Each year, the Writers’ Trust of Canada sponsors a writing workshop at the Vancouver Public Library. These are open to the public and free of charge, requiring only registration in advance.
Last year, they brought in playwright Dennis Foon. This spring’s presenter was Mary Novik, author of the award-winning novel, Conceit. Her topic was ‘Re-Imagining the Past’ and focused on incorporating history into fiction. Considering that participants’ work dealt with history from the 13th century to the 1990s, leading the session took a lot of skill and grace.
Participants’ work also varied in genres. Several sounded like straight-up memoirs, others seemed more documentary in style, one was even a combination of narrative poetry interspersed with short fiction. There were ‘heritage heroes’ and a complicated-sounding treatment of First Nations symbology. The one that sounded most heartfelt was the story told through the eyes of six-year-old girl at residential school, a girl who, as its author said, “…didn’t have her own mind…” because of where she was.
One of the best aspects of the workshop was that we had to be prepared to talk about our work-in-progress. This meant I had to put together a ‘pitch’ for the book I’m working on. After having heard the others’ two-minute presentations of theirs, I’m not sure I did mine quite right. Still, this was a very useful learning point from the class – and it was good to be reminded that others, even those who seem confident about their writing, can be frustrated or stalled in their work.
After a short break, Mary made a presentation based on things she’s learned through her own experience as a writer. She dealt with topics ranging from “How much research is enough? (or, too much?” to “Which has priority in your story, truth or art?”
She answered questions and was so generous with her time, she even suggested we join her after the session for further conversation and time for networking.
The photo shows Mary relaxing at the bistro. Not pictured is the surrounding throng of admirers, the rest of us would-be successful novelists.