Susan Buchanan pursues a literary dream
In Her Own Write
by Ann Thurlow
Susan Buchanan has always wanted to be a writer. In fact, she has been one—a writer of curriculum and magazine articles. But, really, that wasn’t the kind of writing she wanted to do. So, as she neared her fiftieth birthday, she decided it was time to get serious—to begin to write fiction and poetry. And that decision ended up earning her three prizes in the 2011 PEI Literary Awards: second place and honourable mention in the poetry category and first place for her short story, The Lake.
Not that she just sat down and met with such success. She credits (as so many do) a creative writing class she took from Frank Ledwell for her first, early inspiration. More recently Buchanan began to approach the craft of writing in the way any craftsperson would. She found a mentor she admired in Dianne Morrow. She received a grant from the PEI Council of the Arts so that she and Dianne could work together. She joined writer’s groups, which was an impetus for her to produce some work every week. She took workshops, accepted criticism, devoted every morning to her work. She has carved out a writing space in a bedroom—a desk next to a propane heater for warmth and a window with a view of the garden for inspiration. She tries to work three hours every day.
Given that writing is a notoriously lonely occupation and that writers are famous procrastinators, I tell her I admire her determination. She laughs. “I have a short attention span and I have projects all over the house—my knitting, art projects (she also paints) so it’s easy to get distracted,” she admits.
As well, she is president of the local Women’s Institute, runs a bed and breakfast with her partner Jeanne, and has a daughter in university. Focus was a problem until one important event changed her life.
Her beloved brother-in-law died young and unexpectedly. He had struggled with mental illness—his death was a terrible shock. To make sense of the loss, and to cope, she began to write poetry. Some of those poems became her award winning submissions. They are sad, full of terrors. But through that, there’s a kind of optimism, too.
Like frail bones, branches snap
the axe fells
heavy logs cleaved, fill the hearth
Sweet snap of fire burns in the grate
like ancient heroes cremated and piled
in a silver urn.
Her prize winning short story, The Lake, is darker still—a meditation on a life spent pushing people away. It’s an interesting choice for someone who has gleaned so much and benefitted from the mentorship of others. She is currently taking two writing workshops and studying painting at Senior’s College. She dreams of combining both in a book for children. She also has her eye on larger prizes—perhaps an Atlantic Writers award. She has submitted something there already. And though she didn’t win, she was pleased to get some feedback. Because if there was a prize for listening, for working hard on a dream, Susan Buchanan would win, hands down.