, I made a vow to myself to burn my whistle in order to never conjure up spirits again, but after that dream (about the rescued spirit), I changed my mind,” Ethan says. I feel that he found his path in life, thanks to this whistle.

This book has received multiple awards. What, would you say, makes it so remarkable?

The book was nominated but did not receive any awards. However, over the years, I have presented it in schools, book shows and festivals across Canada and in France. It was the subject of many presentations and public readings. What is interesting is that wherever I present it, there is always at least a couple of boys or girls who ask me to tell Ethan how much they admire his courage. For them, he’s a real person, not a character. I think this is what makes this book stand out.

The book has been reprinted a few times, and last year, we published a second edition because it is still in demand, and on the program in some schools despite (or because of) its supernatural nature. Since it is so popular, I decided to translate it in order to share it with young English-speaking readers.

What is your number one writing tip for aspiring authors?

The tip that was the most helpful to me as a beginning writer came from my husband (an engineer!): “Stop judging yourself!” he told me one day as I was struggling. “Write the whole story without reading it until you get to the end”, he told me. Without that advice, I think I might have abandoned my first novel in the middle.

Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?

I like to start my day by journaling, longhand, whatever comes to my mind. At any given time, I have more than one project on the go. I usually write “fresh stuff” in the morning, and then, in the afternoon, I edit a more advanced manuscript.

What are you working on right now?

I am currently working on my 17th book, a mystery novel also stemming from a series of workshops I lead, this time with 22 students from a French school in Regina, Saskatchewan, where I live. This story is set in an area of the province called Avonlea’s Badlands.

Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?

Readers can discover all my books on my website at, but I have to point out that most of it is in French. And people can write to me through my website or at [email protected].