Get to Know the 2019 John Spray Finalists!

Each year, the John Spray Mystery Award recognizes Canadian contributions to mystery books for young people. This year’s nominated title are Aftermath by Kelley Armstrong, Call of the Wraith  by Kevin Sands,  The Case of the Firebane Folly by Liam O’Donnell and illustrated by Mike Deas, Sadie by Courtney Summers and Wolfe in Shepherd’s Clothing by Angie Counios and David Gane. We asked the nominees what book from your youth influenced you the most and helped you to become the creator you are today? 


Courtney Summers is the bestselling, critically acclaimed and award-winning author of several novels. Her first book was published in 2008, when she was 22. Her newest novel, Sadie, is a New York Times bestseller, Edgar Award Winner, Odyssey Award winner, Audie Award winner, received six starred reviews and appeared on over 30 Best of 2018 lists. Courtney has reviewed for The New York Times, is the founder of #ToTheGirls, a 2015 worldwide trending hashtag, and in 2016, she was named one of Flare Magazine’s 60 under 30. She lives and writes in Canada.   

The Baby-Sitters Club was a series that had a significant impact on me as both a reader, and later, a writer. I don’t think you ever forget the first reading experience that inspires that level of excitement and devotion in you — eagerly awaiting the next instalments, becoming so wholly invested in a world and its characters. The BSC was my first introduction to fandom and my first real introduction to the power and impact of writing. As I got older, the possibility that I could also inspire the same level of investment and excitement in readers with my own stories took hold and it was one I couldn’t turn away from.


Angie Counios and David Gane are the internationally award-winning writing team of the Shepherd & Wolfe mystery series.  They’ve known each other nearly 20 years, first as in-laws when David married Angie’s sister, before collaborating together on screenplays and novels since 2003. They are currently working on their fourth book, Shepherd’s Call, which arrives in 2020.

Angie: English is my second language and as a child, my teachers read us Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. I remember getting super excited about the word flabbergasted. What a word! I also recall some Nancy Drew books and one about a boy who went into the woods to live alone called My Side of the Mountain. I loved them all but the story that really set my writing career into motion — very slow motion — was The Diary of Trilby Frost by Dianne Glaser.

I found it relatable and brave, a coming of age story about a teen living in Tennessee in the early 1900s and Glaser tells it from her point of view through reflections in her diary, given to her by her dad. She writes about a tough life, full of struggles, and far from glamorous. Yet, the telling is emotional, relevant and powerful. I quit thinking of her as a fictitious character and fell into this book hard, watching Trilby go through her life on her terms.

I figured if she could write about her life, I could write about mine too, so I began to a journal. It was my secret storytelling. I don’t really have any interest in picking that writing up and reading it (yes, I still have it — how embarrassing). But I think I have to give humble kudos to The Diary of Trilby Frost for showing me a way to get to storytelling that I didn’t know I had.

David: When I have to answer what book impacted me as a child, I get a nervous sweat. I don’t think I was a big reader early on.

However, when I became a teenager, it had to be William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Something about that book worked for me. It was violent and beautiful in its brutality and imagery.

But also, it gets at an underlying question I think about when working on Shepherd & Wolfe: why and how do people cause such brutal acts of violence?

It’s a tough question but an important one, and even 65 years ago, Golding was unflinching in exploring it.


Liam O’Donnell is an award-winning author and educator. He has created about 40 graphic novels and books specifically for reluctant readers, including: Max Finder Mystery, Graphic Guide Adventures, Geeked Out Mysteries,  Tank & Fizz, Battle of the Blocks and West Meadows Detectives.

The book that got me reading and put goblins in my brain was The Hobbit. A classic that turned me into a reader overnight and filled my mind with monsters and magic. While Tank and Fizz are very different from the monsters in the Tolkien’s masterpiece, all the characters in my books can trace their origins back to the seed The Hobbit planted in my imagination when I was only 12.


Kelley Armstrong is the author of the Rockton crime thrillers and A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying middle-grade fantasy series. Past works include Otherworld urban fantasy series, the Darkest Powers & Darkness Rising teen paranormal trilogies, the Age of Legends fantasy YA series and the Nadia Stafford crime trilogy. Armstrong lives in Ontario with her family. 

One book from my childhood that had a huge impact on my writing is Watership Down. It opened my eyes to the possibility that fantasy fiction could exist on many levels — that one book could both be entertaining and illuminating. It was a roaring good story, but also made thought-provoking points about political structures, religion and the power of story.


Since escaping from university with a pair of degrees in theoretical physics, Kevin Sands has worked as a researcher, a business consultant, a teacher, and a professional poker player. He lives in Ontario, Canada. He is the author of the bestselling The Blackthorn Key series.

The Swords Trilogy by Michael Moorcock. Wildly imaginative, it was my first introduction to fantasy, and though later books would ultimately prove to be bigger influences, this was the book that started me down that path.