Oct 302012

Granville Island Writers Fest

A writer’s perspective on her visit to two writers festivals: Winnipeg’s Thin Air and The Vancouver Writers Fest

This fall I attended events at two writers festivals, Winnipeg Thin Air in September and The Vancouver Writers Fest in October. The festivals bring together and showcase a variety of talented writers. I sometimes think the festivals are more appropriately called readers festivals. They offer readers the opportunity to discover new authors, hear new works by an old favourite and learn about what or who may have inspired the stories. Indeed, the Vancouver festival used to be called the Vancouver International Writers & Readers Festival.

Writing Process

Sometimes festival events invoked feelings of woeful inadequacy. After listening to beautiful words and exquisitely crafted stories, I questioned what was I thinking, thinking I could write. Other times I felt encouraged. This often occurred when the writers talked about their writing process. Each one approached writing differently.

Anne Perry creates a detailed outline of her plot, each scene identified, before she starts writing. Some other writers said they may have an idea of what they want to write, but don’t know where the story is going. They figure it out as they write. Nancy Richler and Emily St. John Mandel write everyday. Marjorie Celona worked on her novel Y every second day, writing up to twelve hours in the day. Nancy Richler takes her laptop to coffee houses. Marjorie Celona writes propped up on her bed, clad in workout clothes, water bottle at one side, energy bar at the other. In other words, no one set process or routine. It means that whatever works for me is right. I have to find my own way.

Richard Ford and David Bergen talked about the times where the writing flows easily and effortlessly, and about the times where each word is a struggle. When they go back and read their work, they can’t tell the easy parts from the difficult parts. The quality of the writing is the same. I find this encouraging. It gives me hope for those days when the writing doesn’t come easily or naturally.

Reader Perspective

Ultimately it is the reader who brings the story to life. And the reader may see things that the writer had not intended. For example, Cordelia Strube talked about a reviewer finding symbolism in one of her books she had not intentionally put there. I’ve heard of this happening to other writers.

I attended a fascinating event at the The Vancouver Writers Fest featuring writer Anne Perry and her biographer, Joanne Drayton. Joanne talked about her favourite Anne Perry character, William Monk. William Monk is a detective, a former policeman, living in Victorian England. Following an accident, he developed amnesia and cannot remember his past, although glimpses flash through now and again. Monk fascinated Joanne because of the whole idea of losing your back story. Anne Perry said that wasn’t the theme behind Monk at all. She said we all make mistakes, but how we deal with that differentiates us. William Monk had not been a very nice man in his past. When he is confronted with evidence of what he did, he knows he must have done it but he doesn’t know why. He starts to look for the why in others.

The possibility of readers seeing and imagining things in my story I hadn’t consciously planned excites me. But it also makes me examine my writing more closely from a reader’s perspective. Have I included enough detail? Is it clear? Have I left enough to the imagination?

Writer’s Curiosity

Where did the writers say their ideas and inspirations came from?. The stories often started with something in real life that they twisted and shaped into something different. They watch and listen to people. One writer said she rides the bus with her iPod earbuds in her ears, but the iPod turned off so she can inconspicuously eavesdrop. I can’t remember now which writer said that but I could relate. I am a little more conspicuous. My daughter often nudges me or gives me a chastising look when my eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations becomes too obvious.

I wonder about the pieces of other people’s life that we incorporate into our stories. No matter how we twist and turn it, do we have the right to use it? Is this a kind of theft? This merits a whole discussion on its own that I’ll leave for another day.

I will close now with one of my favourite festival quotes, from Beijing author Chan Koonchung talking about his book The Fat Years.
In reality this would never happen. A high official would never tell the truth.

Happy Reading. Happy Writing.

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