Lindsay Wong’s memoir, The Woo-Woo, documents a stranger-than-fiction childhood surrounded by dysfunctional, profanity-loving adults. The Wong family story intensifies with each turn of the page and was rejected by many publishers for not being “relatable” enough. Read the full CBC review here:
Hurrah! Finally, the well-known Salt Spring Island author, Kathy Page, is coming to the Denman festival. This exceptionally talented UK/Canadian writer has been awarded the $50,000 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for Dear Evelyn, a novel also recognized as a Kirkus Best Book of 2018.
“Inspired by original love letters from the 1940’s, Dear Evelyn follows a seventy-year-long wartime marriage between two seemingly incompatible partners in sometimes tender, sometimes excruciating detail. Studded with allusions to poems and novels, it is set in locations that include London during the 1920s and 1940s, Tunisia during World War Two, the Cotswolds, a new post-war suburb, and a Mediterranean cruise ship.”
It’s that time of the year again …. Denman Festival time. For the 17th year in a row, our island will host the Readers and Writers Festival July 18 – 21.
As usual, there’s a dazzling array of talent to enjoy: from Beverley McLachlin, Canada’s former Chief Justice with her debut novel Full Disclosure, to Lindsay Wong, also a first time published author with her tell-all best-selling memoir The Woo Woo; from SFU teacher and novelist David Chariandy, whose Brother was a finalist in the CBC Canada Reads contest this year, to Darrel McLeod, whose searing memoir Mamaskatch relates the hardships and epiphanies of growing up Cree in Alberta. This festival promises true literary excitement for everybody.
Recently, I attended a workshop of literary festival organizers from across Canada, and I was reminded of the Stuart McLean adage from his CBC Vinyl Cafe show: “We may not be big, but we’re small.” Denman is possibly the smallest community in Canada to host a literary festival, but we possess certain advantages over the big festivals. At the “biggies”, the authors normally fly in, give a talk to several hundred people, and fly out again, with maybe an invitation-only meal with wealthy donors. At Denman, our authors stay in local homes, have coffee and meals with festival attendees, and are part of our community for three days. Oh yes, they also give a one hour solo reading, and take part in main stage panels with other authors. Not to knock the giant festivals, but small, sustainable and friendly – these are the adjectives we’d prefer to be known by.
In addition to Beverley McLachlin, Lindsay Wong, David Chariandy, and Darrel McLeod, there are six other outstanding writing talents who will be at this year’s festival: the accomplished novelist Heather O’Neill comes to us from Montreal, the venue for most of her fictional plots and memorable characters such as in The Lonely Hearts Hotel; Paula Wild hails from Courtenay and her work is focused on nature and the environment, with her latest book The Return of the Wolf; Billeh Nickerson is a Vancouver poet, also a writing teacher at Kwantlen Polytechnic, and his most recent book is Artificial Cherry; Andrew MacLeod is a journalist with the Tyee and writes about contemporary issues such as inequality and health care (his latest is All Together Healthy: A Canadian Wellness Revolution); Kathy Page is from Salt Spring Island and won the most recent Rogers Trust Fiction Prize for her novel Dear Evelyn; and rounding out the list is the prolific columnist with the Victoria Times-Colonist, Jack Knox, renowned for his unique brand of humour and whimsy, with titles such as Hard Knox: Musings from the Edge of Canada.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of planning our festival is the “mixing and matching” of authors for the main stage panels. I’m lucky enough to moderate the Friday afternoon grouping of Jack Knox, Billeh Nickerson, and Lindsay Wong. Three different genres: humorous newspaper essays, playful and ‘non-traditional’ poetry, and a memoir of madness in a Chinese Canadian family. Yet all three employ both humour and sadness in their work, and that’s what we hope to explore in the panel discussion.
Another main stage, on Friday evening, moderated by Des Kennedy will look at the way novelists create characters that intrigue the reader. While Des has created some memorable characters in his own novels, his task that evening will be to encourage three fiction writers – David Chariandy, Heather O’Neill, and Kathy Page – to share their secrets of imagining and fleshing out the characters that populate their novels.
On Saturday evening, another set of three authors – Darrel McLeod, Paula Wild, and Andrew MacLeod – will be challenged by Denman’s Stephanie Slater to discuss the passion behind their literary works. These authors write about very different subjects from each other, so what are the ‘burning questions’ Darrel, Paula, and Andrew are trying to answer in their books? Watch for the panel’s special video introduction to the authors crafted by Denman’s Sussan Thomson.
The festival always ends with a main stage featuring Des Kennedy as the gentle and probing questioner of one of our invited authors, and this year’s In Conversation with …. will feature an interview with Beverley McLachlin, who for seventeen years was Chief Justice of Canada’s Supreme Court, a lawyer, jurist, and distinguished Canadian who has become a novelist in her retirement from the Bench. What a life she has led, and who better than Des to explore the drama and challenges of her storied career?
We are pleased to report that The Writing Week with Caroline Adderson is full up, as is the Blue Pencil Cafe manuscript assessment with Jeanette Taylor; and the workshop on fiction writing offered by Heather O’Neill is full. However, workshops offered by Dante Ambriel on playwriting, Andrew MacLeod on non-fiction work, and Billeh Nickerson on poetry, still have spaces open.
Traditionally we have opened the Festival in various ways, and this year, returning from last year’s engagement as a cub reporter, Paige Turner will give an official welcome on behalf of her new employer, the Ministry of Truth.
Full details about the program and registration can be found here on the website.
Paula Wild writes about people, places and the natural world. Her latest book, Return of the Wolf, explores our evolving relationship with wolves and how human attitudes affect the behaviour and conservation of the predator today. Don’t miss her talk and audio/visual presentation on Sunday morning, July 21 in the Community Hall.
Billeh Nickerson is the author of the poetry collections The Asthmatic Glassblower, McPoems, Impact: The Titanic Poems, and his most recent, Artificial Cherry, as well as the humour collection Let Me Kiss It Better. He is also co-editor of Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay Male Poets. He is also a silver medalist at the Canadian Gay Curling Championships, and Chair of the Creative Writing department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Vancouver. Read more here
He is the author of All Together Healthy: A Canadian Wellness Revolution (Douglas & McIntyre, 2018) about improving public health. His first book A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015) is based on a series he wrote for The Tyee about economic inequality and won the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature.
Heather O’Neill is one of Canada’s top fiction writers — winning awards, accolades, and readers for her vivid novels. But it was an unpredictable path to success: she comes from humble Montreal roots. She was raised by her single father — a janitor who wryly listed his real occupation as professor of philosophy. He offered his book-obsessed daughter a set of rules for life. In conversation, and in her Henry Kreisel Lecture at the Canadian Literature Centre in Edmonton, Heather O’Neill describes her dad’s colourful advice to her, as well as the surprising people who made her into a passionate writer and reader, and helped her bridge the class divide that restricted her father’s own life. Listen to her interview with CBC’s Paul Kennedy:
Beverley McLachlin: From Supreme Court chief justice to thriller writer
Beverley McLachlin will appear at the Denman festival this year with her opening Solo Reading (Friday, July 19 10:00-11:00am) and in a Main Stage Event Sunday morning In Conversation with Des Kennedy.
In ‘Full Disclosure,’ McLachlin’s first novel, the female main character is caught in moral and personal dilemmas, some mined from the former judge’s career.
Watch a video interview here : Beverley McLachlin interview
Workshops at the Readers & Writers Festival
This year the Readers & Writers Festival offers four dynamite workshops for those who want a little extra excitement in their lives! Workshops have a maximum of 10 participants and last 3 hours, so they enable personal contact with an author not possible in a Solo Reading or Main Stage session.
Whether it’s hot fiction tips from Heather O’Neill, insight into research and non-fiction writing from Andrew MacLeod, hands-on work writing a play with Dante Ambriel, or immersion in the world of poetry with Billeh Nickerson, our workshops are sure to give participants truly memorable experiences.
Heather O’Neill writes some of Canada’s most delicious prose, replete with imaginative metaphors, intriguing plots, and unusual settings. The characters in her books stay with the readers. Here is how Heather describes her workshop, entitled Moments of Grace: “Together we will explore how to create and stage the transcendent moments that make literary fiction magical.”
Andrew MacLeod writes crisp, behind the scenes stories about real life issues – grinding poverty, inequality in the midst of plenty, health care woes and successes – and his work has confronted politicians and bureaucrats. This is what he expects to focus on in his Just the Facts workshop: “Take your non-fiction toolbox to the next level. Topics may include interview techniques, research skills, and using freedom of information laws to find out what you need to know. Once you have the facts, it’s up to you what to do with them.”
Denman’s own Dante Ambriel has written and directed plays and is a full member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada. Those who have seen her work at the Stardust Festival and at the Community Hall will definitely want to attend her workshop, called Creative Playwriting. This is how she sees the three hours: “We will explore the five elements of a great play, and consider pacing and timing. At the end of three hours, each participant will have completed what is called a ‘Treatment’ for their play.”
Billeh Nickerson’s poetry combines acute observation of the world around him with a wry sense of humour. As a writer and educator at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, he calls his workshop The Poetry of Place and throws out this challenge to his workshop participants: “How writers can develop the good, the bad, the ugly and the snuggly of place in their work. This class will feature writing exercises, group discussion and other explorations. Participants need not be poets.”
The Ambriel, MacLeod and Nickerson workshops will all be held on Thursday, July 18th, and the O’Neill one (only 3 slots left) will be on Saturday, July 20th. The fee for each workshop is $70. Don’t delay in signing up for one or more of these sessions. Click here for full details of these four workshops. Half-day Workshops
Jack Knox is an award-losing columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist. Since joining the Times Colonist in 1988, Jack has worked as a copy editor, city editor, editorial writer and editorial page editor. Prior to that he was an editor and reporter at newspapers in Campbell River, Regina and Kamloops. As a journalist he has debated policy with the prime minister, sat down with a succession of premiers and interviewed a murderer in his cell. He liked the murderer. Career highlights include being blasted with blowhole spray by Luna the whale (it tasted like fish), interviewing a porn movie star in the nude (her, not him) and getting a phone call from Barack Obama four days before he (Obama, not Jack) was elected president.
His latest book is a collection of “most memorable, heart-warming, inspiring, and off-beat human-interest stories. Stories of ordinary and extraordinary people who you’ve probably never heard of – they’re the ones I stumbled upon in a career spent poking my nose around Vancouver Island.”
Writers — the Denman Readers & Writers Festival Wants You!!!
Words matter. So do titles ….
We are the “Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival”. I’ve looked at the names of similar book-related events across the country, and no other festival has this combination of “readers and writers” in the title. There’s only one – the Medway Readers Festival in Nova Scotia which has the word ‘readers’ in its title.
I think our name is significant – – Denman brings readers and writers together, and when we use the term ‘writers’, we mean the invited authors, local authors, AND festival attendees who enjoy writing themselves, who do write, or who would like to write. As for readers, if we didn’t have readers, we wouldn’t have writers, so they are critical to our festival.
Readers and Writers Festival 2019 has two specific offerings aimed at aspiring writers.
First there is The Writing Week, led by Vancouver novelist and short story author, Caroline Adderson. This will be Caroline’s third year in a row with us, and last year she earned rave reviews from her class of apprentice writers. This program is intensive: five days (July 15-19) of sharing manuscripts, reviewing others’ work, and receiving tips and feedback from Caroline. It’s for people who have a manuscript, or a piece of writing well underway, and are committed to the exhilarating and challenging tasks of rewriting, and honing their craft. Submissions are sent to Caroline in advance for her to review and then will be shared with the other workshop participants. Taking the advice of last year’s Writing Week participants, this year the program will be open to only 8 people (5 spots are already taken). This is an exciting opportunity to get high quality and constructive feedback on your writing.
The second writing program is the Blue Pencil Café, in which writers submit up to 4 pages of a revised and polished piece of writing for written commentary, followed by a 45 minute personal consultation on either the Friday or Saturday during the Festival. Less intensive than The Writing Week, this is still a great chance to get valuable feedback from an accomplished writing coach, Jeanette Taylor from Quadra Island. She has four books in print with Harbour Publishing and teaches fiction and nonfiction classes designed to help writers build on their strengths and develop new skills. Only 8 slots will be available for the Blue Pencil Café. (3 of 4 slots on Saturday are already taken)
Full registration details of these two programs are on the festival website.
May 7, 2019
Looking forward to having Darrel McLeod on Denman Island during the July Writers Festival.
Darrel J. McLeod is a Cree writer from treaty eight territory in Northern Alberta. His first book Mamaskatch is a memoir of his childhood, raised by his mother Bertha who is a residential school survivor.Mamaskatch won the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Award for nonfiction.
Registration for Denman Festival Opens May 1
Mark your calendars, Festival supporters. May 1 will be the day to begin registering for the 2019 edition of the Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival, to be held July 18 -21.
With twelve talented authors coming to our island, this year’s festival promises to be every bit as stimulating as in the past for regular festival-goers, and a new treat for first time attendees.
For serious writers, the intensive five-day Writing Week program, under the skillful leadership of novelist, short story and children’s author, and creative writing teacher, Caroline Adderson, will fill up fast. Only eight spots are available at the request of last year’s participants so each person will have even more feedback and help with their writing. Previous participants in Caroline’s program gave her rave reviews, so don’t delay if this opportunity beckons.
There will be another opportunity for festival-goers to hone their writing skills … the Blue Pencil Cafe, to be led by Jeanette Taylor of Quadra Island. Jeanette has written several local history books, runs writing workshops in Campbell River, and was a writing coach on Denman a year ago for several island writers. She will provide one-on-one coaching and editing help to people who submit up to four pages of writing in advance of the festival. She will meet each aspiring writer during the festival in a 30-minute session to give them feedback on their manuscripts.
Our other ten authors come from as far afield as Montreal, and as close as Courtenay. They will each have a solo session to share their latest writing, and will also take part in panel discussions (Main Stage events) on topics that will be sure to intrigue both the authors and audiences.
Is there anyone in Canada who does not know the name of Beverley McLachlin? Seventeen years as Chief Justice of Canada’s Supreme Court, a native of Alberta, and new debut novelist. McLachlin has written a legal thriller, Full Disclosure and we are looking forward to meeting her. When Des Kennedy interviews her in his trademark In Conversation session to close out the festival on Sunday July 21, this will be a chance for us to learn about former Justice McLachlin’s amazing career.
Three outstanding fiction writers – David Chariandy, Heather O’Neill and Kathy Page – will share their fictional characters and stories. Chariandy won the 2017 Rogers Trust Award for Fiction for his novel Brother, one of the books in competition for CBC’s Canada Reads contest this spring, while Page, who hails from Saltspring Island had her latest novel, Dear Evelyn, chosen as winner in 2018 for the Rogers Trust Fiction Prize. O’Neill has been short-listed for the Giller Prize twice, and has written four critically acclaimed novels, the most recent of which is The Lonely Hearts Hotel. Her prose evokes both the magical and seamy sides of the Montreal she knows and loves.
Poetry/Spoken Word has always found a place at our festival, and this year we have Billeh Nickerson, from Vancouver, author of five books of poetry, the most recent of which is Artificial Cherry. He teaches creative writing at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
The non-fiction side of the line-up features Darrel McLeod, winner of the Governor General’s Award for non-fiction in 2018 for his powerful memoir Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age which offers, as one reviewer notes, “a brutally honest view of the havoc that intergenerational trauma can wreak across multiple lives”; also a nature and environment observer, Paula Wild, from Courtenay whose book The Return of the Wolf: Conflict and Coexistence explores the fraught lives of wolves and their relationships to humans; The Tyee’s BC legislative bureau chief, Andrew MacLeod, whose latest book is All Together Healthy: A Canadian Wellness Revolution, which asks big questions about health care in Canada; Lindsay Wong, whose book, The Woo Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons and My Crazy Chinese Family about her life growing up in a dysfunctional Chinese Canadian family, is now top of the best-seller lists and one of five books competing for the Canada Reads contest this year, and Jack Knox, a columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist newspaper. As a journalist he has debated policy with prime ministers, sat down with a succession of premiers and interviewed a murderer in his cell. He says “I liked the murderer”.
In addition to our invited authors, there will be two sessions featuring the works of local Denman Island writers. This is a unique feature of our festival and shows off the talent of island writers, many of whom are regular attendees at a monthly session where they present their writing and receive feedback from others. This Denman Writers Group is facilitated by local writer Jo-Anne McLean, author of the six-book The Gift Legacy series of fantasy novels.
As usual at the festival, Abraxas Books will be selling books by all the invited authors as well as Denman writers. Tasty meals will be provided in the Back Hall by Evan Penner and his crew. And Paige Turner will likely make a return appearance.
There is also a rumour that the Opening on Friday morning, July 18, may be a surprising reminder of the power of language, courtesy of the prescient words of one George Orwell.
See you at the Festival, 2019 version.