Monday, August 23, 2010

Writers Inspiring Writers -- Antidote for Those Dog Days

The cooler days leading up to fall seem to have set in, and I have taken another step in my "program" of re-writing my novel by the middle of October. In my post two weeks ago, I was both elated about some of the motivating events I was attending and mortified that it was so easy to get distracted from my primary objective. My writing journey this summer has not been easy for a number of reasons, some personal, others simply a consequence of the dog days phenomenon I mentioned in that post.

In July I attended the Saskatchewan Festival of Words which is an annual event for me. It is always so enjoyable to listen to authors talk about their work and read from their books. This year was no exception, giving attendees the opportunity to mingle with and ask questions of writers from many genres -- fiction of all sorts, from mysteries to literary fiction, nature writing and photography, playwriting, poetry, even slam poetry. All this made the hot weather that Moose Jaw traditionally offers up for the festival somewhat bearable.

August brought a new experience my way when I decided to travel to British Columbia for the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts. It was my first time at this festival, in its twenty-eighth season. There was a heat wave happening during the four days I stayed in the little town of Sechelt, but the smorgasbord of authors and their books made it easy to overlook. (Smoke from the forest fires in the B.C. interior had been invading the lower mainland for days, and it was difficult to see across the bay to Vancouver Island which is usually clearly visible.)

There were so many highlights that I hardly know where to begin. The format for each session provided an opportunity for the authors to speak for about half an hour on their writing process, when and how they began to write, and more specifically about their most recent publications. After responding to questioms from the audience, they read from their books for about ten minutes. Most of the authors commented on the luxury of having an entire hour to talk and read about their work, and the extraordinary experience of appearing before such a large, enthusiastic audience. The pavilion seats 500 people and most sessions were packed. Books were available to buy and all the authors were generous with their time for signing.

The opening event on the first evening gave a foretaste of the program in store for the eager crowds. Lawrence Hill spoke about writing his sweeping historical novel,The Book of Negroes, and the reception it has received, including many awards.

Among the authors appearing the next day: Karen Connelly, whose books about Thailand and Burma (Myanmar) are politically charged, talked frankly about her experiences which led to the writing of The Border Surrounds Us, The Lizard Cage, and her latest travel memoir, Burmese Lessons: A Love Story; Adam Lewis Schroeder gave an entertaining account of his novels, in particular his latest, In the Fabled East, which is set in France and Indochina and spans a period from the late 19th century to the 1950s; Gwendolyn Southin, who was instrumental in setting up the first festival 28 years ago, has become known for her popular Margaret Spencer Mystery series set in the late 50s and early 60s, and was interviewed by Louise Penny, who drew a large audience the next day for her session on her own mystery novels and her main character Chief Inspector Andre Gamache.

Bonnie Burnard, whose long-awaited second novel Suddenly recently appeared, and Jack Whyte, who wrote the hugely popular series Dream of Eagles based on the Arthurian legends, the Templar series, and the new Guardians of Scotland series featuring Scottish heroes of the 14th century, closed out the afternoon of the first full day. That evening we heard Ian Brown talk about his book, The Boy in the Moon: A Father's Search for His Disabled Son, which has won two major awards for non-fiction. Last but not least, Nino Ricci inspired us with his account of his approach to writing novels. He tells his writing students that the last thing to think about before writing a novel is theme. Then he pointed out that all his books, including his most recent novel, The Origin of Species, have come about because of his interest in specific themes (e.g. Darwinian theory, Catholicism, how to live a good life ... or at least fake it). A clear case of "do as I say, not what I do."

And so it went, one after the other, for eleven more sessions. The people who lined up to get into the pavilion, hour after hour, were clearly readers who knew and appreciated the works of the authors in attendance. Many of us were also writers who came away inspired and in awe of the array of talent assembled for the program. Pure inspiration! Far from being more discouraged about my writing, I came away feeling uplifted by the example of these authors, many of whom experienced disappointments along the way, but who had weathered the storms and come out on the sunny side. Now I have a renewed commitment to that project that awaits me in my writing gable. The break from writing has fired me up to get back to it with renewed vigour. Needless to say, I have a brand-new list of books I want to read, as well!

I am still on vacation, and today is a travelling day for me. Without my own laptop on this trip, I have been hampered in connecting regularly with emails and blogs. So this is fair warning that I will be unable to take advantage of the wi-fi that is available almost everywhere to respond to your comments. Perhaps by evening that will be remedied. In the meantime, please comment away, and I will be checking in as soon as I can.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana. Thank you for talking about the festivals. I never knew about them. I think there's something similar in Thunder Bay, Ontario, as well but I haven't been around to experience it myself.

Good luck with your wip.

Anita Mae.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Helena,
What an interesting summer you've had, with all the traveling you've done and festivals you've attended. Mine was pretty boring in comparison, although I have done some writing.

Your title is very appropriate - writers inspiring writers. I know I've always come away inspired from workshops and conferences I've attended. Just knowing that someone else has been where I've been, has faced adversity and pushed her way through, makes me believe I can do the same.

Anita, I'd like to take the credit for Helena's post but I cannot tell a lie. Helena wrote it!


connie said...


Jack Whyte has written more! That man is going to smash the budget to bits. I haven't even gotten to the Crusaders yet.

Glad you had a great time at the festivals. Aint retirement grand?

Karyn Good said...

Glad to hear you're energized and ready to tackle your wip and what a wonderful way to spend the summer - being inspired by other authors.

I've read The Book of Negroes and I would highly recommend it. It's a wonderful read.

Laura Breck said...

Isn't it difficult to write in the summer? I feel like I should be doing something outside instead. I think that's why there are so many late-summer, early-fall workshops - to remind us that it's time to tuck into our caves and get back to our wordsmithing. Glad you were inspired, Helena!

Janet said...

Wow - the festival sounds fabulous, Helena! What a wonderful event for both writers and readers - and it sounds like the authors enjoy it, too!

So glad to hear you are fired up and ready to get back to your gable and your manuscript! Can't wait to hear about your progress in the next couple of months.

Helena said...

Hi, Anita. Thanks for the comment about the festival info. And, yes, there are a number of festivals around the country. Alas, it's not possible to get to all of them. There is some repetition, of course, with all the festival planners hoping to get the popular authors to their event. Good for the authors with new books out!

I see Jana has set you straight on whose Monday this is! Don't worry, sometimes I don't know who I am, either. :)

Helena said...

Jana, if you did some writing this summer you are ahead of some of us, and I'm glad you could put all the summer distractions behind you for some of the time at least.

I recall a certain trip you took earlier in the summer. I envied you heading to a part of the country I'd really like to get back to for another visit. Isn't hard to do everything that you'd like to do and still get the stuff done that has to be done?

Thanks for your comment about the title ... that's just how I come away from festivals: absolutely inspired!

Helena said...

Yeah, connie ... Jack Whyte is a whirlwind. Can hardly wait to read his new book when it comes out in the fall (before Surrey, I think). His take on William Wallace ought to be interesting, and will probably shake up the establishment a bit as well!

I really tried hard to hold back from buying too many books, for the sake of my budget and my baggage, but both were suffering somewhat by the time the festival was over.

Helena said...

Karyn, I have to admit I still haven't read The Book of Negroes, but it's on my TBR list for sure. When my book club discussed it I was #18 on a list of 30-odd holds at the library. Then I couldn't attend the meeting anyway, so I just put it off.

I AM energized, and you know, it's not just the writers at festivals that inspire me, it's writers like you who push through to meet goals. Such a good example!

Helena said...

You echo a lot of similar sentiments, Laura. I guess some of us just operate on that kind of seasonal clock. Fall does have a briskness, and a motivating feel to it. Got to get a jump on winter!

Thanks for visiting here today. Sorry I'm so late responding. I made it home in time to hop on my laptop and see who stopped by in my absence.

Helena said...

Hi Janet! I just hope I can sustain the feeling. Have to buckle down as if the school bell were ringing!

Would love to sit down and chew the fat about all these wonderful writers and the books I want to read. I know I would get sidetracked, so have to attack the project at hand instead. I do want to actually have something to report down the road.