Local author Sheila Peters spent time at the library, Nov. 19, to read from her new novel, The Taste of Ashes.
Looking back, writing a novel is something Peters was destined to do, although it may not have always been obvious.
“It was something I always thought about and dabbled in,” Peters said of how she started writing fiction.
Following the publication of her first collection of short stoires, Tending The Remnant Damage, in 2001, Peters attended the Banff Writing Studio with several other authors.
There, she worked on more short stories but Bonnie Burnard, a Giller Prize winning novelist, suggested to Peters she write a novel.
At first Peters admits the idea of writing a novel was overwhelming.
“It takes a long time,” Peters said about the process of writing a novel.
“Short stories are fairly self-contained and can be finished in a month.”
But she started working on the novel, one thing led to another and eventually she completed her first novel, The Taste of Ashes.
Ironically, the novel began as one of several short stories dealing with people having unexpected encounters, the idea for which came after seeing a business sign for an old business in Prince Rupert called Love Electric.
“I thought that was such a great name,” Peters said.
What eventually became her first novel was a short story about a woman, living in Smithers, who has an affair with a visiting Oblate priest from Guatemala.
With the idea of a novel traipsing around the back of her mind, Peters set off for Guatemala to do some research on Oblate priests, to learn more about their day to day lives.
“It was an interesting journey,” Peters said.
“That’s the joy of doing research for a novel, you don’t quite know where you’re going to end up.”
A native of Powell River, Peters always knew she wanted to be a writer, but didn’t think it was a practical vocation.
To meld writing, practicality and an interest in the publishing business, Peters earned a degree in journalism from Carleton University and moved to Smithers in 1977 to work at the Interior News.
At the same time, Peters began using her writing skills for advocacy causes such as Smithers Human Rights Society and Amnesty International.
This sense of advocacy, Peters said, has always been with her, even as a young child.
“I think a lot of little kids feel outrage when something isn’t fair,” Peters, a member of Amnesty International for 30 years, said.
Advocacy has filtered its way into Peters’ newest novel, a story set primarily on a small island off the coast of Powell River.
The novel explores racism and injustice in the late 1950’s just prior to the construction of the Williston Reservoir.
“Social justice and environmental issues really matter to me and I like to write about them,” Peters said.
“I like to reference them in my writing because I think they effect people really deeply in ways they don’t think about.
“It effects us all very deeply.”