Named Canada’s best mystery novelist in 2008, playwright, novelist and professor, Gail Bowen began reading at a very early age.
Scheduled to lead a workshop at the Shuswap Writers’ Festival in May, Bowen says her entrance into the world of a writer came quite by chance when she was in her 40s and was invited to submit a humorous piece for inclusion in the Easterner’s Guide to Western Canada.
“I was pretty busy; I was an academic, taught college, had a husband and kids and as I looked around the house, nothing was striking me as funny,” she laughs, noting she was feeling overwhelmed by the idea, but her husband chided her with ‘you know, when a friend asks…’. “My whole life changed in a minute and I have been extraordinarily lucky since I came into it in the 1980s.”
The writing bug had bitten Bowen – hard. She wrote a mystery which was published by the now defunct firm of Douglas & McIintyre, who advised her there was promise in her manuscript but she needed to secure a good editor – which she did.
Her 19th in the Joanne Kilbourn Shreve murder mysteries comes out this year and Bowen is working on the 20th and final book of the series.
“The protagonist is much like me in many ways, and people have been very loyal to the series,” she says, pointing out she is aware of how much luck plays in life and is grateful for the many opportunities her writing career has provided. “I wanted to finish the series with everything tied so and I’ll close with ‘All is mended,’ Puck’s line Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Born in Toronto, Bowen was educated at the University of Toronto, where she earned a bachelor of arts and has always been a fan of mysteries.
“If you have been a lifelong reader, especially in mystery, you already know a great deal about how a mystery works, you will have unconsciously registered things,” says the talented author. “The common wisdom is mysteries are plot-driven, but I had always been drawn to a series with a strong protagonist and a great supporting cast of characters who kept appearing and comment on social issues.”
Bowen’s Word on the Lake workshops will include “The Art of Thrust and Glide – Combat Writers’ Block by Learning How to Pace Your Novel” and “Ready, Set, Write.” She will also take part in the Blue Pencil Café and will make the keynote address on Saturday morning of the festival and take part in a panel on “The Best Advice I ever Received.”
Participants will learn how to combat writers’ block by learning to pace their novel, alternating rapid-fire plot development with more leisurely passages of description or contemplation to create a balance that will keep readers engaged.
Bowen’s first Joanne Kilbourn mystery, Deadly Appearances (1990), was nominated for the W.H. Smith/Books in Canada Best First Novel Award, and A Colder Kind of Death (1995) won the Arthur Ellis Award for best crime novel; all books in the series have been enthusiastically reviewed, and the most recent, The Winners’ Circle, has been named a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for best crime novel.
Sleuth: Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries (U. of Regina Press, 2018) has been met with enthusiasm by critics and readers.
In 2008, Reader’s Digest named Bowen Canada’s Best Mystery Novelist; in 2009 she received the Derrick Murdoch Award from the Crime Writers of Canada; and in 2018 she was recognized with the Crime Writers of Canada Grand Master Award.
Bowen has also written plays that have been produced across Canada and on CBC Radio. In 2018, she was invested with the Saskatchewan Order of Merit, the province’s highest honour.
Now retired from teaching at the First Nations University, Gail Bowen lives in Regina.
But retiring from teaching does not mean sitting on the couch with her feet up. She and her husband share the same philosophy: “let’s just keep doing what we’re doing as long as we can.”
Bowen, who learned to read at the age of three and calls reading the greatest gift one can give to a child, has a strong belief in the worth of festivals.
“It is so important; it is for readers as well as writers – that can’t be emphasized too strongly,” she says, noting she has learned a great deal from her audiences. “I am a huge believer in supporting culture in your own community… you come away from festivals feeling enriched and knowing there’s so much more to read.”
The Word on the Lake Writers Festival takes place May 10 to 12 at the Prestige Harbourfront Resort and at Okanagan College. Registration begins on Feb. 28 and early birds will be entered to win a prize valued at $475. For more information, go to wordonthelakewritersfestival.com.
Awards will also be given to winners of this year’s Askew’s Foods Word on the Lake Writing Contest, which closes on Feb. 28. It is open to all writers 18 years and older. All submissions must contain original material, and may not have been previously published, accepted for publication, or have been a winner in another contest prior to the deadline. For detailed information, go to http://shuswapassociationofwriters.ca/2019-word-on-the-lake-writing-contest.