The schedule is out for the Vancouver International Writer’s Fest, a wonderful opportunity to connect with writers of diverse genres in a vibrant autumn atmosphere. The festival includes free events, as well as paid ones, to hear a wide scope of local and international authors. The setting of Granville Island makes this an excellent vacation option for writers travelling in from around the province and entertaining day trips for those situated in Vancouver. Be sure to book your tickets, even for free events!
Word Vancouver, western Canada’s largest literary festival, begins on Wednesday, September 26th, with events through the city, culminating in Sunday’s festival within and surrounding the downtown public library.
The Federation of BC Writers is honoured to be taking part in Word Vancouver’s community stage, Sunday, September 30th, in tent 12 at 12:10 PM outside the Vancouver Public Library as part of a showcase of literary communities throughout the city and province and facilitating a writing prompts workshop led by Rob Taylor.
I spoke with Interim Festival Manager and Programmer Bonnie Nish about her networking and outreach initiatives to strengthen and cross pollinate British Columbia’s writing communities. In addition to her positions at Word Vancouver, Bonnie Nish is also the executive director of Pandora’s Collective, the author of the poetry book Love and Bones (Karma Press), coauthor of Cantata in Two Voices (Ekstasis Editions), editor and contributor to Concussion and Mild Brain Injury: Not Just Another Headline (Lash & Associates Publishing/ Training Inc) and currently pursuing her Ph.D. in language and literacy education at the University of British Columbia, all of which contribute to her wholistic approach.
Cynthia: You focus a lot on community. What does community mean to you?
Bonnie: Community is bringing people together to engage in a similar goal and way of being and giving them space to find each other and work together. As writers we work in isolation. We’re not like musicians who get to jam and hang out, so it’s harder to find like-minded community and I think it’s really important to create it for people.
Cynthia: Word Vancouver has always brought diverse groups of readers and writers together, but this year especially you’re doing an outstanding job with a community stage and networking a variety of writing groups together. Could you tell us more about the community stage?
Bonnie: I think it’s really imperative to reach out more and build community. That’s where a lot of up and coming writers are emerging from and we want them to feel validated as part of a bigger picture, to know that they belong and matter. They support Word and we support them.
Cynthia: It’s the 24th year of this festival that has an incredible legacy in Vancouver and through western Canada. What role does Word play in the Vancouver literary scene?
Bonnie: It’s huge. I’ve lived here since 2001 and I’ve only missed it twice due to being out of town. People look forward to Word. It’s a full day. If you’re a writer you get to go downtown and see your friends. You get to hear authors who have new releases and be entertained by engaging hosts. And whether you’re a reader or a writer or just passing through the action, you’re in the midst of vibrancy. It’s right out on the street and you’re a part of it. It’s literally bringing the word to the people. It’s also a chance for publishers and magazines to reach the public, to showcase what they’re doing and to network with each other.
Cynthia: I’m amazed at the number of events Word is sponsoring and the integration of all that talent and outreach into five incredible days. What was involved in coordinating the festival?
Bonnie: I’m following in the footsteps of people who’ve been doing this for twenty years. They’ve set a solid path and this year we’re just expanding on it in some ways. It was a lot of legwork, phone calls and emails, developing a vision of what we wanted the festival to look like. Vancouver is a diverse place in terms of who’s living here and what we have to offer and we wanted that represented. It was exciting to see it come together.
Cynthia: What are some of the diverse literary genres people can experience at Word?
Bonnie: People can hear authors of long and short fiction in genres ranging from romance to crime and a myriad of novellas. There’ll also be nonfiction, poetry and children’s and young adult writers showcasing their publications. One of the most fun events is Storytelling with Drag Queens, where drag queens will read their favourite children’s stories. We’ll also hear from contributors to an anthology of queer adoption stories as well as immigrant women’s stories and fishers exploring the demise of their industry, to name a few of the events. It’s a wide spectrum offering both serious and playful insights.
Cynthia: You’ve built on strong traditions with a few new elements this year. What is new for the 2018 festival?
Bonnie: We built and we grew with the idea that we want to represent the rich diversity of Vancouver. We’ve added the community stage this year. There will also be Speaker Talks in Blends which offers a more intimate atmosphere with one presenter and a host offering 40 minutes that includes audience participation. The setting is designed to bring the audience closer to the person presenting, complete with a big lounge chair and lamp for a living room salon atmosphere.
Cynthia: You set up Pandora’s Collective and you’ve been doing so much community building in all of the ways that you work. How has your previous experience transferred over to your role at Word?
Bonnie: I’ve been involved in the literary community for some time, from the Summer Dreams Literary Arts festival to Pandora’s Collective Twisted Poets. When we ran our gala for the past few years, we did it in in conjunction with Word Vancouver with the goal of honouring and recognizing key organizers and mentors in the writing community, people who we felt were really deserving in different categories. When we first spoke with Word about collaborating, one of the things we had in common with them is that we are both grassroots, free and community based organizations wanting to cross pollinate to bring writers together in a wider way. We really fit. It was a good match.
Cynthia: When I first started coming out to Pandora’s Collective events, it was the awards ceremony at CBC and I was really impressed with the unique types of awards and service being honoured. I loved seeing that approach.
Bonnie: The idea behind Summer Dreams is to bring hosts out and have them read, along with a few people from their organizations to showcase them to the public. We really believe in recognizing people who work hard behind the scenes, whose administrative dedication and efforts aren’t always seen.
Cynthia: I got to see Jen Currin presented with an award from her students and I was really taken by that philosophy of honouring mentorship in addition to literary talent.
Bonnie: We think of her as an incredible writer and she is but she’s also an amazing mentor. So many people in the community like Evelyn Lau, Rob Taylor, Fiona Tinwei Lam and many others work so hard to support emerging writers. We want to acknowledge that.
Cynthia: One of the qualities that I love about Word Vancouver is the movement to connect local and provincial writing groups through the programming, in particular the community stage. Who are some of the groups that are coming?
Bonnie: We like to showcase as many people as we can. There’ll be presenters from The Federation of British Columbia Writers, Writer’s International Network, The Royal City Literary Arts Society, Dead Poets, Burnaby Writers, writing groups that formed in Kwantlen University, The University of The Fraser Valley College of The Arts, The Maynard Literary Journal, which will be bringing in some of their readers as part of their 10th anniversary celebration, and Pandora’s Collective. We’ll also have facilitators of these groups on site to give writing prompts for audiences.
Cynthia: That’s all free for the public?
Bonnie: All free. There’ll be workshops at Carnegie on Saturday and activities happening all week, as we’ll be partnering with several locations building up to the big event at The Vancouver Public Library on Sunday.
Cynthia: I love how you live by what you believe. How do you combine all the aspects of what you most value into all of the ways that you work?
Bonnie: Creating inclusive safe space is my passion. It gives me purpose to bring all this together and helps me grow as a person. I’m a lifelong learner, not just with pursuing my Ph.D. but with everything, finding the way that everything connects. If I’m not handed a way to do it I will find a way. I really believe that what we have to say as writers is valuable, so giving people a platform in which to speak and communicate is essential.
Word is a family event. There are many kid friendly interactive activities on site.
The Vancouver Public Library is an outstanding partner and sponsor. We’re grateful to be on their space. Their generosity as cocreators of the festival is a great statement of how important our libraries are in sharing the word with people.
Cynthia: How can people get involved and support Word?
Bonnie: Come out, listen to the readers and buy books. It’ll be an exciting week. There’ll be a book signing table on Sunday to interact with authors. Come out and enjoy the events.
At the festival, you can donate a tooney for the chance to win a library. That’s a very affordable way to help out.
The Adopt an Author program will be open right up to the end of the festival. We have 60 authors on our Adopt an Author list.
You can also become a member of Word Vancouver through the Word website. That helps us keep the festival free.
We also welcome volunteers and that opportunity is open to all ages. High school students can get volunteer credits that way.
Full details about the festival and events can be found in the program guide: http://wordvancouver.ca/2018-festival/
FBCW blog editor Cynthia Sharp recently spoke with our flash prose contest judge Jane Munro about her take on the craft of writing. These are some of her generous insights:
Cynthia: You’ve studied a variety of literary genres with your MFA in Creative Writing, MA in English and doctorate in Adult Education and gone on to publish many books and become a Griffin Prize winner. Could you tell us about your writing and editing process?
Jane: It’s slow, and – at best – surprising. I listen. Write down words as they come. Feel my way step by step: follow that thread through a labyrinth. Later – when I’ve forgotten what I wrote – I‘ll read it over. Tag what I like. Add bits, go further, explore, meet what’s hidden, recognize its structure, play. Eventually, when I’ve got something to print out, I’ll walk around the room and read it aloud. Finger hot spots: think. Finish it.
Ideally, I’ll then set it aside and work on something else. Often, when I come back to it, I’ll see what I hadn’t seen earlier.
I do keep drafts. Once in a while, the piece will be best as it came first. Typically, I’ll find I’ve gone too far. Reading it aloud tells me a lot.
And then, there may be someone else’s response. It’s great to have a trustworthy reader who will raise questions and concerns. Are they valid? When I understand them, do I share them? Can I resolve them? Do the changes strengthen the work?
Yes, sometimes it happens quickly. But when that gift arrives, I may later notice how it drew on years – decades even – of reading, reflection, and writing. Learning. It might have started with a dream. I like to note dreams. Doing this connects me with parts of my mind that are less conscious. And, maybe, with imagery we share.
Cynthia: You write in both long and short forms. Is the process different when there is a tight word limit? How do you polish a short piece?
Jane: Even with long forms, each word needs to be essential. A tight word limit helps me focus. It’s a figuring out process. I’ll start long and pare down as I clarify the telling gesture. Or, gestures. What’s enough? What fits and works?
Cynthia: What advice has inspired you as a writer?
Jane: My grandfather – who was a painter, not a writer – used to say, “Art is suggestion; art is not representation.” I think this is true for writing, too. I’ve found it useful advice, especially for flash prose.
Cynthia: What do you look for when reading literature and what specifically grabs your attention in flash prose and other short genres?
Jane: It’s not always the same thing: insight – freshness – revelation of character – wit – swift depiction of a conflict – resonant language – a story’s power as a change agent. However it does it, I’m looking for flash prose that will stay with me, that I’ll enjoy. Want to read aloud. Share with someone.
Cynthia: What role does structure play in flash prose, in your view?
Jane: I think of literature as architecture for imagination. So, structure is crucial. Flash prose creates a space for someone else to furnish. Dwell in.
What’s more, structure gives the writer’s imagination something to push against.
I knew an artist who made amazing weavings – huge, sculptural, striking. His rule was that he could not sew anything together. The entire piece had to be woven on a loom. Without that rule, he said, there were too many possibilities. Within its boundaries, his imagination could go wild.
Cynthia: Do you have any helpful tips for our members and readers entering the flash prose contest?
Jane: Trust yourself. Dance as if nobody’s looking. Then, make sure everything – each word, punctuation mark, decision you’ve made – fits and works.
Remember to get your flash prose story in by October 1st, 650 words or under, $15 per entry, $10 for FBCW members. First prize is $350 and publication in Wordworks. https://fbcw.submittable.com/submit/120610/2018-flash-prose-contest
CBC has some excellent tips, not only on remembering to apply for grants and how to fill them out, but how to go the extra mile and specifically what that extra mile is to truly increase your chances, with tips from experts such as volunteering to sit on juries. An excellent guide on playing to win. Definitely worth a read!
CBC not only offers excellent programming and their own prestigious writing contests, they have also compiled a comprehensive list of other trustworthy contests, with and without entry fees, for Canadian writers in a variety of genres and levels. There’s something for everyone! Definitely worth checking out!
Happy Summer Everyone!
Craig Spence has done a wonderful job providing cutting edge, current information for writers through the Federation of BC Writers Blog. He’s left some big shoes to fill as we wish him well on his next endeavours.
I’m looking forward to facilitating the blog in my years on the board and would love contributions from members and anyone in the book world with helpful tips to share. We aim to share information in navigating the book industry from setting up a daily writing practice to negotiating publishing contracts and update on the 15th of the month. If you have a non-fiction blog story 750 words or under on a pertinent theme related to writing, editing or publishing, please email me at email@example.com Blog contributions are on a volunteer basis.
For today, I thought I’d let you know a little more about me. I’m a BC poet who runs sensory writing workshops. This is an adjustable template of one of the introductory level workshops we bring through the province for beginning writers, ESL schools and at readings, that you’re welcome to use in your communities. All the best, Cynthia Sharp
Nature Poetry Writing Workshop
Materials (adaptable to what is locally available)
birch bark, beeswax candle, blooms, candlelight, flower, oak leaves, Himalayan salt rock, seaweed with lime, sugar pinecone, prickles, rainbow, ridges, rock, stone, tea tree oil, quartz
The instructor welcomes participants. We go around the circle with each person introducing himself or herself.
The group brainstorms answers to the question, “What is poetry?” on a whiteboard so that the instructor gets a sense of how much people already know.
Then, a volunteer reads the opening poem about paying attention to the beauty of nature.
Breathe Deeply Nature’s Inner World
moments in the stillness,
what the moss on the maple tells us,
or each angle of sunlight reveals,
to let the trees and flowers
and colours speak
Discussion about slowing down, relaxing in peaceful places and observing details. Good writing uses details. Parts of nature have a story to tell us and it’s our job to listen and write it down.
Part 1 Nature Vocabulary –Writing from all the Senses
In this workshop, we write from all our senses: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. To get started, examine objects from nature in the baskets and describe them.
For an ESL group, it can be helpful to provide vocabulary:
coarse, cool, furry, grainy, honey-scented, jagged, large, light, medium-sized, ocean-washed, pink, prickly, pungent, rainbow-coloured, rose, round, salty, sharp, small, smooth, soft, sour, sun-warmed, tiny, warm
bark, beeswax candle, blooms, candlelight, flower, fur, hedgehog, Himalayan salt rock, leaf, pinecone, prickles, rainbow, ridges, rock, seaweed, stone, tea tree oil, quartz
The group makes notes together to describe a beach. The phrases and vocabulary from above, along with new ideas are all welcome.
example: “ocean-washed stones” could go into the sight category for the beach
The instructor fills out the columns below on a whiteboard, while participants contribute imagery and take notes if they’d like. Then the instructor moves the group’s imagery into a poem, adjusting grammar and placing phrases in a logical and powerful order.
extra adjectives: crowded, empty, moonlit, tranquil, wet
extra nouns: moon, moonlight, reflection, sand, seawall, shore, waves
Now, we will use the images to create a poem. We’ll choose our favourite images and arrange the word pictures to become a poem. If a word or idea doesn’t fit, we can leave it out, or turn it into a simile, which is a phrase using “like” or “as”.
Waves invite me to play,
like the wind on a holiday weekend,
the breeze as soft as a baby hedgehog’s fur.
Part 3 Your Personal Poem from a Favourite Place
example: Stanley Park
Write the name of the place:
How do you feel in that place?
examples: relaxed, peaceful, free
How you feel in the place is the mood, or feeling of your poem.
Imagine yourself in this place. What time of day is it? Is it morning, noon, afternoon, evening, night?
What do you see? Do you see any animals? Squirrels, chipmunks, seals, otters? Deer? Eagles?
Keep looking around your sanctuary. What colour are the flowers? When you touch the grass or sand, how does it feel? Is it warm? Cool? Refreshing? Soft?
What do you like about this place?
examples: clean air, trees, the feeling of the wind
What does the wind tell you?
examples: breathe, relax, be
Fill in details from the picture or memory you are describing:
Now, you can turn your images and details above into a poem. Choose your favourite words from above and arrange them however you would like. You may add in, take out, or change anything.
Verbs to help with your poem: abandon, appreciate, release, remember, savour, treasure
Part 4 Editing
You can make your first draft stronger by replacing average words with less common ones that enhance the mood of your piece:
The names of precious metals, flowers, fruits and desserts are enticing synonyms for colour:
apricot, peach, tangerine for orange
lavender, lilac, plum for purple
lemon, honey, or golden for yellow
lime, forest green, jade for green
rose for light pink, cherry for dark pink
cream for beige
tan, coffee, chocolate for brown, milk chocolate for light brown, dark chocolate for dark brown
turquoise for sea blue
and conversely for darker themes,
blood, mud, steel, etc.
When you are finished your draft of your poem, you can ask the facilitator for suggestions to improve grammar, punctuation and flow and then write a final copy. If there is time in the workshop, each participant who wishes to reads his or her poem to the group.