Katie Bickell is St. Albert Public Library’s newest writer-in-residence. She is a novelist, short-story writer, instructor, manuscript consultant and ghostwriter specializing in memoirs.
The Sherwood Park resident will split her in-person duties between Sherwood Park and St. Albert, and will offer a range of programs and supports to writers of all ages and experience levels.
Specific dates for passing the torch from Tololwa Mollel, the library's 2023 writer-in-residence, have not yet been established. However, Bickell will offer free writing programs and one-on-one consultations at Strathcona County Library from January until June, and at St. Albert Public Library from August to December.
“We are delighted to welcome Katie as the new writer-in-residence for St. Albert Public Library,” SAPL CEO Peter Bailey wrote in a news release. “Katie is an award-winning writer who has great experience as a writer and editor. We know she will inspire writers to grow their skills and confidence.”
Her debut novel, Always Brave, Sometimes Kind, is a series of short stories about three generations of families living in Edmonton and Northern Alberta. The families are connected, even if they are unaware of the roles they play in each other’s lives. The book won the Georges Bugnet Novel of the Year Award, the Indie Project Award for Alberta and was shortlisted for the ReLit Best Novel Award.
The author said her residency will be divided into three pillars, and 40 per cent of programs and events will be live.
“During the pandemic, both libraries and people embraced technology. I plan to create classes on Zoom for consultations. I will have manuscript discussions in my office. Of course, that will be up to the patron’s comfort level. If they are not comfortable in-person, we can have online consultations. And then there will be in-person literary events and a poetry festival,” said Bickell.
She is excited to share her passion and encourages writers to drop by and discuss the craft of writing.
“I’m passionate about debates, and they’re usually a friendly sparring of the minds. I don’t mind if writers disagree with my suggestions, but they need to back up their text. Often, their choices are valid, but they haven’t been built into the text. My way of approaching text is finding the heart of the story and treating it with gentleness and respect. I would never give the impression a person is not meant to be a writer. There is room for everyone.”
Born in Northern England, Bickell immigrated to Canada in 1981 when she was six years old. The family moved to Slave Lake where she resided in the northern community until 2008. Her husband, a paramedic-firefighter, got a position in Sherwood Park and they have lived in the region for 15 years.
“I grew up as a bookish kid. I even had a treehouse, and I would write in the treehouse. I received a typewriter for Christmas in Grade 3 and I was smitten with it. I even wrote my own Anne of Green Gables.”
It seemed a given that Bickell would land a degree in education majoring in English. But during a teaching practicum, she realized that although she loved the classroom, there were elements of the job that did not suit her.
She did a complete U-turn and landed a job as an Alberta Health Services resource worker, assisting families in crisis. After moving to Sherwood Park, she joined Parent Link, a Strathcona County centre offering programs for parents of preschool children.
Despite a career reversal and giving birth to two children, Bickell never stopped writing. To her, putting ideas on paper was as natural as breathing.
“I would write essays, short stories and poems while the girls slept.”
Encouraged by her husband to get tips from Strathcona County’s writer-in-residency program, Bickell met award-winning writer Margaret Macpherson, who became not only a mentor, but a friend.
“After meeting Margaret, I got published and gradually became more successful.”
In the last 18 months, Bickell has developed the position of resume writer at Strathcona County Library.
“The majority of people struggle to write a resume. If you’ve spent 30 years driving a long-haul truck, opening Word is foreign to you. Technology is complex and over the years it has raised the standard. Online is more difficult. Some people also have different learning disabilities and need help. Many people don’t speak English, and if you can’t write a resume, you stand less chance of getting a job.”
Looking back at her writing career, Bickell doesn’t know if she became a writer by choice.
“I began to write in early childhood. I have always felt the need to document ideas. Now in adulthood, I find it fascinating how far a single life reaches — like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life — how one life can alter history and influence countless people. I like to work in a grey area between right and wrong. I have a deep belief no person is bad, yet how do I reconcile with what’s happening in the world today? As a mother of two beautiful girls, I find myself writing for them and for the future.”
Bickell encourages writers to contact her by email at [email protected].