Author Tags: Kidlit & Young Adult

James Heneghan is one of British Columbia's most quietly successful authors.

A three-time recipient of the Sheila A. Egoff Prize for children's literature in B.C., he's an Anglo/Irish Canadian, born in Liverpool on October 7, 1930, who came to Vancouver from Liverpool in 1957 and worked for 12 years as a Fingerprint & Photography Technician in the Vancouver Police Crime Laboratory. He taught English in Burnaby high schools for 20 years and has been writing books for young people for 20 years. Many of his books have appeared on the American Library Association's lists of Best Books for Young Adults, the New York Library lists of Best Books, the Junior Library Guild list and the VOYA Top Shelf Pick list. Wish Me Luck was nominated for a Governor General's Award.

Heneghan has increasingly moved towards serious subjects for young adults. In Torn Away, for example, forcibly deported Declan Doyle is delivered to the Vancouver Airport in handcuffs, a young Catholic who is filled with rage against Protestants in his native Belfast after a car bomb has killed his mother and sister. His Uncle Matthew has agreed to look after Declan in Vancouver, but he only wants to get back to Ireland and fight against the 'Prods'. Agreeing to try life on the West Coast for a four-month trial basis, he learns there is more to courage than fisticuffs. Similarly, in Promises to Come, Nguyen Thi Kim is a 16-year-old Boat Person from Vietnam who lies about her age in order to be adopted by Becky's well-to-do West Vancouver parents. "I did a lot of research," says Heneghan. "As far as I know, it's the first book that deals with the Boat People and their experiences through the eyes of Vietnamese children." The heroine 'Kim' has flashbacks to a Saigon orphanage, the island of Koh Kra and the Songkhla refugee camp as she undergoes the painful and sometimes overwhelming process of assimilation. She recounts to a psychiatrist the deaths of her family and companions, beatings and gang rape. Similarly, in Wish Me Luck, a story based upon the sinking of a passenger liner called the City of Benares by a German U-boat in World War II, twelve-year-old Jamie Monaghan is sent to Canada to escape the air raids in Liverpool. In Heneghan's most acclaimed novel, The Grave, 13-year-old Tom Mullen, who was abandoned in a shopping mall as a baby, has been shuffled from one foster home to the next in Liverpool until rumours of a mass grave on his school grounds plunge him inexplicably into the alternate world of Ireland in 1847 during the potato famine. In his time travels, he's accepted into the home of the Monaghans who provide him with the richness of family togetherness during a time of extreme privation. Set in Belfast, Northern Island in 1999, one year after the Good Friday peace accord, Safe House (Orca 2006) is a realistic thriller about a boy named Liam who is forced to take refuge in a police safe house after his parents are brutally murdered. Betrayed and forced to flee, he must remain out of the reach of the people who are supposed to be protecting him. In Bank Job (Orca 2009), Nell and two boys in her foster home rob banks to raise money to pay for expensive renovations to their caring foster home. The story was inspired by a newspaper story of three teens in Vancouver who robbed seven banks.


Fit to Kill (Raven Books/Orca 2011) 978-1-55469-907-0 $9.95

Bank Job (Orca 2009), co-written with Norma Charles

Payback (Groundwood, 2007)

Safe House (Orca, 2006)

Nannycatch Chronicles (Tradewind Books, 2005). Co-written with Bruce McBay.

Hit Squad (Orca, 2003)

Waiting for Sarah, (with Bruce McBay) (Orca, 2003)

Flood (Groundwood / Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002). Winner Sheila A. Egoff Award; Junior Library Guild selection; NY Library Best Books List 2001; Nominated Geoffrey Bilson Award; Nominated Arthur Ellis Award.

The Grave (Groundwood, 2000 / Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000 / Corgi, 2002 / de Fontein, The Netherlands, 2003) $12.95 ISBN 0-88899-414-1. Selected as a 2002 American Library Association (ALA) Best Book for Young Adults, winner of the 2001 Sheila A. Egoff B.C. Book Prize for Children's Literature and the 2000 Mr. Christie's Book Award Silver Seal. A New York Library Pick for the Best Books List of 2000, a Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) Top Shelf Pick 2001 and one of their selections for the Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror 2000, and a Junior Library Guild Pick. Nominated for the Keystone State (Pennsylvania) Reading Association 2001-2002 Young Adult Book Award, the Manitoba Young Readers' Choice Award for 2002, the 2001 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Juvenile Crime Fiction, and the 2001 Canadian Geoffrey Bilson Historical Fiction for Young People Award.

Promises to Come (Overlea House, 1988; Also available from 'Kits House Publishing' / James Heneghan as of 1998) $8.95 ISBN 0-9684300-0-7.

Wish Me Luck (Farrar Straus & Giroux, New York, 1997) ISBN 0-374-38453-3, price U.S $16. Bantam/Laurel Leaf paperback edition, 1998, ISBN 0-440-22764-X, price $5.99 CAN. Winner Sheila A. Egoff Award; nominated Governor General's Award; nominated Red Cedar Award; nominated Manitoba Young Readers Award. Publ. Germany, England, France.

Torn Away (Viking, New York, 1994, ISBN 0-670-85180-9. Price U.S $15
Puffin paperback, 1996, ISBN 0-14-036646-6, $6.99 CAN) (Awards: Winner Arthur Ellis Award; nominated Sheila A. Egoff Award. ALA list of Best Books for YA. Also published in Germany, 1996.)

Blue, Scholastic Canada, 1992. ISBN 0-590-74044-X. Price $4.99. Andy and his mother move from the city to work at Kirriemuir Farm and their lives change in ways they never expected.

Goodbye, Carleton High, by B. J. Bond (James Heneghan with Bruce McBay) Scholastic Canada, 1983, ISBN 0-590-71124 5. Price $4.99. Albert "Falko" Falkenheimer figures he's the biggest loser at Carleton High because everyone calls him "Retard."

Puffin Rock, (with Bruce McBay) Book Society, Canada, 1980. ISBN 0-7725 5070-0. Price $4.99. Lundigan Puffin must find a way to save his colony from Scavington and his greedy seagulls.


The Case of the Blue Raccoon, 1996, Scholastic Canada. ISBN 0-590-24934-7. Price $4.99. The O'Brien Detective Agency expose a pest control scam.

The Mystery of the Gold Ring, Scholastic Canada, 1995. ISBN 0-590-24623-2. Price $4.99. Three sleuths solve a crime in Athens, Greece.

The Trail of the Chocolate Thief, Scholastic Canada, 1993. ISBN 0-590-74514-X. Price $4.99. Child detectives nab a toy thief in False Creek, Vancouver.

The Case of the Marmalade Cat, Scholastic Canada, 1992. ISBN 0-590-73824-0. Price $4.99. Miss Parsnip's cat is missing and she must find it before midnight on Halloween.

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2011] "Kidlit"


In James Heneghan’s Flood (Groundwood $12.95), eleven-year-old Andy Flynn loses both his mother and stepfather to a West Coast flash flood. His stern aunt arrives in her grey overcoat and the “smell of fog and mothballs” to shuttle him across the country to live with her. During the long flight she reveals that Andy’s father, far from being a war hero killed in battle, is very much alive. He’s “a waster and a thief” and “a gambler and a drunk” she says. Nonetheless, the moment they set foot in Halifax, Andy runs away, intent on finding his father.
Vincent Flynn, his father, turns out to be a fine storyteller—but also a man who is much as Andy’s Aunt Mona has described him. The heady freedom of life that Andy discovers at the seedy Mayo Rooms begins to sour. Andy nags his father to clean up the cockroaches and get a proper job, not one that involves selling stolen cigarettes and whiskey. And he wants a toothbrush. And a winter jacket, some boxes to keep his things in, cushions for the sofa. And a dog. And to go to school. In other words, he wants the home and care that his “severe, grim, starchy” Aunt Mona can provide. The Sheehogue (rhymes with rogue) or Little People, who’ve been watching over Andy since the night of the flood, lend a faerie hand, and by the new year much is resolved. But life is never a smooth ride.
Shortly afterwards, an Air Canada flight from Halifax to Vancouver experiences a number of unusual incidents: Teapots act up, hockey pucks skate down the aisle and the in-flight movie is in a strange language that a scholarly passenger swears is ancient Celtic. 0-88899-466-4
Review by Louise Donnelly [BCBW AUTUMN 2002]

James Heneghan
Feature article

James Heneghan has a way with the gripping first sentence. Torn Away, first published in 1994 and recently re-issued (Orca $8.95), opens with, “They handcuffed him to the seat so he could cause no trouble on the airplane.”
Declan, thirteen years old, Irish, Catholic and fueled with rage after the deaths of his mother and sister by a Belfast car bomb, is being shipped to Canada to live with west coast relatives.

Once there, neither Uncle Matthew’s safe haven at Otter Harbour nor young Ana’s beguiling smile and green eyes deters Declan from his vow of a return to Ireland – and revenge.

Hit Squad (Orca $9.95), initial title in Orca Soundings, a teen fiction series for reluctant readers, starts, “Friday afternoon, ninth-grade art class, final period. Two girls spat sunflower seeds at the blue-eyed blond.” Later they lure Birgit Neilsen to a deserted stockroom, stuff her mouth with paper towels, hold her down and drool “saliva-melted” Mars bar onto her face. It’s something the girls come to regret when Birgit heads up the “Clean-up Committee” and gets back at the “animals” who assaulted her in the stockroom. Reluctant recruit Mickey, new to the school, recently bullied himself but more than a little infatuated with leggy, knockout Birgit, suffers his own regrets when his decision to draw a friend into the hit squad for added muscle invites tragic consequences.

Waiting for Sarah (Orca $9.95), written with long-time collaborator Bruce McBay, begins, “In the minute before the crash, the father was squinting into the harsh yellow glare of the late afternoon sun.” Then a drunk driver slams into the family Chevy, taking Mike’s parents, sister, and his legs. Once out of rehab and forced back to grade twelve, Mike, bitter and lonely, agrees to put together a history of the school as a way of avoiding classes and gawking fellow students. But barricaded in the library’s dusty archives, wheelchair-bound Mike is pestered by an annoyingly persistent grade-eight kid. But Sarah is not what she seems and it’s only by solving the mystery of her desperate secret that Mike finds peace himself.

Heneghan, three-time recipient of the Sheila A. Egoff Prize and Governor General’s Award nominee, was born in Liverpool, which he calls the “capital of Ireland,” in 1930. He came to Canada in 1957, worked for over a decade with the Vancouver police as a fingerprint specialist, went on to teach high school English in Burnaby and has written for young people for the past twenty years.

A central theme in many of his books is abandonment. Declan and Mike are orphans. Mickey is a foster kid. Wish Me Luck follows Jamie Monaghan, exiled to Canada to escape WWII air raids over Liverpool. Thirteen-year-old Tom Mullen, the main character in The Grave, Heneghan’s most acclaimed novel, is dumped in a shopping mall as a baby and shuffled from one foster home to another. Flood, the title that netted the Egoff hat trick, takes Andy Flynn’s mother and stepfather in a flash flood and sends stern Aunt Mona in her grey overcoat and the “smell of fog and mothballs” to spirit Andy across the country. In Promises to Come, which deals with the experiences of Boat People through the eyes of Vietnamese children, the heroine, sixteen-year-old “Kim” has flashbacks to a Saigon orphanage and reveals to a psychiatrist beatings, gang rape and the deaths of her friends and family.

Heneghan confronts increasingly serious situations for his young readers, from the devastating Irish potato famine to civil unrest and war with unflinching realism. Yet his writing, catching both the cynicism and resilience of adolescence, along with trademark drama from the opening sentence onward, keeps his stories accessible and compelling. Torn Away 1-55143-263-3; Hit Squad 1-55143-269-2; Waiting for Sarah 1-55143-270-6

[Louise Donnelly/ BCBW Winter 2003]

Nannycatch Chronicles by James Heneghan and Bruce McBay (Tradewind $19.95)

When children outgrow Piglet and Eeyore at the House of Pooh Corner, now there’s a nearby place to learn—gently—that everything in this world doesn’t always turn out all right in the end. It’s called Nannycatch Meadows. And it’s in the Great Forest, across from Grotty Bottom, which is located between Sheepshank Knott and Pokey Edge. You can’t miss it because James Heneghan and Bruce McBay have put a map at the outset of Nannycatch Chronicles. The marvellous place names of that map, such as Boggle Hole, Biskey Fen and Pussytoe Hollow, are derived from real villages that Heneghan and his wife discovered in the north of England during a recent walking tour. Having collaborated with McBay on several books already, Heneghan was happy to lend his list of places to the process of creating an unusual chapter book about an unassuming possum and his decidedly nasty uncle. The drawings by Geraldo Valério are comfortingly familiar, teensy etchings of Chief Moose, a tea pot, Chipmunk, Robin and Bear. But the amusing and concise storylines in Nannycatch Chronicles are a tad different. More than a few of the charming critters die. Or rather, they get killed. Sometimes not entirely by accident, usually because Uncle Possum is as careless as he is callous. The Nannycatch News carries the UPSETTING news but it appears nobody can do much about such things. Death, like a well-known four-letter word, happens. Good-hearted Possum can’t fix his Uncle Possum’s temper. “Uncle’s heart grows nastier and meaner every year,” he says. “He yells at babies, he doesn’t believe in Christmas or coloured crayons or bubblegum, and he never plays any games. Uncle Possum doesn’t know the meaning of fun.” As a radical measure, Possum arranges for his uncle to have a heart operation to get it fixed. “If the operation is a success,” says Chipmunk, “perhaps your uncle will become a vegetarian like us.”

But no such luck. In Nannycatch, whimsy is seldom rewarded. The procedure fails and Uncle Possum remains as cantankerous as ever. A new highway is built by humans, making refugees of Possum’s friends. He tries to help everyone, heroically saving Old Weasel’s life. But fatal and near-fatal accidents continue. Skunk is killed when Uncle Possum hurls a book at him. Forced to try swimming, Swallow drowns. “Swallow swallowed a lot of water,” notes Woodpecker.
Nannycatch Meadows, like the real world, is a charming but dangerous place.
Illustrated by little tombstones, there’s a Publisher’s Warning at the outset. “Everything dies: flowers, trees, elephants, bees, hamsters, turtles, dolphins, dogs, cats… Everything. Nothing lives forever. Everyone knows this. Young readers, however, should guard against this book falling into the hands of grown-ups, many of whom get quite upset whenever the subject of death is mentioned. Don’t ask us why.” 1-896580-56-4

[BCBW 2005]

Bank Job by James Heneghan and Norma Charles (Orca, $9.95) ages 9-12

from Louise Donnelly
It was Billy’s idea. Rob a bank, give the money to Janice and Joseph Hardy. The Hardys put in a second bathroom. Social services are happy and everyone gets to stay put.

As narrator Nell and Billy warn reluctant Tom, who’s new to Ministry care, “You don’t want to even think of what’s out there passing for fosters.”

They pick a Bank of Montreal branch. It goes like clockwork. Almost $1500! At this rate, warns Tom, now even more convinced of the plan’s lunacy and danger, they’ll still have to hit another six banks. How long can they keep it up before they’re caught?
A newspaper account of three teens who robbed seven banks in the Vancouver area inspired long-time kidlit and young adult authors James Heneghan and Norma Charles to join up and pen Bank Job.


[BCBW 2009]