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Writers festival

Maude Barlow, Joseph Boyden and Eden Robinson headline Whistler Writers Festival

By Cindy Filipenko

Now in its fifth year, the Whistler Writers Festival has developed into an event with appeal for both writers and readers.

From Thursday, Sept. 14 to Sunday, Sept 17 literary types will rule the resort, proving perhaps at least for a few days that the pen is mightier than the mountain bike.

"It’s really important that people know that there are events for writers, but there are several events open to the public," said Stella Harvey, organizer and founder of the sponsoring Vicious Circle writers group.

"We have reading events with Canadian authors reading from their works. We have a seminar series featuring various authors on different aspects of the writing profession. Those are open to everyone."

The Canadian authors appearing for the reading component will be recognizable to anyone who has cracked a Maclean’s or turned on CBC radio in the last five years. Anti-globalization advocate and chair of The Council of Canadians, Maude Barlow will give the festival’s keynote address on Sept 14 at 8 p.m and read from a selection of her works.

The next night Irish-Scottish-Métis writer Joseph Boyden takes the stage at Millennium Place to read from Three Days Road . The award-winning novel, which tells the story of two Cree snipers in World War I, was featured on CBC’s Canada Reads program this past spring.

The reading series concludes on the Saturday night with Eden Robinson. Robinson, a member of Haisla Nation who grew up in the northern First Nations community of Kitamaat Village, won international critical acclaim with the publication of her debut novel, Monkey Beach , in 2000. Her new book, Blood Sports , focuses on life in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, revisiting characters from her collection of short stories, Traplines .

Tickets for the reading series are an affordable $10 per night.

Robinson will also be on hand to mentor two First Nations writers who will be participating under the festival’s scholarship program.

"We do what we can to help eliminate barriers to attending," said Harvey. "A couple of years we sponsored a youth scholarship and that worked out very well."

The scholarships are valued at $450 – the cost for the retreat – and entitle participants to attend all aspects of the festival, from the opening reception to the final seminar on pitching prospective publishers.

While the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations will award the First Nations scholarships to a member of each band, spaces are still available for the workshop series. To be eligible, applicants must send a sample of their writing to Harvey via e-mail at . Submissions must be double-spaced and include a title page with the participant’s name, title of the work and genre. Both fiction and non-fiction works are eligible.

The three workshop groups are limited to seven participants to create a comfortable environment for discussion and critique of each other’s work.

"There can be a lot of reading, we found that groups any larger can be a bit of problem," said Harvey.

The workshops will be led by mentors Annabel Lyon, author of the short story collection Oxygen and a working journalist; novelist/poet Laisha Rosnau; and, local writer Pam Barnsley.

Barnsley is a talented cross-genre writer who has written for CBC TV, been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and is the co-author of the outdoor bible Hiking Trails of the Sunshine Coast . A mystery set in Whistler is currently occupying her time.

Harvey is excited about what each of the mentors will bring – and with good reason. These workshops are the backbone of the festival. The genesis of the festival was a one-and-a-half day retreat consisting of workshops held during the Vicious’ Circle’s inaugural year.

"It was at my place, we did everything here," remembers Harvey.

Of course, at that time when the writers group had a membership of 26, it was possible to house a retreat in a private home. Today, the group has a membership of 103. What was once an informal group dedicated to supporting each other’s writing has become a registered non-profit with the ability to secure government funding. And with the current festival budget in the neighbourhood of $30,000 funding outside of book sales, literary dinners and public readings will be welcome.

Harvey also notes that without the generous support of both the local business community and larger arts community that it would not be impossible to put on the event. She specifically sites Arts Now, The Resort Municipality of Whistler, B.C. Arts Council, Millennium Place, Whistler Arts Council, The Whistler Library, Armchair Books, The Whistler Farmers’ Market, Elements Urban Tapas Bar and Integro Insights and all local media as being intrinsic to the event’s success.

Money made at the festival’s public events, the reading series and seminar series, goes to offset the costs and keep costs down for the retreat participants.

"The seminars are a great thing for both writers and people who think they might be interested in writing. They give insight into the day to day working lives of writers," said Harvey.

This year’s seminar topics include Screenwriting, Children’s Writing and Navigating the Rewriting Process and Bringing Your Writing to Life. While all of the topics are valuable to any writer, the one that should prove to be the most fun is local screenwriter Rebecca Wood Barrett’s pitching workshop. After a lunch break, the group will reconvene and put the lesson to the test with a variety of West Coast publishers.

"It’s like speed-dating. You have 10 minutes with the publisher of your choice. You can pitch one or all of them," explained Harvey.

Like the reading series, the seminar series is reasonably priced, with tickets ranging from $10 to $20.

While most of the festival events take place at Millennium Place, the final two seminars, the pitching seminar and Michel Beaudry’s Bringing Your Writing to Life are scheduled at Spruce Grove Field House.

For a complete schedule of festival events please check