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Sambhavi Thirupurasanthiran interviews Shirlee Matheson

Shirlee Matheson is a Canadian author who has lived throughout the Western Canada provinces, and she draws from her experiences in these places to write many of her diverse books which intrigued me immediately. Currently living in Calgary, Alberta, she is part of the Writers’ Guild of Alberta which is how I got the incredible opportunity to interview her about her writing. Here is the interview:

  1. You have written novels in multiple genres. How did you get your inspiration to write in contrasting genres?

I have always been interested in history, coming from a family of older parents & siblings, and growing up on a rather primitive Manitoba farm. My first historical nonfiction book was Youngblood of the Peace, a biography of a local northern BC Oblate priest, Father Emile Jungbluth, OMI. It was researched over a 3-year period and written while we lived in Hudson’s Hope, BC, in the Peace River country. This was followed by This Was Our Valley, about the hydro-electric dams on the Peace River (co-written with a local long-time resident, Earl K. Pollon). Aviation adventure books followed, with stories starting with pilots & engineers I met in the north, and continuing after moving back to Calgary and becoming employed at the Aero Space Museum. I began writing young adult novels when a short story that I sent to a literary magazine came back with valuable critiques – namely informing me that my story could be better told by the 12-year-old daughter than the original narrator- the mother. He said, “What would the young girl have thought of the situation?” So I took the girl’s point of view, and expanded the story into a novel. This became my first YA book, Prairie Pictures; followed by the sequel, City Pictures. Other YA novels followed, both historical and contemporary.

      2. Which of these genres, if any, had you move out of your comfort zone in your writing?

None of my projects took me out of my comfort zone because I do extensive research, and I have the nonfiction books checked by a technical person. I go to the sites where my books are set and get local people to go over the manuscripts to ensure they are error-free. Fastback Beach involves hotrod cars, and my husband and I are members of the Foothills Street Rod Association and own two hotrods. For Jailbird Kid, I interviewed members of the Calgary Police Service and others….

      3. A lot of your non-fiction books have to do with aviation- what sparked this interest?

While living in Hudson’s Hope, BC, I met a few bush pilots and became intrigued by their stories of “derring-do”. I started writing a collection of aviation stories/biographies after moving back to Calgary. I was also contracted to write the history of Calgary International Airport (titled, A Western Welcome to the World), and more.

     4. What made you join the Writers’ Guild of Alberta?

I joined the WGA as soon as I moved back to Alberta from BC in 1983, and soon went on the board of directors to get to know other writers. I enjoy the guild’s newsletters, AGMs and other events. It’s a great, supportive, group of people!


Shirlee Matheson’s attitude towards writing in different genres is refreshing, as she is living proof that you don’t have to confine your writing to one or similar genres. Her in-depth research shines through in her writing, and I feel more inspired to expand my writing beyond the boundaries I made for myself, which is something I was afraid of before talking to her.


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