Hold Fast: the story of a Canadian classic

The evolution of the cover of Hold Fast. On the left is the 1978 Clarke Irwin edition; followed by the 1995 edition published by Stoddart Kids; then the 25th anniversary Groundwood update; and on the right, the 35th anniversary movie tie-in edition.

The evolution of the cover of Hold Fast. On the left is the 1978 Clarke Irwin edition; followed by the 1995 edition published by Stoddart Kids; then the 25th anniversary Groundwood version; and on the right, the 35th anniversary movie tie-in edition.

Thirty-five years ago, I got my first real job, as an editorial assistant at a now-defunct publishing company called Clarke Irwin. The salary was $6,000 a year, and I worked in a little cubbyhole where I spent a lot of time wrestling with carbon paper and Wite-Out, typing address labels on an old manual typewriter, and rejecting manuscripts.

My biggest job perk was that I got to read the slush pile. Clarke Irwin was mainly an educational publisher, but it had started to get into trade books, including children’s books.

One of the manuscripts that came across my desk was a young adult novel written by a schoolteacher in Newfoundland. The novel was called Hold Fast. I was knocked out by it. I sent it on to the Powers That Be, and the decision was made to publish it.

That’s when I was assigned the best task in publishing. I got to tell the author that we wanted to publish his book.

I phoned Kevin Major. He was very nice. Very polite. We talked for a short while and both said goodbye. But in that second as I was putting down the receiver, I heard him on the other end of the line, shouting with joy just before he hung up the phone. I think he screamed “Wahoo!”

An illustration from Hold Fast

An illustration from the first edition of Hold Fast

That was the start. For Kevin it was the beginning of a stellar writing career, with fifteen books, a heap of awards and publication around the world.

For me? Hold Fast was my introduction to YA books, and it spoiled me for anything else. That book taught me everything I needed to know about voice and authenticity, about character-driven stories, about sense of place, about making readers feel something. After that, I knew I wanted to edit books for young readers, and I’ve spent the rest of my own career doing so, with Hold Fast setting the bar.

Kevin? Are you out there? Do you remember that Wahoo moment? It’s been thirty-five years. Can you believe it?

Shelley Tanaka is an award-winning author, editor and translator. She lives in Kingston, Ontario.


Now Hold Fast is a major motion picture produced by Rock Island Productions. The movie premiers in Canada on Friday, December 6th in St. John’s and Halifax. The national release will be in 2014. If you’re a lucky east-coaster, we hope you’ll check it out. The rest of us will have to make due with the trailer for now.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4pcVZHCQDs&w=560&h=315]

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