A Port Coquitlam writer and SFU undergrad is at a French chateau this month as part of a two-week residency to refine her next novel.
K.A. “Ara” Thomsen — aka Keri Thommasen — won a Denis Diderot artist-in-residence grant to cover part of her stay at Chateau d'Orquevaux, a secluded lakeside estate located in the Champagne-Ardenne region of northeast France.
A young adult fantasy author, Thomsen is best known for her books The Hidden Valley and its sequel, The Hidden Valley Unveiled, as well as a short story titled The Recipe for Disaster.
Now, she’s making the final edits to the first book in her new trilogy: The Griffin’s Egg, a classic fantasy that’s also geared for a teenage audience.
Writing from France, Thomsen told the Tri-City News about her passion for the literary arts.
As a child, she saw her short stories published in her hometown newspaper in Bella Coola. Later, as her skills developed, her words were published in the Capilano Review and other journals.
Five years ago — in her first year as a PoCo resident — Thomsen released The Hidden Valley, a fictional cowboy story set in the Chilcotin wilderness, for young adult readers.
That year, she also won the municipality’s My City My Words poetry competition and read the piece at the mayor’s breakfast during the May Days celebration.
Two years later, the independent author interned at Wesbrook Bay Books, a publishing house in Vancouver, and enrolled at SFU in the English and publishing programs; she is now in her third year.
In February, Thomsen applied for the Chateau d'Orquevaux residency; however, “as a writer, you get so used to disappointment that I did not expect to hear back,” she wrote.
Still, in August, just as she was about to take her final exam for an English course, she opened her email and found a message from the French program.
Accepted, it read.
“I was in shock,” she said, “but it was a good shock.”
HISTORY OF CHATEAU
Built as a hunting lodge in the 1700s in the style of Louis XV, Chateau d'Orquevaux is privately owned by the Attias family.
Started in 2017 by artist and filmmaker Ziggy Attias, the residency for visual artists, writers and musicians around the globe aims to offer “a respite from ‘real’ world energy,” according to its website, as well as provide “a safe place to explore, contemplate and share ideas.”
During the Second World War, the property was raided by the Nazis, and “one of the studios still has a swastika engraved in the wall,” Thomsen wrote.
Thomsen told the Tri-City News that she’s moved by her lush surroundings and creative companions (it’s her first residency and first trip to France).
And she’s working through her editor’s suggestions for Orphan and Sorcerer, the inaugural book in The Griffin’s Egg series. Its plot centres on the orphan, Shayana, who answers a call for help from a kingdom far away — only to learn more about herself.
The fantasy novel is similar in style to C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Sharon Shinn and Mercedes Lackey’s works.
But it’s the language by Patricia McKillip that continues to wow her. “The magical mystery and poetry of her prose is truly inspiring,” she wrote.
As for her next steps, Thomsen said she’ll continue to post about emotional/spiritual health topics on her Instagram account, as well as fashion and beauty tips on her @fash1pash1 page.
She also plans to try her hand at another genre: historical romance, but under a different pseudonym.