Jean Mills is a Canadian author based in Guelph, Ontario. Growing up, she was fascinated by sports and this interest led to a job in sports media. She shares years of insight with readers in her third YA novel, The Legend, a story about an injured hockey player who is unable to play the sport he loves and ends up in a sports media role instead. She is also the author of Skating Over Thin Ice and Larkin on the Shore. Her most recent novel, The Legend, is published by Red Deer Press.

The Legend

Published by Red Deer Press

Jean Mills

I hope there are readers out there looking for a story that features a teen boy who is strong, smart and resilient. He’s not in trouble, not seriously flawed, not wrestling with demons (real or imaginary), but he is living a life like theirs: school, family, relationships, and some life challenges that test him.

The Legend is about a boy who loves hockey but can’t play due to an injury. The story gives readers a lot of insight into sports media coverage as well. What about hockey or sports interests you? What was the fascination with that material for you? 

Sports has been a big part of my life since I was a child. I went out for all the school teams (perhaps with more enthusiasm than skill!). I’m also a life-long hockey fan. I have fond memories of my family gathering around the TV to watch Hockey Night in Canada. As a university student, I joined the campus radio station, CFRC Queen’s Radio, so I could travel with the sports crew for hockey and football broadcasts. My parents were curlers, and I took up that sport when I moved with my husband and baby daughter to a small town in Eastern Ontario – it was recommended as the only way to survive the winter.

Years later, I was able to combine my love of sport with my professional writing skills on the Media and Communications team at Curling Canada. It was from this job that I became fascinated with the tremendous commitment required to be an elite athlete – and make no mistake: high-performance curlers are elite athletes. The physical, mental, and sometimes emotional strength required to compete at the national and international level is something that most fans don’t understand, and this applies to all sports, including professional leagues. A love of sport creates opportunities for developing connections, teamwork, decision-making and resilience. These are exactly the qualities I wanted to portray in Griffin Tardiff, the injured hockey player in The Legend. And it was fun to throw my own sports media experience into his story, as well.

What are your hopes for this story and how it will resonate with readers? 

Every author’s hope, of course, is that readers will find, read and enjoy – maybe even love? – our books. With The Legend, I hope there are readers out there looking for a story that features a teen boy who is strong, smart, and resilient. He’s not in trouble, not seriously flawed, not wrestling with demons (real or imaginary), but he is living a life like theirs: school, family, relationships, and some life challenges that test him.

What will resonate with readers? Anyone interested in sport, hockey in particular, will find some connection with Griffin’s experience as a committed and talented athlete who has been sidelined and feels left out. (A side note: if readers aren’t into hockey, no problem. We never see Griffin playing hockey.) I especially hope the relationship between Griffin and Noah, and Noah’s big sister Rosie, will strike a chord with readers who like a little kindness in their stories, too. And then there’s the whole sports media theme! Perhaps readers will be intrigued to know that I had the assistance of my old CFRC colleague, Chris Cuthbert (yes, play-by-play voice of Hockey Night in Canada) in portraying that Ottawa Senators game just right…

What was the most challenging part of writing this book?  

Sticking with it during a global pandemic! This story was already a work in progress when the world shut down in March 2020, but I had difficulty turning on my creative brain during that time of worry and isolation. The story was fully formed in my mind, but I also had to wrestle with whether to incorporate the pandemic into the story (for the record, I did not). So, there were distractions and challenges during the writing of this book. The story itself? Never a problem.

The Legend is your third novel for young adults. Out of the three books you’ve published, which was your favourite to write? Do you have a character that you identify with the most? 

Asking authors to name their favourite book is like asking parents to name their favourite child! But honestly, I must admit that Skating Over Thin Ice will always be different, for a few reasons.

First, it was my first “real” published book, after 30 years of querying, being published in the educational market, and facing a lot of rejection. Also, it was purely a labour of love, taking about five years to write (during the curling off-season, because I was still employed at that time). I wanted to write a YA novel that was different – not a romance, not edgy, not issue-driven, not dystopian. I wanted to write a story with language, style and structure that made readers work a bit, something more literary. I had always wanted to draw on my own experience as a musician, and Imogen St. Pierre is a little bit of me, showing what it feels like to lose yourself in a performance. I especially wanted to write something very Canadian, with settings and references to real places and events. When the book was nominated for the Forest of Reading Red Maple Fiction award, and young readers told me they had found their new favourite book, I felt as if I had achieved my goal. Skating Over Thin Ice will always be special to me.

What’s next? What writing project are you working on now?

I’m currently working on the final edits of my next YA novel, The First Rule of Knitting, (Red Deer Press, March 2023), about a knitting-and-math-wiz girl who discovers that helping her friends with their life problems isn’t as easy as fixing a knitting mistake or solving a math problem. And I’m thrilled that another YA novel, Wingman , (Orca Books, Winter 2023), is at the design stage with the Orca Soundings series; it’s a quick read designed for reluctant and striving readers, and it features a hockey player with a desperate secret.

But I always have something in progress, or some idea hovering around in my head waiting for my attention. Right now, the work in progress is a middle grade novel (title, Battle of the Bands) about a 13-year-old girl whose talent on the violin is pulling her in three very different directions – a classical string quartet, a rock band, and the traditional fiddle tunes of Newfoundland. And just to keep me really busy, I’m in the early stages of planning a saga-like YA story featuring the style and characters of the Old Iceland literature I studied at university. It’s so much fun!

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