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Local author and illustrator Ashley Spires inspires children

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It isn’t a question my eight-year-old would ordinarily ask me but by chance that she happened to inquire where I was going in such a hurry. I told her I was off to interview a children’s author and illustrator for the magazine.

“Oh, What’s her name?”

“Um, Ashley Spires.”

“Wow, it’s Binky the Space Cat!”

Yes, this conversation really did happen. And while the name Ashley Spires may not mean much to adults, children across Canada are extremely familiar with the adventures of her furry protagonists.

“I walk into a school in P.E.I. or I walk into a school in Ontario and the kids are going nuts for my books,” explains Ashley, “so it’s really exciting and it’s really cool to go back to my old school and say, ‘I went here! Look what I do now! You can do this, too.’”

Ashley grew up in the Beach Grove neighbourhood of Tsawwassen and went to Cliff Drive Elementary and graduated from South Delta Secondary. I ask her what it’s like to come back to those schools and read to kids in classrooms she once sat inside.

“It’s a bit surreal, especially when I recognize the teachers! I’m like, how have you not aged? I have!”

Ashley became “obsessed” with animation and illustration at a young age and would write her own stories about animals and present them to her parents. And although South Delta isn’t directly referenced in her books, she says it certainly influenced the subject matter.

“My parents have a pet wholesale food place so there was a lot of cats that would be dumped there,” she explains. “My dad has a giant heart so they would just end up coming home.”

Becoming a children’s author and illustrator can be hard at first, or as Ashley puts it, “dipping your toe into the world of creativity.”

Despite her obvious predilections for art and writing, Ashley ran into the typical self-doubt and insecurity common of the teenage years. At one point she even convinced herself she wasn’t any good at either and resigned herself to doing something else with her life.

But fortunately her years at Emily Carr University in Vancouver and Sheridan College in Toronto invigorated and inspired her to create the books now so beloved by Canadian children.

Today, she lives with her husband and furry friends (Gordon, Penny and Fran) in Neilson Grove in Ladner. However, for a brief time she lived in Saskatchewan where her husband is originally from. It took some convincing before they hitched their wagons back west.

“That was the deal,” says Ashley, laughing. “I’ll move to Saskatchewan provided we’re going to come back. Saskatchewan was lovely, it really was, but this is home.”

Even when she was living in another province, Ashley says she flew to visit her parents in Boundary Bay as often as possible.

“I’d bring my dog, Gordon, who I acquired in Saskatchewan, so I felt it was important that a little prairie dog get to come to the beach. And so we came out every couple of months because I missed it so much. I missed Boundary Bay Beach, that is my favourite place in the world.”

So what does the future hold? Ashley would like to see one of her books made into an animated show and she’s currently optioning her “Binky the Space Cat” books.

I won’t need to follow up to find out when that’s on TV. I’m sure my eight-year-old will let me know.

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