With Whistler Writer’s Festival just around the corner, we went to the source, Festival Manager Rebecca Wood-Barrett, to find out more about the festival and get the inside scoop.
Now in it’s 18th year, the Whistler Writer’s Festival is about sparking thought-provoking conversations and connecting guest authors and readers over four days of literary immersion. The theme for this year’s festival is ‘discourse’: the communication of thought through words, talk and conversations. A delightfully full roster of bookclub discussions, reading performances, theatre and workshops, if you have an affinity for the penned word then this festival is for you!
What kind of writer are you? What do you like to read?
I write fiction, children’s fiction and short screenplays. For reading, I subsist almost entirely on a diet of Canadian fiction, creative non-fiction, children’s, YA (young adult) and poetry – and it’s very nutritious! Many of the authors have either been to the Writers Festival, or we hope to invite in the future. I have about 30 read and unread books stacked on my headboard so if there is an earthquake I’m done for.
How long have you been involved with the Festival? How did you get involved?
I’ve been involved since the first one in 2002, as a volunteer, and now I am the festival manager. In 2001 Stella Harvey, our Festival Director, put an ad in the Pique asking if there were any writers who wanted to form a group and I called her. She actually remembers that call.
What is your favourite event of the festival (to date)?
Uh-oh that’s Sophie’s Choice, isn’t it? Hmmm which baby do I like best? Having said that, I’ve always been awestruck by the Literary Cabaret. It’s risky, and divine. It requires that the writers ‘perform’ more than ‘read’ and that’s not easy to do. I’ve heard some guest authors say they were skeptical at first, and then after the experience they never want to read without their own jazz band again.
What are you most looking forward to at this year’s festival?
The conversation between Omar El Akkad and Maude Barlow at the Saturday Night Gala will be illuminating. Omar wrote American War, about a future civil war caused by climate change, and Maude wrote Whose Water is it Anyway? : Taking Water Protection into Public Hands. They’ll be having a conversation with moderator Bill Richardson, about some of the greatest challenges of our time: how the planet’s growing population is causing resources to become scarce, while the effects of climate change threaten communities worldwide. What’s interesting is that they’re looking at the same issues through different lenses, fiction and non-fiction. We’d like our audience to come and listen, and then be a part of the conversation.
What notable authors are attending this year?
Megan Gail Coles, Michael Crummey and Steven Price are all shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, Emma Donoghue, Eve Joseph, Shilpi Somaya Gowda, Lorna Crozier, Cherie Dimaline, Lynn Coady, and of course, Maude Barlow and Omar El Akkad. For children’s authors we’ve got Deborah Ellis, Kit Pearson and Tim Wynne-Jones, all legends.
What are the not-to-be-missed events for this year?
A Whistler Vacation (sold out!), The Booklovers Literary Salon, The Literary Cabaret, Crime Writers Lunch, Domestic Thriller, Sunday Brunch. My personal not-to-be-missed will be the Domestic Thriller. I’m really excited to read Megan Gail Coles’s book as a ripper of tale of abuse and resilience set against the contemporary issues of #MeToo movement. Not to mention it’s the best title of the year: Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club.
What are your pro tips for making the most of Whistler Writer’s Festival?
Try something you haven’t been to before. Like Poetry, or the Non-fiction writers, or New Voices. I don’t read a lot of poetry but when I go to that session I end up weeping and buying all the books and savoring them through the winter. If you’re thinking you’d like to try your hand at writing, we have 10 workshops for all levels, and it’s a great way to motivate yourself and find your own story, whether you’re a dabbler or already published. We also have a new event called New Voices Rising, where you’re going to find some real discoveries in Canadian literature.
If you could have anyone come to Whistler Writer’s Festival, who would it be?
I would have to say Margaret Atwood (who we’ve wooed for years) and an emerging Canadian talent with their first book, because we like to have established and new authors on the same stage. In this way readers discover new authors, the next up-and-comers. It’s pretty cool – you can come to the festival and know that some of the writers you’ve never heard of before, are going to develop to be the best of Canadian literature.