Ample inspiration:

🕔Jan 28, 2008

Every year for the past four years, I’ve attended the huge Surrey International Writers’ Conference. The conference provides expert advice, offers an abundance of practical workshops, and motivates with keynote speakers like Anne Perry, Diana Gabaldon and Jack Whyte, to name just a few. I always come away with a conference high, feeling that the weekend was worth every penny of its cost.
Without fail though, as I’m leaving the conference, or upon arriving home, someone says, “Oh, I bet you wish you didn’t have to come back.”
Even I’m surprised by the truth. Despite how inspired I am by SIWC, I’m always happy to be back. I feel fortunate to be living and writing in Terrace. Why? Well, because as thrilling as it is to be with 1000 people who share my passion, the more I talk to different writers, the more I realize that things that some see as hindrances to the arts in the North—small populations, isolation, lack of venues—are (for me) creativity boons.
My writing community is almost like family—an eclectic and varied one. Some members I really connect with, and others not so much, but we make it work because, despite all our differences, we’re related. The lower cost of living here and the non-existent commuting time makes it easier for me to pursue my craft than it seems it would be elsewhere. There’s also the practical reality that there’s a lot less to do or view as entertainment—so if I crave the arts, I have to involve myself or they won’t exist.
Like many other writers in the North, I feel I’ve found my writing home. There are a lot of creative writers here, making their lives richer with both fiction and creative non-fiction stories. In every town around the region, there are established writers to celebrate and learn from. Here are just four working in different genres. I hope their success stories, told in brief, will inspire you.

Brenda Silsbe, whose grandparents arrived in Terrace in 1919, was born and raised in Terrace. She attended UBC in the 70’s, then returned to her hometown to teach. After three years at E.T. Kenney School, she got married. She and her husband have two children—4th generation Terracites!
In 1988, Brenda started sending out manuscripts. The Bears We Know was published by Annick Press in 1989. Six more books were published between 1989 and 2001: Just One More Colour (Annick, 1991), Winning the Girl of the Sea (Annick, 1994), The Watcher (Annick, 1995), W. Haigh, Animal Poet (Nelson, 1998), The Duet (Hodgepog, 2000), and A Tree is Just a Tree (Lobster, 2001). Four of these books are now out of print but can still be purchased at Terrace’s Misty River Books. Originally published as a little book called an annikin, The Bears We Know has sold over 131,000 copies and is being re-published, with new illustrations, as a regular-sized picture book for the fall of 2008.
When asked to comment on why she writes, Brenda responded, “I have no idea why I want and need to write. For the same reason that people are compelled to do anything, I suppose. Why do people climb mountains? Why do people invent?”
“I prefer writing children’s stories to other forms of writing because I like children. I remember how I felt as a child…I like to simplify rather than complicate, philosophize or explain, and I enjoy children’s literature, particularly fairy tales, folk tales, and poetry.
Living in the North, and in Terrace specifically, has definitely affected what Brenda writes about. In her books you’ll find “bears, the dump, a certain house and sauna in Thornhill, the seasons, the hotsprings, the waterslides, the volcano, the Pacific Ocean, hiking, crows and ravens, the Northwest Music Festival, and trees.”
To would-be writers, she offers this: “Read, write, edit…find publishers who are looking for your style of writing, and SEND! If you don’t try, you can’t succeed. I am approaching my 1200th rejection, and I am still alive. Dr. Seuss’s first book was rejected 23 times before a friend published it. Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected 144 times. My book, The Duet, was rejected 27 times. Take a chance!”

Robert Budde has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Calgary and teaches Creative Writing at UNBC in Prince George. He has published six books: Catch as Catch and traffick (poetry), Misshapen and The Dying Poem (novels), In Muddy Water (a collection of interviews), and Flicker (a book of short fiction). Most recently he edited and introduced a collection of poetry by the late Al Purdy called The More Easily Kept Illusions (Wilfred Laurier UP). In December 2007, Rob’s third book of poetry, Finding Ft. George (from Caitlin/Harbour), will hit the shelves.
While Rob identifies “definite isolation issues regarding writing communities and granting/publishing opportunities,” he thinks those negatives are “far outweighed by the creative freedom and artistic inspiration the north offers.”
How does he find time to write, when busy with a young family, teaching, and being active in the arts community? Simple: “No sleep.” And does he have advice for those who burn to tell stories or to write poetry? Absolutely. “Find other northern BC writers and artists to learn from. Take classes or workshops in creative writing to develop your craft. Read, read, read—especially writing from the north.”

Betty Lowman Carey and Neil G. Carey, long-time Queen Charlotte Islanders, are a husband-and-wife writing couple. Their very full and interesting personal histories fuel much of their writing.
Betty grew up around boats because her father and grandfather were involved in the fishing industry. Two days after graduating in 1937, Betty began her 66-day, 1300-mile dugout canoe trip from Anacortes to Ketchikan, Alaska, a voyage she would repeat—with variations, and along with many other paddling adventures—later in life.
Neil was a small-town/farm boy until he joined the US Navy in 1940. After recruit training he was assigned duty aboard the 16-inch gunned battleship USS Colorado, where he quickly rose through the ranks.
Married shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Betty and Neil have raised two sons, and have spent as much time as possible on the water, sailing and paddling. They have lived in Sandspit since 1965.
Some of Neil’s more famous writing credits include his two non-fiction books, A Guide to the Queen Charlotte Islands and Puffin Cove, and a historical novel, Tender Duty. He has also done extensive non-fiction editing. Betty’s work has been published in newspapers and magazines. Her book, BIJABOJI, North to Alaska by Oar, is based on her 1937 paddling trip.
Betty and Neil say, “If you want to write, just do it! Any time. Any place. Accept rejections as a challenge. Never be discouraged.”
I add: Don’t worry about what other communities have or what “bigger” venues offer. Become a part of (or develop!) your local writing scene—you’ll find that you’re surrounded by a wealth of inspiration in evocative settings, with memorable characters and ideas for stories and poetry-lines everywhere. What more could any writer ask for?

Find your writing niche!

Seeking ways to strengthen your craft or gain inspiration? Check out the following. You just might find the place you need for inspiration, advice, and general writing kinship.

Federation of BC Writers: All interested parties welcome; annual membership fee is minimal and includes a great quarterly newsletter, Wordworks. Ask questions and discuss individual plans and goals at monthly meetings in Prince George. For more information, contact Audrey Smedley/L’Heureux at or 250-567-1666.

Fort St. James: Writers interested in possibly forming a local writing group, or in attending Federation of BC Writers’ meetings in PG, can call Kyla Grundstrom at the library, 250-996-7531.

Gitwangak: Debbie Bright at the Education Centre, 250-849-5855, would enjoy helping organize creative writing workshops if there are enough interested individuals in the area.

The Hazeltons: Call the library, 250-842-596, or contact the NWCC Hazelton campus for leads on upcoming writing events

Kitimat: Kitimat Writers’ Group meets at the library every 3rd Tuesday of the month at 7:00 p.m. Call Karen at the library, 250-632-8985, for more information.

The Lakes District: Northern Scribblers,, is an online writing community, moderated by Alan Sandercott. Northern BC writers welcome. Share ideas, ask questions, take part in optional exercises, and receive feedback in a friendly atmosphere.

Northword Writers’ Camp (not affiliated with this magazine) runs in Terrace this August—three evening workshops offer motivating guest speakers, writing exercises, and lots more. For information, call Anna at Misty River Books (250-635-4428).

Prince George: Rob Budde from UNBC is trying to build a network of Northern writers. To get involved, e-mail him at

Queen Charlotte Islands: Check out the Queen Charlotte’s Art Council website,, for upcoming events.

Quesnel: Quesnel Wordspinners Society meets the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of the month. This active bunch self-publishes anthologies every second year. For more information, phone Ruth at 250-992-1567

Terrace: Terrace Writers’ Guild meets the 1st Tuesday of every month at Cafenara. Call Sarah at 250-638-8899 or visit for more information.

UNBC: Check the online calendar at, or phone the Terrace campus at 250-615-5578, for information about writing classes as part of a degree, or just for personal development.

Don’t see what you need here? Ask at libraries, question local booksellers, and check out coffee shop memo boards. Still no luck? Create your own writing group. I’d be happy to provide a few start-up tips or organizing how-tos. Contact me by e-mail: