You can get it if you really want

Two University students manage to overcome the hectic pace of grad school and write books.

It’s hard being a student. It’s harder being a teacher. It’s even harder being a student and a teacher. Now throw in writing a novel on the list and you have got something to be really proud of.

Gerri Brightwell, author of “Cold Country,” and Abigail Davis, author of “Hanging of Katherine Garret: A Novel Based on the 1737 Trial of a Pequot Woman,” are two University women working toward their doctoral degrees, but in the process of completing their degrees have each managed to write and publish a novel.

“Finding time is the biggest issue in writing while being a student,” said Davis, who was born in a small town in the Catskill Mountains. It’s a problem of balancing all the different areas of life – social life, family life, academic life – but both woman have found time and energy to do it all, she said.

Title: Cold Country
Author: Gerri Brightwell
Publisher: Duckworth Publishing
Price: $15.95

Title: Hanging Katherine Garret: A Novel Based on the 1737 Trial of a Pequot Woman
Author: Abigail Davis
Publisher: Heritage Books
Price: $20.00

The energy and ambition of these two women is incredible. They do not live their lives in the dark, afraid to push the envelope or walk the thin line.

Davis was Northwest Airlines’ first female pilot in 1979. A medical problem forced her to switch careers from aviation back to academics. This resulted in both the creation of her novel and her new vocation as a passionate teacher in the English department. “Really good teachers are gifted,” Davis said. “They make literature come alive.” The pedestal on which Davis puts teachers also sets her expectations for her work. “My students come first, even if that means my own academic work suffers,” Davis notes.

Brightwell, born and raised in England, has a slightly more complicated life. After traveling around the United States, including Alaska, and to Ireland, Thailand and many other countries, she now resides in St. Paul with a husband and two children, speaking French to her children and telling hilarious stories of culture shock.

“Do it, you have to do it,” was what she told herself when she felt a lack of energy during the writing of her novel “Cold Country.” The novel is based in Fairbanks, Alaska, but it was written in Thailand during an excruciatingly hot day. “That’s why when my students ask for another week, I say: Not another week, get it done! Come on, come on! Write that essay.”

Besides motivation and ambition, it takes a strong support group to survive the struggles of being a novelist. As the mother of two children, Brightwell has had to learn to divide the work of parenthood between her husband and herself. “We divide up the whole week,” Brightwell says, eyeing her husband. “He has three and a half days and I have three and a half days.”

Davis uses a different technique to help her finish her novel. She depends mainly on a writing group that has helped her revise and bring new angles to her writing. “Writing evolves; we are not static,” Davis said, constantly noticing how her writing changes – she depends on the writing group to enhance her work.

Davis and Brightwell grew up in dramatically different circumstances and have walked their own unique paths, yet they both have managed to complete a novel while withstanding the hardships of academia.

Some words of advice from those who have been there and done that? “It will never get written unless you sit there and write,” Brightwell said.

Davis agrees time is a big issue, but more importantly she said to, “Write about what you care about.”