Local poet eyes fiction writing

Jodi
Jodi Schellenberg
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A local author is making the jump from poetry to fiction writing.

Last year poet Veryl Coghill received a Saskatchewan Arts Board grant for professional development. Coghill used that grant to take a correspondence course through Humber College and is now looking to publish some of her short stories through literary journals.

After receiving a Saskatchewan Arts Board grant for professional development, local author Veryl Coghill enrolled in a creative writing correspondence course through Humber College in Toronto.

In order to get the grant, Coghill had to send in some of her short stories to the Art Board in order to prove she was serious about writing.

She didn’t just have to prove herself to just the Arts Board -- Humber College also expected her to have a manuscript of short stories.

“The program is a post-degree program, working towards a book length project,” Coghill said. “That is what I was doing, working on a manuscript of a collection of short stories of fiction.”

The course ran from January to the end of July, but Coghill didn’t receive her certificate until after the convocation in October.

“It was all very different for me because typically I have been to more workshops and to the Sagehill Writing Experience, which is a 10-day intense workshop on writing skills held outside of Regina but I had never done anything that had been all correspondence on the Internet,” Coghill said.

She communicated with her instructors and mentors through email, getting advice and suggestions.

“It was great getting the specific feedback on my stories, on how the flow was, how the characters were being perceived and the consistency in the story,” Coghill explained. “It was exciting because I learned a lot of things about fiction writing and also realized I did have skills already.”

She said although some of her skills were great, she learned a lot about how to describe things better, be more clear, tips on dialogue and to give experiences of the character in the stories instead of having the character talk about the experiences.

“I, of course, came to the program with the creative writing certificate and some skills already,” Coghill said. “I am a poet -- I have a poetry book published from Thistledown Press in Saskatoon. I had up, until this point, been doing a lot of writing in poetry and had been published in poetry.

“In the last five years, I started to dabble or become more interested in writing some stories,” she added. “I’m still doing both.”

Coghill prefers prose poetry to lyrical poetry because she feels it is easier to express herself through prose.

“When I wrote my first story I had not intended to sit down to write a story,” Coghill laughed. “Even with my poetry I am very much a free writer -- I journal or free write my work so I will write whatever is in my head or whatever wants to surface or come out.”

She will normally write for a half an hour at a time, fitting the writing into her spare time. After free writing, she will take what she has written and shape it into poems.

“One of the times I sat down, I just kept writing,” Coghill said. “I was at a writing retreat in Muenster and I ended up with a story because I just kept having ideas. There were some seeds that had been planted somewhere and a character of the story who wanted to get out.

“I sat for about 12 hours and ended up ending with a story,” she added. “That was my first experience and I really enjoyed that.”

She was fortunate during her time in the Humber course, Coghill had a deferred salary and was able to concentrate on her writing.

“I often find that working full-time I had time to work half an hour here and there and that seemed more suitable to poetry than getting into a story,” she said.

After taking the course, Coghill feels more confident in her abilities.

“I feel like I gained a lot of insight into the whole process of writing and I feel much stronger in being able to pick out, even in my own stories, when they are not quite flowing, when I am missing some detail or when the narrator is saying too much or not enough,” Coghill said. “I’m better at picking those things out than I was before I took the course.

“Also, just things like grammar and punctuation -- all those things I think I am picking that up more,” she added.

Some of Coghill’s best feedback came from her mentor in the Humber course. He only had positive things to say about her collection of short stories, called “Virtues of a Good Girl,”

He said her characters were “complex and interesting” and although many of them are sad there is a “Cheshire cat’s grin hanging in the air.”

“The stories don’t ever seem tragic, although they are always poignant and we are always left hanging,” he said “There is this fleeting glimpse into a life that seems as plain and ordinary as washing on a line or beer, and yet are as complicated as humans can make anything, given enough rope!

“Everyone has broken up. This is a world of broken people who just go on surviving because that’s what we do, and, all things considered, it’s the best alternative. Surviving to paint or plumb or eat another piece of pie another day.”

Since taking the course, she has reread book by some of her favourite authors with a critical eye, instead of getting wrapped up in the story.

She has also written 15 short stories and is in the process of getting them published.

“I have sent them out to literary journals across Canada -- different journals that publish poetry and fiction,” Coghill said. “I could self-publish but I am interested in seeing if I could have someone publish it without me self-publishing.”

Being accepted by a literary journal could open a lot of doors for her, making it possible to apply for more grants.

“When I am applying for more grants in the emergent category, which means you have a book published, it has be published by a literary publisher, it can’t be a self-publication,” Coghill said.

Self-publishing could also make it more difficult to become a writer in residence.

“I am looking at going that professional route although there have been many people who have self published … and they have just as much skill and professionalism as any other writer,” Coghill said. “If I want to continue with applying for grants or different positions for writer in residence and that model, there is expectation that it be literary press.”

Although she has sent her stories out to literary journals, Coghill is practicing patience because it is a competitive field.

“I get a lot of rejection letters back -- or I have with my poetry,” Coghill said. “ I might get one published after sending 30 out.”

She encourages other writers to follow a similar path by joining a writer’s group and going to different literary events.

“I think it is a very good path because you connect and network, have the opportunity to be many different writers of different levels and can then become more motivated and realize this is something that is important to you or something you want to be part of your life,” Coghill said. “For me, the writing has always been part of my life. I always have had, even as a young child, this need to write. I have needed to get things out.”

Working with other writers has been beneficial because it has given her a lot of great feedback.

“I’ve enjoyed doing it now in a way that has even more value because I have talked to people and gotten,” she said.

Organizations: Humber College, Saskatchewan Arts Board, Art Board Humber Thistledown Press

Geographic location: Toronto, Regina, Saskatoon Muenster Canada

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  • Audrey Neubuhr
    January 27, 2014 - 18:05

    Congratulations Veryl!!! Can't wait to read your stories!!!