P.E.I. Writers' Guild home to vibrant writing community
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Keir Lowther of Charlottetown says four years of dedicated writing and editing went into his first published book that hits the store shelves on Nov. 1.
Some who know Keir Lowther may not know that he is a writer.
"In my head I think I'm a writer but I don't broadcast that I write,'' he said.
A day job with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada pays the bills for this 34-year-old Charlottetown father of one.
No slight to his paid career, but writing is Lowther's true passion. He has been writing since he was no more than a small boy.
By his own admission, much of his earlier writing has been sub-par, even quite horrendous. Lowther concedes he has hammered out many poorly written stories on his keyboard over the years: some just downright terrible.
He was about 22 when he submitted work that he hoped would become his first published book. Not a chance.
The publisher not only rejected his offering, but she turned it down with words that might leave some would-be authors blubbering incoherently as they walked out into the street in a daze.
He notes the publisher, delivering a harsh wakeup call, told Lowther that she actually laughed out loud at how poor his grammar was in the rejected manuscript.
Such a critical assessment, he adds, was nothing short of humbling. Fortunately, the cold critique did not prove crippling.
Lowther got back on his butt and continued writing. He just kept writing and submitting his work.
He wrote his master's thesis in creative writing at Humber College in Toronto in 2005. A bit later, he took a mentorship program through the Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia.
In 2007, Lowther's short-fiction submission was short-listed for a CBC Literary Award. The following year, he earned an Island Literary Award for short fiction.
On the first of November, his first book will hit the shelves.
His debut novel, called Dirty Bird (published by Tightrope Books), is the result of four years of "dedicated writing and editing''.
Indigo bills the novel as a "collection of linked stories that revolve around loved ones -- dead and alive, family or otherwise -- this work instills a creepy, deadpan, dark, and sexual tone.''
How the book is received is critical in determining where Lowther goes with his writing. His ultimate goal -- and dream -- is for writing to be a career.
"For most people it is a hobby,'' he said.
"It's very difficult to carve out a living...you do it because you can't exist without it...it almost haunts you.''
He estimates hundreds of Islanders are writers.
He is one of the roughly 80 members of the P.E.I. Writers' Guild. He is also a member of the board. He says the guild promotes a stronger literary culture within P.E.I.
"Writing by its nature is a solitary venture,'' he said.
"The guild lives to make it less solitary.''
Award-winning author Deirdre Kessler co-founded the P.E.I. Writers' Guild in 1989 to promote writing in the province and to provide assistance to writers at all stages of their careers.
To this end, the guild conducts writing workshops, engages youth in readings and other literary endeavours, holds literary readings, communicates weekly with members through the Writers' Guild listserve, and conducts annual writers-in-schools visits.
"It's a lively, literary scene on the Island,'' said Kessler, who teaches creative writing and children's literature at UPEI.
"My interest and involvement has been to be part of a writing community: to get together with like-minded people, whether amateur writers or professional, and to have it here (on P.E.I.).''
Even though Kessler has 24 published books to her name, teaching and contract writing remain her main source of income. The ideal situation would be to just write and be published but that has not been enough to pay the bills in the past.
Bonnie Stewart sort of stumbled into the Prince Edward Island Writers' Guild.
By winning the Clarey Pottie Creative Non-Fiction Award during the Island Literary Awards in 2011 for a piece that she wrote on family bonds, Stewart was granted a one-year membership with the guild. She plans to continue with the Writers' Guild, noting the organization is home to considerable and diverse literary talent ranging from the likes of David Helwig -- author/editor of more than 20 books of poetry and fiction, a former poet laureate and a member of the Order of Canada -- to Patrick Ledwell -- one of the province's most entertaining comedians (audiences roar over his humorous dissection and interpretation of all things Prince Edward Island) and recent author (I Am An Islander).
"The writing community in P.E.I. really surprised me with its openness, its welcomeness and its talent,'' said Stewart.
"There are many gifted writers in P.E.I. that are unable to make a living from that talent.''
Writing has been a big part of Stewart's identity.
She started a mommy blog in 2006 that allowed her to delve into the grieving process of losing a child born premature while also revelling in the wonder of having a new baby boy.
"It was something that was not speakable but it was writeable...it gave me a place to speak without asking any one person to hear me,'' she said.
Plenty read her blog. It averaged 7,000 to 8,000 page views per month.
Stewart describes winning an Island Literary Award as validation for the serious work she has put into the craft of writing. Stewart followed up the literary nod by having a story published in Riptides, a compilation of non-fiction by 23 short-story writers.
"The writing community in P.E.I. really surprised me with its openness, its welcomeness and its talent,'' she said.
Her focus must now be on academic writing for the next while as she pursues her doctor of education.
She will, though, also keep writing on a personal level, but in smaller doses for now.
"I like to be able to write the world as I generally see it,'' she said.