Pens and pencils were flying fast and furious over notepads this past weekend, as writers from as far away as Mexico and Ontario gathered in Whistler to hone their abilities during the seventh annual Whistler Readers and Writers Festival.
The event, which is organized by Whistler’s writers group, the Vicious Circle, featured over 15 workshops and seminars, which ranged in price from free to $35, and focused on everything from freewriting to non-fiction.
Stella Harvey, founder of the Vicious Circle, said this was the best year yet for the literary festival, with 115 participants, an almost 25 per cent increase from last year’s 92 participants, and a huge leap from the 20 people that registered for the first year of the event. Also, this year, 30 people were repeat attendees.
“That’s pretty impressive over seven years,” Harvey said with a laugh.
Most of the seminars and workshops exceeded attendance expectations, but still managed to maintain the intimate atmosphere that organizers strive to maintain.
“We exceeded our numbers in almost three quarters of our sessions,” Harvey said, adding that the memoir and non-fiction writing workshops exceeded expectations.
There were a few significant highlights of the festival, which involved some notable figures from the Canadian literary world during the two-days.
The first was on Friday evening, during the opening discussion held at the Whistler Public Library. More than 50 people came out to the event, which featured a structured debate and discussion between three panelists, Pique columnist, G.D. Maxwell, municipal councillor, Nancy Wilhelm-Morden and local pastor, Paul Cumin, speaking on the power of words in relation to media, politics, and religion, respectively.
After a glowing introduction from Lisa Richardson, a member of the Vicious Circle, which included a breakdown of the winners of $2,500 in prizes for the first annual Whistler Select Writing Awards, another Vicious Circle representative, Pina Belperio, stepped in to moderate the lively discussion. Belperio touched on a vast range of topics through a series of questions, which ranged from personal, like lyrics or speeches that have influenced each of the panelists lives, to the more controversial topics of media manipulation and misinterpretation of language.
The discussion was followed by a presentation from keynote speaker, Mel Hurtig, a well-known Canadian publisher, author, political activist and former political candidate.
“In all of those areas, words are very important… and I think it was a pretty good, lively discussion between the three people, and it was sort of augmented by everything Mel Hurtig had to say, so I was really pleased with that,” Harvey said.
Mid-day on Saturday, a series of writing workshops was broken up by a brown bag lunch with four members of the Canadian publishing industry, who offered some insight into their line of work, and the industry as a whole.
Vicki Johnston of Harbour Publishing and Caitlin Press, Brian Kaufman of Anvil Press and Sub-Terrain Magazine, Chris Bucci, a freelance editor, and Andrew Woolridge of Orca Book Publishers, gave the audience some tips on how to get their manuscripts noticed and accepted by small and large publishers.
As each of the panelists has very different background and expertise, they provided a range of advice and a wealth of experience to the group of aspiring authors who gathered to nibble sandwiches while they learned.
Harvey has just started gathering feedback from participants but said so far the response has been overwhelmingly positive, with many commenting that the sessions were well organized and the calibre of instruction was very high.
This year and next, the group will be receiving funding under Whistler’s Cultural Capital federal designation.
“I think it will go a long way to building our reputation and our reach outside of the Sea to Sky,” Harvey said.
This year’s festival may have just wrapped up, but Harvey is already turning her thoughts to the 8 th annual event, which she’s hoping will be bigger still.
“Our challenge, I think, still continues to be getting the word out, outside of our borders,” she said, adding that their website helped with promotional efforts this year.