Author Interview : Dan Bar-el

We’ve got a very exciting author interview to share with you on the Red Cedar blog today – Sara Westerholm is a Grade 6 French Immersion student at Signal Hill Elementary in Pemberton, B.C., and she interviewed Audrey (Cow) author Dan Bar-el.


Hello Mr. Bar-el,

My name is Sara and I am interviewing you for the Red Cedar Award, so before I get started I just wanted to say that your book “Audrey Cow” was one of the best books I have ever read! I loved Audrey so much, she was so loving and strong, which leads me into one of my questions,

  1. How do you come up with characters in your books? All your characters are just SO inspiring.

It all started with the cow, Audrey, which was based on the actual Charolaise cow from Cincinnati, Ohio who escaped from the slaughterhouse. I began by asking myself questions. What was so unique about her in character, in intelligence, in willpower and fortitude, in how she viewed life, that would compel her to escape and stay uncaptured for so long, when most cows do not do that? From the answers I came up with, a character started to take shape.

With the other animal characters, part of my process was to look at each animal’s behavior or the typical traits we associate with those animals, and then apply human qualities to them. For example, we know that pigs are very intelligent creatures, so how would a “brainy” pig interact with the world? Would he be more interested in facts and information than making emotional connections with others? Would he feel somewhat superior to others because of his smarts?

  1. How does it feel to be nominated for the Red Cedar Award?

It feels great! This is the first time I’ve been nominated for a Red Cedar, so that makes it particularly special. I like that this is an award determined by the readers. It means that students are engaged with the books they are reading. At some point, each voter has to make a choice and decide that this book means more to me than that book. It’s not even so much about the book that wins. It’s about each individual student learning something about themselves as readers. The choice they make will reflect their tastes, it will underline what’s important or meaningful to them, and what stories resonate inside their mind and heart. Authors love when readers tell them that they like their books, and authors can handle when a reader says they don’t like their books. What hurts an author the most is when their stories are ignored or the reader is indifferent. That’s why an award like Red Cedar is important. It makes the books matter.

  1. Your book “Audrey Cow” was a very inspiring novel, so it must have taken a long time to write, right? So, how long did it take you to write the amazing book that is “Audrey Cow”?

Although I wasn’t working on it exclusively, Audrey (cow) did take five or six years to come together. I always knew that I wanted it written in 1st person, from Audrey’s point of view, and so every year I’d take out my latest draft and work on it for a bit, but the story would never take shape and I’d lose interest and put it away. It wasn’t until I decided to have not just one narrator but thirty narrators that I became really involved in telling the story and for a year, it was my main focus. But consider that even after my publisher, Tundra Books, accepted my story, I still had several additional drafts to work on with my editors before it became the book that you read.

  1. As I said before, your characters are very amazing so, are any of the characters in “Audrey Cow” based on people you have met before?

That’s an interesting question. I’ve never been asked that. Some of the characters are kind of based on old Hollywood actors and actresses, like Oliver and Stan, Greta, and Torchy, but, of course, I’d never met them personally. I would say that there was no one particular in my life that I based these characters on, but I would say that in their creation, I got to know each of them very well, and had grown to care deeply for them. Eddie and Boris touch my heart as does Audrey and her mother, Jeannine. Doris makes me laugh and I also feel protective of her. I feel a bit sorry for everything that goes wrong for Kasey. And I could go on about Agnes and Norma and all the others too. Maybe, because this is a story told in voices, I’ve brought each of the characters deeper inside me in order to hear how they speak.

  1. I love writing and I find there are always things that I want to go back and change in my writing, so, if you could go back and change one thing about your book “Audrey Cow” what would it be?

I wouldn’t say this about a lot of my books, but with Audrey (cow), I have a lot of satisfaction in its finished form, not just the writing, but the illustrations, the cover, the way it’s told in five acts rather than chapters, the fake quote at the beginning, all of it was what I had envisioned. With the writing specifically, I was fortunate to have had two amazing editors who worked very hard with me to make the writing as strong as possible.

However, if there is one loose end, it’s with Buster, the pig. Audrey’s situation at the end of story in much better than it was at the start, but Buster shares the same fate as Audrey, and nothing has changed in his life. If there’s a sequel to this Audrey (cow), then maybe it needs to address Buster’s future.

Thank you so much for this great interview, Sara, and a thank you to Ms. Benes, the Teacher-Librarian at  Signal Hill Elementary! Stay tuned to the Red Cedar blog for more author interviews coming your way!