By Laura McAlister
Claire Datnow has been writing most of her life, but it wasn’t until retirement that she decided to make a career out of it.
The South African native who’s now a Hoover resident retired from teaching about 10 years ago. Since then, she’s had eight books published. Her latest, an eco-mystery series, is for middle school-aged children.
“I knew towards my retirement that I couldn’t write and teach full time,” Claire said. “My kids had left, and I realized I had this block of time where I could just sit and write. I wanted to see if it would be a fit, and it was lovely. I was able to concentrate on writing as a profession.”
Her first book, “Behind the Walled Garden of Apartheid,” is a memoir from her life in South Africa.
It was 1965, and Claire and husband Boris were in their 20s when they decided to move to the U.S. The young couple was fearful that the political climate in South Africa could erupt into violence, and they also wanted to see the world, she said.
“There were a number of reasons we left,” Claire said. “It was an uneasy political situation in many ways. We both morally thought the system we were living in was wrong and potentially unsafe. Then, we were just young.”
Both had an insatiable desire to learn. Boris studied at the Mayo Clinic and worked for NASA, and Claire is a University of Alabama at Birmingham alumnus “twice over,” she said.
Her many books also show her desire to learn. Though she writes both fiction and non-fiction, Claire said all her work is fact based. She points to her newest series, “The Adventures of the Sizzling Six,” as an example.
The series, which includes three books so far, follows six middle school-aged girls as they solve complex eco-mysteries.
One looks at saving a centuries-old oak tree, and another deals with the disappearing freshwater mussels vital to keeping rivers and streams clean.
Claire said she hopes to not only educate young readers on environmental issues with her Sizzling Six series but also prompt them to action.
“Each book sends them on an adventure,” she said. “It gives them a chance to understand the ecology. The idea was to take something real – like the one on the Cahaba lily – and make it the center of the story. Then I want to give them empowerment to make a difference.”
While Claire typically does all the research for the books herself, she did have some help when it came to the eco-mysteries. Since she has some grandchildren roughly the same ages as the stars of the Sizzling Six series, she tested her stories on them first.
“I work with them, and they’ll tell me if I’m off key for their age group,” Claire said. “There’s lots of text messaging, so I had to get up on my texting.”
The books also make use of technology that middle school kids are all too familiar with – smart phones and tablets.
The books, available in print and e-book on Amazon, have videos to go along with them. All the young readers have to do is scan the QR code in the book with their phones or tablets and watch the video.
“They all tie into the flow of the story,” Boris said. “It really makes the books come alive.”
In the eco-mysteries, Claire said she uses video to further describe a complicated eco-system. Her other books also make use of video, but they’re used more to get to know the author, Boris said.
For example, in “The Final Diagnosis,” a non-fiction book that looks at some of her husband’s many autopsy cases, the chapters begin with a video of Claire discussing why she wrote that particular chapter.
In the e-book versions, Boris said, the video is embedded in the book so readers aren’t taken away from the book when they watch it, and it doesn’t require Internet access or downloading.
While Claire’s eight books may seem like a lot, the author said she’s not nearly done writing. She plans on writing more for the Sizzling Six series. One is already underway, inspired by the couple’s recent trip to Australia. Next she’ll write about whatever topic might interest her.
“I’m kind of like a dog chasing a rabbit,” she said of her writing. “I view the world as a really interesting place, and when I get interested in something I dive into researching it.
“It’s a lot of work, but I don’t mind. I want to keep that sense of wonder and curiosity and share it.”