One of the best parts of working with writers is celebrating their successes. Over the last few years, Alison Colwell has published several stories that started in workshops at The Storied Imaginarium including Eight Reasons for Silence” (Tangled Locks Journal, October 2022), “The Frog Prince’s Reluctant Bride” (Daily Science Fiction, July 2021), “Hindsight” (The Drabble, May 2021), and “Regrets” (The Drabble, April 2021).
What are the Canada Council Create grants?
The “Explore and Create Grant” funds Canadian artists, and organizations committed to the creation of innovative, vibrant and diverse art. The program advances Canadian artistic practices by encouraging artists to investigate creative processes and take risks that lead to the development of unique works destined to connect with the public.
In the fall of 2022 I submitted a proposal for Ashes & Daydreams, and asked for time to write. In the spring of 2023 I received a Canada Council Grant.
Where did the idea for your project come from?
I’ve always written fiction and memoir, but it wasn’t until Carina’s “Intersections: Science Fiction, Fairy Tales and Myth” class in the spring of 2021, that it occurred to me to combine the two. We were studying the Rapunzel Fairy Tale, and reading about the witch locking Rapunzel in the tower in order to protect her from the dangers of the world, really resonated with me. Two years earlier, my daughter had been diagnosed with anorexia, and the doctors had placed her on bed rest, restricted to her hospital room on the seventh floor, against her will.
That juxtaposition of ideas led to the creation of the essay “Arriving on the 7th Floor” which considers what happens when we are the villains of our own story? In Rapunzel, it’s the witch who cruelly imprisons the young girl in the tower. But that had been the only way I could keep my daughter safe. What if “villain” is the role circumstances force you to play?
After the Rapunzel essay, I wrote another in that used the East of the Moon, West of the Sun Fairy Tale to reflect on my abusive first marriage. Suddenly I had a thrilling new way of looking at my world. I started to use words to make sense of my world, my story, my life, and the act of shaping experience into narrative helped me to see that an arc existed. Just like in old myths, narrative helped me to see that while there are dark nights of the soul and moments where all seems lost, there are also high points where the hero returns with the elixir.
Carina has been a huge supporter of my hybrid essays from the very beginning and encouraged me to seek publication and consider what a collection might look like.
What do you envision the finished project will look like?
The working title for the collection is: Ashes & Daydreams. It is a series of interconnected essays that weave fairy tales with trauma narrative and memoir. Using the framework of familiar fairy tales to ask questions about how we see ourselves, what archetypal characters we play in our own lives and forces us to examine the stories we tell ourselves about our own lived experiences.
Writing memoir through the lens of fairy tale forces us to examine both the stories of our own lives and the fairy tales, both Disney and Grimm, which for many of us, fulfill the role of myth and have unconsciously shaped the structures of our lives. The myth that true love will reveal the Prince Charming hidden inside every beast can be incredibly damaging to women. Ashes & Daydreams is an invitation to look at those fairy stories in the context of real life.
Ashes & Daydreams delves into issues of intimate partner violence, addiction, mental illness, anorexia, parenting, and poverty. I can speak to these from my own lived experience, which is why I believe it’s important to tell these stories and provide hope and insight to others battling the same limiting trauma narratives.
Each essay is a self-contained story, mirroring a traditional book of Fairy Tales. The shorter format allows readers to step in and out of the trauma narrative. However, the essays are all drawn from my own life therefore the essays in the collection are interconnected. The final section of the collection retells the original versions of the tales, to give context for anyone unfamiliar with the source material.
The first draft of Ashes & Daydreams will be complete in the fall of 2023.
Takeaways? What are the obvious benefits to receiving the grant?
I’m a single mother of two teens – both of whom have had serious mental health challenges. Making time to write, while working full time to support the three of us, means making sacrifices. The Canada Council Grant allowed me to not take on a second job this summer, and has enabled me to dedicate more of my time to writing.
And the hidden benefits to receiving the grant?
Like most writers, I suffer from imposter syndrome. When you are writing alone at your desk, it’s hard to really believe that what you have to say is important to others. Receiving the Canada Council Grant was an incredible boost to my writerly ego. It means that a jury of professional Canadian writers believes in what I’m doing. They believe I’m my ideas are unique and worthwhile. That’s pretty magical!
Alison Colwell spends her time creating imaginary worlds, crafting memoir from fairy tales and learning how to blur the lines between creative non-fiction and fiction.
When not writing she can be found teaching kindergarten kids how to bake bread, or grown-ups how to cook stinging nettles, or caring for her two teens, three cats and one old dog.
Connect with Alison at https://www.alisoncolwell.com/.