As a novelist, Ania Szado knows a thing or two about drawing out a scene since she started off as a visual artist before she took to storytelling.
Szado, who is based in Toronto, is Whistler's 2013 writer-in-residence, based at the Alta Lake Station House from Oct. 1 until Dec. 1. While in the resort, she will work with 12 writers in one-on-one sessions to develop manuscripts they have been working on.
Her residency kicks off the resort's literary fall, culminating in the Whistler Readers & Writers Festival from Oct. 18 to 20.
"(As a student in Ontario) I was drawing and painting and doing visual art every day. But one of the classes I took was my creative writing class, my first one, and I was really, really intimidated, which I think speaks to how much of dream it was for me to be a writer," Szado recalls. "Until that point it had been like a pie-in-the-sky dream... I could do the writing but I had to really gear myself up."
She added that there were times she stood outside the door of her classroom, unable to go in.
In her 20s, Szado, who is now 50, lost her brother in an accident and this loss spurred her to do what meant most to her, "to write." She decided to retake the creative writing course she'd completed for her degree, and this time there was no standing outside the class.
"There was an entirely different result. I showed up religiously, had confidence and I realized that it was not only possible but it was the thing for me," Szado said. "I battled through it, doing things to trick myself into writing, even writing in the dark!"
Szado started by writing "very, very short stories and then they got longer and longer." Now she is the author of two novels, including Studio Saint-Ex, published in April this year, which hit the Maclean's best seller list. Her first novel, Beginning of Was, was published in 2004 and shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writer's Prize and nominated for the international Kiriyama Prize.
In between, she completed an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and her short fiction was nominated for the Journey Prize.
Her early writing insecurities have played a part now that she teaches, she said, allowing her to understand how hard it is for many writers to simply hit the keyboard.
Sixty per cent of Szado's time as Whistler's writer in residence will be spent allowing her to write her own work, the remainder will be spent working with other writers, said the director of the Whistler Readers & Writers Festival, Stella Harvey. Funding to cover Szado's time comes from the Canada Council for the Arts.
"She's got quite a track record as a teacher for writers," Harvey said. "She will be reading at the festival as well. I am quite excited."
While Szado's sessions have long been booked up, Harvey said those on the waiting list were offered the opportunity to workshop with local writer Rebecca Wood Barrett for $125. There were 10 people already on the waitlist; four have joined Wood Barrett's sessions, allowing for a smaller tight-knit group of four two-hour sessions. Harvey said anyone wanting more information could contact her at Stella25@telus.net.
Szado is also leading a seminar at the Writers Festival, From History to Story, on writing historical fiction. It takes place on Saturday, Oct. 19 from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and costs $25. For more information visit viciouscircle.ca.