Writers festivals: bringing writers of all kinds together

Authors immerse themselves in their work and, more often than not, they do so alone.

However, Canadian writers festivals bring authors together, helping to establish connections between them. These connections can be beneficial for advancing in their craft or simply for acquainting with others in the community of Canadian authors.

“I’ve always been more excited by the writing and the writers themselves, and wanting to connect with what I might not have had the opportunity to before,” said rob mclennan, an Ottawa author, editor and publisher. However, mclennan stressed he doesn’t foster connections for the sake of his career but purely because he’s interested in others and their work. He said he’s had many memorable conversations with fellow authors at Ottawa’s International Writers Festival.

The festival, which occurs once in the fall and once in the spring, will take place April 25 until April 30. All kinds of writers come together, including poetry, fiction and non-fiction writers. Long-time and new authors are invited.

“For me, one of the greatest feelings [is had] by supporting someone early on, getting [them] invited to a festival. [This] lets them know their work is appreciated and admired, which can be very, very important for new writers – to be made aware what they are doing is working,” said Sean Wilson, the artistic director for the festival.

Besides gaining support, new writers attending might better their own work through “osmosis,” hearing accomplished authors read, said Wilson, adding the “higher the calibre of input, the better the output.” He tends to pair well-known with lesser-known authors for the on-stage readings.

“In the case of younger authors, many of them have said it’s been a marvelous opportunity for them to connect with more experienced people in the field,” said Stephanie Ford Forrester, who has been the chair of the Lakefield Literary Festival for seven years. “We have a young writers program, a contest really, [where] the winning stories [and] the students who wrote them are presented that evening at the dinner, so there’s a fair amount of acknowledgement there.”

This mixing doesn’t solely benefit new authors but long-time writers get to converse with one another as well. All authors chat at the Lakefield Literary Festival’s gala dinner and reception, in addition to any after-programming events, said Forrester.

Nadine McInnis read at Ottawa’s International Writers Festival in October 2012. She was invited just after the launch of her book of short stories titled Blood Secrets, which is her eighth published book.

McInnis said, because the festival draws a larger community of authors, she connects with writers she would not otherwise have the chance to at smaller writers’ circles in Ottawa. Not often does she mingle with political writers but she does so at the festival, she said. Even supposing this doesn’t directly benefit her fiction and poetry writing, she said she enjoys learning what they’re up to with their work.

Attending the festival does advantage McInnis’ own work in another way though: getting together with and listening to other authors can help stir creativity and provide her feedback to work with, she said.

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Updates

Hi readers,

I do apologize for vanishing without a trace on here. I’m currently finishing up the last year of my degree and completing an 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. placement at United Way Ottawa, in communications and media relations (wonderful experience, for the record). On top of this, I’ve been apartment hunting, job hunting and slowly but surely putting together an online portfolio of my work. Needless to say, life has been quite busy. However, I do intend on getting back into the swing of things, posting here, and I have some ideas up my sleeve. Please stay tuned!

Have a wonderful weekend,

Lucy Morrissey

Freedom to Read Week

Hi readers,

It’s Freedom to Read Week this Feb. 24 until March 2 and, although folks in Ottawa’s literary community are aware, celebrating is not particularly prevalent in the Nation’s Capital Region this year.

Freedom to Read Week happens annually across the nation to raise awareness and rise against restrictions on reading material in Canada. One way to get involved, regardless of who you are, is by being a part of or creating an event that draws attention to challenged work, including books, magazines and periodicals.

Though it appears there are no Freedom to Read events in Ottawa this year, members of the literary community are aware of and have been willing to weigh in on the occasion.

“The issue of writers is creating avenues for [an] audience, not a hostile audience who would censor,” said Pearl Pirie, an Ottawa author. She said censorship is less common an issue here as getting published is.

Amanda Earl, another Ottawa author previously featured on this blog, has neither encountered herself nor heard of another author’s work being banned, adding though that she supports Freedom to Read Week.

Neither the Ottawa Public Library nor Algonquin College’s Learning Resource Centre are helping draw attention to Freedom to Read Week this year.

Maureen Sheppard, a librarian at Algonquin College, said they’ve raised awareness with a small campaign in the past but not this year. Faculty is working on other projects and causes, such as the Paper Waste Exhibit, she said.

(Edits/to add: Dorothy Jeffreys, coordinator of the lifelong learning and literacy at the OPL, says that despite the absence of programming, the Main Library and some other branches will have a display for Freedom to Read Week and the right to intellectual freedom is included in the library’s core values, as well as the material selection policy).

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To learn more about Freedom to Read Week and involve yourself, please visit: http:///www.freedomtoread.ca

Have a good Monday!

authors, we should chat!

Hi readers! How is everyone doing this fine Friday?

I’m currently bundled up in an blanket and sporting a toque at the kitchen table, trying to keep warm out in the country. I’m away from Ottawa for a few days, spending time with my family but also working on a story with a fast-approaching deadline. That being said, I want to hear from you.

The story I’m currently writing focuses on connecting with other authors and readers at writers’ festivals in Canada.

Are you an author with a particularly positive experience attending one?
Did you establish a meaningful relationship there?
Did you advance in your career because of someone you were introduced to or exchanged numbers with there?
Did you advance in the craft, hearing others’ work and becoming inspired?

I would absolutely love to hear your story – whatever it may be.
Send me an email at lucy_morrissey@hotmail.com to chat further.
Thanks!

A look at the Tree Reading Series

Good afternoon readers!

Today, I have for you a look at the Tree Reading Series open-mic that took place just last night at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb.12, 2013. It happens every second and fourth Tuesday of the month, allowing new or long-time poets in the area to come and share their work – an activity I’ve mentioned in previous posts.

Last night’s open-mic was followed by featured reader John Steffler, award-winning poet and novelist. The Tree Reading Series is held in the Arts Court at 2 Daly Ave, Ottawa, ON. The series has existed now for almost 33 years, making it one of the country’s oldest literary events. For more information: http://www.treereadingseries.ca

First, I have a mixture of readers, giving you an idea of what open-mic is like, and the last reader in the video JM Francheteau discussing his poem Ohio Sport Fishing Advisory.

Next, I continue my interview with Francheteau, who is originally from Harrow near Windsor, ON.

Check out Tree Reading Series on Facebook too: http://www.facebook.com/#!/treereadingseries?fref=ts or give them a follow on Twitter to keep updated on what’s to come: @treeseries

Enjoy your Wednesday!

rob mclennan: the writer, editor and publisher

Good morning!

I’m going to jump right in and introduce you to rob mclennan, although I do recognize some readers are familiar with and have been introduced before.

For those who aren’t quite familiar with mclennan, he was born and still resides in Ottawa. He’s written over 20 trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. He’s also an editor and publisher, organizing and operating journals and various works on the World Wide Web, including (but not limited to) above/ground press, as well as Chaudiere Books with Jennifer Mulligan.

As I started to research and report on the city’s realm of poetry and fiction writing, mclennan’s name was mentioned on more than one occasion. I felt impelled to pick his brain, to get his perspective on the industry pros and cons.

Bearing in mind that mclennan is both intensely involved in writing and publishing in Ottawa, I was curious as to whether or not he notices collective strengths or weaknesses of local authors.

“Collective strength is exactly the weakness: since we have no media, publishing or programs, there is nothing to be “gained” by being an Ottawa writer or artist,” said mclennan. “So why not just get along with everyone else?”

His response surprised me and immediately had me thinking. My questions up until this point had been largely focused on what there is to gain by way of coming together with other, local authors. I had never asked myself or asked an author what there is to lose.

I’ve been convinced cliques developed elsewhere because there are less people here – there is less competition. Of course this may hold true, but perhaps it’s also because there is nothing to compete for.

It’s an interesting thought I’ll very well come back to.

mclennan points to the VERSeFest poetry festival as an example of Ottawa authors working collaboratively. This festival is made up of every Ottawa reading series (written and spoken word poetry) and will take place March 12th until the 17th.

mclennan is not typically one to experience writer’s block, he said. However, in the case he does, he reads all he can. He also frequents local coffee shops and a pub to do much of his writing.

“I’ve been writing in public for 20 years. It allows me to focus in a way that home doesn’t always: I don’t have to worry about telephone, internet, dishes or any other distractions. I can just sit with the work,” said mclennan.

That’s all I have for this morning – a glimpse into another name and face you’ll see, exploring this scene.

Photo provided by rob mclennan, taken at the Louvre Paris France by Christine McNair, October, 2012.

Photo provided by rob mclennan, taken at the Louvre Paris France by Christine McNair, October, 2012.

Please do check out rob’s blog, visiting http://www.robmclennan.blogspot.com or Chaudiere Books at http://www.chaudierebooks.com.

Have a great weekend.

– Lucy

Ottawa Author: Amanda Earl

Amanda Earl is another local author, as well the managing editor of Bywords.ca and the Bywords Quarterly Journal, a poetry magazine. Earl, who has been writing since childhood, said the community of fiction and poetry authors in Ottawa is the most gratifying part of what she does – a community she both belongs to and helps sustain.

Earl attends readings, where she mingles with authors and publishers. She notes writers’ circles put on by the Canadian Authors Association and the In/Words Writers’ Circle as ways to connect.

Earl has her Honours BA in French language and literature from the University of Waterloo, her MA in French from the University of Waterloo and her Honours BA in translation from the University of Ottawa. In addition, she’s completed creative writing workshops put on by the universities’ English departments here in the city, as well as workshops with local poets rob mclennan and Stephen Brockwell.

It’s quite the long-winded, impressive background if I do say so myself.

Besides opening her ears at the readings she attends, Earl overcomes writer’s block by visiting art galleries and reading herself.

Similar to what I prefer, Earl takes advantage of how quiet it is and how creative she feels during the early morning hours to sit down and write.

Explore her work at http://www.amandaearl.com

Happy Sunday!

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Note: All photography that appears on this blog belongs to me, unless otherwise stated. Thanks! Evidently I love to photograph apples.

Nadine McInnis on Ottawa’s Short Story, Poetry Scene

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Sparks Street, Ottawa, ON.

Good morning readers!

Ottawa author Nadine McInnis decided to make the leap from writing poetry to short stories, utilizing the longer form, once characters in her poems formed a voice. Her stories demanded more space.

She continues to write both short stories and poetry today.

When we spoke, McInnis was prepared to ship a manuscript off, and her eighth book Blood Secrets was published in the fall. She’s also a professor for the professional writing program at Algonquin College.

Needless to say, she’s busy making things happen. Fortunately for me, she was willing to sit down for an interview and discuss being a fiction and poetry author in Ottawa.

I first wondered though how she conquers writer’s block.

“I let things percolate. I make [many] notes and I do research,” said McInnis. “I write when I feel it’s there for me to write…and then I’ll go off to a silent retreat and face it.”

McInnis said getting together with other authors is also beneficial for the process. Formally and sometimes at a pub or someone’s home, she’s met with other writers for the past 20 years.

“It’s really important to have a sense of shared community because it’s such an isolated task,” she said. “You just have more of a sense of creativity too when people challenge you and say that things aren’t clear to them in your writing or you talk about your passions or the next thing you might want to chase after.”

“What I find interesting about the fiction writers and poets in Ottawa is they do actually work with the history and setting…people think of Ottawa as very governmental and boring but writers can turn anything into something vivid and that’s what really impresses me about the writers that live here,” she said.

However, McInnis sometimes purposely writes her stories to play out in places besides the National Capital Region.

“People have a preconceived notion of what Ottawa is, people who don’t live in Ottawa,” she said.

In part because of personal connections to and an interest in other places, such as the Maritimes and British Columbia, she situates her characters outside Ottawa in an effort to combat the aforementioned prejudgment she feels readers have about it being a “polite” city – one she said sometimes turns readers off.

McInnis said she enjoys that Ottawa is a smaller city. Authors all tend to become acquaintances rather than form groups – something you might discover happen in larger cities.

She said she’s also thankful to have had access to Ottawa’s Cultural Funding grants and pleased to hear Mayor Jim Watson’s Jan.23, 2013, declaration that the arts would be a vital part of the mandate for 2013.

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Nadine McInnis, Ottawa-based author of short stories and poetry.

I hope you all enjoyed this inside perspective and have a wonderful weekend.

– Lucy

A glimpse into Ottawa’s International Writers Festival with a focus on fiction

We read and mull over newspaper columns written by Ottawa’s journalists. We discuss local bands and their triumphs and tribulations. However, to my dismay, I feel not the least exposed to Ottawa’s fiction and poetry scene. Fortunately, I’ve taken matters into my own hands and I’ve set out to learn more about the craft and its presence in this city.

In mid-January, I spoke with Sean Wilson, the artistic director of Ottawa’s International Writers Festival, as a start in gathering perspectives. Wilson said he was reading as many books as he possibly could, preparing for the spring festival, set to run from April 25th until April 30th.

Wonderfully, this celebration drew an audience of 22,893 in 2011, according to their official website (provided at the end of this post). It’s a celebration of song writing, science writing and writing for television, among many other forms of it. However, for the purpose of this blog, I’ll focus my attention on fiction writing, as well as poetry but to a lesser extent.

“[It’s] dynamic, friendly, very welcoming. You hear stories from people in other communities and it’s very cliquey,” said Wilson, describing the fiction writing and poetry scene overall in Ottawa.

“Ottawa is a real non-fiction town,” Wilson continued. Therefore, including fiction at the festival is partly to please the audience but it also allows them to reach their own target: “Our goal is to have a healthy mix of everything, [to have] a wide variety of things being talked about, discussed, shared,” he said, regarding the range of perspectives that result, showcasing both fiction and non-fiction work.

Personally, I can’t help but agree with Wilson when he says Ottawa is a non-fiction town, given the amount of political coverage and international dealings all over the city.  I find having the chance to squeeze in a fiction read in between studies and news-reading is absolutely refreshing. It allows me to unwind and escape into a story that, though may reflect real life, is not real life but a story I can enjoy by way of imagination.

“One of the things fiction is really great at is opening us up to different world views and cultural experience,” said Wilson. “In a novel, [discussing] an issue can be far more effective at inspiring change and awareness.”

As for an issue tugging at my heart strings, resonating in my mind or better able to get under my skin with a fiction novel? Truthfully, this had not crossed my mind until now but I can certainly understand this being the case. Perhaps if  the author lacks real-life experience or facts to drive a point home, he or she can illustrate it another way, constructing another circumstance or a new character.

I also talked to Wilson just before the Oct.28, 2012, festival, for a profile I was doing on short stories and poetry author Nadine McInnis, for the Algonquin Times. You’ll certainly see her name again in an entry to come. Wilson spoke then of how beneficial it can be for students to attend the festival. Often students have this presumption that it’s strictly an academic outing, but it’s an opportunity for students to come together with people who have the same interests as themselves – an opportunity to network and even establish friendships, he said.

Furthermore, for anyone already interested in fiction and poetry or anyone writing it, attending is an opportunity to not only be surrounded by but listen to some of the most accomplished authors in the industry read their own work and partake in a Q&A session.

Now that I’ve (fingers crossed) captured your attention and stirred enthusiasm over just one event Ottawa has to offer fiction and poetry lovers, I do hope you’ll continue reading entries to come.

For now, I’ll offer some food for thought: What are your favourite fiction novels and/or authors? Why are they your favourite? Have these novels inspired you to make changes in your own life? More so than a non-fiction novel has?

the mix

The purpose of this photo is to contrast some fiction and non-fiction material I’ve collected over the years (a photo I consider relevant to this entry). I do recognize these books and magazines are neither all Canadian nor authored by Ottawa men and women. Do remember I’m just beginning to explore the scene at this point! 🙂

Note: If you’re interested in learning more, please take a gander at the Ottawa International Writers Festival official website at: http://www.writersfestival.org/about

– Lucy