We were thrilled to chat with author Thomas Conway all about his new book: The Naughty List’. We find out what inspired him to write the book and what Christmas is like on the Conway household.
What inspired you to write The Naughty List?
Since my first child was born, I always told my kids stories at bedtime. One of their favourites was about the North Pole recruiting naughty kids to save Santa. After years of the story changing, I memorialized the story in a manuscript in 2015. I spent a few more years just reading the manuscript to the kids when the family insisted that I publish the book. At the end of 2019, The Naughty List was published.
Grandpa Hermey and Grandson Tiberius certainly take on a massive challenge to save Santa from Eastern Industries, how did you go about creating these characters?
Hermey is my bridge to the world of the North Pole that many have come to know through the last century of popular media. He is inspired by the “dentist elf” in the special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He is our connection to Christmases past.
Tiberius is a combination of people I have come to know over the years. His naughty behaviour is not driven by a malicious nature; rather it is his plea for attention. While the world looks at Tiberius and will say he has everything, Tiberius lacks family and friends. While Tiberius is always with someone in his parents’ employ, he is a lonely child without any emotional support. The armor he develops to deal with his situation is the true root of his naughtiness. Once he is freed from this burden, his natural abilities burst out to help the world.
Throughout the book, a team of children (all on the naughty list) are recruited to help on the wonderful adventure, which character did you enjoy most writing?
My favourite character is Mithra Bentley. She is a nerdy girl that is obsessed with the weather. I was very much the same in my youth (except the girl part). I often got into trouble for following my academic passions too far. Mithra learns that her knowledge can be extremely important and her underlying confidence grows in the story. Part of what makes her my favorite is that this book is just the beginning of her journey. When I tell my kids the stories that take place after the book, Mithra becomes a greater part of the story. Her optimism and self-assurance remind me of my daughter.
In the end, Tiberius shows us that children, although sometimes naughty, should not be defined by their mistakes and Mrs. Claus scraps the ‘Naughty List’, was this topic close to your heart?
This was perhaps the toughest part of publishing the book. When I look back at my childhood, I remember getting into trouble without knowing I was doing anything wrong. As a result of the negative feedback, I began to think I was a bad person and could not tell right from wrong. It became a negative-feedback loop and it was not until I became an adult that I began to understand my “naughty” behaviour was the result of isolated actions and not a general character failing.
I would tell my kids The Naughty List in an effort for them to understand that naughty behaviour will happen for all kids, but that does not mean they are naughty kids. As an avid reader of history, I am appalled at the way children have been treated over the centuries. Even John Locke, the hero of personal liberty, did not consider this right to extend to children. As times have evolved, I hope The Naughty List can become part of the Christmas lore and help us abandon this hurtful labeling of our most precious resource; children.
Have you ever done something when you were younger to be on Santa’s Naughty List?
Of course! Who hasn’t? I have put a “kick me” note on a teacher. I have stolen a toy from a peer. The list is quite long, but I never really understood the consequences of my actions beyond the punishment. Just about every naughty action done by the characters in the book was done by me in some form.
I am not proud of those events and wished I could have been educated to keep from repeating them. Instead, I only learned that I should avoid getting caught since punishment seemed to be the only consequence of my actions. In The Naughty List, many of the kids are in the same situation. They do not fully understand the consequences of their own actions until the elves help them understand.
Human society seems to take for granted that knowing right from wrong is not necessarily a natural instinct. We should work harder to teach people the effects of their actions rather than rush to punishment and move on. The latter is certainly easier, but the former is well worth the added effort. To stop the cycle of mistake and punishment, one must learn from each failure.
And finally, we like to ask everyone we interview – What’s Christmas like in the Conway household?
Christmas is a time for our family to slow down and appreciate what we have. You could say we aim for a Hyggely Christmas. We do our best to appreciate all aspects of the season. We soften the lights in the house and decorate with warmth. We bring out the electric candles and take walks in the cold so the warm house is appreciated. Our food and desserts are more homemade this time of year so that each bite reminds us of the time spent making them. Of course, we read The Naughty List each night.
Christmas morning is when we open gifts and listen to Christmas music. A large breakfast is enjoyed and we have a few hours to play a family game. In the afternoon, we journey to Grandma’s house to celebrate with my siblings and their kids. My best memories of Christmas are not about lavish gifts or magnificent preparations, rather they are the moments of unexpected joy that arise from a family just enjoying their own company.
A huge thank-you to Thomas for sharing such in-depth and heartwarming answers, we’re off to read it for a second time!