Orysia Dawydiak, our 2017 Prince Edward Island (PEI) writing exchange resident was kind enough to take a break from her projects and come down to the office to have a chat with me about her experience during this residency and her writing life.
Orysia is a Canadian writer of both long and short fiction, YA fiction, adult nonfiction and memoir. She says living on PEI has its similarities with Tasmania. People are more welcoming and seem to look out for each other more, at least noticeably. She thinks both places have a warmer atmosphere than in big cities.
Orysia is working on two projects, both memoirs, during her stay in Hobart. One is her personal memoir, detailing her collected experiences and records of people who have come and gone from her life. The other memoir she describes as an adventure story about a rather intriguing Turkish dog. So far, Orysia has been working on organising the material she already has, saying she is very much in the thinking and organising phase. Memoir writing isn’t a linear process, she says. They can be written in all sorts of ways. You can start at the end of someone’s life, at the beginning or in the middle. She has a few working titles for her personal memoir including – Don’t rock the boat and Rebel Daughter – things she says she has been accused of throughout her life. Orysia doesn’t think she will use either of these, but says it helps to have some ideas running through her head. Her parents were Eastern European immigrants and had conflicts with the values of their home country and the values of the new country where they were raising their children. Orysia says this conflict helped create the person she is, and decided it would be great material for writing.
I asked Orysia what a typical day has consisted of during her residency. She says every day is different, and doesn’t work to a schedule, just as she doesn’t back at home on PEI. However most days Orysia gets up and does some exercises or goes for a short walk down to Salamanca. As writing is such a sedentary activity, she has downloaded an app that reminds you when its time to get up and move, say, every half an hour. To keep you on track with writing, it also has a ‘get back at it’ buzz to tell you to return to the desk.
I asked Orysia about her writing journey. She says she took workshops through the PEI Writers Guild, which allowed her to meet like-minded people and start some invaluable conversations about writing. She also took a few courses at university which she found helpful. In terms of her pathway to publication, Orysia says she was lucky to run into a local publishing company, the Acorn Press on PEI – a company started by Laurie Brinklow. They were very supportive and she published her first novel, House of Bears, as well as some short stories and more recently her YA trilogy about mermaids, the Kira books.
Orysia has been involved with animals most of her life and studied environmental sciences and zoology at university, so she’s very attuned to animal life. She co-wrote Livestock Protection Dogs with her husband, a practical guide for raising Akbash guarding dogs, a special but temperamental breed that have been used for centuries in Asia and Europe. This book won a Maxwell Award for best Canine book in 1991. Orysia recently held a wonderful workshop about writing for animals at the Salamanca Arts Centre.
I’m always interested in where writers go or do to be inspired. Orysia loves to cycle. In the summer on PEI she rides up the road to the national park. It’s good for thinking, she says, and PEI has many fantastic, accessible bike paths. I asked Orysia about what advice she would offer for aspiring writers.
“Get to workshops”, she says. “And don’t be afraid to go to more than one. Different writers will have different advice. It’s important to find what resonates with you.”
Orysia also points out the importance of reading.
“Study the different styles of writers – by reading widely you can sample all the different worlds, see what’s been done, and see where your work and ideas fit.” Orysia tells me to just keep writing. Don’t give up. Not everyone will be published but if you love it never stop. She also describes how memories are fantastic for creating fiction. Every time life throws you a curve ball, don’t despair, it can be used in your writing! Orysia advises that manuscript assessments are a useful pathway for aspiring authors, giving writers a pair of eyes that know what to look out for, especially if you have someone who writes or edits in the same genre.
The Tasmanian Writers Centre wishes Orysia all the best for her remaining weeks in Battery Point on the PEI Residency. We look forward to keeping up with her future writing endeavors.