Proudly prairie

Winnipeg author S.M. Beiko embraces the “prairie writer” label


Winnipeg writer S.M. Beiko’s Young Adult novel The Lake and the Library (ECW Press) has been receiving positive reviews since its release last May. 

Noted Canadian author Tony Burgess (Pontypool Changes Everything, Ravenna Gets) liked it, saying, “Beiko has drawn a peculiar dream that you’ll swear came from your own distant memory. Distressing, moving…”

The Lake and the Library follows Ash, 16, whose prayers have finally been answered.  Her mother has decided they’re moving and, at last, she’s going to escape her painfully dull fictional prairie hometown of Treade, Manitoba come the end of summer. 

Ash is counting down the days when she finds her way into a derelict ramshackle of a building on the outskirts of town – “one that has haunted her entire childhood with secrets and questions” – only to discover an enchanting library and a mute named Li hidden within its walls.

It’s a story Beiko has waited years to share.

“I wrote a first draft of the book when I was still in high school [2006],” she says via email. “The book was plucked out of ECW’s slush pile, with interest, in 2009. A contract wasn’t signed until December, 2010 and the book came out in May, 2013. Seven years!”


When it came to setting The Lake and the Library in Manitoba, Beiko had no reservations of potentially being labelled a “prairie writer”, a label that some feel has its pros and cons.

“Prairie writer, when you’re learning about it in school, can come with a bit of shame or drudgery attached to it,” she says. “My peers always groaned whenever Margaret Laurence or Sinclair Ross were trucked out and I felt like ‘C’mon!’ 

“These authors were able to epitomize the grim power of a harsh landscape and bring out the flawed, fragile humanity of those who tried to survive on it. They also underscored how we are tied to certain places by really fragile threads that always tug even when we’re miles away.”

But Beiko didn’t always feel that way.

“I grew up hating the prairies because I was a naive kid with grand plans,” she says. “It wasn’t until I spent more time in rural Manitoba and began to really understand the connection and, sometimes, possessiveness you can have over the place you’re from. 

“There’s this haunting magic about the prairies too, and so much potential for story. Anything can, and probably has, happened out there.”

Now that The Lake and the Library is out, Beiko is busy on her next YA fantasy.

“It deals with a lot of mythological aspects, secret societies and a world existing alongside our own that relies on a troubled orphan teenager to save it,” Beiko says. “This one, however, is a bit on the darker side and more action-adventure-ish than <i>Lake</i> for sure. The logline I’m using for it is ‘Princess Mononoke meets American Gods’.”

Published in Volume 68, Number 5 of The Uniter (October 2, 2013)

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