Today, Montreal-based author Kathleen Winter came to speak to us at Marianopolis College. Winter, the author of the much-acclaimed* novel, Annabel, put all of us in a great mood. That's because she was so frank with us, sharing the challenges she has faced during her career, and because she offered a number of super, practical writing tips. 

Winter told us she spent about 14 years writing before she sold her first novel (which is Annabel): "I have seven unpublished novels under my bed."  She also told us she could wallpaper a room with rejection letters. But she said she had a moment of realization during this period when her work was being rejected: "I realized there must be something I needed to do to improve. I started to look at rejection as a way to ask, 'How can I be better?'"

Winter explained that though Annabel tells the story of an unusual person -- someone who is transgendered -- her goal was to make the book universal. She said she wanted to explore, "something we all share: that we have a real self that gets squashed."

As for writing tips, Winter said she organizes with her mind, but writes with her body. She went on to explain that when she's not sure what will happen next in her story, she gets up from her desk and lets her unconscious mind do some of the work: "I'm asking a question. I feel it with the body."

One of my favourite moments today during Winter's talk was when she was talking about the character of the dad in Annabel. She said, "When I first met him in my mind...." I thought that that was a gorgeous way of putting things and also, for me, very touching. Thanks to her imagination, the character was somehow transformed into someone real.

Here's to Kathleen Winter -- thanks for a super talk -- and to the many characters we'll all still get to meet in our own work and in others' wonderful stories!

*Annabel was nominated for the 2010 Giller Prize, the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, and the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction.