Retreating to Write at a Writing Retreat

Bench at the Abbey

Find a bench and write. (Or, if it’s this cold, stay inside – but write!)

I’m home after a long weekend at a Facilitated Writing Retreat in Muenster, Saskatchewan.

Organized by the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild, this retreat is for emerging writers and features a Writer-in-Residence to provide insights and editorial guidance.  (This fall, the WiR was Reg Silvester; last fall, Kelley Jo Burke; next fall, who knows? The call for applications for the SWG WiR will go out in Summer 2015, and I’m sure someone great will again be chosen.)

I was lucky to be there as the weekend coordinator, to help with logistics and welcome participants to our Saskatchewan writing community. And yes, I did some writing, too. And I took many photographs.

I also encouraged my fellow writers to apply to the upcoming Winter (February) and Summer (July) Writers/Artists Retreats, which focus on independent work.  (No teaching or editorial guidance, just lots of time to create.)

Retreats are a wonderful opportunity to network with other visual and literary artists. They also enable participants to share in social events and informal discussions about writing, arts and what matters most in life. But most important, retreats provide a chance for writers and artists to benefit from the luxury of private time and space to produce creative work.

Our Writers and Artists Retreats in Saskatchewan have been held for — well, more than 30 years, as I remember once being told — and I’ve attended off and on for the past 12 years. During my time, I’ve met participants from this province and the rest of Canada, as well as from the U.S. And, in this time, I’ve written short stories and poems (many later published), and I’ve revised my poetry manuscript. (More on that another time…)

I’m sometimes asked: Why go to a Writers’ Retreat to write, if you can — and do — write at home? Here’s what I say:

  • At retreats, my time is my own. If I’m deep into writing, I don’t even have to talk to anyone. (Not that I’m really anti-social, but if you’re in another world, it can be challenging to talk to those not living in your fiction…)
  • At retreats, I don’t have to be alone. If I’m going stir-crazy, there’s always someone around in the evening who understands the frustrations and joys of writing.
  • At retreats, I write. Really. Actually. Write. A change of place can be slightly unsettling, and that’s good for creativity. (And I take photographs, too…. St. Peter’s Abbey, where the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild’s Writers/Artists Retreats are held, is rich with winter, summer and migratory birds, and spring, summer and fall wildflowers.)
  • Retreats are also a chance to connect — with myself, as a writer, and with a strong writing community.

So yes, I’m a fan.

To learn more about the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild Retreat Program, visit


Stumbling Across the Berlin Wall


Section of the Berlin Wall with bright graffiti, Montreal. © SB


Six years ago, while wandering through the underground shopping and business concourses of Montreal, I stumbled across the Berlin Wall.

I hadn’t realized a section of the Berlin Wall had been given to Montreal, or that it had been set up in its Centre de Commerce Mondial.

But there it was — one side grey with crude markings, the other bright with 1960s student graffitti, an eerie reminder of the divided city, one ignored (that day, at least) by the stream of underground shoppers and stockbrokers rushing by.

There were several plaques with this fragment of the wall.

On one, this text was written in English, French and German:


The other side of the Berlin Wall. © SB

Berlin Wall

This section of the wall is the blade of a knife
that sliced a heart in two.

This fragment of rock is the remains of a dungeon whose walls tore life asunder.

This piece of debris is a triumph
over terror and tyranny.

This piece of concrete bears a message:
The freedom of a people cannot be divided.


The wall fell 25 years ago today.

~~~~~ – or

Shelley, at Shelley, B.C.

Shelley, at Shelley, B.C.

Well, this is exciting — for me, if perhaps for few others…

My website can now be reached through either (the host site) or (the site with the at-least-for-now redirect).

My name, by either domain.

And one day soon, I shall write about my name…

Till then, here’s a shot of Shelley, at Shelley.

B.C., that is.

(And yes, that’s me. And yes, that’s is a real railway whistlestop sign, somewhere east of Prince George, somewhere west of my mountain birthplace.)


Regina Glory: Seen on Landing at YQR

A sunset glory, seen on approach to Regina International Airport, Regina, Canada. (As featured on Atmospheric Optics)

A sunset glory, seen on approach to Regina International Airport, Regina, Canada. As featured on Atmospheric Optics

All the way from Vancouver — over the Rocky Mountain and across the Prairies  — a glory shone in front of our plane.

And when we approached for landing at the Regina International Airport, that glory turned sunset pink and gold.

I’d seen the same phenomenon on the way West, when the glory hovered below the propellers of the plane during the approach and descent into the Calgary Airport.

But this, my January landing in Regina, was magical. The glory was a circular sunset rainbow along the horizon — so beautiful, I wasn’t even sure if it was real or …

But I had the pictures. And it was a rare, sunset glory.

My flight back from Vancouver to Regina was changed at the last minute to accommodate other passengers and other flights, and as I’d recently learned about glories, I was delighted to learn that in my new seat, I’d be sitting on the north side of the plane, opposite the sun.

I didn’t realize until after I boarded that I would also be sitting with Air Canada crew members — a flight attendant beside me, a pilot across from her, and a pilot (or two?) behind us.

I took pictures, yes — but with my cell phone… I had my real camera, but no wide angle lens.

My seat mate was intrigued by my intent focus on something just out of sight (for her) outside the window. I tried to explain it. I showed her my phone. She showed it to the pilots.

But neither the flight attendant nor the pilots, with all their hours in the sky, had heard of glories or remembered seeing them. (She said she’s too busy working to look outside.)

And so, consider this: How do you really, seriously, manage to convince any unknown flying companions — especially those with extensive in-air experience — that you are looking outside the airplane window at something shining in the clouds, and that this something you’re looking at is something they’ve never heard of: A GLORY!

Explain it, that is, without having them think you are some kind of potential religious/other freak? (As a minister’s daughter, even I could hear the words and music: Mine eyes have seen the glory…) 

Yet, flight crews do see these, I’m happy to report. When I told Les Cowley of Atmospheric Optics about my experience, he told me he often gets pix from pilots. (Yeah! I’m so glad they can see!!!)

Anyway, I sent a few pix to Les, who I correspond with every so often about Saskatchewan’s amazing icy sky winter sights — the solar halos, the sundogs and multiple rings, the sun pillars beneath the sun. (He featured a photo of solar halos and sundogs at Wascana Park a few years ago.)

To my delight, he has now featured the glory (far) above the Regina International Airport on his site. Which is fantastic, as is a great place to learn about atmospheric optics, effects, and all that. Please visit: you’ll see not only my #YQR glory, but lots of other glory photos.

And the larger version of my photo (with details and text) of the glory I saw while landing at the Regina International Airport, is now at Atmospheric Optics, at  (Thanks, Les!)


The next time I fly, I will:

  • Book a seat on the north side of the plane.
  • Take a wide angle lens on the camera when I fly… And (with apologies to my usual flying companion who loves looking out the window),
  • Claim the window seat!


Looking for Posts about Regina Book Launches?

Just a reminder that if you’re here looking for posts about book launches or other literary events in Regina, Saskatchewan, those are housed on my LatitudeDrifts blog.

If you’d like to use or download a photograph that’s featured there, send me a note. (And if it’s of you, I’ll be especially happy to share.)

Happy reading!



Saskatchewan Birds in Paraguay

A Saskatchewan Meadowlark - in Paraguay's Urutau magazine.

A Saskatchewan Meadowlark – in Paraguay’s Urutau magazine.

Recently, I shared a series of my photographs of Saskatchewan birds with Dr. Alberto Yanosky, the biologist who heads BirdLife International affiliate, Guyra Paraguay.

The photos were to illustrate Dr. Yanosky’s article about his visit to Saskatchewan, the importance of protecting biodiversity and habitat, and the migratory birds shared by our two countries, Canada and Paraguay.

“We say that they decided to breed here, but they are our birds, that we lend them to you,” he explained when I met him in June.

“And you think that it is on the other side, that they are your birds, and they go south to avoid winter here.”

Shared birds. It continues to amaze me that our Prairie birds travel that far.

And what fun to receive an e-mailed copy of the July 2013 issue of Urutau Electrónico featuring the Alberto Yanosky / Shelley Banks collaboration!

Conservationists  and Horned Lark

and Horned Lark

The first page of our article, at top, features my photograph of a Western Meadowlark on a fence post along a quiet rural Saskatchewan road. (There is a slough in the background, creating that soft blue haze.)

Next, at right, my picture of a (Saskatchewan) Horned Lark and a shot of the group that visited Saskatchewan pastures in June 2013. And finally, below, my (Saskatchewan — or might these really all be Paraguayan???) photographs of an Upland Sandpiper and Barn Swallow  — and BirdLife International birdwatchers,  Margaret Atwood, Graeme Gibson, Ian Davidson, Alberto Yanosky, and others. (With Yanosky’s text along the way…)

During the visit, we saw more than 90 bird species, including several that travel between Saskatchewan and Paraguay: the Common Nighthawk – añapero boreal en español – (Chordeiles minor); the Upland Sandpiper – batitú- (Bartramia longicauda); the Bobolink – charlatán – (Dolichonyx oryziborus); and Wilson’s Phalarope – falaropo tricolor – (Phalaropus tricolor).

Page Three of the Urutau article

Upland Sandpiper
Margaret Atwood, Graeme Gibson, Alberto Yanosky and others,
Barn Swallow

Other species in common mentioned in the article include Barn Swallows -golondrina tijerita – (Hirundo rustica), Grasshopper Sparrows – cachilo ceja amarilla – (Ammodramus humenalis), Eastern Kingbirds – suirirí boreal – (Tyrannus tyrannus), and Purple Martins – golondrina purpúrea – (Progne subis). (Sí, puedo leer español…) 

Yanosky, recently named the 2013 Latin American winner of the National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation, was in Saskatchewan for the June Prairie Passages Tour of our publicly owned grasslands.

For more on that visit, see My Braid and Margaret Atwood, pictures on my LatitudeDrifts blog, or bird photos on my Prairie Nature blog.

You can also read the entire current issue of Urutau Electrónico — along with other issues — on Guyra Paraguay’s site,, to learn more about birds and habitat conservation in Paraguay. (Click Publicaciones, then you’ll find the July 2013 edition of Urutau Electrónico. Yes, it’s all in Spanish — a bonus! Language practice!)

My braid and Margaret Atwood

Shelley Banks, with Margaret Atwood

Shelley Banks, with Margaret Atwood

There is a story behind every photograph — including this one…

But I’m not yet sure how to tell it, except by saying that yes, I spent several days with Margaret Atwood in Val Marie, Saskatchewan, early this summer.

What a trip.

First, what amazing company.

Margaret Atwood, yes, and also her partner Graeme Gibson, along with Ian Davidson (Nature Canada), Alberto Yanosky (BirdLife International Affiliate Guyra Paraguay), Saskatchewan writer/naturalist Trevor Herriot and others.

And what an awesome chance to learn about the fragile prairie ecosytem, and the symbiotic relationships between our grazing animals and the grassland birds we love. (Birds we saw included a Baird’s Sparrow; an Upland Sandpiper and a Bobolink, both of which migrate all the way between Paraguay and Saskatchewan; a Common NighthawkChestnut-collared Longspurs and Long-billed Curlews.)

I’ve posted other pictures from this Prairie Passages tour on my Latitude Drifts blog, with photographs of prairie wildflowers and photographs of birds and bison on my nature and flower blogs.

As for this photograph…

Well, yes, I do have a very long braid…

And my thanks to Colin Hubick of Red Hat Studios for capturing the moment… (At least, I think I’m grateful…)

“High Wire”: My poem in The Society

The 2013 edition of The Society, from St. Peter's College, Muenster.

The 2013 edition of The Society, from St. Peter’s College, Muenster.

I love getting mail, especially when it’s a large brown envelope with a magazine that’s published my work. And so this week, I was delighted to find a copy of The Society on the table by the door.

The Society is published annually by St. Peter’s College in Muenster, Saskatchewan, to celebrate “extraordinary work by both established and emerging artists and writers from across Canada.” Whee! Great description! And amazing contributors. (I share a page with Dave Margoshes — what more can I say?)

St. Peter’s College is on the same site as the writing retreat I attend every year or so — I was last there in February for a very productive re-immersion from daily life into the writing life.

And The Society is overseen by an editorial team that include Barbara Langhorst, the 2013 winner of the Saskatchewan Book Award for Poetry. So I’m triply or maybe even quadruply happy about this.

As for my poem, “High Wire” can be read in the online version of The Society; it’s about eight pages in, on the top left… (Please, don’t try to read the image below – your eyes will burn! It’s there for illustration only.)

The page with my poem, "High Wire" in The Society, 2013.

The page with my poem, “High Wire” in The Society, 2013.


Writers and Writing

My 2012-13 literary project: To attend and document as many Regina writing events (readings, launches, celebrations, etc.) as I can, and post pictures of the writers on my LatitudeDrifts blog.

To date, I have perhaps a 70 per cent success rate…  There are far more book-related events in Regina than I realised when I set myself this personal challenge, and scheduling literature and life at times gets complicated.

However, I believe writers — and the Arts in general — are crucial for our cities, communities and culture. I also believe that they are vastly under-valued and under-promoted… (As an example, the local media rarely attend literary events.)

And so I’m still aiming to record as many as I can.

Note: If you’re visiting this page because I’ve taken your picture at a local reading, my thanks for dropping by! And, to show my appreciation, any images you find of yourself on LatitudeDrifts are yours to use… (But please, let me know if you are using them, so that I can also link back to your websites, blogs, etc.)

Find a Professional Writer at

Writers and clients connect at

Writers and clients connect at

Hiring a professional writer can save you time and money, and enhance the impact of all your written materials, from articles and reports to newsletters, speeches, web pages and more.

That’s my pitch of the day, posted because I’ve just updated my profile at, a great site run by the Professional Writers Association of Canada to connect freelance writers and potential clients.

You can find my profile on by searching for “Shelley Banks”, or (at time of posting), this link to Shelley Banks will take you directly to my information. (Or, you can click the Contact link on instead to reach me.)

You can also search by location, subject matter and expertise to find other writers in Saskatchewan and across Canada to meet your needs.

As for PWAC, it’s the national association of professional freelance writers; it promotes professional development and standards, and helps writers find business opportunities, among other things.

I’m a big supporter of PWAC, an organization I first joined in the 1990s when I was freelancing in Montreal, and I’ve recently agreed to serve as President of PWAC’s Saskatchewan Chapter. (Yes, we have a thriving group here.)

As a result, I’ll be more directly involved than in the past — for example, I’m looking forward to going the AGM at the 2013 MagNet conference later this spring to meet writers, editors and others involved in Canada’s magazine industry.

So, if you came to this post because you’re looking for a professional writer, please keep me and my PWAC colleagues in mind. Visit Do a search. Hire a writer.

PWAC: A great organization for writers!

PWAC: A great organization for writers!

If you’re here instead because you are a professional freelance writer — or want to be one, consider joining PWAC. (And if you’re already a member, I hope to see you soon!)

That’s it. Pitch done. Thanks for reading!