Ladysmith writer Shelley A. Leedahl.

Ladysmith writer Shelley A. Leedahl.

Leedahl shares personal essays in her new book

“I write as if I’m sitting across the table from someone, having coffee with them.”

Writer Shelley A. Leedahl of Ladysmith is candid and open when she writes about her experiences, and that’s certainly the case with her latest book, a collection of creative non-fiction essays called I Wasn’t Always Like This. This is Leedahl’s 11th book, and it features essays written over the past 16 years, including one written since she moved to Ladysmith last April.

“All of my work, no matter what the subject matter, is really about the same thing, that most tender and resilient creature, the human heart,” she said. “Although I do write and publish in many genres, I’m really finding that creative nonfiction has become my favourite. First of all, you can incorporate poetry and a degree of fiction. I just find it so easy to establish a voice.”

Leedahl decided which essays to include in this collection through discussions with her publisher at Signature Editions. She says they looked for themes, and in this book, readers will find essays about travel, relationships, a long marriage, major life changes, physical changes, mental health, gardening, and the writing life.

Why did Leedahl decide to publish this collection now?

“I’ve lived over half my life, and I have been fortunate to enjoy a number of diverse experiences and travels,” she said. “At this point in my life, I live alone; it feels somewhat like a time of reflection.”

Many of these pieces have been previously published in anthologies, magazines or newspapers. Some have been broadcast on CBC Radio Saskatchewan and some have won writing awards in Saskatchewan.

“It just felt like, OK, it’s time to gather these things and share them with a wider audience,” said Leedahl.

Leedahl feels her essays are kind of a mirror.

“Realism is important to me,” she said. “I’m trying to capture the place and time in which I live. It’s just like watching a realistic film I guess. I don’t call this a memoir because it’s not my life story. These essays focus on particular moments I’ve experienced in my life. It’s certainly not a retrospective.”

Leedahl is promoting her latest book in both traditional ways such as bookstore, library and school readings, and non-traditional ways such as home salons.

Home salons involve Leedahl coming into somebody’s home, reading one of her essays and then passing around a bowl of questions both loosely and specifically related to the reading, prompting participants to share their stories.

“I really like the idea of having interactive events,” she said. “I’m really interested in people’s stories. I think everyone has an interesting story, and we’ve become a society where we interact much more with our cellphones than we do with the people around us. So, this is just trying to revitalize the good old-fashioned art of conversation. I think the salons have been successful because people are in a comfortable setting, and they’re given permission not only to share their stories but also to feel.”

Leedahl held her first home salon in January in Roberts Creek and felt it was a very transcendent evening that was beyond her expectations.

“It was a really enriching event, and it went a good hour and a half longer than we’d anticipated because people just wanted to talk,” she said. “They wanted to share and laugh. And the dynamic will be different each time, and I’ll use different essays as prompts. Because I’m really open — it’s an intimate and frank collection of essays — I think when I begin by reading one, it almost makes them feel much more comfortable about sharing personal matters as well.”

Leedahl writes in many genres, and her work has appeared in numerous anthologies.

Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Leedahl has also lived in Calgary, Medicine Hat, Sechelt, and Edmonton. She now makes her home in Ladysmith.

In addition to literary writing, she works as a freelance writer, editor and writing instructor.

“I try to live my life with a sense of awe, and I hope that comes across in my work as well,” she said. “When one moves as frequently as I have, back and forth between Saskatchewan, B.C. and Alberta for the last few years and now settling here permanently, it’s easy to experience awe because even though these are all neighbouring provinces, the landscapes are so different.”

Leedahl is finding that she’s filled with awe all the time in Ladysmith, especially when she finds herself on the trails or near the water.

“I’m just enjoying so much creating my own new community here,” she said. “This is a fantastic place to live for anyone seeking inspiration. I’m rather fond too of going down to the great coffee shops with my pen and paper and books.”

Leedahl will be reading from I Wasn’t Always Like This Tuesday, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Ladysmith Library at 3-740 First Ave. She will also be signing books Saturday, Feb. 28 from 1-3 p.m. at Salamander Books at 535 First Ave. in downtown Ladysmith.

Before leaving on a three-week tour of Alberta and Saskatchewan in March, Leedahl is going to offer a writing workshop. Leedahl will offer a 90-minute workshop Wednesday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. in her Ladysmith home.

The focus for this particular workshop will be poetry, but she will be offering workshops focussing on writing fiction and creative nonfiction in the future. For price and details, anybody who is interested is invited to contact Leedahl at shelleyaleedahl@gmail.com.

If anyone is interested in purchasing a signed copy of the book from Leedahl, they can contact her by e-mail at shelleyaleedahl@gmail.com. Books are also available at Salamander Books.