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A Community of one’s own

Whistler Writers Festival keeps the creative juices flowing

By Shelley Arnusch

What: Third Whistler Writers Festival

Where: Various locations in Whistler

When: Nov. 3—14

Writing is a solitary game.

This statement has one exception – a Simpsons-suggested scenario of a roomful of monkeys with typewriters, hitting random keys in the chance that the world’s greatest novel will arise out of the chaos.

But on second thought, even if the monkeys work side by side, enjoying each other’s company there’s still going to have to be one human handler standing guard, checking their grammar.


In the end, even with a barrel of monkeys, solitary to the core.

The writing process, however, can be an inspiring collaborative effort, full of readings and discussion and experimentation and constructive criticism. Even though it’s the writer and the writer only tapping on the keys at the end of the day, a writers group can help melt the icy feelings of solitude amplified by such impersonal professional standards as the rejection letter.

In Whistler, a lot of ice has been melted by a thriving organization known ironically and affectionately as "the Vicious Circle" and officially as the Whistler Writers Group.

Now three years strong, the group was the initiative of a certain Stella Harvey, who had relegated management consulting to "night job" status in order to give writing her all.

But she needed more feedback than publishing house form letters were willing to give. She needed faces, names, personalities. A community to support her craft and allow her to support others.

An ad in the local paper brought like-minded scribes out of the woodwork. From Squamish to Mount Currie and beyond, they continue to meet on a regular basis.

The formation of the group was just the beginning.

As many years as there has been a Writers Group there has been a Whistler Writers Festival. A community outreach offering entertainment for readers and professional development for writers.

In the beginning it was small. One and a half days with some of the events held at Harvey’s home.

Now three years old, the festival has expanded considerably. Kicking off on Wednesday, Nov. 3, this year’s fest continues over the next 10 days, with events ranging from free public readings to registered masters workshops requiring work samples submitted in advance.

Despite the growth, Harvey remains firmly committed to her original principles for the group: inclusion, collaboration, and creative inspiration.

"I’m a big believer in grassroots, that you can make something happen if you want to make something happen," she stated.

"You start these things — one person, one group of people and it grows from there. The philosophy, the vision for me, why I started this in the first place is I want to make writing accessible to anyone who wants it."

Now, Whistler is what it is — a hip, happenin’ tourist destination people don’t mind going out of the way to visit. And an article in last weekend’s Globe and Mail painted a sunny picture for Canadian literary festivals in general– the young, the middle-aged and the established. Put two and two together and The Vicious Circle’s lil’ old Writers Fest looks like it could be poised for a stratospheric run.

But does Harvey dream of superstar writers making yearly pilgrimages, trailed by agents barking into cellphones and legions of wannabes/groupies?

Not at the expense of developing the core local writers, she confirmed.

"I think we need to support what’s local. What’s local here, what’s local in Vancouver, maybe Victoria, but West Coast writers at this event," Harvey said. "I think I’ve built a community here and in Vancouver and I’d like to support those writers."

Pique NewsMagazine is publishing a series of short stories by Vicious Circle writers in the weeks leading up to the festival. (Check out this week’s piece by Lisa Richardson on page 26.)

The stories are included in the upcoming edition of the group’s signature publication The Vicious Circle Journal , which will be available for sale during the festival for $5.

For more information on the Whistler Writers Festival, Harvey can be reached via e-mail at, or at 604-932-4518.

A deadline of Nov. 1 has been set for cheques and application forms.

Third Whistler Writers Festival Events


Beginners Workshop

Where: Alta Lake School (Spruce Grove)

When: Sunday, Nov. 7

Cost: $50 (includes copy of Vicious Circle Journal and instructor’s book)

Instructor Laisha Rosnau guides new writers on how to transform raw inspiration, material, and ideas into fiction/poetry. Rosnau is the author of bestselling novel The Sudden Weight of Snow (2002) and a collection of poetry Notes on Leaving (2004). She teaches short fiction and poetry writing classes at UBC.

Masters Workshop

Where: Spruce Grove Field House

When: Saturday, Nov. 13 — Sunday, Nov. 14

Cost: $150 (Includes copies of instructors books, lunch and admission to the publishing workshop)

The granddaddy of the Festival workshops for emerging writers of fiction and non-fiction. Group lectures and one-on-one critiques with instructors Stephen Osborne and Mary Schendlinger, both accomplished authors and editors of Geist Magazine, Limited space available. Admission requires a submission of writing (maximum 4,000 words). Contact festival organizer Stella Harvey for further information.

Publishing Workshops

Where: Spruce Grove Field House

When: Saturday, Nov. 13 & Sunday, Nov. 14

Cost: $10/session (free to Masters Workshop participants)

Annette Humphries, publicity and promotions coordinator for Trafford Publishing gives a lunchtime presentation on the benefits and advantages of self-publishing over lunch on Saturday. On Sunday afternoon Vancouver’s Harbour Publishing and Raincoast Publishing present a session on the business side of writing, plus Literary agent Carolyn Swayze will be in attendance to hear story pitches from participants.


Who: Archaeologist, author and adventurer James Delgado

Where: Myrtle Philip School

When: Wednesday, Nov. 3, 7: 30 p.m.

Cost: Free

Who: Students from the SFU Writers Program in support of the release of Emerge literary magazine.

Where: BBK’s Pub (Upper Village)

When: Sunday, Nov. 7, 3 — 5 p.m.

Cost: $10 (includes copy of Emerge)

Who: Stephen Osborne (Ice and Fire: Dispatches from the New World, Geist Magazine) Mary Schenlinger (Geist Magazine), John Gould (Kilter: 55 Fictions) and Caroline Adderson (Sitting Practice)

Where: Spruce Grove Field House

When: Friday, Nov. 12. 6 p.m.

Cost: $30 (includes copies of books by the three authors)

Evening begins with a potluck dinner and includes a plenary discussion on aspects of the writing craft.

Who: Masters Workshop Participants

Where: Spruce Grove Field House

When: Saturday, Nov. 13, 8 p.m.

Cost: $5 (includes a copy of The Vicious Circle Journal)