Stories of Courage and Strength
Andrew Kooman (Bachelor of Arts, 2003; Multimedia Web Developer, 2008; Distinguished Alumnus, 2016) is an accomplished author, screenwriter, playwright and producer. His most successful project to date, She Has A Name, has been produced as a feature film, stage play and paperback. The story has helped to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to combat human trafficking and support victims of the sex trade. It has also been well-received by audiences and critics across the world, winning many awards including 5 Top Indie Film Awards in 2017.
Kooman’s success is reinforced by the critical reception of his newest screenplay, Delft Blue, a story that follows a Dutch family through the Nazi occupation of Holland in the 1940s. This script has already begun to collect awards and critical praise, and Kooman hopes to bring it to life through Unveil Studios, the production company he founded with his brothers and that produced She Has A Name.
While his success in the realms of cinema and theatre is impressive and encouraging, Kooman is a writer of many things. This year, he completed his Master of Arts degree in English and Transitional Justice at Western University, and continued to write short scripts for The Skit Guys, while also creating essays, poetry and short stories for a number of publications. This month, he releases the second book in his Young Adult series, Ten Silver Coins. We had the chance to connect with him about his exciting work and to learn more about his goals, his inspiration, and his newest novel.
RDC: Congratulations on all of your success, and on completing your Master of Arts! You’re clearly very busy, so thank you for taking the time to do this.
RDC: Your work carries a consistent theme of courage. Why is it important to you to tell stories of so many different types of bravery – the courage to do what you know is right, the courage to withstand heartbreaking and harrowing adversity, the courage to seize opportunities or to face terrifying obstacles?
Andrew Kooman: Stories that are most interesting and impactful to me are ones in which the characters overcome obstacles, both small and great. Sometimes courage is the only thing that people have to offer and in the world of the story it’s the key thing a character discovers about themselves that enables them to grow and adapt. It’s something I observe in the real world. Perhaps someone doesn’t even know they possess courage, but a difficult circumstance extracts or identifies the courage in them. I find stories of overcoming the odds in this way to be endlessly fascinating.
RDC: “The Battle for Acchora” is the second book in your YA series, Ten Silver Coins. When did you know that Jill Strong’s story was too large to tell in one book? Was it always intended to be a trilogy?
AK: I didn’t know when I first started to write it. I had an image in mind of a young girl escaping a small town (the opening scene of Book One) and I just sort of followed her journey. It developed into a book-length story and from there I realized it was likely a trilogy. I think it will land at about four books, but don’t hold me to that! As I wrote Book Two new characters emerged that might have their own story someday.
RDC: Is there a chance that you’ll find more stories to tell in this universe?
AK: We’ll see! There’s an elite unit of Dryling warriors featured strongly in Book Two, characters I think my readers will love. I’d like to expand their story in their future and could see some sort of series develop for them, whether it’s short stories or some other format. After I write the remaining books of Jill Strong adventures, I’d like to explore the origin story, a prequel of sorts to tell Elizabeth Strong’s story, and the details of why she went missing and how the world Jill originally escaped became such a dystopia. But it’s dangerous for writers to talk hypothetically about work. If there’s an audience for those stories, I’d love to tell those stories.
RDC: While you’ve done an incredible job of writing something that appeals to readers of all ages, the Ten Silver Coins series engages young readers, directly. Were there challenges to writing for this audience?
AK: Can I be so audacious as to quote C.S. Lewis here? I subscribe to his view on writing for children. He said there were three ways to do so (one good and two bad). His way—the good one—“consists in writing a children’s story because a children’s story is the best art-form for something you have to say.” While I originally had my nephews in mind when I wrote Book One and now hope to have my son read and enjoy the series someday, I do want (and have seen) that the story appeals to people of all ages.
What I have to say in this particular case is best told in the unsettling, fantastic and imaginative world of a children’s novel with an orphan as the protagonist.
RDC: Why is your message of courage important for this audience?
AK: I think we need courage to live and thrive in our world today. I’ve written both Book One and Two between writing other stories that have big themes and big questions, pulled from the real world: the story of a teenager forced into the dangerous world of human trafficking, the story of a political prisoner in post-war Romania, as well as the story of a family caught up in the sudden drama and dilemma of living in Nazi-occupied Holland. All three stories are based on real events in the past, but if you look to the present you can see that wherever you go, people face incredible challenges. I think there can be some catharsis and some comfort for readers living in a world sometimes on edge to see characters, both real and imagined, find courage and employ it to overcome challenges. When we can see or imagine someone else defy odds or thrive despite adversity, we can imagine that we can too.
RDC: As your recent MA demonstrates, you’re pretty committed to lifelong learning. Where did that love of learning come from?
AK: I don’t know that I can locate one specific event in my memory, but it certainly is connected to stories. My love for learning is connected to the stories of personal challenge and triumph I gleaned from the dinner table, the church pew, and the scratched-up school desks I sat at as a kid growing up in central Alberta. Every book or story is a world of learning, and we live in the greatest time, with so much content and so many stories so easily accessible. Maybe what I’m saying is that the world that I grew up in somehow convinced me to be interested in the world we live in. So, my learning takes place purposefully through what I am constantly reading, and when I need something more specific to develop certain skills, I’ve jumped into the formal settings of learning.
RDC: How did your time as a student at Red Deer College encourage that commitment to learning? (Alternatively, or as well, does anything about your time here stand out as particularly supportive of your career in creative arts?)
AK: Growing up in Red Deer, the College loomed large. The first play I saw was Camelot at the Arts Centre. I participated in the Kiwanis Music festival when I was young and there were so many other experiences growing up from sports camps and competitions to beginning a formal post-secondary education in my late teens that influenced what I think about what learning is. And in some way—whether small or great—this likely drew me into the Humanities. The people at RDC, especially the women and men who modelled learning and encouraged me as I studied and grew as a writer (like Nancy Batty, Jim Martens, the late Birk Sproxton, Tanya Ryga and Lynda Adams and so many others) left an immeasurable mark.
RDC: We’ve introduced a couple of exciting new degrees in our School of Creative Arts – the Bachelor of Applied Arts in Animation and Visual Effects, and the Bachelor of Applied Arts in Film, Theatre and Live Entertainment. What advice would you give to learners who are considering a career in the arts?
AK: That’s so exciting! My research for my recent MA was into the legacy that the arts, specifically writing, has in the historical movement to abolish slavery, going back to the 18th century and into the 21st century. The ability to imagine and produce story is so important for many different reasons. So I would encourage them to be attentive to the legacy that they are connected to in their particular art form and to be aware of their potential to use their art to make world-changing impact. (And then to dare to believe in the stories they tell so much that they make impact themselves).
RDC: Your most recent screenplay, Delft Blue, has been receiving high praise. If that project takes off like She Has a Name, will it be another nine years before we hear from Jill and Simon again?
AK: I hope not! Unveil Studios (the production company that I own and operate with my brothers Matt and Dan) is working on a slate of projects—like our current documentary series Dream—and Delft Blue is one of a number of screenplays that are in development. So we have a lot on the go! However, I’m aiming to carve out time to write the next books in the Ten Silver Coins series sooner than later. I won’t give an exact date, but I want to have them on the page in less than nine years.
Again, congratulations on your continued success. We love catching up with you and sharing your exciting new projects with our alumni, so thanks for taking the time to tell us about your newest book!
To learn more about Andrew Kooman’s projects, including Ten Silver Coins, Delft Blue and She Has A Name, visit andrewkooman.com
See more of what the Kooman brothers are working on at unveilstudios.com