Betty Jane Hegerat really likes libraries.
“I have loved libraries ever since I was a geeky kid who spent all my time reading,” she says. “I was lugging all these adult-sized books home from the library and nobody told me I shouldn't read them. I probably read a lot of stuff I shouldn't have, but I think it fuelled my creativity to be a writer.”
Hegerat will be spending a lot of time at the library these days, as the Calgary Public Library's new writer-in-residence based at the Memorial Park branch. The library's first writer-in-residence was in 1987 and the position is filled every two years.
Hegerat will spend half her time working on her own project, a fiction and non-fiction hybrid partially based on a mass murder that took place in Stettler in 1959.
“I'm very good at procrastinating,” she says, “so I'm looking forward to that quiet space and time dedicated to my own work.”
“I feel a real sense of obligation to use that time well.”
The other half of her time will be spent doing manuscript consultations for fledgling writers, as well as public outreach in the form of talks to other writers, book clubs and seniors’ groups.
Besides having two published works to her name — one novel and a collection of short stories — Hegerat regularly teaches courses around Calgary.
She intends to use her new position to spread awareness about Calgary's literary scene. “We have a very vibrant scene, but sometimes the local scene is not valued as much as the international one,” she says. “We always think people from away are bigger and brighter.”
One way Hegerat will address this is through her talk for book clubs titled Why Do I Like It?
“Even lifelong readers know they like something, but they don't know why,” she explains. “It’s because there’s something familiar in the work and we recognize it. That’s a good reason to read local work: because it has resonance.”
“My own writing comes from my life experience. Almost everything I’ve written is set in Alberta; I cannot escape the towns I've lived in and the streets I’ve lived on,” she says.
Hegerat says Alberta’s landscape also affects her writing style. “I grew up on the Prairies with the wide open spaces. I like to think of my work as clean, crisp prose,” she says.
By comparison, she refers to writers on the West Coast and their “gorgeous, lush prose.”
“They live in a rainforest; how could they do anything else?”
Aside from an early interest in writing as a teenager, which lead to the publication of a couple of stories and dreams of being a professional writer, Hegerat did not start to write until after she had raised three children and had a career as a social worker.
“I grew up in a family where you were expected to have a real job and earn a living. Writing was not at all on the list of options my German mother had on her mind,” Hegerat says with a laugh. However, she says she “was always narrating my life, telling stories in my head.”
About 15 years ago, Hegerat hit a milestone birthday.
“A good friend asked me back then, ‘What haven’t you done yet?’ Hegerat recalls. “On that birthday, I took a leap on something I'd dreamed about but had put on hold.”
Hegerat just completed her master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of British Columbia. Her third book, Delivery, which is her master’s thesis, will be released in October. The book is a family drama about a grandmother who kidnaps her infant granddaughter before her own daughter gives the baby up for adoption.
Hegerat says there is no set age when one should start to write and it’s never too late.
“You write when the time is right for writing,” she says. “Sometimes people ask me, ‘Do you regret you waited so long to write?’ But, I feel I had to earn those stories,” Hegerat explains.
Her advice for people who want to embark on a literary adventure of their own? “Just write,” she says. “The only way you write is by putting your bum in a chair and just doing it.”
Anyone who wishes to submit a manuscript for Hegerat's review should check out the Calgary Public Library web page for submission details.
Hegerat will read from some of her work on September 10 at the writer-in-residence launch event.