By Julia Gillmor, special to the Nelson Star
For Kootenay youth interested in the literary arts, Christmas is coming early. Award winning novelist and Canada Reads nominee Angie Abdou is heading to Nelson in May for a youth-oriented creative writing workshop.
Abdou admits to falling in love with books when she first cracked, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss, but for many years she lived a life where she had the desire to write but lacked the confidence.
“After I hit the teenage years self consciousness set in and I wasn’t in the group of creative kids who wrote. So I just stopped and didn’t take creative writing. When I went to university, since I hadn’t taken creative writing, I didn’t have a portfolio and I felt too intimidated to apply.”
At university Abdou studied academics and wrote about about the books she was reading, graduating with a Ph.D in English Literature. It wasn’t until 1999 at the age of 30, when a head on car collision which broke her back, she actually got down to the business of writing. Abdou published her first book, Anything Boys Can Do, a collection of short stories in 2006. She hasn’t stopped writing since.
Abdou says she began with short stories to learn to write. She read a lot of books, did a lot of exercises and then started taking workshops and mentorship programs which helped her complete her first two books. “I used the short stories to learn my craft not because writing short stories is easier, it’s actually harder.”
She followed up with The Bone Cage in 2007, published Canterbury Trails in 2011 and just finished her latest novel Sweat.
Abdou puts the time in at her computer but says that’s not where the best ideas come from. It’s not until she’s out for a run that she really gets her best ideas, plot points and phrases.
“I can always tell when an idea for a novel comes because I get really excited and want to talk about it. It’s almost a physical experience and I get energized. Some people don’t want to talk about their books in progress but if I don’t want to talk about it, it’s probably not very interesting to me.”
Abdou’s stories come from a desire to understand the world around her. “I read that you have to write what you know so the writing is true but for me, I write about what I am completely obsessed with, that really determines my next project. In that way, the books pick me.”
After Canada Reads and Abdou became the poster girl for Canadian literary fiction, she began to experience the pressure to produce. “I lost the fun of it and was very stressed. I tried to pound out a book and it was the biggest pile of garbage that anyone has ever read. And I realized that if I’m not having fun writing then it’s not going to be any fun to read.”
“I think all writers have to remind themselves of the pleasure of process. If you don’t find pleasure there’s no sense at all in doing this.”
An English and Creative Writing instructor at College of the Rockies, Abdou also spends a lot of time working with youth.
“When teenages have an idea that writers are removed or somehow superior and they meet someone who is normal,” she laughs, “they realize that this is something that they can do. It’s really important for teens to have a community of teen writers and workshops provide this.”
“This workshop will be intense and they can expect to get a lot of feedback. I like to stretch and push what a writer can do but I promise it’s going to be fun. Anyone attending the workshop will go away charged up and excited about writing with a lot of ideas of how they can improve.