Drifting into the publishing world: Rossland life featured in new book

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
January 27th, 2011

When you’re sitting down and typing out e-mails to friends, have you ever “Hmmm, this story could make a great book?” Lisa McGonigle didn’t have that thought while writing, but through a series of fortunate events, five years of her life history as it happened in the Kootenays and written in e-mails is being released this week as her first published book “Snowdrift.”

  Living out what she saw as a well thought out life-plan a one winter-season trip to the Kootenays quickly became a life altering experience that caused her to “run-away” from her life plan, take a detour through Rossland and come out on the other side a dramatically changed person for the better.   Originally from Ireland, Lisa came to Canada in 2005 for what was planned as one season and ended up staying for four more. She had finished school, received a master’s degree in English Literature and was then bit by the travel bug. Not having been outside of Europe before she had no idea what to expect from a winter season in Canada. Knowing that she didn’t want to live in a big resort town such as Whistler she spent her first season snowboarding in Fernie. Immediately enamored with the sights, sounds, snow and social life McGonigle was hooked on ski-bum culture.   “First it was the quality and amount of snow. I’d never seen anything like it. I loved how genuine people were and people were so absorbed in the life they were living. People had chosen to live this life. You know when you’re in the lift line and everyone is so stoked and so happy. It’s just that. I absolutely fell in love with the scenery and the people’s spirit.”   As her first season in the mountains was coming to a close she was gearing up to get back on board with her life plan. Waiting for her back in the UK was a full scholarship to do her PhD in English at Oxford. A return to academic life it seems was no match for the deep snows of the Kootenays however and the siren song of the Kootenays lured her back in.   “I missed the Kootenays and skiing and snow and the whole way of life. After three months I basically ran away from Oxford. I left all of my clothes, my bike and my laptop, everything and I ran away to Canada and went back to Fernie for one season.”   While in Fernie she kept hearing folks talk about Rossland and Red Mountain and what a great place it was to live. Intrigued by stories of deep powder and an uber-cool ski town she had to check it out and moved across the Selkirks to the Golden City. Quickly realizing that the rumours and stories were true she made Rossland her home for two years working as a server, events volunteer at the hill and following a summer stint working an office job in Calgary kicked back into full time ski-bumming for season two at Red.   All throughout her experience the proficient writer kept true to her friend’s request of staying in touch along her travels. The English major and master’s degree student, merging her education with her shreducation would sit down daily and type out group e-mails to home. Given the nature of her education those e-mails received precious care as if she was writing a university paper of magazine article.   One day as fate would have it she happened upon a poster in town for the annual Fernie Writers conference. Taking up the opportunity to re-visit friends she had made during her time in Fernie and brush up on her writing skills she applied and received a scholarship to attend the conference. From there that elusive dream writers hold of being discovered by a publisher was set in motion.   Looking back through her work for material to present at some of the conference workshops she realized that her collection of e-mails chronicling her Kootenay adventures had grown to over 80,000 words.   “While I was at the Fernie writers conference I read a section of the e-mails at a workshop. There was a publisher there listening to everyone read. He called me the next day and asked me to send him all of the e-mails; the whole manuscript. A couple of months later he got back to me and said they were happy to publish it as a book. It was crazy. I honestly was totally just writing these things for friends. I really wasn’t writing it to be published at all. It was kind of after the fact that I realized it might be a book.”   And so it was, her first published book had materialized out of what she thought was nothing more than e-mails sent home to friends. With only just a few edits here and there the book essentially republished the e-mails as they were; raw, honest and uncut.   “It was funny, I was kind of cringing reading back over them. There were some things in there I was thinking that maybe I didn’t want to share with the world , but to keep it honest I left it all in there.”   With the book only just being released this week even McGonigle herself has yet to see a hard copy of the book. She’ll be presenting the book at her book launch at Café Books West this Friday and is anxiously awaiting feedback from unsuspecting folks that have become characters in the book.   “Some people will probably be surprised they are in there. Especially my boss at the time whom I wasn’t too fond of. There’s a lot of that stuff in there along with Stories overheard from locals on chairlifts. They might be very very surprised to realize their conversations are now in a book.”   As she viewed the manuscript as a whole for the first time as opposed to individual e-mails a number of themes began to shine through and the life lessons she learned on her trip became more evident in word form.   “The one thing I really found that runs throughout the book is that people here in the Kootenays are living their dream. So many people around the world are in situations they feel that they have to keep doing this or are committed to this job and there is no other way and dislike what they are doing and they may wonder “I wish I could leave it all behind and just travel.” What inspired me to drop out of Oxford and come back to Canada was because what I wanted to do was be in the mountains. The message in the book I think is that you can do what you want with your life. That’s the great thing about the Kootenays is that everyone here is doing what they want , where they want to do it.”   The experience as a whole was a life changer for McGonigle who now longs to return to the Kootenays or to get her residency if possible. Currently she is studying in Auckland and writing stories about Rossland for a New Zealand ski magazine and is pondering just what her next book might be or how it might come together. In the meantime she’s forever thankful for the people she met in the Kootenays that literally changed her life for the better and set her on track she didn’t even know would be her life plan until she began to travel.   “It’s such a cliché, but the experience was really life changing. Before I came to the Kootenays I had a path set up that was very structured you know; Go to uni, finish uni, get a job, you know. The Kootenays brought freedom and exhilaration into my life. The people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had have been life changing; inspirational really. There is such a concentration of spirited people you meet in ski towns that you can’t help but be affected by it. I think it was in the Hobbit where Tolkien says “Not all who wonder are lost.” For me that is the message of the Kootenays   You can meet Lisa and hear readings from her book Snowdrift at its official launch at Café Books West at 8:00pm on Friday January 28th.

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