COWAN, Shannon

Author Tags: Fiction

Shannon Cowan has an art degree from the University of Guelph, attended the Banff Centre Writing Studio in 1998, and is a three-time delegate to the B.C. Festival of the Arts. Oolichan Books published her first novel, Leaving Winter, in 2000, and the novel subsequently made the BC Bestseller List. In 2003 she was completing her Masters Degree in Creative Writing at UBC She is the recipient of the 2002 Eden Mills Literary Prize and was shortlisted for the 2002 CBC Literary Competition. Tin Angel is a novel for young adults set in British Columbia in 1969

CITY/TOWN: Errington, BC

DATE OF BIRTH: January 31, 1973

PLACE OF BIRTH: Hockley Valley, Ontario



Hiking Vancouver Island, Globe Pequot Press, 2003 (by Shannon and Lissa Cowan);

Leaving Winter, Oolichan Books, 2003.

Tin Angel, Lobster Press, 2007.

Double Lives: Writing and Motherhood (co-editor, McGill-Queens, 2008) $22.95 978-0-7735-3377-6

[BCBW 2008] "Fiction"

Leaving Winter (Oolichan $19.95)

Shannon Cowan says she would do almost anything for cheap rent and the freedom to write.

While completing Leaving Winter (Oolichan $19.95), a first novel set in North Vancouver, she lived in Duncan, Chemainus, Youbou, Haida Gwaii, and Smithers—then on Saltspring Island during the editing process. “When it finally came out,” Cowan says, “I was in a bush cabin 30 minutes from the nearest road, far enough north to have snow in October. I had to cross two beaver dams to get to my car.”

Staying at the bush camp was fodder for her next novel, a tale involving a B.C. hermit and his unlikely lover.

“I like to explore characters with rich inner worlds,” she says. “Spending a month in the bush reminded me why people do things like drop-out. I once believed that would be me, but now I know better.

“I may not be fond of civilization, but it does contain some important things I can’t give up—namely books and family, two very precious things. Together they give me the guts to write.”

Leaving Winter is about the relationship between Violet and Elsie Leggett, from 1916 to 1996. Bringing the elderly Violet together with her nearly-30 granddaughter provided a chance for Cowan to explore female perspectives from different eras.

“I grew up with my grandmother and great aunts telling me stories about life on the North Shore just after the first World War,” says Cowan. “The stories were always full of women doing shocking things like cutting off their hair and wearing breeches, topped off with plenty of dancing. The era bristles with vibrancy when looking back from my generation (mid-twenties), a place where everyone is very serious and chained to computers. The ironic thing is that Violet ended up being the one I could relate to more than Elsie.”

Elsie has come west to serve as the executor of her grandmother’s property; Violet, crotchety and nostalgic, tries to recover from a stroke in a convalescent home, struggling to regain her speech.

“At the Avondale Rest Home they serve you boiled dinners and continental breakfasts. Violet knows why they call them continental: the toast is cooked and buttered in Toronto, flown out on a jet to Richmond, transported by truck to the Avondale kitchen, then reheated and put on her plate. She heard from one of the nurses that all the rest homes get their toast from the east now; it’s just plain faster not to have to make it yourself.

“Thinking about the words rest home makes her cringe; rest from what? As far as she can tell the Avondale provides two kinds of rest. They either bring you here to give your adult children a rest from your incontinence and involuntary belching, or they bring you here to rest the public eye from watching you struggle into the drug store with gravy stains on your chin.

“Either way, it’s your final rest. The only time anyone leaves Avondale is to go underground. No thank you, thinks Violet, as if she had a choice.”

Like her character Elsie, Shannon Cowan came to British Columbia about ten years ago. She is now living in a self-built cabin near Errington on Vancouver Island. 0-88982-186-0