This is a guest post, written by Lisa McGonigle:
Emails, ski-trails and book deals
You know how it goes, come to BC for one winter, stay for four…
In November 2005, I left my native Ireland to spend the ski-season in Fernie, BC. I worked the usual panoply of seasonal jobs – server, receptionist, daylodge cashier – and snowboarded as much as I could. But you know how, when you’re heading off on your travels, people hug you goodbye and mock-admonish you, “You’d better keep in touch now d’ya hear?” Right, I thought, tell me to keep in touch, oh I’ll keep in touch alright. In whatever snatches of time I had left between shredding and earning minimum wage, I wrote lengthy mass emails to my friends, 2000 to 3000 words each, about Fernie Alpine Resort, about the town of Fernie itself, about smashing myself repeatedly when in the terrain park, about duct-taping over the holes in my ski-gear, about the mind-blowing quality and volume of powder snow.
Anyway, one thing led to another and I never got round to leaving town come spring, as originally planned. I kept writing emails through all the adventures that ensued, including the brouhaha when I dropped out of a PhD at Oxford and came back to Canada to snowboard some more. Several leave-the-country-renew-my-visa-come-back-into-the-country dances with Immigration later, and I was still rattling around BC in spring 2009 when I saw a poster for the Fernie Writers Conference. Huh? I’d been writing emails as much for myself as for my friends (more, possibly) and occasionally I’d read back over them fondly, like the way you might flick through your digital photos in remembrance of glories and ignominies past. It occurred to me, however, that this sheaf of emails might just add up to something more than just a fond souvenir of the past few years. Indeed, when I did a quick word count they totaled 80,000. Whaddya know? Maybe I’d written a book without realizing it.
Still penniless, I applied for and was granted a scholarship to the Non-Fiction group of the conference. Thrilled as I was, having never been to any sort of writers’ event before, I was a little wary turning up on that first day, afraid there’d be a sea of “writerly” types trying to connect with their inner-child or reciting reams of sub-Dylanesque prose – “Rage! Rage!” – while staring moodily and intensely into the middle-distance.
Luckily my fears were unfounded. Our group was led by the reassuringly down-to-earth Sid Marty, and writers, it seems, are just ordinary people like you and me! The group included Carolyn, an ex-airline captain writing her memoirs, Jeanette, who was torn between writing up her family lore in fictional or non-fictional format, and Kyle who, like me, had chosen the way of the snow over a more structured path (in his case, law school) and was writing about his travels overseas.
Every morning we’d workshop up at Fernie Alpine Resort, sitting outside in the dry summer warmth that the Kootenays are blessed with, sharing feedback on each others’ work. In the afternoon we were free to either do our own thing or attend panels given by established authors and other figures from the publishing industry. For the uninitiated like myself, learning about editors’ selection criteria and what happens between book deal and bookshelf was like gaining an insight into the workings of the Freemasons. I was enrapt.
Encouraged by the group, on the Friday night of the conference I read part of my work aloud at an event in the Fernie Arts Station, and the following afternoon met with a sales rep and editor from Oolichan Books, both of whom had heard me read the night before. We went for a coffee, I gave them a brief outline of my story to date and they asked me to send them my manuscript, such as it was at that point.
Sending off my manuscript to a publisher? No big deal. Chatting with a sales rep about the likely target audience for the book? Sure, do it all the time. Ha! I wasn’t fooling even myself with such faux nonchalance. This was – and remains – the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me in my life. (To add to the surreality of events, at the time I was training for a marathon and that morning I’d been up at 5.30 a.m. to run sixteen kilometres before the arrival of the heat of the day, shouting “Woo hoo!” every couple of hundred metres to alert any lurking bears to my presence as I ran along the forest trails.) I was dizzy with tiredness and elation.
Oolichan emailed me back a few months later saying they’d be happy to publish the book, which was simply known as “the book” for an alarmingly long time before finally acquiring the title of Snowdrift. Man, the real adventures were only just about to start…
Lisa McGonigle is currently completing a PhD in Irish Studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Snowdrift is published by Oolichan Books (ISBN 9780889822719)