A feast of festivals

Exactly a year ago today I woke up in a hotel room in Winnipeg, which isn’t as sordid as it sounds. I was there to take part in the Winnipeg International Writers Festival, which I’d attended before as a reader, but this was my first time as a writer. I showered and put on my writer’s outfit—a new white blouse with pearls on it, a pair of jeans, my trusty Frye boots, my blue leather jacket—and headed out the door.

Then had to go back for my name tag.

Which said “Writer” on it.

I was lucky to take part in five writers festivals last fall, talking about my memoir Sea Over Bow. How much the literary landscape has changed in just one year. Perhaps for the better. Festivals have had to re-think how they deliver their programming. Which means you have a smorgasbord of choices to enjoy from the comfort (and safety) of your home.

Reading outdoors at the Eden Mills Writers Festival last September.

The Eden Mills Writers’ Festival was one of the first out of the gate. Normally, the festival offers outdoor events in their pretty little village just outside of Guelph, Ontario. In May 2020, they announced a free, accessible online festival which runs well into October. I helped myself to an interview with Emma Donoghue, whose new book Pull of the Stars is a very timely novel. It’s set in a Dublin maternity hospital in 1918 during the height of a flu pandemic. If that sounds bleak, it isn’t. As always, Donoghue finds light in the darkness.

There are still a handful of events left in the series, including one I’ve signed up for, Wild World, a panel discussion featuring three writers whose books of nonfiction will take you far beyond your four walls. Which you are probably mighty tired of by now.

Thin Air, the Winnipeg International Writers Festival, has just launched its 2020 season, an impressive mix of come-as-you-will and explore-as-you-go online content, as well as many real-time events. I’ve just started poking through what’s on offer and already I’ve signed up for two of the festival’s 16 writing craft workshops. John Gould’s workshop on the “unlimits” of flash fiction will provide inspiration as I put the finishing touches on a new collection of very short stories. And the timing couldn’t be better for Cordelia Strube’s workshop on building narrative. I’ve embarked on my first novel, which I thought would be easier than writing a memoir. I was wrong. I’m looking forward to her insight into how character and incidence can spin a narrative into motion.

So many name tags! Last fall I took part in five literary festivals.

True to its roots, the Whistler Writers Festival, which was launched nearly two decades ago in someone’s living room, is offering a digital festival centered around intimacy, connection, and thoughtful conversation. I’ve signed up for an event called The Domestic Thriller (can you guess the genre of my new novel?) which sounds like a lot of fun. Three award-winning authors are hosting a digital murder mystery session that will introduce you to a series of suspicious characters before asking you to guess which of them committed an imaginary crime.

From the west coast to the east, where the Cabot Trail Writers’ Festival is offering events on-line, on air, and outdoors. All their events are free, and many have a physical component—a welcome innovation for those of us who are suffering from Zoom fatigue—from yoga intermissions to a downloadable podcast of poetry and music that explores our relationship to the land. Participants are invited to enjoy a shared experience with people across the country—around the world, perhaps—by listening to this recording while taking a walk outside. I am definitely doing that!

This is just a sampling of the literary events available to you this fall. Go ahead. Fill your plate. You’ll come away from this feast of festivals with a reading list that will get you through what could be a long winter.

My favourite book from last fall’s festivals: In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond, by John Zada. Who doesn’t like a good Sasquatch book??


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