The Banff Historical Fiction Intensive

Books on the shelf in the Painter House. 

Books on the shelf in the Painter House. 

I'm generally the kind of person that packs the night before leaving for a trip (I'm a terrible procrastinator), but I had all the essentials for my Banff Centre intensive packed a good three days before I had to leave. And by "essentials" I mean all the books I felt I needed to bring. My suitcase was about 2/3 books, 1/3 clothing. I even had bookends with me so I could line the books all up along my desk.

I saw this Banff intensive as a reinvestment in my identity as a writer. Back in the fall I'd started a new graduate degree in library science, and writing had to take a backseat. I'd sneak in some time here and there for my novel, but it never felt like enough. I started to get scared through the winter that my frustration at not being able to write would die away at some point, that I'd simply give up. I don't think this REALLY would have happened, but it was a fear that gnawed at the back of my mind nonetheless. 

In the months leading up to attending the program I was lucky enough to be introduced, by a mutual friend, to another writer, Kim, who was also signed-up. The two of us traded Facebook messages back and forth about our projects, our relationship to our writing, and also the concept of community amongst writers. It was terrific to be able to connect with another writer from the other side of the country and to have someone who would be a friendly face when I arrived in Banff.

Monica Kidd and Sandra MacIntyre sang to us.

Monica Kidd and Sandra MacIntyre sang to us.

Where I grew up in rural central Alberta there weren't a lot of people who wrote, and even fewer who saw their writing as more than a hobby, so I have always sought out creative communities with a strong hunger. A rich form of energy wells up when you gather together a bunch of writers who are serious about their craft. New perspectives are shared, titles of books to read come thick and fast. Throughout my time at Banff it was conversations with my fellow writers that I felt most enriched by. Every night after supper we gathered at the Painter House, in the Leighton Artists' Colony, to sit in a circle of chairs with glasses of wine in hand. We read our work to each other, discussed each other's projects, and worked through questions and concerns about our writing. Larry (Lawrence Hill) was there to guide us through these conversations, offering his experience and knowledge. But while he was the expert in the room, he also made the experience of the intensive very democratic, allowing us to help decide how best to structure our time.

We built a strong sense of community through the handful of days we spent together. We developed inside-jokes, we laughed a lot together, and most importantly we created a safe space to share in. I loved being in the Painter House in the afternoon when we were all writing there together. I'd sit there scribbling in my notebook, and feel everyone around me working as well. There was a sense of comfort in that, all of us quietly engaging in our creative practice in the same space.

I've returned to Calgary feeling invigorated about my project, eager to keep the momentum going, and very grateful for all the new friendships I made while in Banff. There is such a diversity amongst the projects everyone is working on, and I hope to be able to go the launch of each of these books when they are eventually released out into the world.

On Working for Freehand Books

I love helping to create conversations around books. That's why I do the interviews I do for Writer's Block, because I hope that maybe in some small way I might introduce someone to a book they might not have heard of before. To get to create those conversations as part of a job is a great privilege.

Read More