BookView Interview with Author Deanna Barnhardt Kawatski

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we interviewed Deanna Barnhardt Kawatski,the author of best-selling memoir, Wilderness Mother (Lyons & Burford, New York) and Clara and Me, (Whitecap Books)a BC Book Prize nominee.

Deanna Barnhardt Kawatski is the author of best-selling memoir, Wilderness Mother (Lyons & Burford, New York)and Clara and Me, (Whitecap Books)a BC Book Prize nominee, plus the novel, Stalking the Wild Heart (Gracesprings Collective), a travel memoir called Burning Man, Slaying Dragon, the children’s book, Samira, the Singing Salmon and Big Trees Saved (Shuswap Press). She lives in the North Shuswap where her roots reach back over one hundred years. Deanna attended UBC and then travelled extensively in her twenties, spending three years living in Europe. She returned home regularly to plant trees. She wrote her first novel in Paris in 1974 and it caught the interest of George Ryga, who became her mentor. In 1975 she met W.O. Mitchell on a flight back to Canada and attended his workshops at the Banff School of Fine Arts later in the year. In 1978 Deanna worked as a forestry lookout attendant in the remote reaches of Northwestern BC, where she met her hermit husband. For the next thirteen years she led the life of a pioneering mother in the wilderness. At the same time she wrote feature articles for many magazines including Mother Earth News (to which she became a contributing editor) Harrowsmith, Country Journal, and Outdoor Canada.

Her life became the subject of two CBC television documentaries and she was interviewed by Vicki Gabereau and many others. Besides Bird, Bubble and Stream, a volume of poetry (Fiddlehead Press), Deanna’s poetry and short stories have appeared in many publications, including North Coast Collected (Caitlin Press), Imagining British Columbia (Anvil Press) and most recently Slice Me Some Truth, an anthology of creative nonfiction (Wolsak and Wynn). Wilderness Mother and Clara and Me were both Book-of-the-Month Club selections.

Deanna is a popular workshop presenter and has given dozens of public readings including at the Vancouver International Writers’ Festival. She worked as a writer-in-resident at the Ryga Centre in 2002 and was a founding member of the Word on the Lake Festival at Shuswap Lake. There she remains a Director. Deanna is featured on the first-ever Literary Map of BC. Visit her work at

What types of books do you like to read?

I have read a wide range of books throughout my life and have appreciated every form. At this stage of the game the books that appeal to me the most are the ones that include the natural world as a character in its own right; books where setting achieves prominence and leads the reader into a deeper experience and one that will resonate for them long after the last page. Life on our planet hangs in the balance and it is crucial for all of humanity to wake up to the heartbeat of the earth and to know it is our own. Writers who have achieved this include Barbara Kingsolver, Delia Owens and Edward Abbey, to name but three.

Where you get your inspiration?

I get my inspiration from the natural world that moves me and lifts me, and teaches me something new every day.

Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?

MAGDA’S ODYSSEY began as an infusion of dreams and desire. The desire to write a young adult novel had been with me my whole life and even though I had published seven other books, I hadn’t yet tackled the YA genre. I have always looked to my dreams for guidance and here is the one that led me into this odyssey: I was standing alone in front of my desk that is overlooked by a broad window. The window was glassless in the dream, while out of my desk grew a sturdy leafless tree. Fluorescent hummingbirds began to fly through the opening and land on its branches. When one landed in the palm of my hand, I stared at it and suddenly knew—its name was MAGDA. That moment was the seed that grew into story.

Do you find writing therapeutic?

Absolutely! It would be no exaggeration to say there are times when writing has saved my life. In the case of writing memoir it has given me a chance to live through certain moments twice which can be therapeutic and even cathartic. And let’s face it; none of us are in control of what happens in the larger picture or even in our own lives. When we write we are both the orchestra and the conductor. Such power can’t help but heal.

How long does it take you to write a book?

My books have taken anywhere from six months to ten years, depending on the project. At times they overlap so that I might be writing a first draft one month and editing an older manuscript the next. I find this tandem book approach helpful in the sense that the young book may have energy to surge ahead while the older book needs a period of rest and contemplation. The subconscious can deliver potent ideas and images when left to its own devices.

What life experiences have shaped your writing most?

To begin with, losing my father at an early age had a profound effect on me, causing me to reach up and out into the unknown. I became a seeker and an adventurer, roaming the world widely in my twenties, followed by thirteen years living as a pioneering mother far off in the wilderness. Three of my books and many magazine articles were born of my bush time.

What is a common trap for aspiring writers?

A common trap for aspiring writers is to talk too much about the book they are hoping to write. The attention garnered from doing this is seductive but it takes energy away from actually writing the story down. Talk is like smoke that flies up the chimney and is gone. My advice to the aspiring writer would be to protect the fledgling idea as fiercely as a mother would an infant.

What do you hope readers will take away from this story?

First of all I hope readers will close the book with the sense of satisfaction that comes from reading a story well told. I also hope MAGDA’S ODYSSEY will open some eyes to the bond that exists between twins and more importantly, the intricacies of the natural world. We live in a time when there is a serious disconnect between humans and nature. This is most pronounced in the young. I set the story in the 1970’s for various reasons including the fact technology, a constant source of distraction, did not exist. That said, ultimately each reader is unique and will bring her own mosaic of thought and experience to the page. In the same sense, what they take away will be a bit different for everyone.


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