Lyonel Doherty

Columbia Valley Pioneer

At age 10, Sandra Kelly was reading authors like Henry James without the slightest understanding of what the books were about. She just loved reading words.

“As a kid, I was a word junkie, always memorizing the meaning of new words and devouring novels like candy,” she recalled.

Now, at 67, after having more than a million words in print, her fascination with writing continues with her first literary novel, Echo Lane.

The Invermere author had been a writer of non-fiction for 20 years, mainly for magazines and newspapers. But she wanted a change and thought fiction could be her second calling.

“At the same time, Harlequin was launching a line of  romantic comedies, and they were looking for new blood.”

For Kelly, it was a good way to get into the market. “I had a wonderful relationship with Harlequin, but after two titles I decided romance wasn’t going to be my thing; too limiting.” Besides, you can only take so much of Fabio’s wind-swept hair on those covers, or that perfect couple’s loving embrace in a forest. 

Kelly didn’t need Fabio anyway because she had her husband Bob who landed a contract building townhomes in Invermere. So they moved here from Calgary.

But after all those years of keyboarding eight hours a day, Kelly developed chronic tendonitis in both elbows, forcing her to cut back and eventually stop writing altogether.

However, during COVID, she found fiction again and decided to run with it at her own pace with no deadline pressure. “I sat down and wrote Echo Lane, neither knowing nor caring if anyone would want to publish it.” 

Well, Stonehouse Publishing in Edmonton did and the associate publisher, Netta Johnson, loved the story.  

Echo Lane is a contemporary tale about a woman whose little sister went missing 42 years ago while in her care. A knock on the door brings a former neighbour claiming to know the whereabouts of the missing child. This neighbour may or may not be telling the truth, and when it’s finally revealed it’s a shocker. 

“The story was in my head for years. I have no idea where it came from. It includes a near-death experience, so I read roughly two dozen accounts of such experiences. That was my only research,” Kelly told the Pioneer.

The part-fictional memoir is currently available for pre-order from Amazon Books. It will also be available for purchase at Four Points Books in Invermere this summer.

“I think the quest to confirm the identity of the mysterious caller will hold everybody’s attention,” Kelly said. 

On Goodreads, the book is being compared to Angela’s Ashes and The Lovely Bones, she noted. “I’m over the moon!”

There is an adage in the author’s world where you have to read a lot to write a good book. For Kelly, her inspiration comes from authors such as Miriam Toews who wrote A Complicated Kindness and Women Talking, her personal favourite. Kelly also reveres Alice Munro and Ian McEwan.

“These are my teachers. I don’t care for stories where there’s no one to root for.”

As for her advice to aspiring writers, Kelly encourages people to carve a niche for themselves.

“Today’s marketplace is flooded with titles, so publishers are looking for stories that are cleverly conceived and utterly original. It’s impossible to get their attention otherwise.”

Kelly also urges beginners to join a professional writing group and to seek inspiration from published authors.

“Finally, develop a spine. Your work will be judged and you have to be able to handle the truth.”

Kelly said self-publishing is an option if all you want to do is write a book for yourself (and complete that bucket list). However, the downside is that self-published books tend to get lost in the flood of current titles, she pointed out.

Don’t know what to write about? Write about what you know. But most importantly, just sit down and do it and worry about how good it is later.