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Whistler Writers Festival: Funky Flow in Rain & Snow


Exactly what happens at a writers festival?  BookBuffet attended the opening dinner of the Third Annual Whistler Writers Festival this past November kicking off informal relations between participants, invited speakers and guests. Held at Spruce Grove Field House, which has a view of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, it was a fascinating experience from multiple perspectives: the people, the process, and the product. Kudos to Stella Harvey who spearheaded the event, which promises to grow like a snowball rolling down adjacent ski-hills. 


December 20, 2004

Immediately noticeable is the careful respect writers share. No matter where on the uphill climb to publishing you are, or whether you’re a memoirist, an essayist, a short story or fiction writer, everyone remembers his or her beginning. The students bear witness to the successes in the room and are stimulated and affirmed. 


The Panelists 


The panel experts who came to discuss the craft of writing are two senior editors for Geist Magazine, (a polished literary quarterly with a uniquely Canadian voice) and two published authors whose works have won or been short-listed for awards: 

Kilter: 55 Fictions  Sitting Practice

  • John Gould, kilter 55 fictions Turnstone Press, (2004) a collection of very short stories with sharp, often startling resolutions. Funny, yearning, transforming. He teaches in the Writing Department at the University of Victoria.
  • Caroline Adderson, sitting practice Thomas Allen Publishers. (2004) Hailed as one of Canada’s four most notable emerging writers by Margaret Atwood, her works have a penetrating honesty.
  • Stephen Osborne, Ice & Fire: Dispatches from the New World 1988-1998 (2004) Founder of Geist Magazine back in 1990 writes narrative with an explorer’s heart, all the while remaining smart, funny.
  • Mary Schendlinger has worked in publishing for 30 years in editorial, marketing and production. Currently, she is a freelance editor of books, periodicals and other print and electronic materials, and she is senior editor at Geist magazine. She also instructs in the Writing and Publishing Program at Simon Fraser University.


Getting down to business


Each of the authors read from their currents works as referenced above, and the room was transfixed and our minds were transported to those places created for us.  It is a special treat, in my mind, to hear an author speak from their body of work; see which passage they select and witness the connection to their work as words rolls off their tongues with a lilting ease that betrays the labor.



How They Write


It was interesting to hear each author comment on how they think about writing.


Caroline said that she starts with a situation, keeps a notebook in her purse or a tape recorder by her bed—always ready for the moment when her “beautiful idea” comes whether from her subconscious or elsewhere.  The primary directive is to get a draft on paper, and then she leaves it alone, only coming back to 1-2 years later!  When she’s re-worked it, she gives it to a trusted friend whose opinion she respects.  “It’s a furniture moving process—hard work,” she says.


John Gould quoted from the American philosopher Richard Rority’s essay titled, “The decline of redemptive truth and the rise of literary culture,” which he believes best describes the conversion from religious modes to redemptive truth.  Like Plato, we believe that the truth is in each of us.


Stephen Osborne pointed out that you never see a simple narrative sentence any more.  His seven-year-old granddaughter came home with the best narrative statement he’s seen.  “We must listen to the subject/verb… and use the rubric of: where, when, why and how to test the narrative of a piece.”  He recommends reading George Orwell’s Essay On Writing and loves Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem.


"A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

  1. Could I put it more shortly?
  2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?"

George Orwell 1946


Alas, as an observer I was not able to attend the rest of the sessions in the workshop in which participants had pre-submitted works for critique, but I envied them the opportunity.  Next year for sure!




The Canada Council, Mountain FM Radio, Whistler Tennis, Whistler Chamber of Commerce, and the Whistler Farmer’s Market, with local fundraising drives by the members of Whistler’s Writer’s Group, affectionately referred to as The Vicious Circle. The group was started by Stella May 2001 and meets the local writing group who meet to discuss their work and publish an anthology of their works twice a year.


For more information on next year’s Whistler Writer’s Festival contact: Stella Harvey - or 604-932-4518.



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