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An exploration of the written word

Whistler Readers and Writers Festival offers up extravaganza of learning opportunities for literary lovers

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What: Whistler Readers and Writers Festival

When: Friday, Sept. 11 to Sunday, Sept. 13

Where: Legends, Creekside

Cost: Free to $180 (full festival pass)

Writers: sharpen your pencils, dig out that notebook, and let the brainstorming begin - the annual Readers and Writers Festival is almost upon us.

Stella Harvey actually founded the local writing group, which is better known around town as the Vicious Circle, and is director of the three-day Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, which is entering its eighth year this fall.

What started as a one-day event held in Harvey's living room, attracting about 20 participants, has truly blossomed into the pinnacle event for word nerds from near and far. Since then, the event has grown immensely; doubling in duration to three days, and attracting 120 participants last year alone.

"What's interesting - to me, anyway - is that it's not just for one group of people; it's not just for readers, it's not just for experienced writers..." Harvey said. "It's for the whole gambit."

Designed with every level of literary lover in mind - readers, amateurs, and published professionals - the festival is reaching new heights this year, featuring more than 20 Canadian authors and editors who have been invited to take part in the festivities.

Participants can mix and match workshops and panels, dabbling in a range of genres, or choose a more intensive stream, like Writing for Children, Writing for the Screen, Writing for Magazines, or the Technique Tune-up: Getting your Prose Lean, your Characters Mean (or meaningful), and your Writing Voice Tuned Up.

Workshop and panel leaders include 2009 B.C. Book Prize winner, Lee Henderson (The Man Game), Vancouver author, Annabel Lyon (The Golden Mean) and Claire Mulligan, who was long listed for the Giller Prize for her book, The Reckoning of Boston Jim. Organizers have also managed to dig up some local talent to offer their insights at this year's festival, with Whistler writer Sara Leach (Jake Reynolds: Chicken or Eagle) and Leslie Anthony ( Snakebit: Confessions of a Herpetologist ) on board to participate.

"We've always tried to showcase Canadian authors as well as local authors, because there are quite a few people within our local community that are writing away, and have published work and that kind of thing," said Harvey.

The festival has been relocated to Creekside, for a few reasons. On top of the obvious lure of free parking, Harvey said Legends could better accommodate their various sessions, all while offering up breathtaking views for out-of-town participants.

Another new feature of this year's festival is The Pitching Mound, a lunchtime session presented by the Association of B.C. Magazine Publishers, which will see five of Canada's leading magazine editors (James Little from Explore, Leslie Anthony from Skier, Sandro Grayson from Color, Matt O'Grady from B.C. Business and Charlene Rooke from Western Living) field story ideas from a limited number of aspiring magazine and non-fiction writers.

Over and above the training opportunities on offer, the festival will also feature some seriously fun events, including a preview of "Snow: The Musical" a work that is currently in development as part of the Cultural Capitals of Canada Program by local writers, Leslie Anthony, G.D. Maxwell, Grant Stoddard and Lisa Richardson. They'll be giving a cold read of their song and dance number, looking to fine tune this work-in-progress with the help of the audience. On Saturday night, participants will throw down at He Read, She Read, a battle of the sexes, book-club style.

"Typically, what happens is that book clubs are female, so it's kind of interesting to find one that is male-oriented," Harvey said.

Afterwards, spoken word poet Shane Koyczan provides inspiration before the debut of Haiku Idol, a competition that will see 10 writers scrambling to cook up a killer haiku with a random word.

"He's very, very popular," Harvey enthused. "I saw him at the Banff Writer's Festival last year, and he is fabulous!"

Finally, on Sunday afternoon, Pam Barnsley and Mary MacDonald will lead participants on a free, guided walk of the Poet's Pause sculpture installations during the Pack of Pickled Poets event.

On top of all the changes and additions to the workshops and events during the weekend-long festival, organizers have also decided to expand the Writers-In-Residence program, which is part of the overall festival and starts at the beginning of September. Rather than their usual single instructor, they've enlisted the help of Wayne Grady (Tree) and Merilyn Simonds (The Convict Lover) to spend the fall at Alta Lake Station House with up to 20 program participants, critiquing and developing manuscripts in one-on-one sessions and group sessions.

"To get the kind of feedback that we want to give to participants within the Writers-In-Residence program, you really need to have time and so I can't really load them up with a ton of people," Harvey said.

As of Friday, 18 people had registered for the Writers-In-Residence program.

If the wallet is feeling a bit light these days, don't worry - the event is geared towards writers (read: is budget-friendly) with free sessions on offer, two and a half hour workshops for just $25, and a full festival pass (not including the month-long residency) for $180. To view a full schedule or purchase tickets, visit www.theviciouscircle.ca .